The mantra of the fearful is “I could never do that.” Overcoming fear takes deliberate planning: make a goal, reach a goal, repeat. Triathlons are particularly good as counterphobic measures in that they train you to methodically confront and overcome that which you dread to do.
I got the real urge to tri after watching my first triathlon in 2005. With every race I watched, the possibility of seeing myself in a triathlon seemed not so far-fetched. But there was still that whole swimming thing...
After two near-drowning experiences as a kid, the fear of water instilled itself in me, keeping me away from any body of water for the better part of two decades. One year in my latter twenties, I started making a list of fears I wanted to surmount, and water was the first thing on the list. How best to confront this fear? Immersion. Literally. So I took up scuba diving. Granted, I had life-sustaining oxygen-serving equipment strapped to my back, but it was still a big step toward crossing that fear off the list.
Even with scuba certification, I was quite useless when it came to the surface of the water; I still couldn’t swim. February 2007 rolled around, and it was one month until the official start of the NTP training program. I decided it was high time I learned how to swim. I borrowed a Total Immersion DVD from a friend who had taken the swim clinic, watched and re-watched the graceful TI swimmers hide their heads and swim like fish. I went to the pool and tried one drill at a time until one day, a couple of weeks later, I swam my first freestyle length of the pool. A few weeks after that, I stopped sucking water into my lungs and really started swimming. And in a few more weeks, I was swimming 1200 meters non-stop.
I think many people who get into triathlons occasionally assess where they were one, two, five years ago. Many might say they never could have seen themselves doing something like a triathlon... much less finishing a longer-distance race like an Ironman. We assail our fears less by talking about them, and more by taking action against them. Triathlons have a great way of taking the phrase “could never do that” out of our vocabularies.