‘Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the town,
Not a muscle was aching, just some time winding down.
But one couple, they laced up their sneakers with care,
And tri training began as Saint Nick sped through the air.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While mum and dad braved visions of bikes in their heads.
Most people hope Santa will bring toys or a beverage,
But for one inspiring lady, a Riverside Tri entry was her leverage…
By the time December 24th is upon us most people have discarded their fitness aspirations until the new year in favour of beer and Christmas pudding. But for one determined Swan Hill mother, this was the day that she delivered her own wish list to the big man in red. She clearly made Santa’s nice list, because on that day she braved her first training session for the Riverside Tri and has been lacing up her sneakers ever since.
Just six days earlier, Swan Hill resident Jess Merrett won an entry to the Voyage Fitness Riverside Tri. We at 3585livestayplay, along with Voyage Fitness and the Riverside Tri Committee, ran a competition with a free triathlon entry, a gym membership and personal training sessions in the lead up to the popular Swan Hill triathlon.
For many people, winning a triathlon entry would be too daunting. But for Jess, a busy mother with no gym experience and no previous desire to exercise, deciding to bravely hit ‘share’ was only just the beginning of a new and exciting fitness journey. And on Sunday the 19th February at the Riverside Tri, Jess not only successfully completed her first triathlon, but exceeded all of her own expectations and finished in the top half of the field. Not bad for someone who started learning how to run on Christmas Eve.
I was fortunate enough to share a tiny slice of that journey in the lead up to the race, and when Jess crossed that finish line – full of smiles and high on achievement – I could tell this wouldn’t be the last time we would see her do this. It’s not often that you give out a prize and feel like you’ve gained more from the competition than the actual winner. And with Jess’ courageous ‘I’II give it a go’ approach to anything fitness related in the last two months, there was no option but to revel in her success.
After another successful year with the addition of a Junior twilight event and triathlon entries soaring to above 450 across all four events, the Voyage Riverside Tri is a force to be reckoned with. We caught up with Jess to find out just how much impact this event (only in its second year) has on our Swan Hill community…
It is four days post event and the remnants of the triathlon are still visible in this Swan Hill household. Jess’ front yard is equipped with a small children’s pool. ‘They’ve been training in the backyard for a triathlon,’ says Jess. ‘They’ve been swimming in the little pool out the front and then running.’ This new interest has only been sparked since they watched their mum and dad complete their first triathlon in Swan Hill. Her daughters are only three and five years old, and they’ve already (unknowingly) experienced their first taste of endorphins.
Jess never envisioned she’d be doing the triathlon after hearing of her friends achievements in the event at its conception last year. But with a cohort of family competing (including her husband and brother-in-laws), she thought, ‘it’s beyond me, but I would love to see how I go.’ However, Jess claims it was the staging of a local event that sealed her triathlon fate. ‘There’s no way I would have done it if there wasn’t a local event. You knew the people running it. You knew the people doing it.’
For Jess, the highlight of this family event was the strong sense of community that filtered through the air that day. ‘I just loved how encouraging and friendly everyone was. Everyone who passed you would say ‘c’mon, keep going.’ But it wasn’t just her fellow competitors that inspired her to keep going. ‘I loved running through the caravan park and the Pioneer Settlement. The band played as you ran through and they would say “keep going.”’ And Jess believes that without the support of local residents, ‘sitting at their kitchen windows waving and on their driveways cheering,’ the event wouldn’t have the same warm vibe.
Getting to the start line can be half the battle, and Jess confesses that nerves had engulfed her that morning. ‘I was trying to think of a million reasons to pull out. I had a bit of a niggly knee. The old me would have just said, “My knee is sore and I’m not doing it.”It took some mental strength not to pull out.’ But as soon as they mounted their bikes and headed to the start line, those nerves were quickly replaced with excitement. ‘It did make me feel like I was back at school again for a bit.’
‘Apart from the head wind,’ Jess laughs, her favourite leg was definitely the bike. After completing most of her training on a mountain bike with a baby seat attached and kids in tow, Jess borrowed a road bike for the event and her times increased considerably in training and on the day. However, the bike leg presented its own challenges. When Jess realised the task of getting her feet into the toe cages of the pedals in front of the crowd awaited her, she was concerned. But she jokes, ‘it was a plus not to stack the bike. And I got my left foot in when I got around the corner.’
Like many of her fellow competitors, Jess was nervous at the start of the swim, but she claims, ‘once you’re in, it’s okay. I found the run the most challenging though.’ But once she crossed that finish line, the brief feeling of discomfort was erased by an overwhelming feeling of elation. ‘I didn’t realise how good I would feel to have achieved it. Even that night I still felt like it was just a dream.’
Jess’ training has not been without its challenges. After starting her training from its bare roots, small injuries have presented themselves along the way. And Jess and her husband (who has also been training for the triathlon) have had to manoeuvre their sessions around their two young daughters. But not one to dwell on circumstances, Jess chose to look at this with optimism. ‘You just have to go when you can. It helped that Ardy was doing it. He would say “I’m going to go for a run.” And I’d say, “Well if you’re going to go for a run, I’d better go too.” It was like a bit of a competition.’
However, Jess claims that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support from her family. ‘I have realised I’m really lucky. Ardy was so supportive and other people around who offer to have the kids while you do it. I was just using the kids as an excuse that I couldn’t find time.’ Having people to keep her accountable also helped. She laughs, ‘if I just sat on the couch for seven days and didn’t train someone would know about it.
For Jess, the fitness journey didn’t end on the finish line. ‘I have really enjoyed the lead up and feel fitter and happier than I was beforehand.’ says Jess. ‘I’m sad it’s over, but I have come this far, I just want to make sure I keep doing it!’ She has now joined the gym and has other goals in sight such as learning to run further. ‘I would never have joined the gym if it wasn’t for winning the competition. I didn’t think I was a gym person.’
For anyone else who has been contemplating the triathlon for a while now, Jess has three words of advice: ‘Just do it!’ She has proven that you can do anything you set your mind to, and according to Jess, the Riverside Tri is the perfect place to start. ‘No one there is worried about what you are doing. Everyone is so encouraging and people are just happy for you to be giving it a go, no one will be judging you.’
While Jess’ family – along with many other local residents – have reaped the health benefits that the Riverside Tri has brought our community for the past two years, there is also a new group of enthusiastic people in Swan Hill enjoying the benefits of increased physical activity. With almost 90 entrants in the first year of the Junior triathlon last month, the future of triathlon and physical activity in Swan Hill is looking positive.
…she spoke not a word, but went straight to her bed,
Triathlon completed, and tummy all fed.
As she rolled on her side, and thought of the fun,
She said, ‘I’m not nearly finished, I’ve only just begun!’
She got out her pen, and wrote a new letter,
Dear Santa, next year I want to do better.
A shiny new bike would help me to train,
I’II keep moving I promise, I’ve got too much to gain.
The next day she was determined, and sprang to the gym,
She thought, I’II be there next year, at the start of the swim.’
The journey is endless, it makes us feel good,
We’d all be doing it, if only we knew that we could!
Check out http://www.riversidetri.com.au for more details on this great event in Swan Hill.