How Extreme Triathlon Helped This Single Mom Find the Possible in the Impossible

After leaving an abusive relationship, age-grouper Veronika Merchant is using triathlon to teach her son - and the world - what it means to endure.

Photo: Steve Ashworth/XTRI

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On July 1, Veronika Merchant will compete at the Grizzlyman Extreme Triathlon in her home country of Czech Republic. At 33 years old, Merchant is not looking to cross the finish line for personal satisfaction, but to show others what it means to endure.

“My goal is to be visible and tell my story,” says Merchant. “I have been doing the sport for less than a year, and I want to show people that impossible stuff is possible. Look in your heart and ask yourself: ‘What do you want to accomplish and achieve?’ I want to be an example for people who need help to get up and fight for themselves.”

Fighting is something Merchant is very familiar with. After the difficult delivery of her son, Atlantis, in 2019, Merchant was faced with frequent abuse from her husband. In a vicious cycle of desperation and fear, Merchant embarked on a journey to create the life she wanted for herself and her son.

“I was in shelters twice while running away from my husband,” she says. “Because I have that experience, I feel freaking strong. I did something that was really hard. You need to get up on your own and keep going. I am a living example of fighting for who we truly are, and showing we can find strength in ourselves when we are on the bottom.”

Part of the process of reclaiming herself involved getting back into physical shape. With encouragement from a new partner, Merchant was introduced to extreme triathlon. With just six weeks of training under her belt, Merchant finished second at an XTRI race in Utah in 2022, where she qualified for the World Championships in Norway this year.

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“From that point on, it was interesting. I finally thought, ‘I am worthy, I am strong and I am enough,’” she says.

In May this year, Merchant was unsure if she would finish one of the most difficult extreme triathlons – the Himalayan XTRI. Despite experiencing bouts of vomiting and intense fatigue during the race, she crossed the line after 24 grueling hours.

“I am finding in myself the strength that was hidden,” she says. “We all have hidden strength that we don’t know we have.”

Merchant has found many similarities between racing an extreme triathlon and living her best life. In both, she believes it is essential to keep a steady pace, be aware of the messages your body is sending, and pay attention your breath. These simple principles, she has found, are key to her health and success.

“If you do something to the maximum, you eventually have to slow down,” Merchant said. “I am learning through these races how to pace in life, and it’s giving me strength so I can give my son the best.”

Veronika Merchant Himalayan XTRI
Veronika Merchant celebrates after crossing the finish line of the Himalayan XTRI. (Photo: Courtesy of Veronika Merchant)

Merchant lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where she owns her own massage therapy business and calls herself an “intuitive healer.”  She uses energy work to help people move through trauma and process pain. Through her own life experiences and her passion for helping people, Merchant assists clients in finding the real root of the problem for ultimate healing.

Merchant is now responsible for her son four days a week. She takes advantage of the days he is with his father to get more training and work. Her favorite days, however, are spent hiking and playing outside with her son.

“He watches me and sees how strong I am,” Merchant said. “I like to challenge myself a lot, and my son sees what I can do. We often do it together for fun.”

In the lead-up to the XTRI World Championships at Norseman in August, Merchant continues to prioritize staying healthy and balanced, with an emphasis on thinking about the present moment.

“I want to show people my strength and show them that their strength is inside of them,” Merchant said. “Whether I place tenth, first, twentieth or fifth, the matter is that I am still going. I am already good enough and I know it.”

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