My path to Worlds started about 15 years ago, before I ran, swam or knew what a multisport event involved.
As a sophomore in high school, I began to appreciate strenuous physical training when I began taking ballet classes.
I had always admired professional dancers, who seemingly would float in the splits mid-air and easily twist their bodies into impossible positions, balancing their weight on a platform roughly the size of a half-dollar coin.
As my muscles ached and my toes bled, I quickly learned that many, many hours go in to making something look effortless.
A few years later, I watched my mother-in-law, Debbie Miller, complete her first sprint triathlon.
Debbie — who also competed on Team USA for standard duathlon in Canada — had her hip replaced in her mid-30s due to rheumatoid arthritis, but hasn’t let that limit her, even though it can make swimming difficult.
I watched her wade her way through most of the pool swim, push hard on a heavy mountain bike and give it all she had on the run.
I was impressed and thought maybe I should do one, too.
A few months later, I signed up for a local sprint triathlon geared toward beginners. I bought a swimsuit and goggles and borrowed a steel hybrid bike.
I don’t recall much from that race, but I vividly remember trying to choke down a strawberry-banana energy gel while slogging through the 10-mile bike and thought, “This is horrible. Why am I doing this?”
The other thing that stuck with me was how I felt when I finished — slightly nauseated from the thick, cloying gel but elated — and when I learned I’d taken second place in my age group.
I had never won an award for participating in an athletic event, because, besides dance, I was never involved in sports. Because of my height, classmates thought I should play basketball or volleyball, but I hated both.
Even though a triathlon — and learning to dance on my toes in pointe shoes — were the hardest things I’d ever done, I couldn’t wait to do them again.
Somehow, the work ethic I developed as a teen brought me to British Columbia last month, where I smashed my qualifying time by about 45 minutes and set a 5-minute PR on the 10k run.
It also taught me I could do a lot of things I thought I never would or could do.
Last season, I didn’t think I’d ever race anything longer than a sprint triathlon. I completed two Olympic-distance races this summer.
I also thought I’d never do a 70.3. I signed up for three this year, and as of Sept. 10, will have completed two of the three.
And, most importantly, I never had considered attempting to qualify for or race a world championship, as I thought it was something only reserved for the tiny and impossibly fast. This year, I have two finisher medals — Nationals and Worlds — that prove Athena athletes like me (women weighing 165+) belong among the best of the best.Read about Ashley’s journey to Worlds in “I’m an Athena Athlete Racing on the World Stage — And I’m Proud of It.” Read the ITU Multisport World Championships Festival recap here.