Beginner’s Luck: On My Sleeve

Those race T-shirts may be worth more than just bragging rights, writes Meredith Atwood.

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Those race T-shirts may be worth more than just bragging rights, writes Meredith Atwood

Earlier in the fall, I attended one of the elementary school events for our daughter, age 6. The year before I had spent far too long putting on makeup and sprucing myself up to look like I fit in with the other fancy moms at the same event. However, being fancy-pants later backfired on me—when I showed up at subsequent school functions wearing my visor and tri shorts, no one knew who the hell I was.

So I took a different approach.

“Are you going to wear that?” my daughter asked, eyeing me from top to bottom, disapprovingly and with a hint of distaste that I hadn’t quite ever seen from the little booger before. I was wearing Spandex, my Ironman Lake Placid finisher tee, and—lucky for her—no visor. But I was wearing running shoes and was not wearing makeup.

No shame in this game.

After all, what was the point? Every single time I run to the school, I am either fresh from a workout, going to a workout or wishing I were working out. I have moved on from my long days at the law firm, so it will take an entire army to put me back into clickety-click high heels and daily makeup. Even more than that, I have reached the point in my life where I have very little tolerance for the Joneses, for trying to fit into whatever crowd is rolling around or looking like I stepped out of a Boden catalog. (Is Boden still cool? See, I don’t know.)

But really, in wearing my stretchy materials to the school orientation, I secretly hoped to find some other triathlete parents. Being a parent is hard. Being a triathlete parent is just crazy land.

So I stood proudly with my finisher tee as I walked into the first grade classroom. The teacher was wearing a fantastic dress with wedge sandals. The other moms and dads didn’t looked like they had just come from the gym. They looked fancy, just as I had looked the year prior.

My non-fancy plan was in action—and it didn’t appear to be working for me. I didn’t see anyone with a shred of Spandex. And then I was suddenly hit with a weird sense in my brain. The little demon who lives inside my head and taunts me said, “You don’t even really look like a triathlete. Never mind your T-shirt.” I almost could feel my face flush when that thought ran through my head. I was suddenly embarrassed to be wearing my T-shirt and tight pants because, somehow, I did not feel worthy.

I scrunched down in my little chair at the little table, thinking, Well, that didn’t go as planned. I proceeded to bury my face in all the paperwork that is required of a first grader. As orientation wrapped up, I grabbed my things and slinked out into the hallway. I didn’t understand how I could walk into the classroom, just an hour before, feeling proud of my triathlon clothing—and how, when no one else was playing along with my imaginary contest—I was defeated.

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As I prepared to walk out of the school, I heard a gasp, and a man’s voice saying, “You’re a beast.”

I look up. “Excuse me?” I ask.

“Lake Placid!” he said, pointing excitedly at my shirt, “You’re a beast!”

“Oh yes! Placid!” Yesssssssssssss. I found my people! The good kind of beast!

The man’s wife walked up, and he excitedly told her, pointing, in an almost caveman-like manner, “Triathlete. Here. Ironman,” pointing at me. (Guess he was happy to have found me, too.) We talked for a few minutes about races and rides, and I was happier than I could have imagined I could be in that moment, standing in an elementary school hallway at 7 o’clock in the evening. Something about being a member of our little club—the triathlon club of the world—is so awesome.

Race-day clothing is a form of affirmation. A sort of, “Today, I am strong enough and I am a triathlete.” These types of declarations are so important, especially for beginner triathletes.

When I started out in triathlon, I made a bold declaration on a blog that no one but my mother read: I have decided to become a triathlete. The crazy thing about that declaration was that I couldn’t really swim or bike or run. Like, at all. But I began to wear my 5K T-shirts out and about. I wore my old-school Garmin to the grocery store. Slowly, but surely, I began to make small, outward moves that reflected true “I am a triathlete” status. And my first triathlon T-shirt? I wore that puppy everywhere. Everywhere. I was so proud of my accomplishment and I wanted everyone to come join me in the world that I had just found.

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Even when we feel rotten or slow or fat as a fluffy cow, we are triathletes. We work hard to swim, bike and run. When we declare it outwardly, we are working to solidify our inward voices—and to quiet the little voices that say nasty things. So I like to wear these shirts. Not to brag, but as a way of spreading the love, to find other like-minded people and to tell the world, “I do this and you can too!”

I love standing in line at the grocery store and having someone ask me about triathlon because of the shirt on my back. In those moments, even when I may feel like I don’t really look the part, I do know that I am standing in front of a fantastic opportunity to tell someone new about one of my most life-changing experiences. I always take the time to tell them more than they could ever want to know about triathlon. I think that kind of energy and excitement is so contagious. After all, I became a triathlete after casually talking with an experienced triathlete who said to me, “You could totally do a triathlon! Right now, you could!”

And guess what? I could.

And I did.

Meredith Atwood is a wife, mom, attorney, Ironman, coach and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman. She is a 2015 Klean Team USA member, lives in Atlanta and blogs at

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