Sunday, December 4, 2016

Post Grad Adulting and Triathloning

Wow, a lot has happened since I graduated in May! I moved to Colorado Springs (leaving behind my triplet sisters), I started my first professional job, and I began my first season racing triathlon professionally. It was my first time living apart from my triplet sisters. We have been inseparable my whole life and they are the single force that keeps me the most grounded in my life.  If it weren't for my triplets (Alexa and Caroline) my amazing big sister (Dani) and my parents, there is no way I would have had the faith to push through engineering school the way I did; there were definitely a handful of days when I considered switching majors. As driven individuals, we seem to believe that once we achieve a certain goal we have laid out in front of us then we will be happy and all else will fall into place. I was thrilled to have achieved the goals I had worked for for my four years, but with that achievement also came the thought of "what now?" The entire process was quite anticlimactic and I was unprepared. I no longer had the structure I had lived in for the past seventeen years of my life.

My beautiful sisters (from left): Dani, me, Caroline, Alexa

The transition from being a college kid to a young adult proved harder than I thought. Becoming independent and trying to support oneself, while being an elite athlete is no easy feat. The Olympic Training Center environment also intimidated me from the get-go, which created another challenge. During my college years I enjoyed the team environment I had and the fact that we were competitive, but we had fun and didn't take ourselves too seriously; this environment helped take the pressure off me, given my type A perfectionist personality. Leaving the CU Tri Team, whom I can call family, was one of the toughest transitions I faced. I feel so blessed that my best friends to date were friends I made on the team. Go Buffs!

My graduation party: friends from CU and my sisters Alexa, Caroline, and Dani
Apart from my PEAK Multisport teammates, I only knew a few athletes at the Olympic Training Center, and that feeling of home that I had developed at CU was the last thing I felt here when I first arrived. The environment seemed too intense for me, and it was not until recently that I started to feel that I fit in.

My first two elite races this summer were a disappointment. I was swimming well in the pool, but it was not translating to the open water and my results suffered. I think the learning curve is steep when moving up a level in anything, and it definitely takes time to have the confidence to execute in the new competitive environment. During this time I questioned everything: my decision to move to Colorado Springs, leaving my closest friends in Boulder, giving up full-time job offers, and pursuing the sport professionally. Maybe I wasn't cut out for this...

As our team underwent some changes and I switched my focus from being an obsessive triathlete to being an overall well-balanced individual, we started to see positive improvements. I accepted a job offer at Keysight Technologies as an engineer and program manager this August. I am very fortunate that they are supportive of my goals and are allowing me to work part-time, flexible hours. This job has been one of the most balancing forces for me, and I truly enjoy going to work each day because of the amazing people I get to work with. Being able to shift my focus away from triathlon when I am not training has given me the balance I needed. I began to thrive in the new environment, and with the much-needed balance I was able to be the best sister, daughter, teammate, engineer, friend, and athlete I could possibly be.

Through the highs and lows, I have become closer with my teammates and my Coach Ken Axford, and for this I am truly grateful. I am also fortunate to have the best roommates, whom I feel are like my second family now. I have re-learned how to not take myself too seriously, and I am glad to be able to go home to an environment where triathlon is most certainly not the center of our conversations.
The roomies (and Stephen) on Halloween

Teammate, Tyler Evans and Coach, Ken Axford after climbing Gold Camp Road
This fall I went on to finish second place at the USA Triathlon Elite National Championships, only losing by eight seconds to Abby Levene and edging out Sarah Alexander by one second. It was a fun, fast race which ultimately came down to the run. This was the first race since I got here that I swam to my potential and it showed. After the race, my friends and I explored New Orleans and we had a blast learning about the culture, eating beignets, and dancing.

