The First First Place
You never forget your first win.
What made you get into your sport as an adult? After all these years, what made you pick up the ball, lace up the shoes, or grease the chain on that old rusty bike? Was it redemption, an escape, or an exclamation point on a life lived with vigor? For me, finding running as an adult was a lifeline to the slow death penalty I had sentenced myself to. My pulse was slowing as the weight of the world and the weight on my frame were increasing. Running (well, jogging actually) became my defibrillator—the tool that would shock me back into life. And, like anyone who has had a near death experience, it also propelled me back into gratitude, deep friendships, and the promise of a second chance.
Taking those first steps was never about awards or podiums. Quite honestly, like most of us who try anything new as an adult, it was mostly about survival. But something funny happens along this winding road of sport: you start to improve; like a knife, your skill set sharpens, and, before you know it, you're cutting goal times like a chef cuts onions. Goals that once seemed unattainable are suddenly within arm's reach, and you find yourself going from “completer” to “competer.”
Here are the stories of three local athletes who unexpectedly hit the top of the podium this year, all relative newbies to their sport. Each got into their sports for various reasons, but every one of them agrees that, at the end of the race, as long as they can walk away knowing they successfully broke out of their personal comfort zone and challenged themselves, they can be happy regardless of what the finisher results say.
2016 was a banner year for 27-year-old Christopher Reynolds. He went into the year searching for the perfect body, hoping to accomplish his one major goal of finishing his first triathlon. What he discovered, instead, was an enthusiasm for a new sport and, after just three races, a first-place age-group finish at the U.S. Open Challenge in Dallas.
“It showed me what hard work, a strong team, and the best coaches can do,” he says. While a spot at the top of the age-group podium was certainly testament to his growth, his real happiness has come daily from the friendships and trust he has built with coaches and teammates at Austin Aquatics and Sports Academy. “Some days,” he says, “the fulfillment is in crushing a workout, while other days the fulfillment is a laugh with a teammate while being crushed by a workout.” He may have come into the sport hoping to seek speed and perfection, but he's found so much more in the form of support, encouragement, camaraderie, and fellowship.
His advice for newbies? Jump all the way in, because you never know what you will find waiting for you under the surface! In his case, it has given him a new life and a new love for the sport of triathlon.
Kathryn Cothern from Dripping Springs remembers exactly how she felt when she landed on the podium for the first time last year at a local triathlon. “Oh my goodness,” she gushes, “Surprise! Surprise!” It wasn't necessarily a great performance by her standards, so she was shocked to see her name at the top of the list.
Like many adults, Cothern was simply trying to challenge herself and improve her health, which had been suffering in recent years. Eleven years ago, she was the one on the sidelines taking photos with her children in tow while her husband was active in triathlon. “The diverse groups of people out there looked like they were having fun and, dang it, I wanted to experience that fun too,” she recalls.
Life, family, and health challenges may have sidelined her at first, but once Kathryn started training and racing consistently, there was no stopping her. “If I am going to apply the time and energy to this sport,” she says, “There is no sense to not give it my all.” This positive attitude has served her well, and has since landed her at two USA Triathlon Nationals races where she competes against the best in the United States.
In addition to racing, Cothern is a mainstay as a volunteer and cheerleader at many local races. She's truly an inspiration for those who may feel lost or stuck in their struggles. “We are our own worst enemy, which makes us prisoners to our fears, big or small.” she says. “You do have the power to break out of this cycle.”
Her podium accomplishment signified that, no matter what, it’s important to give it your all, to the very end, without ever worrying what the results will be. While she is certainly proud of her triathlon success, she has no doubt where her true fulfillment resides. “Hands down, I am most proud of my three precious and healthy children who are the loves of my life.”
What happens when that little voice in the back of your mind says, “Why not me?” In 46-year-old Jeanne Hoffman's case, you listen to that voice and try something new—something that may be a tad bit scary and humbling. For Hoffman, that little voice lured her into her new love of off-road triathlon.
About a year ago, this former collegiate gymnast and road triathlete entered a mountain bike race for fun and loved it. “I survived, so that little voice came back and said that I should try one off-road triathlon.” She now has several off-road races under her belt and a handful of podium finishes, including a qualifying trip to Maui for the extremely difficult and competitive Xterra World Championships in what was, essentially, her first full season in off-road competition.
“I saw lots of scraped and bruised happy people.” she recalls, “The camaraderie found in training and racing has always made the competition more about the experience than the hardware.” In her heart, if she walks away from an event looking forward to the next one, it's a win no matter where she places.
She tells those who may be afraid of trying new things to just put their “crazy idea” out there. “Share it with just one person,” she encourages. “Because once you do, it really does become a whole lot more possible. Often times, the confidence you show you have in another person is enough to help them overcome their self-doubt and start down that path to overcoming their fear.”
Hoffman has certainly overcome a lot of her own fears this year, but if she has inspired just one or two people to set a lofty goal and push their limits, then that's something she can truly be proud of in her life.