How stepping outside your comfort zone in Multisport can unlock your power within
by Chelsea Montes
Sometimes in life it’s necessary to not play it safe. When we step outside of our comfort zone, it means we are accepting new challenges and discovering how far our full potential can actually reach.
Sure, it feels more secure and convenient to not take risks and keep on the path more traveled. But then we would miss out on the opportunity to test how strong of a person we can become, and, just maybe, realize the limits of our comfort zone were actually a lot larger than we expected.
There are so many unlimited boundaries of one’s comfort zone when it comes to participating in multisport.
If you have a fear of water or did not grow up a comfortable swimmer, getting thrown into open water amongst groups of other people splashing around sounds like the last thing you'd ever want to do.
Riding long distances on a bike — while clipped into your pedals — where there might be grueling hills and sharp turns? An adrenaline rush.
And how about running. Finding the grit to work up to pounding the pavement with bad knees or wobbly legs? Tough.
But the truth is that multisport reveals how courageous we can be and that stepping outside of our comfort zones can be the most rewarding thing we do in life.
We chatted with five USA Triathlon members on how multisport has pushed them outside of their comfort zone and how it has been the best decision they could have done for both their physical and mental health!
Meet our athletes, who share their Power Within:
Carter Wehrer (33)
Occupation: Customer Service Representative at TrainingPeaks; Triathlon Coach w/ Matt Hanson Racing
Melanie Young (29)
Occupation: Math Teacher/ Entrepreneur
Isadora Fernandes (44)
Occupation: Program Manager
Kay Dawson (50)
Occupation: Higher-ed Graduate Career Management Leader
Justin Taylor (34)
Mount Washington, Ky.
Occupation: Snap-On Inc. Welding Production Supervisor
How did you get involved in multisport in the first place?
CW: I grew up playing team sports (football, basketball, soccer). After two ACL tears playing soccer, I had to find something to allow me to remain active, so on a whim, a little over six years ago a buddy and I decided to sign up for an Olympic triathlon. We had no clue what was really involved, but it sounded like a good idea at the time.
MY: A friend told me about competing in his first IRONMAN. I was inspired and wanted to do it. The fact that it felt impossible made me want to do it even more. So, I signed up for my first Sprint and then began to learn how to swim. I like pursuing what feels impossible.
IF: My husband. I was a runner when we first met and he was already doing triathlons for years. We used to run together and do yoga all the time and, inspired by him, I decided to start swimming laps during my daughter's swim lessons. Then I got myself a road bike and realized that, maybe, I could do triathlons too... I mean, why be good at one thing when you can suck at three? ;)
KD: A guy I was dating said he'd done a 70.3 and I am innately competitive and thought if he could do one, so could I! I joined my local tri club and trained for an Olympic-distance five months later.
JT: I started cycling during a challenging time in my life. I blew the engine in my car and had a couple hundred dollars so I bought a road bike for transportation. I fell in love with my time in the saddle. It became therapeutic for me and a mental detox. I started running shortly after to try and lose more weight. I had reached my heaviest weight of 267 pounds and knew I had to make some changes in my life.
Getting into triathlon came a little down the road. I was out for a bike ride one morning at a local park and met a man training for his fifth IRONMAN. We engaged in conversation and he really inspired me to start swimming and give triathlon a try. The rest is history.
How does participating in multisport push you out of your comfort zone?
CW: Team sports always came easy to me. Transitioning to triathlon was challenging because I knew how to swim to survive and bike/run for fun, but I didn't understand how to do any of them competitively. As an adult-onset triathlete, it was difficult to not be able to just show up and compete, and I quickly realized how much time and effort was required to figure out just the basics.
MY: It totally pushes me out of my comfort zone! I don't think I ever really heard about triathlons until I was an adult and also didn't learn to swim until I was an adult. No one else in my family has ever done a triathlon; I consider myself a first-generation triathlete and have lots of room for improvement. For example, I still really struggle with swimming, especially open water swimming. So yes, I am pushed out of my comfort zone. However, I am a true believer in setting goals, BIG GOALS, and working on them little by little. I try to see it as a lifelong process and not rush the process too much. Each summer I participate in a tri and throughout the year participate in various races. I'll get closer and closer to my goal of completing an IRONMAN one day.
