I was Looking to Get in Shape and I Found Community

I was looking to get in better shape and enjoy a new athletic challenge when I joined a triathlon group two years ago. Little did I know I was going to become a part of a supportive community that I now look forward to meeting with on a regular basis.


The group was called Mercury Rising Triathlon (MRT), and although there were some professional triathletes, most of the athletes were enthusiastic age groupers looking to do their first triathlon or had been doing triathlon for years. They wore heart rate monitors, had cadence meters and power output meters on their bikes, they did single spinning drills and over-gear sprints... I definitely was on a learning curve.


In the pool, it was all pretty intimidating. Huge clocks flanked the decks, and you started on green top, or red bottom, or whatever… I really wasn’t sure what it all meant. Paddles, pull buoys, one arm drills, bilateral breathing--most practices I was just happy to still be breathing considering the water I swallowed. My coach, Clint, was surprisingly patient considering he was managing four lanes of swimmers, the fastest being good contenders to win an Ironman, the slowest lane including people like me who still thought you did front crawl with straight arms.


Masters Athletes, I had heard, took themselves very seriously, but mostly, everyone was happy to help one another. I learned to cycle and swim, not just through the coaches, but through the other athletes. They helped me set up my bike for spin class, change my first flat tire, and explained that huge, daunting clock at the pool. I started to feel I was being ‘shown the ropes’ so to speak and therefore accepted into this new community.


I have always participated in individual sport--running, x country skiing, and, of course, rowing. Rowing was also an individual sport, but the training was almost always done in a group. In swimming, you develop this connection with people in your lane, all of you are trying really hard to make the times, and if you start to slow down too much, you ask the person behind you to go ahead of you. There is interaction and codependency. It’s hard to have a great swim if other people in your lane aren’t also pushing hard. Getting through a challenging set together is a mutual accomplishment. The bike is no different, you ride the hills together, you take the pace up or down together, you take breaks for food together. You work with other people to get the best ride possible.


Two years ago I knew one person in the group, now I know over forty riders and swimmers. I train with them, and feel connected to them through the work we do together. In the two years I have been there, people have lost jobs, one woman lost her husband, and another went through a breakup, yet another was diagnosed with cancer. We don’t spend huge amounts of time talking about our lives and our challenges, but we have an idea of what is going on in each our lives, and we support each other. That is what a community does; they support one another, cheer for one another, and lift one another up.  We all have families and social lives outside our club, but this club is another kind of support, another kind of connection that plays an important role in our lives. I joined a Mercury Rising to get in better shape and learn to swim; but in essence I joined a community.


It’s interesting to think about the ways we are connected in community.  Sometimes it is through our kids, and the Saturday mornings spent on the soccer field together with frozen feet while watching our kids. Sometimes the connection is even looser, people we see every week while running the same trail, people we say hello to when we get our morning coffee, or when we stop every Wednesday night at our local library. These connections are different than friendships, but they are also important. I belong to multiple communities, but for people who are more isolated these meetings can be a lifeline.


My triathlon group makes staying fit and sporty way more fun. They keep up the intensity of my workouts, while exposing me to a group of people outside my normal circle. I respect and enjoy all of them. I recognize that we rely on one another for a good workout, we rely on each other’s competitiveness to up the intensity of a session, we rely on each other’s consistency to make the club a club. If half the people stopped showing up, everybody would feel it, and it wouldn’t be as much fun. I can only reach my individual goal of competing in the Aqua Bike Challenge race this year if the others in my group also have their goals. We are dependent on one another. Connection to community is a foundational element to living a good life.


We are not built for isolation. A hundred years ago, everyone was dependent on one another--for food, for water, to build their houses, to look after their children. It’s nice to know, in a time where we can be so independent, that the most joy and the most success comes from being in community.