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Get off the sideline and into the race

By Connie Sievers, Special to CNN
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In September, Connie Sievers watched her family participate in a triathlon
  • Last month, she officially became a triathlete
  • Follow her journey training for triathlon on Twitter @TriHardConnie

Editor's note: Connie Sievers is one of six CNN viewers selected to be a part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Follow the "Sassy Six" on Twitter and Facebook as they train to race the Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on September 14.

(CNN) -- Only a few short months ago, I was a spectator.

I was the person behind the camera, taking photos from the sidelines as my boys, daughter-in-law, nephews, niece and their friends participated in Iowa's Best Damn Triathlon.

As a spectator, I wondered how I would have done in a triathlon when I was in my 20s, 30s or 40s. I wondered how my life would be different if I was a triathlete. I wondered...

One of my favorite quotes by George Eliot says it so well: "It's never too late to be who you might have been." The kids were having so much fun competing and cheering each other on that I declared that day I would run a triathlon in 2014.

Last month, I did it.

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I participated with the kids in The Race for Dan Triathlon. Since my first official triathlon finish is saved for Malibu, California, I participated in a relay this time. I swam and biked. My son's girlfriend, Brittany Stanek, did the run.

What an experience!

I felt calm on the beach that morning. After all, this was only a lake, and just the week before I had swum numerous times in the ocean with my Sassy Six teammates. No problem!

Wrong!

At the word "go," I ran toward the water. My heart started pounding. I swallowed water the first two or three times I tried to swim. Gross! My heart started pounding even faster. I began backstroking and sidestroking to try to relax.

Stroke by stroke, I just kept moving forward.

Finally, the swim was over. I jogged up the beach toward transition, all the while yelling, "That was hard" to my family and friends on the beach. When I switched my watch to bike mode, my heart rate registered in Zone 5. Yep, I had freaked out just a little bit on that swim.

Note to self: practice swimming in the lake... not always in a clean pool!

I pulled off my wetsuit, cleaned off my feet, put on my socks and bike shoes, sunglasses, bike helmet, and bike gloves. During the transition, I laughed with the spectators that I knew. I also apologized to my anchor for being so slow during the swim. My husband told me after the race that I could cut my time if I would stop doing so much talking. Dream on!

I pedaled up and out of the park. Oh my, that was tough. The entire course was tough, lots of steep hills. But I smiled as I rode along and eventually handed off the race to my son's girlfriend.

During the awards ceremony, our relay team was called. Brittany and I were surprised to learn we were the only team entered in the race. We won gold medals and a $50 cash prize. Not too shabby for my first triathlon.

Looking back, I realized I experienced a wide range of emotions that day:

Fear and disappointment at my inability to freestyle swim in the lake.

Embarrassment at having what seemed to be the ONLY body fat on the course.

Excitement over my successful bike ride.

And pride. I was in the group post-race photo, instead of taking it. I did it!

With health, not being perfect is OK

I realize that I must be careful to notice and remember the positive changes in my fitness and health along this journey. It can be depressing when comparing myself to a group of younger, fitter, leaner, stronger and faster triathletes.

The only person I need to compare myself to is the person I was a few months ago. That person was about 40 pounds heavier, unable to jog, did not know how to swim, and hadn't ridden a bike in 20 years.

That person who was once a spectator, is now a participant.

I am proud to be a triathlete and working toward becoming fitter, leaner, stronger and faster. I won't be able to become younger, but that is OK. There is less (and sometimes no) competition in the older age groups!

My next triathlon relay is only two weeks away. My runner will be my daughter-in-law, Chelsie. I am starting to understand how this triathlon thing can be addicting. A better time, a longer race -- the next challenge, what will it be? Join me, will you?

Move from the spectator seats into the race. Become a participant!

Make time for your health: Plan ahead

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