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What It Means When I Say, Triathlon Saved My Life – Jillian Carvalho

Triathlon Saved My Life Jillian Carvalho
Jillian Carvalho
Year started: 2008
Next race: October 2, 2022 / Ocean City 10 Miler / Ocean City, MD
Favorite gear:

Zone 3 goggles, Brooks running shoes, boco gear visors

What It Means When I Say, Triathlon Saved My Life

The year is 2007; I am just about to turn twenty-six and I have just texted my mom, “I have met the man I am going to marry.” We were on part three of our first date and from the minute I met him, I knew we had something special. I had recently moved into my first apartment on my own, I had landed my first adult career position and I was in school for my Masters’. At that moment, my life was complete.

Our romance moved at a whirlwind pace. We were inseparable, despite living quite a way apart from one another. That is why it made complete sense when he started to stay at my apartment full time. If we were not at work and I was not in class, we were together. With my friends or his, my family or his, regardless, together.

Until we were not together.

Life Changed Fast

I came home one day, I cannot remember if it was from work or class, but he was not there and neither was his stuff. I found a short note on the fridge that alerted me our relationship was over. I would later find out that I was not his only girlfriend, but I was his only girlfriend not carrying his baby. Shattered does not even begin to cover it. I was about to enter a very dark period of time in my life.

It was a long couple of weeks drowning myself in grief and wine before I realized I really needed to get my life back on track. I took some time over my winter break to do some soul searching and find a challenge for myself that would shift my mindset and give me something to work towards. I logged onto my computer and typed “bucket list items” in the search bar. In one article, I found triathlon. Prior to this moment, I had never even heard of triathlon. But the sport was about to change my life.

I signed up the next day for a sprint race the following August.

Oh. My.

Naturally, the first person I called to tell about my new adventure was my mother. She, being the most supportive person I know while still keeping me in check, responded, “You don’t know how to ride a bike and you hate running. Plus, you smoke.” I responded quite flippantly that I would figure it out. I had eight months to figure it out, and I thought to myself, “I am an excellent swimmer and in relatively good shape…how hard can this be?” Oh. My.

I joined a gym soon after and I began with what I knew, which was swimming. I have been swimming since I was seven months old. The water is my home away from home. Except it had been years since I swam freestyle lengths of the pool and I made it exactly fifty meters before I was given my first reality check. The second one came when I jumped on the treadmill and lasted about a half-mile. This was going well.

Sign Me Up

I needed a plan, that much I knew. Since I did not know anyone who did a triathlon, and I was keeping relatively quiet about the goal, I felt more than a little lost. I subscribed to a few magazines and began searching the internet for all things triathlon. I came across a local triathlon club (who knew!) and saw they had a meeting scheduled for the first week in March. Sign me up!

I could not wait to meet local triathletes and was ready to learn everything I needed to know. I attended the meeting with all of the excitement of a kid on Christmas, but leaving that meeting was the first time I truly questioned what the heck I was getting myself into. Triathlon is overwhelming!

Between March and race day, I acquired everything I needed to finish a race and had volunteered at a few to get the lay of the land. That was the absolute biggest favor I did for myself and was my saving grace on race day.

I Finished

Speaking of race day…it was a bit of a disaster, but I DID finish! My swim was great as expected but I was so unprepared for a twelve-mile bike and it showed. I also never practiced a brick (running right off the bike) so I fell at dismount. I ran the wrong way through transition and walked a good portion of the run. It was the hardest thing I had ever done to that point in my life but I finished. I finished!

As I approached the finish line, at the back of the pack, my parents and friends were there cheering me on as if I was in first place. I was bawling. The feeling I had crossing that line was first of great relief and second of great accomplishment. I declared immediately that I would never do another triathlon, ever again.

The next day, I signed up for my next race. I finally quit smoking (yes, I was still smoking when I completed my first triathlon), hired a coach, invested in more quality equipment, and began a journey that has spanned almost fourteen years.

Triathlon Saved My Life

I will never know if triathlon would have made its way into my life, had I not been betrayed so fiercely. I did not deserve what happened to me. I do not believe everything happens for a reason. I do however believe that when we are faced with a struggle, we have the power to change our lives. In my case, I will always say, finding triathlon saved my life. I am the healthiest version of myself, the people I have met through the sport are my best friends and I continue to learn more and more about myself each year I continue to swim, bike, and run my way through life.