Why I Love Triathlon

author : gracetaBitha
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I have survived multiple relapses of a rare autoimmune disease since diagnosed at age 24, and refuse to let this disease control me. I'm living life on my own terms...and doing triathlons this year!

My motivations now are different from two years ago, when I loved the idea of Triathlon, but had not done one. Two years ago, I thought I was completely cured from the autoimmune illness that had put a serious damper on the previous 10 years of my life. I had been medication-free for over a year, and running 5 minute miles – feeling strong.  Triathlon sounded like an extreme physical challenge that would be my way of saying ‘Hey Life, I’m back!’. I imagined my healed, new body pushing through the limits of endurance, something my sick body could not do. I said to myself, ‘I will know without a doubt that I am strong and whole again when I finish my first triathlon. Well, they don’t call Henoch Schonlein Purpura ‘chronic’ (lifelong, incurable) for no reason.

When I actually completed my first mini-triathlon ('Hoohathlon'), I was sick – in early stages of a relapse. During my first sprint triathlon, and my first olympic distance swim the following day, I had barely recovered from yet another relapse.  Both at the Hoohathlon and Sprint triathlon, I was happy beyond words that I had crossed the Finish Line, but this happiness was tinged with a bit of sadness. This wasn’t how I imagined it would be.
I had imagined a ‘comeback Grace’ sending a powerful message to myself and others with chronic illnesses that ‘Yes, it is possible to take back your life!’.
Instead, here was a frail and still-sick middle-aged woman swimming, biking and running with the dream of one day being whole again.

I will be whole again!

Here’s why I love the sport of triathlon
Triathlon has opened up a whole new world of possibilities that has tested not just my physical body, but also my mental and emotional mettle. I am constantly learning how to listen to my body, even as I persuade it to swim, bike or run just a little further, or just a bit faster. I have learned not to push through pain, but am still learning to read the more subtle ‘enough!’ messages my body sends. Missing these messages sometimes result in a relapse. Instead of getting upset ‘my body let me down again’, I reassess what I need to do better, while meekly submitting to rest. I’ve packed in a whole lotta learning about my body in the past year. I’m also more sure than I ever have been, of my mental and emotional fortitude. I know I will get up every single time I fall. I have done that for the past 12 years, and promise myself to keep trying until my last breath.
I love to train. I train as much as I physically can. When I am very sick, walking up the flight of stairs to my apartment can be a huge accomplishment. I’m learning to better manage my illness, so I haven’t been really, really sick for a while. When I am well, I love to run. I LOVE to run. For me, running is the most physically strenuous of the three sports in triathlon. Running is also when I feel most alive. My heart is beating, blood courses through my veins, my muscles pump with life. I embrace the ache in my muscles and how my lungs feel like they are going to burst – yet more reminders that I am alive. And I am grateful.  Now, I don’t actually run fast, or anywhere near fast. And I’m not sure if I can actually run far either, because the arthritis that afflicts me may be exercise-induced. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to find out some time. I’m thrilled just to be able to run! When I can’t run (sick/recovering), I can cycle and swim. This brings me to my next point.
I love being able to mix it up (swim-bike-run), and even at my weakest, being able to enjoy a short slow swim. I can work different muscle groups while letting others recover, and the variety in my workouts keeps things far from routine and boring. Since I am often sick, knowing that I can at least paddle about in the pool is something that I can look forward to during these potentially depressing periods. For this, I have to thank Total Immersion for teaching me mindful swimming, which makes every pool session effortless and pleasurable. It feels great to be able to move my body under my own power, in whatever state of health I happen to be in.
I love the beautiful people that I have met and continue to befriend on my journey to triathlon. Various ones of you have extended your hand in friendship, welcomed me without reservation into your circles and allowed me a glimpse of your motivations for your own triathlon journey.  These glimpses have been revelations for me, and my life has been enriched tremendously. A few names come to mind: Raymond, Ida, Cynthia, Dzul, Ena for being the friendly faces at my first mini-tri (Hoohathlon), Kash for kinship, Jen for generous advice to a newbie,  Cynthia who conquered her fear of open water swimming and inspired me and countless others, KC, Steve, Nurina, Misni, Azizi, Syerol, Paul, Janice, Lina, Reza who will also forever be part of my cherished memory of my first triathlon at Port Dickson. Gin Hai, Hafiz, Shirllin, Yip, Yvonne, Kay, Dogbert and many others whom I have the privilege of calling my friends.
Racing is the icing on the cake. It is the day when I get to come out and have a rockin’ time on the race course, and cheer on other triathletes as they achieve their dreams and goals. I count my blessings as I stand at the Start Line on Race Day, and count every swim stroke, cycle stroke, every step forward… as a joy and a celebration that I am alive.


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date: December 22, 2011


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