Kim Varian Athlete of the Year

Live From the Ding Dong Lane!

Do something that scares you. These words will haunt me over the next few months. In fact, everything I have done over the last six months has scared me.

By Kim Varian, 2017 Athlete of the Year

In order to prevent further injury to my accident and injury-prone body, my coach and I decided to focus on endurance and start training for…you guessed it, a triathlon.

“It will be fun!” they said.

Famous last words.

Madison: The Tri City

Living in Madison, we are surrounded by triathletes.  It’s hard not be inspired by triathlon, the Ironman, and the athletes who devote so much time and energy to three different sports.  The team that Tri 4 Schools partners with, Madison Multisport, has more than 50 members!

If you have never seen an Ironman race, it’s amazing!  Beforehand, you expect that everyone is super fit in the most traditional sense of the word.  After watching the race for years in Madison, I realized that while many of them are in great cardiovascular shape, triathletes come in all shapes and sizes, too!  All body types deserve to be appreciated.

Triathlon Sucked Me In

After watching Ironman for the fifth year in a row, I decided I would give this sport a shot.  I would train to be a triathlete and maybe someday I could be an Ironman.

Last fall, I bought my first road bike – the first brand new bike I had ever owned. “There.” I thought. “I’m set!”

But buying the bike was just the beginning.

Apparently, it’s critically important to make sure your bike is actually fitted to you, or things begin to hurt in places you never knew existed!  Trust me on this.

Then, there were aero bars that needed to be installed. Those are the tiny things you see people hanging on to for dear life, bent over, and looking uncomfortable (they are actually more comfortable than they appear).

I also needed some fancy shoes that secured me onto this speeding death trap. You know, so you can feel truly “one with your bike.”

Ready to Ride…Sort-of

Day One.  I’ve been standing in my driveway for a long time.  I looked the part – nice padded shorts, cool jersey, and the death traps, er, bike shoes.

I didn’t even know how to get on my bike!  My four-year-old neighbor saw me staring my bike down, and offered me the best piece of advice ever:

“Kim, you just need to get on your bike and go around and around in my yard. If you fall over, you’ll just land on the grass. If you don’t, you can ride your bike to my school.”

How could I let this little guy down? So I did it.

It was hard. I was terrified. But I started to get the hang of it. I stayed on the sidewalk for awhile because there was grass on both sides. When I saw an older woman walking down the sidewalk towards me, I had to apologize and shared what I was doing. She got excited for me and cheered me on as I rode down the street. Eventually I moved out to the road. She saw me again and congratulated me!

Biking was starting to come together.

Queen of the Ding Dongs

With most of my experience in running, I thought I would focus most of my time on swimming. I thought I might need some basic lessons first, but my triathlete friends said to just jump into masters swim classes with Jerry. He would teach me how to swim.

To clarify: I knew enough about swimming to avoid drowning, but that was about it.  On my first lesson, Jerry asked me to pick a lane based on my ability. I went to the slower lane with a few others, which I affectionately call the Ding Dong Lane.

The other swimmers (the ‘grown-ups’) were occupying the rest of the lanes and had detailed workouts to follow. Jerry’s goal was just to keep me alive and relaxed in the hopes that I might be able to swim after a while.

Three sessions later, and I didn’t feel like I was getting a lot better. Jerry seemed pleased with my progress, yet my fellow Ding Dongs all seemed to move over to the grown-up lanes. I remained the Queen of the Ding Dongs. After four sessions, I needed to prove it to myself in my first Sprint Triathlon. And this triathlon swim was a whole new ballgame – open water.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

When race day came, I had no idea what I was in for. I raced as an Athena athlete, which happened to be one of the first groups to go into the water.   I was just getting over a really bad sinus infection and having some trouble breathing. As the start of the race counted down by seconds, it became apparent that I was going to have some breathing issues. My new wetsuit felt tight. Panic set in quickly. I thought about ducking out of the whole thing, but I am way too stubborn for that.

The horn blew. I entered the water, but I could NOT get my face in. I felt like someone was standing on my chest.  I tried to just swim, again and again.

Finally, I said out loud, “So this is how this is going to go down!” I started to side stroke, dog paddle and do anything I could do just to get it over with. I felt strong enough, but wished I could breath normally.

Somehow, though at least two other age groups passed me by, I made it to the end of the swim. I took the worst race picture I have ever taken (see above)! I felt so bad about my swim performance that I didn’t want to unzip my wetsuit. I was wearing Madison Multisport team gear and I didn’t want to embarrass my coaches or my teammates.

Here’s the thing though, you have a team for a reason. They will pick you up and push you, sometimes literally – like when my 34 weeks pregnant coach came alongside me to give me a little extra energy as I pushed my way up the hills.  It’s that feeling of support that got me to the finish line that day.

In my mind, that was it.  I did it, but I wasn’t sure that this was my year to embrace triathlon.

Heart to Heart

Coach Cindi wasn’t going to let me get off that easy.

Just when I thought I was flying under the radar, she asked me.

Coach Cindi: I don’t see anything else on your race calendar.

Me (in my head): Yes, that’s right coach. Don’t you remember the last race I did?

Coach Cindi: You are training so hard.

Me: I am, and I’m still horrible.

Coach Cindi: What other triathlons are you going to do?

Me: Ugh! This woman doesn’t let up.

Coach Cindi: What was that you said about doing something that scared you?

Me: She used my own words again me!

Next thing I know, I am feverishly signing up for another triathlon.

Tri Tri Again

To my surprise, the next race still wasn’t great…but was quite a bit better. My teammates once again waited for me at the finish line, smiling and cheering.

This time, I unzipped my wetsuit after getting out of the water without any shame.

This time I smiled in my wetsuit (see above!).

Going through all of this has been an awakening. I have the luxury of buying the fancy gear, fancy watch, fancy bag, fancy everything. I have a great coach and teammates to support me.

When you watch your child race at any of the Tri 4 Schools races, appreciate them for their courage, and respect them for their commitment. I can tell you that it isn’t easy.

I can also tell you that I’ve learned a lot about myself. I am an expert at failing right now, taking really bad race photos and expecting a band of horns and kazoos when I succeed. I get a little nauseous and anxious with every workout. I imagine that this will be the case all the way to the Chicago Marathon in October.

Nothing about any of this is easy, nor does it come naturally. For those who think they could never do this, I am YOU!

Please follow me as I stumble and fall all the way to the Chicago Marathon. Cheer a little louder for your child, and for me as well. Some are gifted athletes, but most of us need all the help they can get.

Together, we are all unstoppable.