Using Triathlon as a Tool for Mental Health Wellness

It seems so unreal that back in 2000 when I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety that I could never imagine I would have found the PERFECT tool for my toolbox and my BEST medicine. This would help me cope with all these important mental health issues that I face. I attend therapy sessions twice a month with my therapist but that’s not the way I cope best. When my therapist first told me that the sport of the triathlon is my BEST medicine; I never believed her. Well, that is until now.

When I was a sophomore in college at the University of North Texas way back in 2004; I stumbled into the sport of triathlon. Little did I know that on a breezy and chilly day in March in a little town of Athens Texas; would triathlon and the sport become my most important medicine for coping.

It’s taken many hours of swimming, cycling, and running to get where I am today as an athlete and to battle my mental health issues. A typical training week calls for three swim sessions, three bike sessions, three run sessions, two core workouts, and one rest day. On the occasion; my rest day is my hardest day of the week because I have to find other ways to cope with my issues.

The training has helped me deal with so many bad moments. When I see a workout from my triathlon coach the anxiety usually builds up. I usually start telling myself that “I am not capable” or “I can’t do that”. I write the specific workout on paper; even though it’s all online for me to see and do the best I can. Whether in my mind I hit my expectations for the workout or most of the time just completed it as given; I can find some joy and happiness in getting out the door and getting the workouts done. There are many times when even if I dominated the workout; I may find that I beat myself up for not being strong enough or good enough. Those thoughts pass in and out pretty quickly. Sometimes though they manage to stay and I have to look at my progress from the same workout that I did previously to make myself feel assured that I did the best that day and gave it my 100%.

Since 2004; I’ve been part of several triathlon clubs and teams. I’ve met wonderful athletes of all abilities throughout the years. However; with each club or team I was part of; I felt like I didn’t fit in and it got weird when others would find out about my mental health issues I battle. My teammates would distance themselves from me and I didn’t have much interaction anymore and there wasn’t much camaraderie at workouts and worst off races.

When I made the Zoot Ohana in 2019; things changed. Though I’ve only met a handful of fellow Zoot teammates; I know we are all family and that is important. At races, we cheer each other on while racing on the course and at the finish line. I’ve also experienced meeting other members of the Zoot Ohana when just training; which is wonderful because we have time to actually chat and catch up; learn about each other, you know the important aspects.  We take group photos or selfies; depending on the setting to remember the moments when we get together. It makes a huge difference being part of a team where everyone encourages and genuinely likes one another.

The 2020 race season was so different being part of the Ohana because I only saw my teammates on social media since in-person live races got canceled. I loved following everyone as they did their virtual races throughout the year, but it wasn’t the same. I felt lucky to do a few training sessions with other friends from Zoot during this time where many don’t get together. I literally cannot wait until we start racing again in person. I will take the chance to meet anyone and everyone from the Zoot Ohana that I can. Being part of a team like Zoot helps ease my mental health issues that I’m fighting every day. Even if others don’t know specifically what I’m fighting it’s amazing to have those that don’t judge me along the way. I am forever grateful that I’m part of this team.

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