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Full Circle

The Idaho dietetics community is pretty tight-knit. So when I was asked by one of my long-time mentors to meet with a soon-to-be dietitian and aspiring triathlete I enthusiastically agreed. A fellow foodie who wants to geek out over tri-talk? Sign me up!

I met Rachael for coffee the following week and her exuberant, smiling face brightened Java more than the floor-to-ceiling windows. We exchanged niceties and introductions and I couldn’t help but mirror her electric enthusiasm. While her gusto was refreshing, in the back of my mind I wondered, “Does this girl know what she’s in for??”

Rachael had signed up for Coeur d’Alene 70.3 “because it sounded fun.” OK, that’s a good start…though anyone who has completed a 70.3 will tell you it can be many things, but fun isn't always one of them. She had no experience in the multisport arena, though her cross-country and track background has developed a robust physical engine and a hunger for competition. Don’t let her sweet exterior fool you- she came to light it up.

A word about dietitians: our breed is distinctly organized and we have a propensity for investigation. She promptly pulled out a very tidy list of questions for me (something I wasn’t really expecting) and together we dug into the rabbit hole of triathlon intricacies. Unearth the detailed Q&A here.

As we rolled through the questions, I was reminded of my first half-ironman, the Boise 70.3 back in 2009. I must have learned all of this triathlon mumbo-jumbo from somewhere. It’s been so long I’ve honestly forgotten how much I didn’t know as a newbie. What a privilege to revisit the discoveries I’ve made along the way, and to share them with someone equally curious.

One of the most outstanding memories I have of our first meeting: nothing shook Rachael’s excitement and nothing made her nervous. She lacked open water swimming experience, didn’t own a wetsuit, hadn’t experimented with many nutrition products and most of her saddle time came in the form of spinning classes. Whoa. I found myself filtering my advice through a lens of “don’t scare her off but help her be prepared.”

We parted that day with Rachael having several notebook pages of tri-geek gold and me with a giddy warmth that I attributed to reliving that first-race excitement. We kept in touch through the remainder of her training (I hooked her up with a wetsuit, a training group and some CLIF products to sample). Four weeks later, it was race day.

Unsurprisingly, Rachael cruised through her race with a sprightly attitude and that unmistakable smile (photo evidence below). When I saw she had taken 5th in her age group (um, holy crap, newbie!!!) I immediately texted her with a massive congrats. She responded with a message I’ll never forget: “It was pretty much the best day ever!” Clearly, she was hooked.

Maybe it’s her sunshiny personality, or maybe the race just really went that smoothly, but the overarching theme of her eventual race report to me was thrilling, smiles-for-miles-type fun. The only hiccup I gathered was that she’d dropped her chain on a climb and it took her several minutes to get rolling again. Don’t worry, she now has a K-Edge. :-)

Her naiveté in the triathlon world meant she didn’t think 5th was anything special. Little did she know, skipping the awards ceremony meant forfeiting her slot to the 70.3 World Championships. After learning that this was actually a significant accomplishment, and that World’s will be held in the U.S. this year, she feverishly started planning for another 70.3 in order to qualify. We discussed options, but ultimately she decided that her final year in school took priority.

Our frenzied mentor-athlete relationship came full-circle this past weekend. My favorite local race, Emmett’s Most Excellent Triathlon, is a staple on my calendar. However, the event was only a week out from Ironman Mont-Tremblant, which meant a fast 10k off the bike was not in my best interest. So, when I recruited Rachael to participate as my relay runner, she gratefully accepted with (you guessed it) a beaming smile. Sharing this special race with a new, spirited tri-buddy melted away any shadow of disappointment I felt for not being able to compete in the full event.

Mentoring might seem like a duty to some. But I feel more like it is a privilege. To share with another the joy, motivation and fulfillment this sport has brought to my life is a meaningful memento I'll carry with me. Rachael has said she feels lucky to have met me and that I’ve been an inspiration to her. Little does she know, I feel like the lucky one.

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