IF: It does that in almost every single thing related to the sport! I hate waking up early, and even if I do most of my training in the afternoon, I still have to get up at inhumane times for races. I also hate feeling cold, and I live and swim in the San Francisco Bay Area - the ocean water is always freezing, no matter how warm the day is. And I'm a minimalist, but no matter how much I try to apply that to triathlon, there's just so much stuff!
KD: I've spent a lot of my life taking calculated risks, and never taking on something that could easily end in failure. Last year I trained for and DNF'd my first full IRONMAN. The whole training cycle was a lesson in discomfort but I had to keep moving forward in order to stand a chance of making it to the start line. I was so scared of failing that when it happened (missed the cutoff halfway through the run) I cried, but within three weeks I had already decided I was going to try again, and push myself harder and sit with the discomfort in order to truly know I'd tested myself when I finally crossed that line.
JT: Just because you complete something doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved. I believe in continuous improvement. Standing on a podium, even if it’s a small podium, feels great. But the real race for me is just to be a little bit better than I was yesterday. Always striving for improvement and pushing through the tough workouts just to get a little bit better. It’s uncomfortable, but the reward is greater than the pain.
In your life, how has discomfort been a good thing?
CW: It has taught me to be open minded about change and learning new things. Multisport inspired a move to Colorado and a career change into the industry. Ultimately, I found a passion for endurance sports that I didn't know I had.
MY: I think it has been a great thing. Setting ambitious race goals holds me accountable. It helps me to prioritize my physical health and as a byproduct, my mental health has also improved. It also makes life feel more adventurous.
IF: Before I started doing triathlon, if you told me I'd be swimming, biking and running, all in the same race, I'd tell you, you were insane! Yet here I am: I'm slow, but I keep going. Triathlon made me overcome a lot of fears and anxieties (which I suffer from). It makes you learn to stop sabotaging yourself mentally, so you can physically accomplish things. It makes you plan ahead and focus on what you can control. And it makes you push yourself, too. I might hate it that I have to get up early for training or racing, but I'll hate it even more if I skip it.
KD: I've moved around a lot, and have learned coping mechanisms and strategies. But putting myself in situations outside of my comfort zone presents new opportunities for self-awareness, growth, risk and reward. What I love most about taking these risks within the sport of triathlon is that there's such a supportive community to tap into for help, advice, support and celebration.
JT: It brings to life the realization that pain and difficult times are temporal. Today may be uncomfortable, but make the most of it, learn what you can from it, and apply what you learned to make tomorrow better.
How does multisport benefit both your physical and mental health?
CW: Multisport has helped me get into the best shape of my life. It has provided structure and routine to keep me active, but also introduced me to a community and many close friendships. Additionally, it created the opportunity to pursue coaching, allowing me to give back to the sport that has given so much to me.
MY: Yes, the goal is to get better with age. I am constantly learning how to control my emotions and behaviors in a healthier manner.
IF: Right before the pandemic, some health issues and some personal issues made me slow down training. Then the pandemic hit and I ended up spending the past couple of years training very sporadically, taking long breaks between workouts, almost to the point of quitting. My body felt it: I gained weight, my cholesterol went up and I started having back pain. But my mental health suffered just as much! I decided to go back to training this year, and getting back in shape is so hard, I wish I had never stopped. But I'm determined to keep going and maybe try another 70.3 in 2023.
KD: Physical is obvious - as a menopausal woman now in my 50s, staying active and engaging in weight-bearing exercise is proven to be beneficial for my long-term health. As far as mental health goes, I really enjoy the structure that a triathlon training cycle provides, as it removes the ambiguity and chaos that I deal with in my everyday life. I can impose the control, structure, rigor and challenge I need that I can't get easily in my work life. Plus, I use sticker charts to reward myself for completed workouts, and that's not always understood in the workplace - but adding that sticker every time is a little serotonin boost!
JT: Multisport benefits both my physical and mental health. It’s obvious that all the training helps promote a healthier lifestyle and helps one stay fit. And for the mental side, people ask me all the time, “why do you ride and run for hours? Sounds miserable!” My reply is that it’s actually not. It’s almost necessary for me. Like I mentioned early it’s a mental detox I must have. It’s my quiet space. No headphones, just me, the pavement, and Mother Nature.