Running against the odds

author : Team BT
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Triathlete shares how multisport helped her get off a destructive path

Erin Rivers of Columbus, Ohio, credits a dramatic foray into triathlon with saving her from alcoholism, depression, or worse.

Rivers says she had a firm appreciation for endurance sports from a young age.

“My dad has been a runner,” she said. “My dad’s story was really unique because he was 20 or 22 and he was trying to quit smoking. He decided to one day run around the block and then the next day two blocks, and that helped him quit smoking. Now he’s done at least 30 marathons.”

“We used to watch him and it was exciting and I wanted to do one,” Rivers recalls.

Rivers focused on field hockey during her school years, including college, so she didn’t delve into individual endurance sports after college, when she ran her first marathon.

"At one point during my training I got challenged by someone saying I'd be lucky to break four hours. So I decided to set my goal as 3:30 and then trained even harder than the paces prescribed for that. Race day came and my family missed me at the finish line because I came in at 3:24. I qualified for Boston. It was one of the best days of my life."

“Everyone was blown away,” she said. “I was blown away.”
However the victory was costly, and she suffered tendonitis so bad it kept her from longer runs. That’s when she tried a triathlon, and completed an Olympic-distance tri just north of Columbus in the early 2000s.

Despite her clear dedication to athletics and fitness, Rivers wasn’t altogether healthy. She had a frequent but inconsistent relationship with alcohol. Her first marathon was born of her first real attempt to stop drinking. But after becoming injured qualifying for Boston, she started drinking again and met someone who also had substance abuse issues and further derailed her from a healthy lifestyle.

In November of 2010 after ending up in the emergency room for the 2nd time in the past two years from substance abuse issues, she entered an intensive outpatient program and got sober. She moved from Ohio to Texas, looking forward to a fresh start.

"In the spring of 2011 Ironman came to Woodland Texas, and I volunteered,” she recalls. "The excitement and enthusiasm during packet pick-up was unreal. All these badass athletes were coming in and it was so inspiring. I remember running by this woman on the waterway later that afternoon that looked like someone fresh out of bootcamp. She was about my frame and ripped to the nines - just this amazing powerhouse of a woman athlete, super focused on her run and I was like, 'I want to do this.'"

During her volunteer shift, she was sitting next to a family whose son Don had done what they referred to as the, "couch potato to Ironman training program." He lost 90 pounds over the course of the year training for it.

“I got to meet him when he came through to get his packet,” Rivers said. Her encounter with Don convinced her that if he could do an Ironman, so could she. The next week, she was registered for the epic race.

“I called my mom and told her, and she was like, ‘You did what?’”

Rivers joined the same triathlon club as Don, called Outrival. The coaches were top notch and coached athletes who race at the world championships in Kona. But more important was the attitude and camaraderie of the group.

“Everyone was so positive and healthy,” Rivers said.

Rivers first completed a half-iron in Galveston in April 2012, and then went on to complete Ironman Texas in May 2012. She vowed to never do another full, but went on to do a half-iron in Austin that fall, and another half distance triathlon called Oilman the following fall. She completed a full and three 70.3 races within a year and a half.

Rivers ultimately moved back to Ohio, and joined the Central Ohio Triathlon Club. She continues to love the sport and the positive friends she has met through running and triathlon.

“I love it … the joy it brings,” she said. "The best thing about it is that if you know you're going to get up and go run 10 miles, you'll be less inclined to go on a heavy drinking bender the night before and feel awful in the morning."

After experience the negative impact of a friend’s lifestyle earlier in her life, Rivers said she has seen the impact of a positive influence on the lives of others, including her own. That’s one of the reasons she continues to be involved in a local triathlon club – the impact of other people’s good habits and positive energy rubbing off.

"As Joel Osteen says, 'If you're going to reach your highest potential, you have to surround yourself with eagles, with people that push you forward, people that make you better, and people that help you soar,' Rivers quoted."

“The biggest key for me was to get involved in a group and make it social,” she says. “It’s important to surround yourself with positive people.”

Friends have watched Rivers’ dedication to triathlon and encouraged them to complete just five minutes of exercise in the morning. “It spirals into ‘I’m eating a salad,’ and then maybe ‘I’m not going to drink tonight.’”

“I've been able to help a lot of friends by advising them to make small positive incremental changes. It's extremely rewarding to watch these friends embark on a new lifestyle, get hooked on it, and flourish. Especially the ones that were unhealthy starting out. You see their entire mental outlook change and confidence rise to a new level. It feels good to know I got to play a part in that process.”

Rivers continues to train after deferring her Florida Ironman to 2021, and Boston being pushed back till next fall. She continues to train on her own and attend group runs with her teammates in Rogue Racers when possible.

The confidence that she would get to the finish line by putting in the work and taking each step in order was something she learned from her dad, but now it’s something she tells others who are considering triathlon.

“Set small achievable goals. If you can’t run a mile, then run/walk. Slowly keep building, like my dad did. ‘Tomorrow I’m going to run two blocks.’”

Seeing others adopt a healthier lifestyle because of her influence has been very rewarding for Rivers. She tells friends, “It takes time to build strength and endurance. It’s definitely achievable if you set your mind to it. Just don’t give up.”

Make sure to find some training buddies, she advises. "They will continue to inspire and motivate you on the days when you need it the most. And last but not least always tell yourself, "I got this. I can do this." And never ever give up."

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date: November 30, 2020

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