Sophie Watts - Ready for the 2022 season

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One year ago, I, like many, hoped that the closing of 2020 signaled a definite end to the hardships that were faced worldwide during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the war against COVID-19 raged on well into 2021, as well as lockdowns, social distancing, economic disruptions, and other circumstances that made life difficult. Although we saw some glimmers of “normalcy” as race opportunities popped up, schools opened and in-person work resumed, our world has distinctly changed since the “good-old-pre-COVID-days.” 

 

Despite the chaos, hope for a “normal-ish” 2022 remains a powerful, shared emotion. This is something I too clung earnestly to for much of 2021, especially during my injury. Although constantly hoping for more “normal” or “happier” circumstances is not necessarily wrong, it may lead to discontentment and/or missed lessons learned from times of hardship. This is not to say that we shouldn’t look forward to or find comfort in brighter days ahead, but also recognize there is great joy and wisdom to be found in the hard times. It is these struggles, however unfortunate, that often teach best.

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For me, 2021, even more so than 2020, was far from “normal” or “ideal.” Thankfully though, it was precisely the abnormal and challenging nature of this year that has forever changed how I understand and approach less-than-ideal circumstances for the better. 2021 began with a switch from ITU, Olympic, draft-legal triathlons to a long-course focus, coupled with a major career change for my husband from civilian world to active-duty Naval officer. The first half of the year was busy, but an exciting and happy time too. My first-ever 70.3’s went great, my husband began 3 months of Navy Officer Candidate School and things were on track for a great summer. Unfortunately, my right hip had other plans. 

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 Lingering hip pain after Ironman St. George 70.3 sent me on a 2-month-long wild goose chase that finally ended with diagnosis: femoral acetabular impingement (FAI) and labrum tearing. At the time I remained hopeful that my season was still salvageable, but a sobering conversation with my doctor stated otherwise. I was surprised to learn that FAI is quite common among young athletic women based on the natural pathology of our hips and the extent to which we push our bodies in training and racing. Although PT and cortisone injections can help with symptoms, arthroscopic hip surgery is necessary to actually remove the bony abnormalities that are causing labrum tearing and other symptoms in the first place.  

Unable to train, or even walk without pain, surgery was a logical decision. Although I was thankful for an answer and solution, summer 2021 was still difficult nonetheless as I awaited surgery. The greatest challenge I faced was not so much the physical pain, but rather the temptation to lose hope and merely “get through” the struggle. It was easy to get mired down in the unfortunate circumstances and justify a miserable attitude, but ultimately that wasn’t getting me any closer to my comeback.

Unable to do any form of training for basically 3 months, I attempted to make the best of the circumstances, however difficult. I focused on spending time with family (the first extended period of time at home since high school!), writing my husband letters almost every day while he was in Navy boot camp, catching up on sleep and recovery and hanging out with my family’s 15-year-old dog, Nikko. 

sophie watts

Although it was not necessarily a “happy” time, I found something even greater: joy. While happiness is fleeting and dependent on external circumstances, joy comes from within and endures, and even grows, during struggles. So often I have allowed my circumstances - racing opportunities, deployments, financial situation - dictate my emotions. This injury may have taken away my season, and some present happiness, but ultimately I realized it could not steal my lasting joy. 

My joy, personally, comes from my faith in Christ and confidence in His promise that all things (and circumstances!) work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). I praise God for this injury, because it has brought personal growth and deeper understanding of God’s grace and love in times of trouble. I am joyful, because I know it has only strengthened me physically, mentally and spiritually for the years to come and cultivated greater appreciation for the rigors of training and racing, when it does come back. 

Now 4 months post-op and well into my actual comeback journey, it was all worth it. I am very thankful for the amazing care I received from my surgeon, Dr. Andrew Parker,  and physical therapists, as well as the support of my husband, family and friends, the entire Zoot “Ohana” and my coach, Ken Axford. 2022 looms large, as do my goals and hopes for the new season. Although I don’t know what the new year will bring, I am thankful for the joy that hardship has cultivated in my heart, ready to tackle all circumstances with the best attitude I can. 

sophie watts

 Training has been going great so far, and I am thankful for the steady improvements. I was cleared to run and begin biking harder about a month ago and have been slowly transitioning into actual workouts. I am thankful my hip has been pain-free since my surgery. My coach and I anticipate I will be race-ready sometime around May or June 2022. The 70.3/long course world is really heating up and I know there will be race opportunities galore. 

The PTO tour, Ironman Chattanooga 70.3, Ironman 70.3 Worlds and various other races are all on my mind, but we will make definitive decisions about my race schedule as we get closer to the dates. Since I had to miss 70.3 Worlds last year, one of my goals is to qualify again and finally get to race in my first ever Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Staying healthy, finishing out my first complete 70.3/long course season and doing it with absolute joy are by far my most important goals for the upcoming season though.  

Whether 2021 was a year of triumph, trial, or perhaps a mix of both for you, it would be a real shame to leap straight into 2022 without appreciation given to the lessons learned and challenges overcome. I see each new year not so much as a “blank slate,” as I do an opportunity to continue building upon the experiences, hardships, joys and all life has thrown at us during the previous year. We may not always be able to change our circumstances, but with each passing year, we do get a choice in how we approach and deal with them.

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