USAT Elite Nationals Podium

Exploring the French Market with Tyler Evans, Abby Levene, and Collin Chartier

My last race of the season was the CAMTRI American Continental Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was sort of a last minute decision to race, but I am glad I committed. I went into this race with the goal of a top 10 finish, and finished 7th to achieve that. I love to travel, but going to a foreign country where English is not spoken commonly can make things difficult. I did my race prep the best I could, but it was a hectic weekend overall. I arrived at the race with an ear infection, so in a way I was actually glad they canceled the pre-race swim recon :-p
During call-down to the race, my swim cap ripped, but I didn't allow it to phase me. I exited in the third group with two other girls who were luckily just as strong as me on the bike. I made the rookie mistake of dropping my electrolyte bottle on the first lap of the nine-lap bike course and this cost me. I had one other bottle of water, which instead of drinking to hydrate, I poured on myself to cool down (rookies mistake)! We worked together, pounding the pedals for just around an hour, but we failed to catch the lead pack. I ran as hard as I could in the moment, moving from 11th place to 7th, but suffered greatly from dehydration (and sun poisoning due to another rookie mistake :-p) so unfortunately I could not run to my full ability and bonked by lap three of four on the run. I wanted to DNF during the run, but I did not allow myself to do so; It gives me confidence that given the circumstances I was still able to achieve my goal and that I can hang with these girls who have years of experience over me. I am also so thankful that my mom took the time to come to this race with me. Having her there at my first continental championship and being able to share the experience with her (and the amazing food) was unforgettable. I also need to thank her for taking care of my sun burn and for only saying "I told you so once." :-p

I feel that I have finally settled into this new rhythm of lifestyle, and I am glad that I made the decision to pursue the sport professionally. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I no longer feel the rush of being result-oriented right now. Celebrating the small successes along the way, enjoying my training, and loving my team and coach are what keep me going. Having a growth mindset is key in the world of professional athletics. Working towards growth each day, enjoying the process of meeting such incredible people and pushing our bodies beyond what we think is capable, are what make the journey worth it. We have now put together my schedule for the 2017 season I am thrilled to be competing in my sophomore season as an elite. Cheers to many more races, difficult training sessions, mistakes, successes, and failures! Big thank you from the bottom of my heart to my sponsors for continuing to believe in me and for supporting me: Aqua Sphere, Infinit Nutrition (Ryan Good), and Swiftwick.

Buenos Aires CAMTRI Continental Championships start

Mom and I in Buenos Aires
Mom and I in Buenos Aires

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Last Time 'Round-USAT Collegiate Nationals 2016

Wow, five years done! Crazy to think I went into college, thinking I was going to be a division 1 tennis player my four years...

I have had a week to soak in my experience at Collegiate Nationals this year, and regardless of the place in which I crossed the finish line, this last race experience with my CU Buffaloes was unforgettable. For the first time since I arrived in Boulder four years ago, I was able to find some consistency in my training, only missing two sessions since February leading into nationals. I felt myself finally relax and really enjoy the friendships I have not only on the tri team but also within the engineering school, which kept me from taking myself too seriously as I have in the past. Going to class is soooo much better when you know you will be sitting with your friends. Like triathlon, I made this a fun social gathering, even though thermodynamics isn't always my topic of choice to discuss in gatherings :-p Thank you Shawn Sprinkle, Tyler Smyth, Brian Atkinson, Niki Barney, Thomas Lund, Mitch Klein, and Henry Knutzen for always making me laugh. Remember that time we made a drill powered bike? That was pretty cool I think.
From the left: Tyler, me, Shawn, and Henry

I had a different approach with my training this time around. Don't get me wrong, I worked my butt off, but I really made an effort to enjoy the hard sessions and to work with my teammates. On days when I woke up tired, I would sleep in and move my morning sessions to the afternoon. My focus was on quality not quantity.

There were countless number of practices when I simply wasn't feeling it, was overwhelmed with school or life stress, and on these days I allowed my teammates to pull me through. Senior Design, which is a year-long project in which you work with industry along with my other classes, made this year busier than expected; however, with meticulous planning, meal prepping every Sunday, discipline with trying to get adequate nutrition and sleep, I somehow made it happen while maintaining a social life. My friends are a huge part of my life, and they have really helped me get through times when I maybe felt overwhelmed the past couple of months. Kasia Rasker, thank you for being my best friend in the world, and for always being there for me no matter what. I seriously talk to you more than I talk to my family!

