In April 2017, I got on a road bike for the first time. With six months of indoor spin classes under my belt and a history of tooling around on my hybrid bike to run errands in the city, I figured I was ripe to get on a “real road bike” and go for a ride. The morning I got on my road bike for the first time was the same morning of a 56-mile ride through coastal Maryland, and I was determined to do it. I needed a new challenge.
When I crossed the finish line, my rear hurt in ways it never did, my hamstrings were shaking, and I began to feel muscles in my lower back that I never knew existed… but I did it. And it was fun! I strapped my bike onto my car and away I went, soon to be in search of the next challenge.
I found it that August. Each summer, a charity ride leaves from Washington, DC, and finishes at the Delaware beaches. Each rider fundraises a minimum of $500 and all proceeds benefit Autism Speaks.
How perfect! I’ve always been a professional fundraiser— my college internships were with charities’ development departments and, when I graduated, I got a job in the field and never left the profession. But I knew that fundraising for myself would be different— hard, even.
A mantra of fundraising is that “people give to people with causes.” I had a cause, I reminded myself, and a close network of others who cared about me and my cause. I knew that asking for myself would be awkward, and maybe even a bit uncomfortable, but I reminded myself that this was just another personal challenge. My friends, family, and co-workers came through; they were happy to help and I raised over $700 that first summer.
With the fundraising behind me, I turned my focus onto the actual ride. The ride leaves Washington at 6:00 am and rides along 30 miles of back roads to Annapolis. Just outside the Naval Academy, cyclists stop to stow their bikes on a truck and get on a bus to cross the bridge across the Chesapeake Bay. On the other side of the bay, riders hop back on their bikes and cycle another 70 miles through coastal Maryland and Delaware until they reach the shore. This would be, of course, another challenge.
For the next two summers, I would repeat that same 106-mile ride. Each year I’d surpass my fundraising goals and I found personal fulfillment both in the athletic challenge of the marathon ride and in raising money for a worthy cause.
After riding my third “Bike to the Beach” ride in August 2019, I decided that I needed a new challenge: I’d aim to do my first triathlon in 2020. The coronavirus had other plans, but I spent the year running and biking to shed some of the stress of the pandemic—and train for my first triathlon in 2021.
I began training in the pool in the spring of 2021 and, perhaps in a call back to 2017 when I thought that I could easily “hop on a bike,” I found myself realizing that I didn’t really know how to swim. I could doggy paddle towards the pool bar at a hotel, but lap swimming— never mind open water swimming!—was a whole other beast. It would be another challenge, and I put myself in the pool three times a week to prepare for my first triathlon. The morning of the triathlon was unseasonably cold; the weather and the anxiety had me shivering as I pulled my wetsuit on. As I watched other groups dive into the cold lake to start their race, I wondered if I was in way too far over my head.
I finished the race in second place in my age division. Still on the hunt for a new challenge, I found a shorter triathlon the next month. I signed up for it and finished first in my age division. I have one more on my schedule this summer; double the length of my first triathlon, it will be another new challenge.
In a year when so much of what impacted our lives seemed out of our control, being in complete control of these physical and emotional challenges seemed like a luxury. Unexpected challenges require a reaction, but these expected— “brought on,” even! —challenges allowed me to plan and be in complete control. Our physical strength and the ability to meet personal challenges and goals is not ours to keep forever. We should be so grateful that we are able to do so now.