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Proud To Be An American (Triathlete)

By Molly Higgins | July 07, 2015, 3:39 p.m. (ET)

As many donned their best stars and stripes this past Fourth of July weekend in celebration of freedom and all things America, I was fittingly preparing to race my first ITU triathlon in Tartu, Estonia. In between running through the course in my head and my race plan, I paused to reflect about our nation’s Independence Day and how much it meant to me to be able to pull on my red, white, and blue race suit and step to the starting line representing the USA. It was an awesome feeling, but a humbling one; to put it simply, I was honored.

I was preparing to swim, bike and run through a beautiful and historic town that was abuzz with culture, nestled within a nation that had only gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the year I was born. Only since then have foreigners even been allowed within the Estonian border to visit. I thought about the American soldiers who sacrificed their lives back in WWII and whose service eventually contributed to the freedom of a country like Estonia, and about the USA servicemen who continually serve and sacrifice to keep us safe at home and abroad. Competing for the United States of America, any day, but particularly on the celebration of our 239th year of independence was a privilege. Stepping to the start line, this provided me with a sense of calm and excitement, and ready to do my battle.

And a battle it was! I am learning that in triathlon you have to keep fighting, no matter what. It is a long race, and there will undoubtedly be rough spots and gut check moments that can make or break you. I am overcoming my natural instinct to preserve energy, knowing I have a long ways to go, and to put myself out there in the moment. Pushing in the moment, when it hurts and you want to hold back and conserve, creates opportunities and ultimately results.

On race day, I found myself feeling terrible about 200 meters into the swim, with a strong river current in my face. Normally, the swim is one of my strengths, but I found myself gasping for air and feeling out of my element. But I had a long race ahead of me at only 200m in, and I had to compose myself to power through if I wanted girls to ride with. Fortunately, I was able to regain some composure and started passing people the end of the first lap and into the second. Still, a tough swim had still cost me being in the game with the top 10 girls.

I rode with one other girl, and tried to focus on riding strong uphill and technique around corners to save time and energy, all skills we had worked on around the crit course at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Coming off the bike with a group of five, it was time to fight to push through the hurt and to silence my middle distance running brain that screams out after 5 minutes that I am long past done.

My first of two gut check moments on the run came at the end of the first lap, when I reset my cadence, shoulder position and breathing to make a concerted effort to go after a girl that had gapped me and one that was fading ahead. The second came with about 1k to go when I had caught both girls and was running in a pack of three. I knew I needed to put in a little surge to be ahead before the 180-degree turn to the finish line. When I rounded the 180 I had another gear that I didn’t know I had, one that was still alive from those middle distance days on the track not too long ago.

My goal had been top 10, and I finished 12th after a poor swim. I had wished for more, but knew that I could not be disappointed in my effort in my first elite triathlon. I earned my first ITU points and gained invaluable racing experience that will only multiply as I race more.

Before and after the race, I felt overwhelmingly grateful to be there. I had had a really hard couple of months coming back to training after my crash in February and time off to let the fractures in my back heal. There were countless moments where I was mentally ready to give up because I hadn’t yet experienced what I was training for. I hadn’t felt the real thrill and adrenaline of the race and the honor of racing for the U.S. I am so thankful to my family and boyfriend, Hunter, who convinced me every day that it would be worth it on race day. Every day I have with the CRP, coached by Jarrod Evans, and with awesome sponsors like Team Psycho, LiteSpeed and Rudy Project, is a blessing, one that is especially renewed now that I have had a taste of true ITU racing. And I am hungry for more! I can’t wait for each opportunity to race with USA across my chest and to make my country proud. God Bless America!