USA Triathlon News Blogs My Story Why NOT You? 

Why NOT You? 

By Mandi Kowal | Jan. 23, 2018, 12:23 p.m. (ET)

In late December, IRONMAN released their Best of 2017 video, and little did I realize how much I would be moved by the stories. I was impressed and in awe of those who were featured who endured tragic hardships and challenges.
Most of us have come to the sport facing some sort of challenges to overcome, whether it’s learning to swim, working through schedule and time constraints, or regaining health and endurance to complete a distance. Perhaps our biggest hurdle is simply believing we are capable and finding the athlete within us!
If you, or a friend, are considering the sport but put yourself in the category of “I could never,” just consider some of the stories of unlikely triathletes.

For instance, in November at the welcoming ceremony at IRONMAN Arizona we heard from one the athletes, Amy Downs. The minute she started to speak she captured my attention. Amy was bursting with energy and her story was unreal. Back in 1995 she was working in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City when it was bombed. She fell three floors and was buried alive. While the rescuers where trying to free her, there was another bomb threat and they had to leave her for 45 minutes. It was during this time that she vowed to live her life differently and make the best of it. Amy, made it out alive and lived up to her word. She lost over 200 pounds and started the sport of triathlon. Now Amy was about to take on IRONMAN Arizona. What I find most fascinating about this story is that Amy is like many others — she put her job before her health and was in no shape to take on any athletic adventure. Yet Amy used this horrifying experience to shift her life and her health. So, if Amy can do it, why NOT you?
Then look at Marcus Cook, IRONMAN Texas finisher. He used to weigh nearly 500 pounds. He was encouraged from a very close friend who was dying of cancer to change his life. He said, “Hey, I’m dying because of an incurable disease and you’re dying because you have a choice. I want you to live and I want you to be there for your family.” Marcus took his friend’s advice and systematically shifted his life and health. So, if Marcus can do it, why NOT you?
Erich Manser lost his sight as an adult and rather than let that define him, he set out to do more. He raced in IRONMAN Maryland with his guide Matt Smith and went on to set a world record for blind athletes in a time of 10:56. So, if Erich can do it, why NOT you? 
Let’s address those reasons your brain might be telling you that you can’t be a triathlete:
  • Out of shape
  • I can’t go that far
  • It seems overwhelming
  • I don’t know how to swim
  • I don’t have time
  • I don’t look like a triathlete
If you think you can’t identify as triathlete, think again! Behind every competitor at the start line, is a story of taking that first step, gaining the skills, building the fitness — and developing the belief!
I’ll finish with one more example featured in the video, which is that of our own Team MPI athlete and coach Rebecca Piper. She suffered a vicious in-home assault that left her with hemiplegia, yet she completed IRONMAN 70.3 Boulder this year. Her story is an everlasting catalyst for me in my daily life.
Triathlon is a sport of facing challenges and overcoming, and every athlete has their own story to tell. It’s time to add yours!
Mandi Kowal is a USA Triathlon Level I and Youth & Junior Certified Coach, and an ASCA Level II Certified Coach with 31 years of combined coaching experience spanning collegiate rowing, swimming, running and triathlon. She was the USOC Sportswoman of the Year in 1987 and is two-time world champion (rowing), multiple IRONMAN finisher, and four-time IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship qualifier. Coach Mandi is a coach with Team MPI, based in Iowa City, Iowa, and can be reached at

Share Your Story

Sometimes the best inspiration comes from the triumphs and accomplishments of your fellow athletes. Submit your own story. Email us at and include the story and any accompanying photos as attachments. Please include "My Story" in the subject line.