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Pursuing Wellness in the Multisport of Life

By Sharon Byun | July 23, 2018, 12:42 p.m. (ET)

Let’s face it.  When it comes to pursuing wellness, there is no Holy Grail.  Wellness is defined as a quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, which may mean something different to each individual person.  The key common component is that it is attained through deliberate effort.  Many of us are juggling multiple balls in the air at any one time – trying to fit in training with family and work priorities is challenging.  You may feel like your efforts are akin to swimming against a current, riding uphill and into a headwind or running in oppressively high dew point conditions.  Throw in an unexpected injury or illness, and you will need to really dig deep into the mental mantras that keep you going when times are tough.  The struggle is real.  How do we persevere?

I am sure that I am preaching to the choir when I say that triathlon has been tremendously instrumental in improving my quality of life in so many ways, not just from a health and fitness standpoint but even more importantly through surrounding myself with a community of people who are positive, supportive, encouraging, inspiring and fun!  I was 43 when I competed in my first triathlon.  It was a local sprint distance race, and I had no expectations other than to have a good time.  I had competed in many sports growing up but over the years, fitness took a back seat to studying, my career and having a family.  Recurrent running-related injuries led me to a sport that I initially thought of as a way to cross-train but quickly became a way of life.  I never imagined I would come to love triathlon as much as I do.

Last September, I had the honor and privilege of representing Team USA as an age-group athlete at the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.  And then in October, I competed in a qualifying event and will be representing the US again this September in Gold Coast, Australia.  I joke a little that having the opportunity to be a member of Team USA and compete at an international level is kind of like taking part in Fantasy Olympics for people going through a mid-life crisis.  But I can tell you without a doubt, it has been one of the best experiences of my life.  In November, I received notification that I was selected as an Ambassador for USA Triathlon.  I was thrilled to have the honor of sharing my passion for triathlon, to help increase participation of women in our sport and to encourage a healthy lifestyle in my community of Gainesville, Florida.  And then a couple weeks later, I had emergency eye surgery for a retinal detachment and found myself with post-operative instructions to be relatively immobile in a prone (face-down) position for the next 2 weeks.  Not an easy task even for the most sedentary person and definitely not easy to lie face-down forced to live inside your head when you are used to physical activity as your main wellness strategy.  Many of us are all too familiar with the loss of endorphins when faced with a setback.  To add insult to injury, a freak accident involving the same eye 2 weeks after my initial eye surgery left me wondering not only when I could return to training but whether or not I had caused an injury that would end my career as an obstetrician-gynecologist.  (PSA – a resistance band that recoils at full stretch and whacks you in your eye can dislocate your lens.  I now wear protective eye wear when using these bands).

It’s interesting how triathlon helped me through this period of uncertainty.  In my own warped way of coping, I was able to remain positive thinking that I would have a lot more time to train for an Ironman if I could no longer do my day job, and even contemplated competing in the PT5 division for athletes with visual impairment.  Mind you, I still had 1 good eye.  I certainly do not take my health for granted and am absolutely awe-inspired by the physically challenged athletes who compete in triathlon.  In my personal and professional life, I have had the privilege and opportunity to welcome new life into the world and also experience devastating loss of life.  When my father passed away three weeks after being diagnosed with metastatictic cancer, I was grateful that I could be at his side as he took his last breath.  My favorite pre-race ritual now consists of floating in the water and gazing into the sky for a pep talk with my dad.  It makes me feel safe.  I know he is still watching out for me.  

In the end, there are many factors that contribute to an individual sense of wellness.  I do think it is helpful to keep certain aspects of your life in perspective.  Stay in control of your thoughts, your mental game.  Believe that you get to decide how you overcome your own personal challenges.  Surround yourself with people who lift you up, but also to have an approach to life where you do not take yourself too seriously, practice gratitude, have a sense of humor always, and realize that most set backs are temporary.  Look forward to the comeback.  Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist, "When you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it."   I remind myself every day that none of my balance and wellness in life would be possible without the support of the two most important people in my universe, my ever supportive husband Louis and my son Thomas.

The more I participate and compete in triathlon, the more my love for the sport grows.  As age 50 approaches, I have only seen myself getting faster and stronger every year.  Do I ever have moments of self-doubt?  Absolutely.  Do I still need find ways to motivate myself and be mentally tough?  You bet.  Do I look forward to new challenges every day?  Yes!  Is there something thrilling about the feeling of nervous anticipation at the starting line and the experience of sheer joy at the finish line of a race?  Every time!  I am forever grateful to the triathlon community for supporting me on my multisport journey.