At the age of 17 I was a strong willed, driven and scared young woman finishing up her senior year of high school. I was working at Chuck E Cheese and honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I was applying to colleges but the fear exceeded my comprehension. I knew my parents didn’t have money saved for me to go to college, so how would I pack up and go? For about a week straight I received calls on my pager (yeah, I know, how old am I?) to a Brown’s Pharmacy. I would just hang up when I called back, I didn’t even know a Brown’s Pharmacy or know a valid reason they would be calling. After about the fifth time in a week, I finally asked them to stop calling me, I didn’t have a prescription. They told me “Ma’am, we are the US Army, your father gave us your number. He thought you might want to talk to us.” Hmmm, ok. So I did what any normal teenager pissed off would do, I went to sign up for the Marines. That would show him. When that fell through, I signed the papers for the Army. I took the papers home and told my father he needed to sign them and then he realized what had happened. Hey, it was his idea, right?
I left for the Army and spent the next four plus years serving with my new Army issued family. Some I hated, some I loved, but no matter, they were family. Day in and day out, side by side, good and bad, hellos and goodbyes, it didn’t matter.
Then I got out of the Army to raise my son. I went to college. I met neighbors. But I truly never really fit in. Even when I went home to my family. Then one day after I had moved to Savannah, GA, I went for a walk. I only had one pair of work out pants, but in those work out pants, I walked, every day. Eventually I found myself outside a running store, too embarrassed to go in because running stores were for runners. That wasn't me. But I went in and asked for help. I walked out with new shoes, new running capris, and a pamphlet for a run at the end of the year.
I did that 10K without knowing anyone, but it was the most amazing thing. I ran a 10K, across a bridge, TWICE. The next weekend I signed my best friend, my son, and myself up for another run. Somehow I became part of a racing and running community. A community that embraced me. A community that on morning training runs, would come back and get me. That would wait for me, even though I was the last one. I went from being 240 pounds to being a marathoner. I found my family. My family that was issued to me with a pair of running shoes by a running store. Then I found triathlon. Before I knew it, I was signed up for 70.3 and I didn’t even own a bike!
I thought my real family was crazy. Then my Army family. Then my running family. All the crazy family. Then I met triathletes. I found my crazy family, the family where I belonged.
We all struggle to find our place in life. Once we grow up and join the real world, our social networks change and we aren’t in the circles anymore of the family we surrounded ourselves with. Our family is who we make it. Working with veteran groups, I see that veterans find it harder to reconnect once separated from service. It leads to depression, drug or alcohol abuse, and worse. I found my family through fitness, running and triathlon. They are not elitist groups that “only the best can join”, believe me, I thought that. I was the girl that thought I was not good enough to walk through a running store's doors. It does take effort on your part, but I promise you, it won’t be that hard.
These are some of the resources I have found and have etched a big part in my life. They may not be for you, but I urge you to engage in this amazing community. I promise they will embrace you.
Moms Run This Town
Team Red, White, and Blue
Local running store training groups
Local triathlon groups
It's important to focus on fitness as a way to reincorporate ourselves into society. Especially as women, we often do not have many people that can identify with our experiences. Even though my experiences do not nearly compare to some of the more recent day veteran's, we still have some of the same struggles. We need to be able to connect in a healthy way. Triathlon is a way to do that, to connect. Especially as part of a team. Whether that is a tri team, a veteran connected team, or as a volunteer. In the military we are thrust into a family of everyone around us. We may not like each other, but we have each other's backs, and the same theory applies in sports. I may have a deep desire to beat you, especially if you are in my age group, but at the end of the day it's all about if we did our best, no matter what that looks like.
Written by Jenn Rodriguez
Follow Jenn on Instagram! @lularoejennrodriguez