Political Activism, Triathlon, and Post-Concussion Syndrome: A Saga in "Becoming Me"
If you know me in person, you're probably laughing at this title because it for the most part captures my "personal brand". If you don't know me, dear reader, allow me to explain.
Flash back to the summer of 2005, when my mom didn't want me and my brother sitting around watching TV all day/every day between the end and beginning of school, she signed us up for swim team at our neighborhood pool. While I entered the sport with a lot of doubt and not a lot of skill, I ended up loving it
and dropped almost every other activity in order to take swimming more seriously. I swam through high school and was offered a spot on a Division 1 team, but lost my capability to swim at that capacity two weeks into my freshman year when I swam into a wall and sustained my first concussion.
Without swimming, I felt lost. The transition from high school to college is difficult enough without a concussion, but even more difficult when you lose the thing you love and are being taken to doctor's appointments instead of going to class. One of my professors suggested that I "drop out, not just this class but out of school". I ended that semester with a 3.5 and graduated a year early, even with a second concussion and depression clouding the majority of my college experience. While quite the accomplishment, a part of me still felt... empty, or missing.
I graduated college in 2016, and I think most Americans' minds go to one place when they think of 2016; a month after graduation, I was hired on to the Clinton campaign and spent five months working in
Pennsylvania on the field team. This experience remains one of the most formative of my life so far, and got me fully immersed into a world that I had only dabbled in before- activism.
When you're in activist spaces, there's a lot going on and a lot of pressure to be on the front lines as much as you can. It's exhilarating, frustrating, and deeply emotional, hence why "activist burnout" is a specific facet of the burnout universe. I've remained in and out of activism, from health care advocacy to local campaigns to rallies. Social issues, especially those that are related to social justice, health care, and education, are my fire and are my "why" in my academic work and my career.
Fast forward to 2019. The aforementioned activist burnout was running pretty high, I was extremely depressed, and I knew I had to change something. Ever since graduation, my mind had been wandering towards returning to swimming, but I had never made the leap. I was teaching swim lessons as I was applying for jobs and graduate school, which gave me access to a pool. Not only did I have access to a pool, but I started being assigned swim lesson clients who were training for triathlons, and was life guarding during an indoor tri at my pool. I was immediately inspired.
I signed up for my first triathlon and began to train.
Granted, my training wasn't thorough or even high quality; I was still depressed and my asthma began to get exacerbated both indoors and outside. But I found I loved building my endurance back up in the pool, I loved creating routes to bike on, and I didn't run much, but was going for daily walks. I found my physical and mental health improve every month.
In June, I crossed the finish line of that triathlon and signed up for my second one the next day.
The day before the second triathlon, however, I was in a car accident and sustained my third concussion. Not only have I been dealing with post-concussion syndrome, but I've developed chronic migraines. At the beginning of my concussion recovery, I was terrified that I would never swim or be able to train hard again. However, I decided I was going to face my fears while listening to my body and begin training for an
Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) while sharing my story as a multiple concussion survivor. I started doing this on my Instagram account (@concussiongirl2ironwoman), and so many things have fallen into place for me. I connected with Invisible Wave, I've been meeting folks in the triathlon and chronic illness community online, and most importantly, I rediscovered myself.
People have told me that I have a lot of strength and/or courage to share my experiences and speak my truth so loudly. To be honest, it comes naturally to me. I've been an advocate for as long as I can remember, and being able to share what I'm going through has only brought me benefits. I feel more deeply connected with my loved ones and I feel more strongly in who I am, and I am so fortunate that in my healing journey I have begun to figure out a "new normal" for my athletic life as well.
Nowadays, I am able to be a triathlete, an activist, a warrior overcoming three concussions, and find
balance between them so that I can take a step back or lean in with my own autonomy. The flexibility I have with time is a privilege that won't last forever, but the pain and treatment schedule balances that out to some extent, and I feel that this period of my life has prepared me well for transitions going forward.
When I was asked by Invisible Wave if I had a question for the community, I somewhat selfishly picked a question around hobbies and interests so I could share this story. However, I firmly believe that life and character comes from how you handle situations and how you spend your time, and most if not all people have had or have something in their life that they actively participate in because it brings them joy. And for me, I've found that it's the intersection of and the separate entities of activism and triathlon.