Triathlon and Survival

By Rebecca Moxey | Jan. 03, 2019, 4:04 p.m. (ET)

Runner on the Beach

My “Why” in life is so deep and wide. I only know that triathlon became a metaphor for me to live life "Bravely, Boldly and Without Limits," as I am an ambassador for The Herren Project for mental health awareness and substance abuse navigation. My “Why” is my own story of recovery, of 12 years sober as of December 21, 2018. As I became sober, I started participating in triathlon as a healthy coping mechanism. I was blessed with always loving sports and competing. But I grew up in a massively dysfunctional home.

My father was bi-polar, an alcoholic, and addicted to drugs—and also a prominent doctor in Atlanta. He helped found a hospital and was chief of staff, but at home he was a monster. Abuse, violence and substance abuse surrounded me. My father ultimately took his life at age 45, adding suicide to the swirling eddy of despair that was my home life every day.

Being the youngest, and living with fear every day of my childhood, I was left with issues of anxiety and PTSD. I began to self-medicate in my 20s with wine. Many years later, it became my enemy. I went into rehab December 21, 2006. While others in rehab smoked, I began to quietly jog around the facility building. Weak as a kitten, but determined to search for and hopefully find the athlete in me again, I knew instinctively that pursuing sport would help save me.

My husband had begun racing triathlons some years prior; it is very popular in our town of Wilmington, N.C. I began training for a triathlon—the first one I would race sober. I had managed to complete one when I was still actively drinking, 50 pounds overweight, and certainly hungover. My first sober swim lesson was to work on being able to put my face in the water with goggles on. I have claustrophobia (part of my anxiety issues) and this was a true task for me.

I began to grasp onto running, biking and swimming, almost daily, with all my might. The swimming has become my true “go to” for meditative exercise, both physical and mental. I have overcome my initial fear of open water swimming. We are fortunate to have open water all around us, and now can open-water swim almost limitless distances. I am still fearful each and every time I enter the water for open-water swims, but I have such a deep respect for the water. Each time I step out of the water with the workout behind me, I am forever and each time empowered. This in itself has helped quell my anxiety, and I have grown further in the process. Again, how triathlon has become a metaphor for me in living life outside of the boxes I could find myself in. If not careful, I believe I would become an agoraphobic.

Rebecca Moxey finishes Ironman North CarolinaExercise has become a medicine for me, my mind and body, because I also suffer from Lupus. I actually have three autoimmune diseases. These are likely due to biology/genetics meets traumatic environment. I take medications to help calm the lupus flare-ups. These past three years as I have been aging (I am currently 57), I have decided to go after some BIG bucket-list stuff, as I really don't know how long I have to be able to do these events. I completed two IronMan triathlons in the past two years, and four 70.3s. I have signed up to do IronMan Florida in 2019, as my last full IronMan. I have also signed up for two 70.3s in 2019.

This training has proven to be extremely hard on my body. However, the training is truly like pain medication for me. It also is emotionally therapeutic. My oldest daughter, 39, who suffers from bipolar disorder and was addicted to drugs for years, is now serving out a four-year prison sentence for meth trafficking. I also have a son who is 34 and suffers from alcohol addiction, which has caused many years of struggle with his life, relationships, jobs, etc. And my granddaughter (daughter to my 34-year-old son) was treated in a psychiatric hospital for wanting to harm herself.

So I continue to work daily through the myriad of mental health and addiction issues that surround me. I now know why some are “cutters.” While I could never bring myself to do that, I have had to go to many a therapy session as the biological mother who parented with love and care, yet feels burdened with guilt, pain and shame that I could have done differently, or more. Due to my anxiety and PTSD, I am scared to death someone else in my family will take their life. Sometimes I train hard just to release the pain and continued obsessiveness of this worry. I am grateful to have found a healthy coping method. I will continue to grow in this area, as I have many of these areas of mental health crisis in my own back yard.

As I connected with The Herren Project, which was founded by former NBA player Chris Herren, I finally found a “family” of recovered athletes with the same mission. “One Person One Family” is our motto to help others find the beauty of recover. Through our sharing of our own stories, we show others who are suffering that you can recover, survive—and blossom. You can ultimately thrive! It took me nine years in recovery to begin sharing my story, as I was extremely ashamed. The process of sharing my story has continued to help me grow and heal in this process. I will always be a work in progress, but I would not give one moment of my life back to be perfect. Without my story, I would never be who I am today: a woman of sympathy and empathy, who is a true voice for recovery, mental health and triathlon!


Rebecca Moxey has been participating in triathlon for 12 years. Hailing from Wilmington, North Carolina, she is a realtor/broker for Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage. She also is an ambassador for The Herren Project, through which she has been sharing her story of recovery through sport. If you need help with navigation, education, or prevention of substance use disorder, please visit the Herren Project website at www.theherrenproject.org.