An Athlete’s Most Vital Training Weapon: The Support System

I’m entering my fifth season of triathlons and my seventh year of participating in races. It hasn’t been easy: sometimes the races are fun, sometimes they suck, sometimes I’m pleased with how I did, oftentimes I’m hard on myself. The workouts are grueling but mostly satisfying, the costs make me whimper, the injuries make me feel vulnerable, then indestructible. A lot of emotions and feelings go hand in hand with endurance racing, and without your most valuable weapon it all becomes that much more difficult. I’m not talking about compression socks or recovery drinks or carbon fiber gadgets; I’m talking about your support system.

There are people on my team who have doting, caring family members and loved ones who are out there for every race cheering them on and beaming with pride. Mark’s parents have never missed any of his full Ironman races. Brent’s dad had tears in his eyes when he watched his son approach the finish line at Ironman Canada in 2009 (and when I saw his dad, I choked up too). Jason’s parents, sister, grandma, and aunt and uncle have all shown up at races to cheer for him (though Jim, Jason’s dad, is the most genuine fan of the actual sport and would eagerly watch a race even if Jas weren’t participating).

And then there are people like me, folks who don’t have a familial support system. I have to keep reminding my mom what a triathlon even is, and when I told her about signing up for my first Ironman, when she wasn’t convinced I was going to die, she stated she was too busy growing hot peppers to fly out and cheer for me. I’m in the process of convincing her to watch me race at Ironman Tempe (should I decide to do that race) since it’s outside of pepper season and because her mother-in-law lives in Arizona, but I don’t have a ton of confidence that she’d come even though she has promised she would.

I had invited my sister to come to Penticton with my nephews to watch the race, and she seemed interested but didn’t come out. I’ve invited her to watch me race at shorter, local events but so far she’s been a no-show. She’s eager to boast about our brother and his martial arts on Facebook but has said nothing of my endurance race accomplishments. I doubt it’s intentional or malicious, but the lack of recognition can sting from time to time.

Speaking of that brother, when I had first signed up for Ironman Canada and was telling him about it, I mentioned that it would be really cool if he could fly up (he lives in Los Angeles) and support me and that it would mean a lot to me. He just laughed over the phone and scoffed that he doesn’t want to “stand around all day while [I] run a marathon.” Misinformed distance aside (hello, I’d swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles first!), the eye-rolling tone and complete disregard of something that meant a lot to me really stung. I didn’t actually expect him to come up and support me considering it would have been quite a trip, but his complete lack of caring really hurt. After I finished the race, my mom, sister, and other brother all congratulated me even though they really don’t understand the sport or the amount of training required. This brother was the only one who didn’t say anything or acknowledge my accomplishment (and to this day he still hasn’t).

Sometimes I see my teammates and my boyfriend who have such a loving, supportive family and I get sad. I would love for my siblings or my mom to take an interest in this sport that has occupied so much of my time in the past few years. I’d be thrilled if one of them called me after a race and asked how it went, or, better yet, if they could watch me race and cheer for me. It would mean the world to me to have their encouragement and their support.

At the same time, I understand that triathlon and other endurance sports are largely unknown to people who aren’t super into it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard folks refer to a sprint triathlon as an “Ironman” or an Ironman as a “full triathlon.” Some people can’t wrap their heads around why you’d want to train 15-20 hours a week (or 30+, if you’re one of the crazy Kona-bound athletes) for some silly race. They can’t relate because they can’t put themselves in your shoes, so because they don’t understand what drives you or why it means so much to you, they don’t care as much.

Despite not having that traditional support system, however, I remind myself that the support is there, just in other forms. My other brother John had talked about coming to Penticton to watch me race my first Ironman, but his vacation plans fell through. He lives in Michigan and has a wife and two small children, so I didn’t fault him for not being able to make the trip. He has said he’d love to watch me do a race in the midwest somewhere (either in Michigan or Ohio).

The last time I was in town, John pulled out his phone and said, “This is what pops up when you call.” To my surprise, the picture was of me on my bike during the Seafair sprint. I looked dorky as hell (aero position, douchey sunglasses, helmet, spandex) but felt very “Awww, shucks.” Of my relatives, he’s the one who seems to take the most interest in my hobby, and even though it’s not as rabid or as comprehensive as it could be, it still means a lot.

My boyfriend is by far my biggest cheerleader (both literally and figuratively, though he’s lost a lot of weight!), always there to praise me for getting my workouts in, to wrap me in a big hug at the end of a race, to shout words of encouragement (and to boot me in the ass when I’m being cranky), and to give me as much support as I need. It helps immensely that he’s involved in the sport as much as I am, so he knows what I go through and the emotions and sacrifice and hard work that go hand-in-hand with training because he experiences it too. Having someone who can relate and be able to root for me is really special because he knows what it feels like.

My training team, TN Multisports, is another support system. I have fellow teammates who, like me, don’t have family members who really understand or care about all these races they do and the training they endure. But despite not having that, we all have each other, and that’s the main reason why I love this team so much. I will never, ever forget running past my teammates lined up on either side of the street screaming as loud as they could for me as I approached the finish line at Ironman Canada in 2010. To have that much support and encouragement thrown at me was intoxicating and overwhelming. It made me love this team with an intense and fierce passion. The team’s support is what gets me through grueling workouts, rough patches during a race, and moments of doubt and insecurity.

