When I was racing my second 140.6-distance triathlon in 2014, I was at mile 16 on the run, and someone from the spectating crowd grabbed me. Yes, grabbed me—by the arm.
It was a woman and she had glitter on her face, a sign that said “Run Daddy Run!” and two really cranky kids standing behind her. She squealed, “YOU! You are doing… THIS?”
I stopped for a minute (who was I kidding—I was glad for the break), and told her, “Yes. I am doing… this.”
She said, “Well you go you! That’s awesome!” (And she released me.)
I trotted off, a bit befuddled. Was it because of my size? Was it my long braids? Was it my hot pink tri kit? What made her reach out, grab me and stop me to ask me that strange question?
I thought about it some more, though. She was out there, waiting for someone to finish his race and she saw someone like her—wearing a tri kit that said “Swim Bike Mom”—and looking like I was anything but an endurance athlete.
I was out there doing my thing—in the not-so-fit-but-also-fit body I had, with all the training hours I had behind me.
And she had never seen anything like it.
I was a guest on the Dialed Podcast recently (by the way—a great set of guys chatting about cycling, fitness, and more), and they asked me the question about how we get more women and also kids involved in triathlon and cycling. And my answer is (and always has been) simple: people are drawn to seeing others like them doing the “impossible” or the things that seem strange or hard.
When women are out there doing triathlon with young kids, disabilities, of all shapes, sizes, races, and walks of life—we are showing and not just talking about doing triathlon. We are showing women like us that they too can do what we are doing.
Modeling is the oldest and perhaps truest form of inspiration.
We can sometimes stretch our imagination to reach (and achieve) the seemingly impossible when we see someone who looks like us out there doing it. That’s why continuing to ensure that we welcome all individuals into this sport—of any size, color, orientation, able-bodied or not—and to continue to support inclusion across the board.
I mention my friends Kyle and Brent Pease as often as I can because I think the world needs fewer selfies—and more pictures of Kyle and Brent. They are the poster-gents for talking this talk and wheeling the walk. Kyle Pease—born with cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia—learned to play sports from his chair. When his brother, Brent, later began to compete in triathlons, he wanted to do the same. He became an Ironman athlete along with Brent. They competed together, with Brent swimming with Kyle in a raft, riding on a custom bike, and running in a push-assist chair.
The brothers crossed finish line after finish line together, showing the world a way to participate in sports—not only through their example but by bringing others along with them through their non-profit. Kyle and Brent show that together they can accomplish great things on wheels (the Kyle Pease Foundation’s tagline is “Together We Wheel”). Kyle is also an Ironman—and finished the World Championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii last October. (You can listen to their recent interview here). The Kyle Pease Foundation is leading the charge for inclusion of all individuals in sport.
Showing others what is possible is the way to bring others into our sport.
So if you can, get out there and race this season. Race small and local. Race big and remote. Just if you can—do. Do whatever moves you with your body—but don’t forget that if you can, sometimes you just should. It doesn’t need to be huge and expensive, but the gift of health is one that should never be taken for granted. And in the end—you never know who you will inspire too.
Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a four-time Ironman triathlete, recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book, Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You.. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith is married with two tweens and writes about all things at MeredithAtwood.com. Her next book, The Year of No Nonsense, is due out Fall 2019.