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Hilary Chapman {August 2007}

I am a child of triathlon. Fifteen years ago, at age 50, my father decided to take up a new sport. My mother, sister and I were not exactly enthusiastic supporters at first.

I would scoff at grocery store requests for “10 gram carbohydrate yogurts, not the 25 gram size” and other specific dietary needs. We would travel to races, getting up at hours that seemed inhumane at the time, and watch the “crazy” triathletes, cheering from the sidelines. My mother affectionately dubbed my father “Eli the Fanatic” as year after year, the triathlon training continued.

Meanwhile, I was happily pursuing my lifelong love – horseback riding. I am the proverbial girl-who-wants-a-pony who never grew out of it. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in rural Virginia and had the opportunity to ride. In college, and later in graduate school, I rode on the Equestrian Team. The solo aspect of triathlon held an elusive appeal for someone who pursues his or her sport with a teammate through non-verbal communication.

Then, last year my life fundamentally changed overnight when I received traumatic family news. Most days, just getting out of bed and going to work was an accomplishment. A month later, my father made me an offer – for Father’s Day, rather than just coming to the annual Rocky Gap Triathlon in Cumberland, Maryland and cheering, why not participate? Desperate for anything to help the healing process, I agreed. A week before the race, I went out and got fitted for a pair of running shoes; this was the extent of my training for my first triathlon.*

Halfway through the race, I began cursing my father for suggesting that this would be “fun” – after it was over, however, I was hooked. Shortly after crossing the finish line I asked my father, “which race can we do next?”

I was introduced to the DC Tri Club soon after Rocky Gap and was pleasantly surprised to discover the wonderful sense of community that the triathletes created. In DCTC, I found a safe place to put aside the crisis going on in the rest of my life and a healthy way to keep putting one foot in front of the other. In my father, I found a wealth of knowledge, training advice, and the best coach anyone could ever hope for.

Now, a year later, I tri because my family means the world to me. I tri because, no matter how I am feeling, I know with absolute certainty that a ride on my bike or a swim in the pool will turn my world right side up again. I will probably never become one of the many accomplished triathletes who make up this club, but I am growing more patient and learning to appreciate the small gains in my training with each week. I tri because it feels good to push myself a little harder, and a little further, every day. This summer, I completed my first Olympic-distance race with fellow NTP’ers at Steelman.

*I do not recommend preparing for one’s first triathlon the way that I did.