On paper, triathlon is an individual sport. On race day, you compete with yourself and the other triathletes out there. Prior to taking up the sport 18 months ago, my only exposure was the annual coverage of the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
Since becoming a triathlete, I have been amazed time and again by how many people (at all levels of the sport) "pay it forward". The Tri community is a small one (often less than 6 degrees of separation), and people are always willing to help their friends, or even their friends' friends. Recently, two of my tri mentors, Team Trakkers "Mom" Sharpie, and Krista Schultz (who gave me my intro to tri at She Does Tri camp), met in Colorado. Only in a sport like tri can you be on a bike ride in Colorado and realize you have mutual friends across the country.
I can't begin to describe all of the amazing people in the Mid-Maryland Triathlon Club, Team Trakkers, or the She Does Tri camp. Here is an excerpt from my Team Trakkers application (written last year).
"Is there an athlete who has influenced you? If so, tell us how.
Prior to this Spring, I had occasionally watched triathlon on the annual Ironman Championship coverage specials and coverage of the Olympic games, but I had not followed specific athletes. After developing interest in the sport, I joined the Mid-Maryland Triathlon club and attended “She Does Tri” camp. There are people who have influenced me significantly since that point, as much for the way they support others in their exploration of the sport as for their amazing performance. Sadj B. is one of the founding members of the Mid-Maryland Triathlon Club. She competes in the 64-69 age group, and consistently achieves podium finishes in her races (including first in her age group at the Augusta 70.3 this autumn). Mark Y. is another club member who is Kona-bound after a podium finish at Eagleman. Both Sadj and Mark are generous with their time and support of other athletes. They are always available for support and feedback and embody the most positive spirit of the sport.
... Collectively, these individuals role model not only excellent performance, but the true spirit of support and camaraderie that makes the sport of triathlon so enjoyable. " Sadj and Mark are just two of the amazing people I have met in this sport.
It honestly doesn't matter how long you have been a triathlete, or your skill level. The willingness of athletes to help someone newer to the sport than them is really inspirational. In every direction, whether it be Team Trakkers, She Does Tri, or MMTC, there are people willing to help/cheer/support.
Even in my second season, I love that I get the opportunity to pay it forward, too. Last week, I participated in the Iron Girl Swim. This was an opportunity for hundreds of women to swim in Centennial lake and experience their first open water swim. Along with several other MMTC members, I tread water in Centennial lake for about 90 minutes, encouraging swimmers and swimming alongside those who needed assistance. When the sun glare made sighting impossible, I yelled encouraging words ("Swim for the sun, the buoy is right under it."). Perhaps the one thing more rewarding than competing in a triathlon is volunteering at a triathlon.
I LOVE THIS SPORT!!!