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Bitten By the Tri Bug

By Natalie Kirchhoff | Feb. 15, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

Howdy USA Triathlon — my name is Natalie Kirchhoff. I'm a new pro triathlete and member of the Collegiate Recruitment Program (CRP). I've completed 13 races over the past couple years and have the tri bug like many of you. When you start, it's hard to stop!

At the finish of the Clermont Age Group Draft-Legal Challenge in March 2011.

A little about me: I grew up the second of four girls in Missouri. I swam at Rice University (Houston, Texas) while studying sport management and business. During my four years there, I had a pretty rough experience. After improving my freshman year, I went through two and a half years of not seeing any improvement (no PRs). During that time I was misdiagnosed with a thyroid disorder, struggled with clinical depression, eating disorders and in fact was encouraged to just hang up my suit and move on.

However, I kept at it and experienced a breakthrough the last four weeks of my senior season. I swam multiple PRs and felt like I lit the pool on fire; a testament to hard work, patience, prayer and a lot of perseverance. After completing my NCAA eligibility, I had a goal to complete a tri before graduation. One week before walking the stage I did my first sprint in The Woodlands, Texas, and I thought that I was going to explode during that 5k. It never felt so long! I'm sure many of you can relate to that feeling.

After seven races I earned my elite card (March 2011 in Clermont, Fla.). A few months after that I had the privilege of attending the CRP select camp at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, Colo. I gained a wealth of information about triathlon, biking, running, open water swimming technique, drafting and more. By the way, the OTC is a magical place to visit. I highly recommend taking a trip to Colorado Springs. You will leave inspired and with a renewed appreciation for the time and dedication athletes spend on their respective sports to represent Team USA on the international stage. 

The Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.

I finished out my amateur status with USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals in Vermont and the Hy-Vee 5i50 Championship, and I did my first pro race in October (just to get one under my belt going into the offseason). The past few months I've spent getting healthy and building a base for the upcoming season. I'm excited (and a bit nervous) for this season. It will be my first pro season, but I realize everyone has got to start somewhere. This is my starting point. I look forward to toeing the start line with the “big girls,” learning from each race and continuing to develop my tri skills.

I now reside in Clermont, Fla., and work part-time for The Walt Disney Company as well as doing some side jobs to help pay the bills and fuel the tri lifestyle. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you this season and also following you on your tri journey. Whether you've completed 100 races or are working up to finish your first Olympic distance, kudos to you! We are all in this together. It's the love for the tri-life that we share. 

Here are a couple offseason/preseason favorites of mine:

  • Go on a bakery bike ride — choose a diner, cafe or bakery to bike to. Get a group together and ride there. Eat, chat, enjoy and then ride back. Don’t forget to buy a fresh baguette for the ride back. This looks great sticking out of your bike jersey.
  • vision board
    My triathlon vision board.
    Yoga — great exercise to do to help strength, core, stability and also exercises those mental muscles (concentration and focus). I have been doing Bikram yoga, a hot, 90-minute exercise. This is NOT for everyone, but you might give it a shot. Regardless, I encourage you to try a yoga class or two and find a practice that’s right for you.
  • Make a vision board/collage. I love doing this! This is a great way to use all of those old tri magazines. Cut out those photos, quotes, favorite athletes and other things that inspire you. Then get a poster board; arrange the photos on there and stick them down. Go to Walmart or Target and pick up a poster-size frame (about $14). Hang this somewhere that you will run into daily (bedroom, bathroom, even living room or office decor). It’s also a great conversation starter! You can make this as simple or elaborate as you want.

And make sure to add in some photos of you in action. This puts you right up there alongside those athletes you admire reminding you that you are a triathlete too. And just how all of us have role models and people we esteem, there is someone in your life who looks up to and what you do.

Happy training! Be safe. Be smart. Be fast! See you at the races!