It has often been said among endurance athletes that it’s the training rather than a particular race that evokes the greatest personal change. We are shaped by the daily choices made to rise and grind, to complete the miles, laps, and hours, and to see just what we are capable of on any given day, race pending or not. However, while this summation of dedication has the power to change, so does another equivalently vital element of our sport: the people.
I found triathlon (read as: triathlon found me) during a very transitional time in my life. The universe is funny like that. I had just completed four years of dental school, on top of four years of undergraduate education, and relocated to Charleston, SC from Virginia for two years of additional residency training. This was the homestretch between being a forever student and transitioning to real-world adult life...basically, the academic equivalent to mile 20 of a marathon. I knew no one and nothing about my new home and was the youngest resident in my program, not to mention the only one not married with children. The desire to find community and an outlet through which to balance the rigors of residency were strong, strong enough to provoke my distance runner behind (“distance runner” being a loose term here) to check out the local triathlon shop, Blue Sky Endurance. Many questions, several pieces of spandex, and an entry-level road bike later, I found myself doing some serious reassuring self-talk that I could kind of swim, usually stay upright on a bike, and most definitely run. Like most challenges in my life to date, I knew that if I set my mind on any task at hand, I would put forth the effort and then some to achieve my goal. However, what I did not know was how the sport of triathlon and its powerful community of people would work just as diligently to change my life for the better.
*Enter Team Zoot.* Following my first season, my coach suggested I look into team applications for the upcoming year. I researched viable options, and my heart was drawn to the family of Team Zoot. Perhaps more humbling than the effort, sacrifices, or balancing act of life in and outside of sport is the synergy of support so characteristic of the endurance community, a synergy apparent in the focus on the enjoyment of the journey, the commitment to community building, and the Ohana that is at the heart of Team Zoot. After joining the team, it did not take long to realize just how powerfully the spirit of the team united teammates across the US and abroad. As a rookie to the sport, I found myself taken under the wing of Ohana and supplied with an immense level of comfort, accountability, and stability as I took on not only new challenges within my training, but also the daily challenges of my residency, my mom’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, and a multitude of other stepping stones during the initial steps in my triathlon journey.
Now in my third year of racing and second year as a Team Zoot athlete, the synergy of Ohana continues. I have gained a bit more experience and crossed a few more finish lines, moved back to my home state and started my professional career, and continued to find connections and support through our team. Upon my move back to Virginia, I was able to meet and make some of the closest friendships to date with local as well as long-distance Zooters. At my first Half-Ironman in Augusta (2019), I was immediately comforted by veteran teammates at our pre-race meet up and of course in passing on-course. Now, training for my first Ironman (Chattanooga 2020), I am so humbled by the support and connections made both in person and via social media outlets from teammates across the country as well as across the pond. It's this sense of connection and community that has been so comforting as I transition from one phase of life to another and that keeps me motivated to get after it daily in all things in and outside of sport. Our Ohana truly is something special and continues to be a solid foundation of support and a family I too pour into as I journey forward along my triathlon path.
Ashley Anderson is a member of Team Zoot Mid-Atlantic. Follow her contagious smile on the Gram at @ddsdoublea