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Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Joy

I was in the midst of a battle.

It was less than a mile into the run portion of Timberman 70.3, a half-iron distance triathlon in New Hampshire. Having just come off a challenging, hilly 56-mile bike portion and choppy 1.2 mile swim portion, I still had more than 12 miles of running left before I could cross the finish line.

As I shuffled along, I heard a man’s voice behind me: “You’re still doing better than everyone who’s on the couch right now.”

A lump formed in my throat as he effortlessly jogged past me. His intentions were good, I told myself. Then why did those words make me feel so bad?

In 2006, I weighed 270 pounds. I wore an XXL t-shirt and size 22 pants. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for air. I was unhappy and I knew that I had to change.

Over the course of the next three years, I lost more than 100 pounds. My progress was slow, but steady: what started out as 10 minutes on a stationary bike turned into 20 minutes on the treadmill, which turned into 30 minutes on a spin bike. At some point along the way, I decided that a triathlon was a goal I wanted to accomplish. Soon after, I walked into the local bike shop to purchase my first road bike. 

My life has never been the same since. 

The freedom! The joy! The effortlessness of riding a bicycle outside in comparison to staring at a concrete wall in the gym! It was incredible. I savored every training mile on my bike, Betsy, and was extremely confident as my first-ever sprint triathlon approached… until I arrived at the site on race morning. 

Everyone was so fit. I was the biggest woman there by at least 30 pounds. Suddenly self-conscious, I threw a t-shirt over my swim suit so nobody could see the extra skin on my upper arms that just never quite bounced back after being so heavy. 

Despite my self-consciousness, I finished. I was among the last to finish, but I did it. And I was hooked on triathlons.

That was in 2010, but I still carry a weight — not physical, but emotional — with me. I have never completed a triathlon in the top half of finishers, and I probably never will. And I’m usually OK with that, because I know how far I’ve come. With 12 miles to go at Timberman 70.3, I was OK… until the well-meaning competitor behind me told me that I was still doing better than everyone on the couch.

I realized in that moment why his words felt like a punch in the gut. He felt bad for me. He felt bad because he was on the second lap of the two-loop run course, and I was just beginning my first. He felt bad because he knew I would be one of the last to finish.

I watched the bright red soles of the man’s sneakers as he charged up the hill in front of me. He approached the crest of the hill and, just like that, he was gone.

And there I was, on the first lap of a two-loop run course, one of the last competitors on the course, shuffling along. And just as quickly as I wasn’t OK, I was OK again.

Comparison is the thief of joy. It’s one of my favorite sayings — one that I constantly have to remind myself to practice. In today’s society, it’s particularly challenging to make it through a single day without comparing oneself to others. For a fleeting moment, at mile 58.3 of 70.3, I compared myself to the rest of the athletes participating in Timberman. And, for a fleeting moment, that stole my joy.

In that moment, I had two options: I could continue to compare myself to the 1,700 athletes who had already crossed the finish line before me, or I could reflect back on how far I had come from the 270-pound woman who ran at 11 p.m. to avoid being gawked at. I chose the latter, and crossed the finish line of Timberman 70.3 with my arms raised triumphantly.

I’ll never have the body of a pro triathlete. I have stretch marks — my battle scars, I call them — that will never go away, no matter how much I ride my bike or count calories. I’ll probably never run a 7-minute mile. I could think of 100 other things I’m not, or won’t be able to do… but in comparing myself to everyone around me, I’m only discounting the things I am, or what I can do.

I am a two-time marathon finisher, and a two-time 70.3 finisher. I’ve competed in six half marathons, countless 5Ks and 10Ks, and dozens of triathlons. I am healthy and able-bodied. Why would I ever let arbitrary comparisons take those triumphs away from me?

Every day, I get to wake up and go to a job I love. I work for the League because I believe in the power of the bicycle as a solution to a number of issues plaguing our society today. The last time I checked, though, bicycles aren’t of much use without people to ride them. That’s why I’m sharing my story. This is about people. This is about you.

Whether you’ve been riding since you were a kid, or are learning to ride as an adult, or have been racing for years, or commute by bike every day, or hammer out 100 miles at a time on weekends: you are awesome.

Whether you’re a lean, mean, cycling machine, or are trying to lose a few pounds, or just ride so you can eat dessert seven days a week: you are awesome.

Whether you’re a speed demon, or like to ride at a more casual pace, or are working your way up from 3 miles to 5 miles per trip: you are awesome.

Whether you ride a fancy road bike, a used bike, a tandem bike, a mountain bike, a unicycle, or a bike share bike: you are awesome.  

You cannot compare yourself to the people around you because your story is unique. Be proud of your story — who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going next. And don’t let anyone steal your joy.

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