July 20th, 2011
05:50 PM ET
Since January, six iReporters have been training in the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. We’re following along as they prepare to compete alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the August 7 Nautica NYC Triathlon.
There comes a time in every triathlete's life when he dips his toe into open water. For the triathletes that train in the Chicagoland area, we are blessed with “Ohio Street Beach,” a sandy stretch of shoreline and marked swim along a breakwall on Lake Michigan. In the summer months, when the water temperature finally begins to rise to about 60, Ohio Street Beach becomes a mecca for triathletes.
Every Saturday and Sunday morning, you will find people squirming in and out of wetsuits and training at this site. It is a great place to practice swimming in the open water. There is a solid breakwall on one side, buoys to mark the ¼, ½, and ¾ mile swim and on a good day you can see the bottom of the lake below you.
For Kendrick, this was his first place to try open water swimming. It was yet another big step along his already epic journey. Not only was it the site of his first long swim, it was also the start location for his first three-hour training session.
Kendrick’s very first open water swim was with Coach Keith, my partner in preparing Kendrick for the New York City Tri. It was a Thursday evening, and Kendrick and Keith met on their regular training night. When they got to Ohio Street Beach they were met by constant 3-foot waves that were swelling and breaking against the breakwall. “Wavy conditions for his battle in the big pond,” said Coach Keith. All eventually went well on that Thursday night – and Kendrick completed his first open water swim with Coach Keith by his side.
When Kendrick and I met early on a Saturday morning a week later it was for his second open water swim and his FIRST three-hour workout. I had emailed Kendrick a few times during the week to reinforce that yes, we were swimming in Lake Michigan, yes, he did have to swim ½ mile on his own while I walked alongside on the breakwall and yes, it would be followed by a 1-hour bike along the busy lakefront path and a 1½-hour run along the same route.
Seeing Kendrick amongst the other triathletes was a great moment for me as a coach. He was ready to take yet another big step toward his goal and I was going to be there to witness it.
Kendrick worked hard on his swim. He kept going and when he made it to that buoy, I let out a , “You made it!” He turned around quickly for the journey back and continued to work to settle into this new reality of being a triathlete – the open water swim.
After the swim, we set off on a VERY crowded lakefront path for our bike ride. Filled with hundreds of runners, walkers, roller bladers and other cyclists, it was tough for Kendrick to settle in. Ever the gentleman, he was a bit shocked the first time that I yelled at two people meandering across the path. At the halfway point when we stopped to drink he told me that he was wondering if riding on this path was a good idea. I reminded him that he had managed to avoid every runner and walker and that he had not crashed yet. Alas, my “evil plan” to get him to practice his bike-handling skills under stress was working!
We finally made it back to Ohio Street Beach and set out for our run. It was hot, Kendrick was tired, I was tired and together we walked/ran our 5 miles.
Kendrick did it – THREE hours of training.
Kendrick, like all of us who take on new things in life, faced fears that day at Ohio Street Beach. He pushed, he dug deep and he persevered. At times he said that he didn’t want to go on, at times he joked about going back to his car when I turned my back and at times he got very quiet.
No matter what you take on in life, new experiences will be challenging and scary at times. If we were magically good at everything, we would all just go around doing everything well. We would not grow as individuals and we would have nothing to contribute to our society. Triathlons and any sport that we take on give us opportunities to PRACTICE how we chose to live. We train and we practice how to swim, bike and run but what comes along with it is that we practice how we fight our fears, persevere, work hard and we get to practice how it feels when we succeed.
If you are considering taking on a triathlon – DO IT! If it seems scary to look at the disgusting bottom of a lake below you – TOO BAD! Be happy that the water is dark and cold – you will be even prouder when you swim that first open water mile. If you are just plugging along in life – find a challenge and take it on. Step by step follow the path on YOUR journey.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.