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Finding Her Inner Athlete
Lilian Chiu, 44, had always considered herself a lifetime non-athlete. But after losing a dear friend, she was inspired to change that.
In February 2012, close friend and triathlete Aaron Cohen was killed in a hit-and-run accident, doing what he loved: cycling. Cohen had always encouraged Chiu to get active and, in his honor, she’s gone from zero to duathlete in less than a year.
“I would not be competing in this week’s USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships if Aaron had not taken the time to stop and simply tell me that I could do this,” she said. “‘Just put your shoes on and run … because you can,’ he would say.”
This Florida native ran her first 5k in late 2012 and participated in her first 10k a month later, thanks to encouragement from a colleague. In the new year, Chiu signed up for her first half marathon and joined a triathlon training group called BWC, standing for “Because We Can” — one of Cohen’s favorite expressions.
“I can tell you, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Chiu said. “I had cycled, but not really cycled. I had run, but not really run. … I had swam, whom am I kidding, I never really swam either.”
Together as a team of newbies, BWC members learned all the triathlon basics including clipping into your pedals, following a nutrition plan and practicing transitions.
“More importantly, we learned how to become a team, how to support each other through our strengths and weaknesses,” she said.
Five months later, Chiu signed up for her first duathlon hosted by TriMiami in Key Biscayne, Fla. “Frankly, I was hooked at that first race.”
Chiu’s love for run-bike-run events grew as she continued the year competing in a total of six duathlons and one relay, earning three first-place medals, two second-place finishes and one third-place finish in her age group. Throughout all the training and competitions, she’s gained countless skills to help prepare her for nationals.
“It’s frankly so overwhelming to be participating in Duathlon Nationals. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I could do the things I have done this past year,” Chiu said.
Aaron Cohen (left) and Chiu's sister Ana Cohen (right) trained together as a part of Esserman Racing Team and inspired her to start running.
Chiu learned everything she needed to know about local courses by volunteering at events. She also found a trusted store in her hometown to be her command center for questions on nutrition, equipment and more. But Chiu’s biggest driving force has been the encouragement from teammates and friends.
She wouldn’t be racing in Tucson/Oro Valley, Ariz., this weekend if it wasn’t for camaraderie and enthusiasm of her team, her big “30,000-foot high dreams” and Cohen’s encouragement, accomplishments and legacy.
“It is an honor to be a newbie to the sport and be competing with these phenomenal athletes [at Duathlon Nationals],” Chiu said. “I will take in every moment and every bit of advice from them all, and I know I will have a great race — ‘because I can.’”
A Special Thanks
Lilian Chiu thanks her sister, teammates, coaches and other supporters who have helped her become the duathlete she is today: Ana Cohen, Adelyn Araque Blanco, Elizabeth Sanchez Brana, Juan Carlos Pernas, Anthony Gonzalez, Alex Dominguez, David Ayala, Alfred Lurigados, Patti Montiel-Pinckney, Juan Rabionet, Stephanie Dibernardo, Cynthia Morales, Peter Lemus, Ralph Fernandez de Castro, Andre Quirino and more.
On June 24, 2014, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, which increases penalities on drivers in fatal hit-and-run crashes. For more information, please visit aaroncohenlaw.org.
The 2013 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships are set for Oct. 26 in Tucson/Oro Valley, Ariz. Visit the event coverage page for more stories and updates, and find out how you can follow the nation’s fastest run-bike-run athletes on our live blog.