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Stephen Carlson {March 2011}

That is such a difficult question. I have always enjoyed new challenges that test me physically and mentally, but there is something more that attracted me to triathlon.

I had seen the Ironman on TV and had known about the sport when I was in high school, but I never really contemplated doing a triathlon until the summer after my freshman year of college.  I was a lifeguard on the beach in Maine and each year the surrounding towns would get together for Lifeguard Games.  One event was the IronGuard, a run, swim and paddle on the rescue board. Now I learned to swim before I could walk, was on a swim team as a kid, and a lifeguard for four years at that point, so I went in pretty confident in my swimming ability. I was the first or second person in the water after the run, and might as well have stopped there.  Apparently every other lifeguard racing was a collegiate swimmer and blew right by me (I should have known something was amiss when they all stripped down to their Speedos while I was wearing my life-guarding board shorts).  I flailed on through the swim section, grabbed the rescue board, poorly paddled back and finished in a respectable dead last. I didn't care about how poorly the race went, I was hooked on multisport.  Now I just needed to try the real sport of triathlon.

When I returned to college where I was on the rowing team, I convinced my roommate to sign up for the Tri-It-Now super sprint race in Manassas, VA.  Miraculously around triathletes I was instantly a faster swimmer. I passed my roommate, who started before me in the time trial start, in the first length of the pool. I hammered the bike as hard as I could (it was only about 5 miles if I remember correctly) and then started the 2k run. "MY GOD, why does anyone do this sport!? Better yet, how do they do this sport?!?" were the thoughts going through my head as I learned during a race, rather than a practice workout, what it was like to run after biking.  My run became a jog...then a walk...then I stopped to dry-heave...all on a 2k run that normally would have taken me under 7 minutes to run. Lesson learned: pace yourself on the bike and save something for the run, no matter how short.  I dragged myself across the finish line, beaten by my roommate (he passed me while dry-heaving), but still managed 2nd place in my age group (don't ask how many people were in my age group).

It was after that race I decided I was going to be a triathlete. That was September 2001, a week before 9/11. I quit the crew team to focus on my new passion. I told myself I would train just as hard as I did in rowing and master this sport. A week went by, then two and three.  Four weeks or so past and I found myself sitting in my dorm room, NOT training for triathlon and instead I watched two of my roommates continue to go to crew practice on a daily basis. I had always thought of myself as an athletically driven individual, so why was I not training the way I initially intended? A family friend convinced me that I could be competitive in triathlon for years to come, but I could only be competitive in rowing during college. So I went back to rowing during the school year and didn't do my next triathlon until 2003 and my third until 2007 which is when I decided to focus on the sport for real.

During the 2007 and 2008 seasons I trained alone as many of us triathletes tend to do; it is an "individual" sport after all. If I could not race with the help from others, why would I train with them? I though it would only make it that much harder during the race.

I enjoyed the challenge each race presented, but knew there was a limiting factor not only to my performance, but to my satisfaction of the sport.  I then realized that it was not just the personal challenge of competing in the sport, but the camaraderie of being on a team and around others who had a similar passion that drove me to compete and excel at the sport. That year that I quit crew and idly watched my roommates continue training, it wasn't that I was not interested in training for triathlon, it was that I wanted to be part of something bigger than just me. So I joined DC Tri in November or December of 2008 and quickly felt at home.  No one cared where I worked or where I went to school; the questions that are so common among professionals in the DC area. They were more interested in what races I had done, what my upcoming race schedule was, and what bike I rode. Everyone was genuinely friendly. It was so unique to find a group of people who cared about helping others improve at the sport and to push their personal limits. That is the beauty of the sport, you take on a personal challenge, whether it is to finish first, beat your previous time, or simply cross the finish line, and I can guarantee that there are a multitude of triathletes in this Club alone, who would be willing to help you achieve that goal. It is the paradox of triathlon; it is a sport filled with hyper-competitive people, yet most are altruistic. We share in each others' triumphs as new goals are achieved and we sympathize in each others' defeats, giving reassurance it is merely a temporary setback.

We all have our reasons for why we tri. While I enjoy winning my age group as much as the next person, what keeps me going in this sport are the stories and laughs shared with friends at happy hours, the encouragement to do "just one more set" during a workout, and the smiles and cheers on race day from the folks who proudly wear DC Tri Club on their chest.

Always Keep Tri-ing,

Steve Carlson
DC Triathlon Club