In the movie Forrest Gump, among his profound, oft-quoted lines is, “It used to be I ran to get where I was going. I never thought it would take me anywhere.”
This is a metaphor of sorts for my triathlon journey. I began racing as a pro for my own personal growth and goals. There’s no better test of my racing ability than to toe the line with the best in the biz. It is often said that triathlon is a “selfish” sport since it is based on individual performances and results. I can see how one might get that impression from the outside looking in. But allow me to offer a different perspective.
As I pursue my 5th season as a pro, I’m beginning to see a bigger picture of how triathlon has impacted my life and the lives of those around me. A few recent experiences have provided me with opportunities for community impact that likely never would have occurred without the relevance of my pro triathlete status.
Ponderosa Elementary Bike/Walk to School Day
P.E. Teacher, Jennifer Stoor, contacted me to be a guest at her school’s special event, which celebrates being active and getting to school using the power of your own two feet. As we spoke on the phone in planning my appearance, she continually impressed upon me how unique these kids are. “You won’t believe it! They’re just awesome!”
OK, every teacher thinks that about their kids, right? On the morning of the event as I warmed up for my “pacers” on the Smoothie Bike (courteously provided by the Idaho Dairy Council) I chatted with the principle of the school. “These kids really are unique,” she said. Though I’ve witnessed the boundless energy elementary school kids can have during these events, I was beginning to believe that there was something different about this group of students. I had no idea.
Promptly at 8:30am, the kids were allowed into the schoolyard to start the assembly. They sprinted across the grass, glee just bursting from their bounding bodies and smiling faces. It felt like something straight out of an after-school special, except there was nothing scripted about this performance. Every morning during the spring, these kids run “pacers” or laps around their track (which was built thanks to some tireless fundraising by school officials and local vendors). I met with several of the kids, who expressed how they’ve set goals for the number of laps they wanted to run or walk, how many miles they wanted to get throughout the spring, even activities they were engaging in with their families outside of the school activity.
We walked. We ran. We danced! And more than anything, my cheeks hurt from smiling for two straight hours. The passion and energy these kids exuded was palpable. As I watched this
incredible group, so engaged in their goals, running with friends and high-fiving their teachers, I realized how privileged I was to be included in their day. Their joy was infective and it was something I will carry with me indefinitely!
St. Luke’s Sports Medicine
Shifting gears a bit, I was asked by local Physical Therapist Kyle Sela to share my knowledge of sports nutrition with the next generation of residents at his clinic. As a health professional, I often work with a multi-disciplinary team of providers in order to maximize my impact with clients. It is vital for all of us to understand each other’s roles and to know when to refer to the appropriate health professional if the need arises.
The group was small, and included new practitioners as well as seasoned therapists. The best part about presenting in intimate settings like this is the rich questions and conversation that emerge. We explored sports nutrition, but also the importance of total wellness, balanced lifestyles and the practical relevance of food in our world. I have a saying, “our clients are human beings first, and athletes second.” Therefore, the approach needs to take into account the factors affecting the person first- family, work, budget, customs and cultures, history, health goals, etc.
It seems many health practitioners know what a Registered Dietitian is, and some of the basics of what we do. But few actually get an inside look of the processes we implement and the depth of our scope of practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to share this valuable information some of my professional peers.
Riverstone International School
It just so happens that my cousin is the 5th grade teacher at Riverstone International School in Boise. His class is doing an Exhibition Project where the students work in small groups to explore world issues, then reach out to experts in the community to learn about what is being done- and what they can do- to take action. When I received an email from two of Mr. Lindsay’s students asking if they could interview me as a Registerd Dietitian and Professional Triathlete, I eagerly agreed. If you had received the surprisingly professional email from Xander and Aidan soliciting help you would have immediately obliged as well.
When I met Xander and Aidan at school, they had an impressive “line of inquiry” for me, including the societal influence of obesity, how acquiring disease changes people’s lives and actions, and how access to healthcare changes people’s perspective on their problems. Whoa! The interview was fun, engaging and compelling.
A few weeks later, I attended the exhibition at the school and was absolutely blown away by ALL of the students! How amazing to help young people understand some of the more “adult” problems our society faces, like hunger, gender inequality and animal cruelty. The passion with which these kids approached their project left an impression on me. Seriously. Let me put it this way: I rarely get misty watching movies (ask MFMG) but I had to fight some emotions watching these kids filled with inspiration, motivation and visions to change the world. I feel privileged to have played a small role in supporting them.
This is what it’s about.
It can be easy to get sucked into race aspirations or the focus required to nail the next workout. But that isn’t what triathlon is really about for me. Honestly. This- everything you’ve read here- is what it’s about. If my notoriety as a professional triathlete affords me opportunities to influence the next batch of dreamers, changers and doers in this world, then it has served a far greater purpose than any trophy or medal ever will. I became a Registered Dietitian to help others and leave a positive impact on the health of our society. It turns out triathlon has become a welcome enhancement to this mission.