You could say my triathlon endeavors began where my ballet career ended: at age eight, in a puddle on the floor. Actually, I can’t remember if I was eight, six, or ten even – all I remember is that I was too old to be peeing my pants. “Hold it until the end of the class,” my ballet teacher had said.
A few minutes and one too many grand plies later, it became abundantly clear I wouldn’t be holding anything. I never did go back to ballet. Instead, I started playing soccer.
I was a runner from day one – small, quick, and able to cover the midfield for ninety minutes sans substitution (which I ended up having to do quite a bit). My club squad nearly took the Colorado state title while I was aboard, but my high school team sucked so badly that the linchpin of our game day strategy was to “send A.” Sending A meant kicking the ball over the heads of the defense and letting Adrianne outrun them for it, and the Hail Mary routine ended in just enough goals to make it worthwhile. Whether such direct play is good football is beside the point; by the time I was 16, I could run, run, run. I steeped myself in a year-round soccer schedule for nearly a decade and eventually tired of the game. When I flew the coop for college, I had already decided soccer was going to take a back seat to academics, but I knew I’d need another sport to keep me happy. It was at Cornell that I picked up triathlon – quite literally so I could graduate. The university required two semesters of P.E. for any degree, which I thought was kind of silly but figured I might as well take care of right away. The physical education department offered everything from ballroom dancing and bowling to Swedish massage and skeet shooting. “This is ridiculous,” I thought to myself as I perused P.E. course add/drop tables in the field house. “But if I’m going to be forced attend a P.E. class every week, I better get a good workout out of the deal.” And there it was: Triathlon.
I didn’t end up graduating with two credits of P.E. I graduated with eight. The triathlon class trained three days a week – a Monday run and a Tuesday/Thursday swim or ride, depending on the weather – and I loved it so much, I took it every semester for four years. I told my advisor I was earning a minor in triathlon. He didn’t get the joke.
Maybe it was my gruff old coach, Al, who liked to wear funny looking cut-off T-shirts to ride in and insisted on stopping for pizza on the 100 mile loop we did each year around Cayuga Lake, but who was more competitive than anyone I’ve ever met and fast as hell. It was he who first convinced me that I could, in fact, ride stationary rollers, and who used to chuckle while I was struggling with the class floor pump and say, “You have to weigh more than 120 lbs. to get 120 lbs. of air pressure in your tires, Adrianne.” Maybe it was the overworked graduate students who rotated through the class, bleary-eyed, or the steady presence of a few renowned professors – all of them ditching lab meetings and office hours so they could make the weekly spins. Maybe it was getting to know Ithaca’s “gorges” back byways or buying my first road bike with the encouragement of my then-collegiate national champion bike racer big sister, who handed down so many of her team threads my tri class nickname became “Team Leader” because I looked so pro atop my ancient, steel Bianchi. Maybe it was learning how to swim for real, running further every Monday than I ever had before, or having something to aspire to outside of the borderline psycho pre-med circuit. Maybe it was the fact that skiing in upstate New York wasn’t worth it. Whatever it was, I couldn’t get enough of that tri class.
I graduated Cornell, and its winters, with more Gortex than is allowed by the fashion police and a dozen or so triathlons under my belt. I guess I haven’t stopped since, accelerated rather. Some races are better than others, but each finish line is one I’m glad I’ve crossed. Many days I win age group awards sheerly because most of my female peers don’t really do this kind of thing. Other courses I’ve approached without much preparation and have been summarily spanked, like at my first Olympic – the not-for-novices Boulder Peak. I don’t think I could’ve been passed by more people that day had I laid down in the middle of Manhattan. Yet even in the Peak’s aftermath, I wanted to go longer and do it faster. Eighteen years old, sore and deflated on the bank of the Boulder Reservoir, I watched a wave of dusty old cars rolling away carrying shiny bicycles worth twice their vehicle’s value, and I can still remember thinking, “That’ll be me eventually. If I work hard enough.”
By junior year I had my heart set on a Half Ironman and already my girlfriends and college boyfriend didn’t understand what was going on or why I was always out in the cold. One Ironman later, and with one on the books for each year I don’t have to be a grownup, maybe some things never change.
I tri because, even if I didn’t, I’d probably still show up to the office with wet hair and I’d probably still wonder where all of my disposable income was going. I tri because sometimes it’s the best way to turn my brain off, and because sometimes it’s the only way to turn it back on. I tri because I got bored of drinking when it became legal and we stopped having to sneak whiskey in the woods around a bonfire, and because these days it only takes one Coors Light to bring everything into perspective. I tri because I actually do like Gortex, having three different kinds of sunglass lenses, owning several bikes but no car, keeping spandex drawers in two zip codes, and all the rest of it. I tri because I like to eat bread. A lot. And because Power Bars taste good if you’re hungry enough and Gatorade might be as close as we’ll ever get to alchemy.
I tri because I’m a triplet, so I guess that makes me a fan of things that come in threes – and in quick succession. I tri because if more of people invested their egos in something outside of the office, we’d probably all be more human at work. I tri because I like the biology of it, the physics and the chemistry. I tri because my mom does Ride the Rockies for fun and my dad bags 14,000 ft. mountains in his spare time and that’s where my X chromosomes came from. I tri because, if at the end of the road there’s an ultimate volume of blood, sweat and tears, well, why not see if we can maximize the sweat – perhaps at the expense of the other two. I tri because sometimes life asks you to walk through walls. It helps when you already know how to run through them. And I tri because, when I lay my head down at night, it usually isn’t long before I’m fast, fast asleep.