2003 a dear friend of mine went to work for the Leukemia Society and asked me if I wanted to do a triathlon. She wanted to check out their program Team in Training. Least likely choice of her friends but I was the only one who stood up and said yes. Full disclosure in my youth I did a lot of biking, x-country sking and had been playing tennis since I was six through college. After college I fell into pretty much sitting behind my desk and I lived in NYC going out a lot. I partied more. Exercised less. You can figure the results.
So in 2003 I was 44, overweight, over-stressed and that first Olympic triathlon was hard as heck but I finished and was hooked. I signed up for more and kept doing triathlons. In 2004 I went to watch some people do the Ironman in Lake Placid. Something in me changed. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to do an Ironman. I was meant to do one. I had to do one. Of course I was still struggling with the Olympic distance triathlons and my run was difficult. I had just learned to swim a full lap of the pool without stopping Memorial day 2003 — so an Ironman was not going to happen the next day. But that day in June of 2004 I decided I would give myself 3 years to prepare to do an Ironman. I would improve my running, do a marathon (which is what started this blog in 2005), do some half Ironman’s and come June 2007 I would do Lake Placid Ironman.
I continued with my plan and did a few more Olympic triathlons and in 2005 signed up for the New York City Marathon. Scared out of my mind. I was training with TNT and doing all the workouts. But I now I was 46, still overweight (but getting better). I was in London visiting my brother. I had to go do a long training run. I set out to run the streets of London and it wasn’t very long before my knees started to give out (they did that a lot back then — they never do that now). I remember running under a train track overpass. It was crappy day — cloudy and humid and I picked a bad road to run on. I remember soot on all the walls outside of the overpass. And then I remember I just stopped. I quit. I started to cry. I gave up. Everything hurt. I thought I was too old. I thought I was too fat. I couldn’t run like everyone else. I was always last. I had quit smoking in 1998 but if someone had rolled up with a cigarette and a beer I would have taken it in a second. I remember I was bent over, hands on my knees and tears roll with the sweat down my face. When I finally looked up I was staring into the face of none other than Mohammad Ali. A poster. A HUGE poster that was on a billboard right in front of me (I think placed there so people on the train would see it.) On that poster Mohammad Ali had his boxing gloves lifted to his face, he image was staring right into my eyes and the poster read “RUMBLE, YOUNG GIRL, RUMBLE.” I will never forget it. It was not an encouragement, it was a commandment.
Adidas had launched an ad campaign that year with Mohammad Ali and his daughter Laila fighting one another in a video with him speaking over. It later turned into the Impossible ads, but before that it was just Mohammad Ali telling his daughter to Rumble.
At 46 years old I didn’t feel the word “young” quite fit, but at that moment I claimed that as my Mantra. Rumble, Girl, Rumble. I posted those words on my desk. In my journal. On my blog (here.) That year I went on to finish the New York City Marathon. In 2006 I did my half Ironman. In 2007 I was thwarted in my attempt to do the Ironman by an accident during the race, but in 2008 I came back and finished. I was an Ironman. Then in 2009 I carried that campaign in raising $10,000 for my “Rumble in the Sahara” when I ran 150 miles across the Sahara for the children of Abundant Waters.
Those words remain my mantra today. I’ve gone on to do countless races of all different kinds — swimming, biking, running all ultra distances. I did not finish several of them. I came back did well in others. There is not much that scares me anymore. There are not many things that I think I can’t do. I know in my heart that if I train for it, work for it, barring any unforeseen circumstances, I can do it. The seed of that belief was planted in 2005 on grimy London road with a poster of Mohammad Ali. (And yes, I tried to find the poster but I it does not seem to exist.)