She is Me – Finding Renewed Passion & Self

Two photos: Shawnell poses with her happy family after a race. And Shawnell competing in a race.

Growing up, I was always playing sports. Whichever sport was in front of me I wanted to try it. But down the road, you eventually grow up, move away from home, go to college, get a job, marry your spouse, and start a family. That was my path at least. Raising a family is truly a blessing. One in which I wouldn’t have wanted any other way. There I was, living the American dream. What more could I ask for?  I was so busy taking care of my family, working full time, and really just living the life that was planned for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was quite happy. However, I finally realized that I didn’t set any time aside for myself. Who was I? Where did I go? I desired the need to find myself again. I was just about to turn 38. I remember coming home and telling my husband, with self-doubts in my mind, that I needed to do something for myself. 

The next thing I knew, I joined a group of similar people with similar doubts as I had, who also needed the support. This group met weekly and shared meetings, topics, recipes, and encouragement. After months of accountability and eating healthy, I was able to lose 40 pounds. It was such an amazing and life-changing experience. I even had the pleasure to be a mentor after reaching my goals to help guide and support others with their own personal dreams. 

I was suddenly staring at the big 4…0!  I decided I needed to take my fitness a little more seriously. I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I joined a gym! “Oh gosh… what have I just done?” I thought. “Really? Me? Back in a gym? It’s been so long.” My insecurities took over my mind. But there was this tiny little voice pushing me outside my comfort zone once more. “Be brave” she would tell me. “It’s in you, just find her.” Six months later, I received a text from my husband telling me he needed to make a change too. I signed him up the next day. There we were. We had joined this gym.  “So, now what?” we wondered. “You mean we are paying money to step into a building with treadmills, weight machines, and trainers? Okay.” 

On a more serious note, we were willing and ready! I found Zumba, and my hubby found spin class. “What the heck is a spin class?” All I knew about bikes was from my 1977 baby blue Schwinn with a banana seat I got for my 6th birthday. I remember that was the best bike ever. You could seat one friend in the back and one on the handle bars as you ride down the street on a hot summer night. Oh, the memories! Anyway, one day my husband came to me and said, “Nell, you have to try this class. I really like it a lot.” So I decided to give it a try. 

Shawnell smiling for a photo before the start of a triathlon race.

After one spin class, I hated it! I mean, really hated it! It was so hard, but I made myself go back. A few weeks went by before I finally realized something. I was actually starting to look and feel fitter, with minimal abuse to my body. The more classes I would attend, the more interested I became. I didn’t have to force myself to go anymore. Eventually, I couldn’t wait for the next class! We quickly became friends with our instructor who bought a road bike and kept telling us we should too. 

“Are you kidding me?” I cautioned myself. “It’s one thing to take a spin class, but ride outside? What if we invest in bikes and don’t like it?” So, I let my hubby go first since he was the one who really liked this whole “biking thing.” I just liked the loud music, sweat dripping off my body, and the new friends I was making at the gym. That year, my husband and our friends were out riding their road bikes while I sat around and wondered if I would like it too? 

A year later, I finally bought a bike! A shiny, white, lightweight, aluminum road bike. It even had purple (my favorite color) wrapped handlebars. My first half mile on my shiny new bike ended with me failing to unclip my foot from my pedal and falling over. You know you have all been there. After that, my brand new bike was all scratched up. Regardless, I got right back on that bike, took off and never looked back. I was beginning to enjoy riding outside so much more than I would have ever expected. There is just something about the wind in your face, challenging hills, and crazy descents. I was loving it all. 

Then, my friend decided I should try a triathlon sprint with her. “It’s so fun!” she would tell me. “Okay, really? Me?” I was a little curious. I thought, “I know how to swim. I use to be on the cross country and track team all through high school so I can run.” I wondered. With my nerves in a bundle, I bought someone’s race entry two days before the race. Two days! My friend took me out to the lake the day before to run through a mock race. I had no idea what I just got myself into. I was an amateur beyond belief. But I wanted to give a shot! The next morning, we met up and hauled our gear to the transition area.

“This is how we set up,” she said. Putting our bikes on racks, laying our gear out so we are ready in between events and getting our bodies tattooed with black sharpies and numbers on our body. They even put my age on my calf! I was 42, standing at the edge of the water praying I could finish this, but my determination was pushing me through the fear. I just remember popping out of the water right behind my friend and thinking, “What just happened? I’m doing it! I’m really doing it!” Soon, it was time for my favorite part, the bicycle portion! As soon as I put on my gear, my friend was gone. Soaking wet, I began running my bike to the mounting mat. I took off. As I was pedaling up the first hill, I utilized my confidence in cycling to pass women left and right (this was women’s only event). When I arrived at the running portion of the race, I lost a significant amount of confidence and experience, as I had not trained my running at all before that. Nevertheless, after a long and painful 3.1 miles, I finally finished. When I crossed that finish line and they put a medal around my neck, I felt an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. My family was there cheering me on, while my kids saw their mom do something amazing. My first thoughts were, “that was so hard,” as well as, “when’s the next race?” 

That same summer, just a month later, I competed in another one. Eventually, I wanted to perform better, so I decided to actually start training for triathlons specifically. Now, being 48 years old this season, I’m still addicted to the crazy sport. I finally found “me” again. The athlete that once was and still can be. I’m competitive in nature and I’m always trying to better myself. I’m only up against one person and that is me. I have to say, that the people I’ve met over the last six years, and the comradery in cycling and triathlon is one thing that cannot be replaced. It is a very unique group of men & women who have similar passions. It’s just an irreplaceable unspoken bond that we share. I’m so thankful I bought that bike, and I couldn’t ask for a better support system. I finally found the athlete that had been missing, but not lost. SHE IS ME!

On the left, a woman is smiling, holding up her road bike above her read. On the right, A woman sits on a fence, seems to be pondering something, looking at the mountains.
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Shawnell is an active triathlete in the Pacific Northwest who feels proud, determined, & accomplished! She's embraced the passion that is cycling and triathlon to share with friends who have pushed her to go out and give everything and step outside typical comfort zones. She's especially thankful for this journey in which her husband & two children support her adventures.

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2 thoughts on “She is Me – Finding Renewed Passion & Self

  1. Your are an inspiration to all women!! I love your journey and am excited to see what else you do! You pushed me to cycle outside and from there I was hooked! Thank you friend!!

  2. You are truly amazing! Every day I see your fb posts about races etc you are doing and love for fitness keeps me focused on knowing I can get there too. My body is fighting me but I look up to you to keep me motivated! You rock!

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