My girls from left: Sara, me, Skyler, Kasia
Day 1 was the Draft Legal Championship race. Going in I knew this was a FISU (World University Championships) qualifier, and after losing the championship by only 10 seconds last year, I wanted to improve on that. I had a solid swim, coming out in 8th place in around 10 minutes; I am rarely top 10 out of the water, but I have worked a lot on my swim this winter. My group had some trouble working together on the bike, and into the second or third lap, I made the decision to make a move. I bridged up to the next group and luckily had Kelly Cosmo to work with. We came off the bike around 50 seconds down from Erica Ackerland, a strong cyclist from Montana who rode solo the whole race. I had visualized this happening, so I didn't panic; I knew what to do. I trusted that my run fitness was adequate and stayed calm, despite the deficit. I was slowly gaining on her, but I ensured to stay patient so I wouldn't blow up. Before going into the second lap of the 5k run, I managed to catch Erica, ran into the lead, and held the lead.  Lots of emotions crossing the finish line as memories of these past four years flooded my mind. High fives and hugs all around from not only my teammates, but my friends on other teams. This is why I love this sport; Not only quality athletes but quality people. I won't forget one of my closes friends and teammates, Scarlet Kaplan crying at the finish line as I crossed; that's a true friend there. I love you so much Scarlet!
This pic says it all :)

me and my freshies: Ryan Sotebeer, Heidi Stimac

Me and Kelly Cosmo on the run
Day 2 was the non-draft Olympic distance race followed by the mixed team relay. I knew my fitness was the best it has been in college, however, I was awake most the night before the non-draft race with diarrhea and muscle cramps, probably due to residual fatigue of the past few months of engineering school. I was nervous on the start line, not knowing whether my body would allow me to finish that day. Long story short, it was a very painful race, and I pushed through muscle cramps, doubt, and fatigue to finish 5th on the day, surpassing my goal of a top 10 on day 2, and helping the CU Buffaloes to our 7th victory in a row. Huge congratulations to my friend Erica Clevenger for the overall win!!! Later that afternoon was the draft legal mixed team relay race. With nothing left in the tank, I decided to simply have fun and go for it in my last collegiate race. All of us were exhausted, and our nerves were already gone from the previous races, as we joked on the start line. I had a good leg of the race and gave our team a 30 second lead.  Ouch, 17 minutes of sprinting after 3+ hours of hard racing in 2 days! In the end we finished 4th, but it was such a fun, fast race!
Me and Scarlet Kaplan before the Olympic Distance race start

Through this experience I was reminded of how strong the human body, the mind, and the spirit is. I watched this video the other week from the US Navy Seals about the 40% Rule. The 40% rule says that at that moment when you think you have nothing left, you are only 40% spent, and therefore have 60% left in the tank. Through my experiences, I am learning that this is true.
Mixed team relay= shear pain!
Mixed team relay

Yes our team won, and yes I won an individual national championship, but it is not only the result that will be remembered; it is these past four years of the grind through engineering school and training, days when I suffered and cried because I wanted to give up or was beyond exhaustion, the team camaraderie and some of the best training sessions with the CU Tri Team, and all the amazing lifelong friendships I am blessed to have made on this journey.

Me and Coach Dave Sheanin

CU Boulder coaches (From left): Leigh Dodd, Brad Seng, Dave Sheanin, Henry Winterbottom. I love you guys!!!

Huge thank you to my parents for flying out to watch me and for helping me prepare for back to back racing, the rest of my family (Alexa, Caroline, Dani, Julia), the amazing coaches here at CU Boulder (Brad Seng, Dave Sheanin, Leigh Dodd, Henry Winterbottom), Ken Axford, my classmates, the CU Mechanical Engineering Department, my teammates, and my dear friends. Love you all and can't wait to experience this next chapter together! CU Boulder- Graduating Class of 2016!!!

Buff for life

Skoooooo Buffs!!

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