From the time we’re little kids, complaining to our parents that, “That’s not fair!” We’re served back a cold hard truth about fairness: Life isn’t fair. But rather than give up or fold in the face of “fairness,” many of us learn to fight, to stay strong, to keep pushing and ultimately, to overcome.
To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we interviewed three Altra Women Athletes who exemplify what it means to be an Overcomer.
From a very young age, there was something about sport that Kelsey loved. She started swimming at the age of five, and by the time she was a senior in high school, she was completely hooked on triathlon. Finding early success in the sport, she found herself at the Olympic Center in Colorado Springs just a year after graduating high school.
She was motivated and prepared to turn her dream into a reality and begin training with the USA Triathlon National Team. Unfortunately, her first day in Colorado turned out to be more of a nightmare. Kelsey crashed on her bike, causing her to endure several injuries, including a broken hip.
“That day changed the course of my entire triathlon career. But I was 19 and still motivated, so I continued to train through my injuries,” Kelsey said.
While she never fully healed from the bike accident, she was able to work through it and continue to train. Until 2014, when her next accident occurred: Kelsey was T-boned by a truck while descending at 35 miles per hour. Her injuries were so significant she was airlifted to the Stanford ICU where she would spend the next week in recovery.
People told her to stop, asking her, “Why are you still doing this?” Even the doctors told her that she would never run again, let alone compete at a high level again.
Still, she was determined. She continued to battle, and train, focusing on swimming and cycling until she was healthy enough to run again.
Three years later, Kelsey achieved her first personal win at the Victoria 70.3. She followed that up with another win in Ecuador, just a week later.
“I ACTUALLY THINK ABOUT THIS QUESTION A LOT. WHY DID I NOT QUIT? WHAT DROVE ME TO KEEP GOING? THERE WAS SOMETHING DEEP DOWN INSIDE ME THAT TOLD ME I WAS MEANT TO COMPETE IN THIS SPORT, AND IT’S SOMETHING I LOVE SO MUCH.”
In 2008, Kelsey temporarily retired from triathlon in an attempt to get her body healthy. She underwent heart surgery and her body was healing, though not completely, and she was noticing additional improvements and developed a strong sense of hope that reaffirmed everything she was doing. She was able to see the bigger picture, which is something she says is much harder to see when you’re in the thick of always training. After two years, she was back on the bike, taking up racing and feeling great.
When asked what the best advice she received while working to overcome her challenges, Kelsey said, “It was always from myself. Ever since the beginning. Lots of people tried to tear me down or make me quit. But I knew deep down inside that I should continue.” Rather than letting injuries define her, Kelsey used them as inspiration: “To me, the injuries were meant to happen. To make me stronger.”
That is the mindset of an Overcomer.
Learn more about Kelsey here: https://www.kelseywithrow.com/
When Tina was young, she was often frustrated to see that a lot of the other athletes around her were finding more success and winning more regularly. They were making leaps in performance, and while Tina was certainly competing, she didn’t feel as though she was making the same improvements as those around her.
It certainly wasn’t that she was less capable. But rather, her coach was extremely adamant about Tina pursuing a longer running career. Rather than just looking at the upcoming race, he was instead trying to look at the big picture. Needless to say, for a teenage athlete, that isn’t the easiest perspective to obtain. She felt held back, and rightfully so, but she trusted him and believed him, and ultimately, she was able to surpass other athletes because she became a more well-rounded athlete.
But despite success, even hard-fought, drawn-out success, there always seems to be other challenges looming. In Tina’s case, her next wave of challenges was awaiting at University, which she attended in the United States (she is originally from England). She was overwhelmed by distractions and found it increasingly more difficult to find motivation to train hard. But then, a flip was switched—perhaps even flipped too far. She became completely overcome by running and the training that goes with it. She pushed herself to an extreme during every workout, never giving her body a chance to recover. Her obsessive approach to training led to an injury cycle that lasted more than a year. “It was really hard for me mentally. Everyone equates trying hard with getting better, so when things go wrong, you try harder, you push harder. But that isn’t always the case.”
But that was an important lesson she learned, albeit the hard way. Learning to take her foot off the gas sometimes, to understand balance and develop an identity beyond just as a runner. That extremes don’t always work. That you don’t have to leave everything you’ve got out there every time, because “eventually it will take away from the actual racing if you do.”
Now, Tina is able to allow other things in her life to bring her happiness, like building relationships she didn’t used to give herself time for.
“RUNNING IS WONDERFUL, IT’S GREAT, BUT THE RELATIONSHIPS I’VE DEVELOPED ARE SO MEANINGFUL AND PROVIDE ME WITH SO MUCH FULFILLMENT. THEY WARM MY HEART AND SOUL IN A WAY THAT NOTHING ELSE CAN. I JUST NEEDED TO BE REMINDED THAT I HAD MORE TO OFFER THE WORLD BEYOND RUNNING.”
A lot of the time, the best advice you can receive is to do more of something. In Tina’s case, it was just the opposite. Hearing from people that she looks up to in the running world give her permission to take a step back and see things differently was what stuck with her most. And she understands that it’s hard to do that on your own, which is why she has found a way to pass on that helpful piece of advice (and much, much more) to others.
She’s always enjoyed helping others; making them feel good about themselves. “I know how powerful it can be when you feel like you’re not alone,” Tina said. “One of my strengths is helping others see theirs.” So, when she started receiving messages and emails from people struggling and sharing personal stories with her, she decided to start a podcast to help as many people as she could understand that they’re not alone, ignored or forgotten.
Not only is Tina an Overcomer herself, she is helping inspire new ones every single day.
Learn more about Tina here: https://tinamuir.com/
Getting out to a fast start isn’t always a good thing. Kara was one of the girls who found early success in athletics. So, when she started to grow up, it was hard for her to watch some of that success slide. She finished high school in a slump and carried it into college at Colorado. She believed in the team but found it harder and harder to believe in herself.
And then came the injuries.
Kara was facing a lot of running-related injuries, like stress fractures, keeping her from reaching her full potential.
And then came the surgeries.
In 1998, Kara had the rare compartment surgery on the anterior compartments in her legs, keeping her out of the training she would have preferred to be participating in.
And then came the recovery.
After the surgery, Kara began to feel better than ever. She was able to run every day rather than only a couple of times per week. And better yet, she was able to do it pain-free, for the first time in a long time, which completely changed her trajectory. She went from knowing she could help her team succeed to feeling as though she could compete individually as well.
She was right.
As a freshman, Kara finished somewhere between 180th and 187th. As a senior, she became an NCAA Cross Country Champion, both as a team and as an individual.
She credits this transformation to her team. She wanted to be there for them as much as she could, and they were there for her too. As a collegiate athlete, your life is built around practice and training with the team, so when she had to skip runs to be on the bike, she felt it. She wanted to be there with them. She spent her time focusing on coming back stronger in any area she could.
“RELYING ON MY TEAMMATES AND BEING A GOOD TEAMMATE MYSELF REALLY KEPT ME GOING. I WANTED TO COME BACK STRONGER IN ANY AREA I COULD. IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN MYSELF.”
“Someone said to me, ‘A couple of days now is better than three months in the future,’” Kara recalls. As a freshman, that must have been hard to hear. But since hearing it, she has taken it to heart. “It’s ok to take a break here and there and prevent something from happening down the road. I didn’t listen at the time. But I’m able to see it now.”
If going from 180-something to number one in the span of a few years while being a team-first athlete the entire time doesn’t make you an Overcomer, I don’t know what does.
Learn more about Kara here: http://www.karagoucher.com/