Becoming a Triathlete

I was never athletic as a child- too shy and too scared to try something that I thought could make me look foolish. But times were also different then. My school didn’t have a swimming pool and sports were just for boys (we had Home-Ec and Typing). My first attempt at running came in my 30s. I ran a one mile trail near my house most days of the week. That seemed to be going okay so I signed up for a local 5K. I came in dead last. That put an end to attempt number one.

In the year 2000, my company moved me to Chicago. I was away from my friends and family and looking for a way to get involved in my new community. I saw an article about a small local triathlon needing volunteers. I signed up to help. The following week I showed up early and was assigned to the bike course. The experience truly changed my life. I had watched the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon on television in the past but this was different.  It was the first time I realized that triathlons come in various distances and that triathletes come in all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. I was so impressed! The determination and effort that each participant demonstrated was like nothing I had ever seen before. And the pride and feeling of accomplishment was evident on the face of every finisher. When I arrived at my office on Monday, I told my co-workers that someday I was going to do a triathlon. They laughed-and why not laugh? I was overweight, out of shape, and getting old in my mid-40s. Not to mention my only running experience ended in a last place finish 10 years earlier and I had never actually “swam” in my life.

Fast forward few years, I had moved to Lansing and discovered Team Playmakers. Finally, I discovered that the way to start running was to train with like-minded people.  I learned how to run, how to follow a training plan and how to keep myself motivated. Within 3 years I had run several 5Ks, a couple half marathons and even completed my first full marathon, all with the support of my new found friends and team mates. However, I never forgot my desire to do a triathlon. I wanted to feel as accomplished and proud as those people I witnessed finishing that triathlon in Chicago. I discovered that Hawk Island Triathlon would hold its inaugural race in 2007. Without telling anyone of my plan, I signed up to do the race. As the race drew nearer, I took some swim lessons at the Y. That didn’t go as well as I’d hoped and the instructor said she would just have to teach me to side stroke well enough to get me through the 400 meter swim. I had a 20 year old road bike and I practiced a few times to ride 10 miles. A week before the race, I finally admitted to my friends and family that I was going to do a triathlon. They were surprised and a little concerned but they didn’t laugh. On race day a few of them were there to support me. I clumsily side stroked the swim; I rode my old bike with a white knuckle grip; and I jogged my way to the finish line. I didn’t drown and I wasn’t last. What I did do was fall fully in love with a sport that allowed me to push myself to be the best that I could be that day. I was proud. I had accomplished something amazing. I was (and still am) a triathlete. If you would like to share this experience, there are several teams in the area that can help get you there. Right now, my team is about to kick off its 8th season. You can email me for details at

Written by Cynthia Erickson, 2016 Fitness Ambassador