People have asked me how I am so comfortable in the water I’m not sure I can answer because the water is my sanctuary—my safe haven. Had a bad day? Let’s go drown it out by staring endlessly at the black line at the bottom of the pool. Stressed about the amount of work you have? Let’s get so invested in the intervals and counting your laps that all those worries escape your mind. The water provides free therapy for your mind and awesome competition for those who seek it. If it provides this and more, why wasn’t swimming enough for me upon graduating from Calvin College? Swimming no longer provided the mental and physical challenge that I needed to thrive, so I sought out something that could.
I’ll take you back to my high school days when I had the opportunity to attend my sister, Julie Patterson’s, first triathlon. She gracefully transitioned from the swim, to the bike, and her favorite, the run. I knew, in that moment, that I wanted to be a part of her journey through the triathlon world. I created coach and athlete t-shirts for the two of us and I began my research of how to help her. She later went on to be eligible for her pro card (but that’s her story). After a few years of seeing my sister so in love with the sport, I had to try it for myself. In high school, I rounded up two of my best friends and we tackled the sprint world of triathlon. It was honestly sad and almost pathetic how my race would turn out for me; first out of the water, hang tight on the bike and then lose it all on the run. I couldn’t run more than a mile before I had to stop and walk. I was a swimmer after all, my gills needed the water to survive and my sweat wasn’t enough…
Between my junior year of high school and sophomore year of college, my friends and I competed in six triathlons, all of which I lost due to the run. At that point I wanted to take a break and refocus on my studies, internships and swimming. Division III swimming was the absolute best thing for me and continued to teach me so many valuable things, all of which help me in the triathlon and professional world today.
- In both high school and college, I had morning practices 4-5 days a week, practices Monday thru Friday in the afternoons and meets on Saturdays. I had work or internships and a full course load of a double major (in college) on top of everything. Would you like to see my planner? Everything is color coded between workouts, work, social life and others. For the past ten years, I’ve essentially planned out every hour of my day. Swimming teaches the foundation of time management and without it my life as a triathlete would not be easy. In my life now, I am looking at a 20 hour workout plan on top of a 40 hour work week all while juggling a personal life.
Swimming teaches you to show up on time
- I honestly, as a coach, can’t tell you how much I hear, “I didn’t hear my alarm go off.” When I swam, the threat of the cold hose spraying me, or coach calling me was so much worse that being at the pool. Practice starts at 6:00 AM, which means come 5:59 AM, I was on the edge of the pool, ready to dive in. That punctuality, that swimming teaches you, will take you far in the professional world.
You are detail-oriented but can see the bigger picture, too.
- Every swimmer has fine-tuned aspects of their stroke from years and years of perfecting the finish to the wall or stroke recovery. I can tell you that if you named a race, I could close my eyes for the amount of time I spent in the water for that race and tell you every single detail about it: when I would flip, when I would breathe, how many strokes I would take, what my lunge to the wall would be like. This translates to the working world where you’re able to focus on a project intimately for a long period of time.
You know how to take criticism
- As a swimmer you are going to hear constant feedback and criticism regarding your stroke, and most of it isn’t easy to hear. Just like when your boss coaches you on ways to improve, you know they simply want to help you be better.
You’ve learned how to win, and lose, with grace
You’re a team player
- The feeling when someone doesn’t show up for the relay is not a fun experience. My swim teammates were my family in college and some of them still are. So much support exists in the swim world that it helps build each other up. Triathlon and professional life isn’t just you. Everything in life is about the strength of your whole team.
Swimming is a sport that stays with you throughout your life even though I don’t want to be defined or train as a “swimmer” anymore. The benefits of being a competitive swimmer convert so nicely to the triathlon world.
June 2014: I made my move from college down to Richmond, VA and only a few months later I was training for something triathlon related. By that point I didn’t know what I was good at, but I had bought a brand new triathlon bike, was working out with a local triathlon team and I was learning how to run and how to push myself even more. However, coming from a swimming background, I already knew how to push myself, and without a coach there to reign me in, I over pushed, which resulted very poorly for me. I became injured very quickly into my first year of triathlon for over pushing my body and not listening to the pain that radiated from my knee every time my legs pounded on the pavement for a run. I remember that day so clearly. I was out running hills with my team and my knee started twinging with pain, but I wanted to show everyone what I could do, so I kept pushing. In swimming you learn to push through the pain, and that’s what I thought I could do with running. Something popped and tears were immediate. I was about 2 miles from the car so I did a sad limp/run back to my coach who didn’t seem concerned by his athletes free-flowing tears. I hadn’t felt pain that great in a long time.
Turns out that I tweaked my IT band, however, I did it in a fashion that made me stop running altogether for 8 months. But, I’m not a quitter, never have been, nor would I start in that moment. So, I became an aquabiker. Aquabike is a great way to stay in the multisport community without having to run. Most people participate because they’re injured, and others because they hate running. The mantra, “Swim, bike, done,” seemed like an awesome idea since it highlighted my top two best disciplines, and I was right. By the end of the 2015 season, I was the number one nationally ranked 18-24 year old aquabiker and was awarded All American. However, aquabike wasn’t enough of a challenge for me. Around September of 2015, I left the team that I had been on to go to GrnMchn Multisport Coaching, where I am coached today, and began my recovery to enter the world of running again.
I worked so hard in my off season between 2015 and the season of 2016 and I got to the point where I was running….slow, but running without pain! It was a very frustrating time. My long runs consisted of either walking up stairs then running down them OR running for 2 minutes then walking for several minutes. As a competitor that’s not what I wanted to do, but I had to learn to “trust the process,” as my coach would say. Trusting the process got me to the 2016 season where I not only competed in my first ever half Ironman (70.3) race, but I raced two, and my second was 23 minutes faster than the one only three months before. Tears, blood and frustration were ever so prevalent in that season, but that’s what I signed up for by being a triathlete, wasn’t it? To thrive, I need that nitty gritty hard work and competition, and I fully get it with every workout I do. My journey in 2016 started with stairs and walking and ended with the Richmond Half Marathon and a time of 1:44:49 (7:59/mile pace)! That race absolutely proves that if you set your mind to something and trust the process, you will be successful.
My journey doesn’t stop at last year, though, it continues on through this present year. In all but two of my races this year I have PR’ed my times over last year despite the adversities that I faced with school that wasn’t right for me, beginning of my new job at SwimRVA, my personal life and the anxiety and panic that exist within me. What I think all of my SwimRVA co-workers know me best for is what I am currently training for: my first ever full Ironman race, which is coming up real quick. On November 4, 2017, I plan on swimming 2.4 miles of open water, in the Gulf of Mexico, riding my bike 112 miles and then running 10 miles longer than I have ever run before…that of a marathon run (26.2). Call me crazy, I dare you. I know I am. I know that through my entire life of being a swimmer and accepting the challenge of being a triathlete I took on the title of ‘crazy,’ but for me, I like to see it as dedicated and determined. I set goals for myself and I go for them. I will always be a swimmer. However, I will be a triathlete who defined herself as a swimmer because of her successful career in the pool. I will still buy swimsuits and goggles and watch the PanAms, Duel in the Pool and the summer Olympics because I still love the sport. I am a triathlete and I have my own goals which may, or may not, include being a force to be reckoned with in the water, all the while being able to control that so I can be a force to be reckoned with on the bike and run.
Without the help of Dan Szajta at GrnMchn Multisports Coaching, Peluso Open Water Masters, the amazing facilities at SwimRVA and the flexible schedule I can work to allow for training, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now. I am a triathlete and soon I will be an Ironman.