My coach Teresa selflessly took on the role of doting, encouraging mom, filling that void for me. I remember my first season I signed on to train with her, she completely shocked me by calling me after her half Ironman Wildflower race to see how Jason and I did at the Vancouver half marathon (it didn’t go well for Jas, in case you forgot). I was not expecting to hear from her at all considering she had a big race, but she has always been that way. Teresa puts her athletes ahead of herself. She is often the first to comment on my blog posts with words of encouragement. She fills my email inbox with positive thoughts and reassurance. She gave me a huge hug and a kiss after I completed my first Ironman and was beaming with pride. She has become a great friend to me and an indispensable part of training and racing, not because she’s the one who comes up with my workouts (though that obviously helps), but because without her support and her unwavering belief in me at times when I don’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today.

Jason’s family has also rooted for me at races, but I didn’t think too much of it because every time I’d be racing, so too would Jas or his sister, so I felt like the “package deal” when it came to cheering me on. This year, however, Jason is planning to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene while I opted to do Canada again, so we’re a bit more independent with our respective race schedules. Jason’s dad Jim shocked the hell out of me when we were talking about traveling for the races and he very casually said to his wife, “So we’ll be over in Idaho for Jason’s race in June, and then we’re going to Penticton to watch Rebecca in August.” It didn’t seem out of the ordinary to him at all to travel up to Canada and support his son’s girlfriend at a race his son wasn’t even signed up for. Much like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day. It really meant a lot to me that they were all willing to come up and root for me outside of the standard “package deal.”

So while no, most of my family members don’t understand this whole “triathlon” or “marathon” nonsense and don’t give me the praise and encouragement and support I sometimes crave from them, that doesn’t mean I don’t have a support system. I’m very lucky and fortunate to have people in my life who are on my side and who do root for me. Most of them aren’t related to me, but they feel like family nonetheless.

To all of you who I consider to be my biggest supporters, whether you’re Jason, Teresa, my brother John, my teammates, my non-in-law-in-laws (we’ll get married eventually, I promise), or my few blog readers: thank you. You are what gets me out of bed for early morning workouts (which I freaking hate), what forces me to hop on my bike or lace up my running shoes when I’m tired. You’re what drives me to dejectedly yank on my swim cap even though I hate swimming. You’re what motivates me to keep training and to be the best, strongest, fastest, and most driven athlete I can be. You’re what carries me across the finish line when I don’t think I can make it.

No matter how strong or thin or speedy I can get, it’s a hollow, meaningless feeling without the support and encouragement of loved ones. Thank you for being my loved ones.

11 Responses to “ “An Athlete’s Most Vital Training Weapon: The Support System”

  1. teresa says:

    We all love you so much! And will always be here for you….on and off the field!

    Now I need to go finish your program for this week 🙂

    xoxo

    tn

  2. Bill says:

    Amazing Rebecca!

  3. Karin says:

    Tempe 2013!!

  4. Diana says:

    Non-in-laws aside, we don’t consider you as an appendage to Jason, but have emotionally adopted you as our 3rd child. We are exceedingly proud of your accomplishments and we brag about you all the time.

  5. Molly says:

    Awwww! Even though I’ll be racing up in Canada as the same time as you, I hope I see you somewhere out there to cheer!

  6. Cathleen K says:

    And the longer you’re in the sport – the bigger your support system grows! Keep up the strong work, my hunchback bike twin!

  7. Karissa says:

    Can I sign up to be on your support team? 🙂 I’ll pull on the swim if you pull on the run!

  8. bets says:

    Gee, thanks, Rebecca, for making me cry. I totally get it. (well, except the coach part–sort of wish mine had been more like Teresa) You are an inspiration to me, and I’ll be cheering for you in Canada…while you’re heading toward the finish line, and I’m heading out on the run. Keep up the good work!

  9. Suzanne Arango says:

    You ARE part of the family Rebecca and we are so proud of how hard you train. You are not a Mediocre Athlete in our book – you are an Amazing Athlete – we are in awe! Hugs from Jack & Sue

  10. Groupie says:

    Omg, now that i’m done wiping away my tears, i’m inspired to return to team runs even tho’ you’re all twice as fast as me… thanks for the kick in the pants. i needed it.

  11. Jill says:

    Even though I haven’t seen you in over ten years…

    I want you to know that I am so freaking blown away by your accomplishments, and I still check this blog all the time for inspiration, and to gape at your crazy workouts and most excellent sense of humor.

    I think if you don’t exercise much, athletic achievement is pretty hard to fathom, and even big numbers have empty meaning. Then you run one mile and you realize how impressive running 26 is. Then you meet people who did it in half the time you did. Or you meet people who run 26 directly after already-impressive distances in other sports, and you know that they’re superhuman. Your family should all be forced to run a mile, I think.

    In the meantime, I’ll continue being your fan. Wish I could see you race, but I’m pumped that I get to read about it, at least.

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