February 13 2018
Colleen Kelly Alexander discusses the accident that changed her life and how she has rebounded in spite of the trauma to her mind and body.
When people learn that I’m from a family of runners, often the response is something like, “Wow! That’s so cool you are all active!” This is true—I am lucky. We are lucky. Running is and has been a part of my life since forever, and I peg our family as a prime example of how that lifestyle can evolve and keep our relationships and communication avenues open and available over the years. We are a competitive bunch, always following local age-group competition and sourcing out our next races.
However, this story isn’t about running. It’s actually 1/3 about running. The other 2/3s are about swimming and biking—together, the sum total is the about victory of the heart and power of the mind. It’s about redefining the personal best. For those ladies out there that eat up opportunities to set personal bests and crush the competition, this message is for you: There is something bigger than digits on your GPS watch.
For the last 16 weeks, I trained for my second triathlon, TriRock San Diego, with my mom. It was her first triathlon, and she actually convinced ME to race after she committed to a 16-week training and fundraising plan with Team Challenge. She had an impressive resume backing her decision—a handful of 3-Day breast cancer walks, a grip of road races from 5K to half marathon and the will to swim, bike and run in support of Crohn’s and colitis research (a disease I’ve carried for 12 years). Her biggest challenge was the swim, a challenge that plagued her physically and mentally, off and on, throughout the training regimen. My biggest challenge? Silencing my internal critic and turning off the mental calculator of splits, mile-by-mile breakdowns and goals of beat last year’s time.
Two weeks prior to the event, my family lost a very close friend to lung cancer. Three days before the race, we made the tough decision to put our dog down, a member of our family since we relocated to San Diego in 2003. Never in my life will I forget that incredible feeling of sadness and helplessness, not knowing if and when it life will feel normal again. We didn’t share our pain with the rest of the team—instead, we put on our game faces and decided that TriRock would be our best moment to shine, remember and honor memories of our two friends.
The second we started swimming on that warm Sunday morning, I realized my 16-week mental training plan, redefining the meaning of personal best, had worked—as I watched my mom methodically stroke, breathe, sight, repeat, never letting the surrounding chaos break her concentration, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of joy for running and its sister endurance sports. The heart had already reigned victorious over all self-imposed obstacles, and the swim was suddenly doable. The worries of swim-bike transition faded behind a sense of closure from life’s events. And the mind? The mind calmed my time-obsessed legs and lungs, and I was suddenly competing for my own personal best version of myself and the best version of a swim buddy and cheerleader for my mom. Fueled by the memories of both our close friend and Shana dog, we emerged up the steps as if in slow motion, the cameras and crowd a blurry background. All I could feel was immense relief, joy and uncontrollable excitement for my mom. She had conquered her great fear of the water, and I had been next to her, not only that day, but also for the past 16 trying weeks. And that was my personal best version of myself. No posted time beats that fist-in-the-air, arms-around-each-other feeling.