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From Trauma to Triumph – Cheryl Sanford

From Trauma To Triumph: My endurance sports journey
Cheryl Sanford
Year started: In high school I ran cross country
Next race: July 23, 2023
Favorite gear:

Normatec hips/boots

I was always an athletic kid. When I was young I would surf, skateboard, bike, run. Anything to get away. My early days weren’t the best. I experienced drug use and was almost abducted. In addition to that, I was raped. It wasn’t the best, but it did make me stronger. The strength came in both forms that we think of as strength. I grew stronger mentally and physically. I would end up going from trauma to triumph. My endurance sports journey has been a roller coaster but it is my roller coaster.

First Days Of Triathlon

I did my first triathlon in the early 90’s. I was at the gym doing a workout, and someone came up to me and asked if I was a triathlete? My response was simple: no. Their response made me laugh. They said “oh, you look like one”. I don’t know what a triathlete looks like today, but I certainly didn’t know what one looked like back then. What did (or does) a triathlete look like? 

A few months later there was a bulletin that the gym was going to have a triathlon. I thought: l this could be fun. My first step was to start swimming in the pool. I laugh today but at the time the lesson was learned. I mentioned that I was a surfer. This means that I have great paddling muscles. That doesn’t mean I’m a great swimmer. That first 50 yards just about killed me. I kept at it though.

On race day, I wondered about how the event would unfold. It was a 200 yard swim (pool), 5 mile bike, 2 mile run. The day turned out well as I ended up being 2nd in my group of women. That result, while unexpected, was the hook. I was in my 20’s and decided I was going to do more triathlons.

From Triathlons To Open Water Swimming

I did my first open water swim when I was 25. Never swam in open water, only surfed.In my area lakes were not for swimming.Ocean swimming was absolutely a no go because of the shark. Despite those obstacles I managed to come in 3rd place in my age group. The debut for my 1 mile open wate swim went well. I thought to myself: what’s next?

Since then I’ve swam alcatraz a few times, have done 1 full Ironman, 1 1/2 Ironmn, sprints and Olympic distance tris. Beyond that there have been a number of aqua bike events, self supported 2 mile swims and a 3 mile swim. 

My endurance sports ‘career’ hasn’t just been triathlons or open water swimming. I’ve participated in dozens of trail runs. Life in the endurance sports world was going well until it wasn’t.

COVID and Burnout

I am sure we can all attest to the moment when COVID impacted us. For some of us the impact is still being felt. For me, the inability to race was the biggest impact. My husband bought me a treadmill that hooked up to ZWIFT, and started racing the virtual Ironmans. Thi helped keep my sanity.

I would never have thought that after racing for 30+ years I would get triathlon burnout? I did. I had gotten injured awhile back and was told I should probably switch to aquabike and stop running. Hearing that rocked my world therefore deep depression settled in. This was going to be another opportunity to go from trauma to triumph.

From that moment, I decided to run more than ever. I wasn’t ready to stop. Slowtwitch had a 100 miles in 100 days to keep the winter blues away. I started there as a way to build my running back up.

I discovered Yeti Trail Runners and did their virtual ultras for training. When racing opened back up again I DNF’d. Not wanting to have that in my mind, I finished the next one 2 weeks after that.

Finding My Community

Continuing to get better and fighting the depression, I got back to swimming. I raced some open water events as well as aquabikes. Blueseventy had an ambassador program that I joined. Fun fact, i have been wearing their wetsuits since they started their company in 1993.

Through B70, I met Adina O’Neill and joined the Breal tri team. The team is a great group! You don’t have to prove yourself, just be yourself. As an introvert this team is good for me. I haven’t fully returned to triathlons, I’m enjoying running and being on the trails. As a matter of fact, the only pavement I’ve run was in my full and 1/2 ironmans.

The local triathlons here are mostly dirt trails with a little pavement. i plan on doing a sprint tri in August, maybe relay team tri in Sept, 50K in oct and Across The Years in December.

I’m Excited For 2023

The year is lining up to be a blast. The reason I believe that I have been in these sports for so long is that  I don’t take myself too seriously. I’ve been on the podium more than a few times. I call it a bonus treat. Endurance sports help me mentally and physically, I compete against and challenge myself. Yes, from trauma to triumph. This is how my endurance sports journey has gone so far. I know one day I’ll slow down but that day is not today.