Meredith Atwood is a wife, mother, attorney, Ironman, coach, and author of "Triathlon for the Every Woman". Not only is Meredith out there conquering her own goals, she has dedicated herself to helping other women do the same. Through her book and her blog (Swim Bike Mom), Meredith inspires and educates women who want to get off the couch (or out simply of a rut) and across a finish line.
Before having children, Meredith was an athlete, and quite a good one at that. "Back in the day" she won the Junior National Olympic Weightlifting Championships, and went to Junior Worlds in South Africa where she almost made the next world team.
Many years, and a couple children later, Meredith did not like the woman she had become - overweight, out of shape, her athletic accomplishments a distant memory. In our interview, Meredith explains how she went from 5k to Ironman, and why reviving her inner athlete was so important - especially as a busy wife and mother.
Q. Considering your background is in Olympic Weightlifting and not endurance training, how did you decide to become a triathlete?
A. Back in 2010, I was fat and angry and tired and a total mess! I was married, working full-time with two children under the age of two. My house and life were insane.
I had no time for myself, and I was so miserable in my own skin. I would wake up and look in the mirror and ask, "Who in the hell is this 'Fat Stranger' staring back at me???" I didn't like myself. At all.
I had once been a weightlifter, but that was many moons ago. All of my athletic ability had slowly disappeared through college and kids. Luckily, I made my way into a gym in 2010 and took a Spinning® class that changed my life. That class was led by a man named Gerry, who was a Ironman triathlete and coach. Through his class, I learned that it was okay to take time for myself, to breathe and to use the power of my mind to be better. I started riding a real bike soon after. Re-taught myself to swim. Ran, very slowly. Then, Gerry mentioned the idea of triathlon to me. He said, "You could do a triathlon" and it became a strange permission that I needed to dive into endurance training. Eventually he became MY coach, and he took me from can't-run-a-mile (2010) to the finish of my first Ironman triathlon (2013)---a race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile marathon.
Q. What are some of the first steps you took to make sure you achieved your goal?
A. The biggest step to becoming a triathlete was being a relentless believer in the training process. I believed that I would do it, and I pushed hard. I never gave up, despite huge obstacles like a fat body and slow legs and low self-esteem. Little by little, I got better and could run and bike and swim farther. The process was amazing.
Q. Full time job, two young kids... how on earth did you fit triathlon training into this schedule?
A. I usually fit it in during 4:30-6:30 AM, during lunch breaks, and on the weekends. I just make time for it, wherever I can. Lots of babysitters and juggling, sometimes! Oh, and my husband is a saint with all of his kiddo watching so I can ride my bike. We really make it a team effort, and that helps tremendously.
Q. What are some of the sacrifices you have made in order to accomplish your goals?
A. Well, I certainly sacrifice time with my family and lots of "free" time. Sometimes missing family time can be a tough trade-off. But now that my kiddos are five and six, and they want to swim, bike and run---
I realize that being a healthy, semi-sane mother is very important. I have been able to let go of the guilt and realize that I am no good to them, if I am not good to myself.
Q. What makes it all worth it?
A. Being a good example to the kids is a big part of it, but the personal accomplishment is huge for me. I love pushing myself to limits that I never thought I could reach, and feeling the awesomeness of a finish line. I love the sight of a finish line!
Q. How have you and your family benefitted from your involvement in triathlon?
A. My husband is also a triathlete. He came into the sport shortly after I did. I call him "The Expert," because he knows "everything"! So the Expert and I have learned to take better care of ourselves, and in turn, to be better examples to the kids through our training. The kids also have been to races and see the accomplishments of all the athletes of many shapes and sizes, and I think it's eye-opening for them to see that. My daughter (age 5) is most impressed by the kids triathlons, where she sees young girls doing great things. She is very excited to get involved in her first tri next year!
Q. As a new mom, I still struggle with the guilt factor - guilty about not being with my son when I am at work or training, and guilty about not working harder because of the time I choose to spend with my son... Do you find yourself feeling this way? Have you figured out how to come to terms with it?
A. Simply put, I have just accepted it. I am happiest when I am training for something, so to take that away from me does not make me a better mother. It makes me resentful and crabby! Plus, the children now expect me to see me ride and run--it's part of who I am now, and they would be more surprised if I DIDN'T do it. The guilt? Well, I think it's harder when kids are very young. I struggled more when the kids were babies with the guilt. Now, they think it's cool that the Expert and I work hard to race.
Q. Your 2014 Mission is for every woman to do a triathlon... Why is this mission important to you and how are you going about it?
A. I use the analogy that "every woman should do a triathlon," as a way of saying, "Hey ladies, get off your butts and make yourself happy! Stop hating yourself. Stop saying you don't have time. Go swim and bike and run, and see that finish line!" While not everyone may want to do a triathlon, I do believe that every woman should pick a goal and a race/event and go after it. Seeing yourself accomplish a goal is amazing and life-changing.
Q. Why is goal setting especially important for mothers?
A. This goal is especially important for mothers. As moms, we often forget that we are people too. We forget about our husbands and partners. We just become a giant walking burp cloth. Triathlon is a way to reconnect with yourself, and for me, with my husband---because we would often go train together.
Time in the pool is quiet. To hear the bubbles and splashes and rhythm---and nothing else? It's magical. Then to feel wind in your face on the bike? Amazing! And to push yourself in a hard, sweaty run? It's almost necessary, I would say, for a mom to have this time to regroup and become stronger. Emotional strength is necessary for everyone, but especially as a mom. Triathlon is a bridge to gaining confidence and emotional, as well as physical, strength.
Q. You wrote a book called "Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You". What are some things about your book that set it apart from other training guides?
A. When I started out in triathlon, I could not find a single resource or book out there that spoke to ME---an overworked, overtired, fat, working, wife and mother. I couldn't find hints on how to actually tackle triathlon when I was not already a runner or skinny. I wanted to try, but everything was way over my head. I mean, I couldn't even find what I was supposed to wear in a race, for the love. So. I WROTE the book that I wanted to have when I was starting out!
I tell my story and more, but I also have expert contributions from swimming, cycling, running and nutrition geniuses--who help break down the sports and assist with getting a reader to that first triathlon. Everything is in there, I swear---from what to wear, how to set up on race day and even caring for your lady parts during cycling (see? everything!).
I also focus on the mental aspect and the family-work-life balance. Really, the book is very honest.
I don't sugarcoat anything, which I think is why it has resonated with so many women. I talk about the pains associated with being overweight and struggling in marriage and as a new mom.
In that regard, I like to think that the book also gives hope---because from my starting point, I had no endurance ability and I was a mess, in general. And this year, I am tackling my second iron distance race. It shows the progression and change that anyone can make---with just a decision to change.
To me, I feel that Triathlon for the Every Woman is a whole-life approach and guide to becoming a triathlete for any woman out there. And that's what it is all about, right?
As our August Fashlete of the Month, Meredith is receiving a customized sterling silver "Pep Talk" charm inscribed with the word "Believe". It was her "relentless belief in the training process" that allowed Meredith to overcome physical and mental obstacles and become the triathlete that she is today... and she wants YOU to do the same.