01/24/2012 12:00 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2012

Mom-me Lessons From My First Iron Girl Triathlon

Last year, I decided to complete my first Iron Girl Triathlon. The Iron Girl would require me to swim .62 miles, bike 17.5 miles and run 3.4 miles in August, 2011. I've always wanted to do a tri event, but the biggest obstacle facing me was that I did not know how to swim. The swim was more than 1100 meters (approximately 42 laps) in open water in the Columbia Lake in Maryland. I had two choices: I could forget about it, write it off as an illogical choice given the fact that I could not swim or I could learn to swim and invite 11 other women to join me and to hold me accountable to this event. I chose the latter and signed up for swim lessons. Then I started a tri team called The Iron Moms.

I was excited about pursuing my goal but learning to swim was not a walk in the park. I was confronted daily with my fear of the water, drowning and an old broken clavicle injury from a car accident many years prior. This time last year, I was spending every day in the water, fighting to learn how to swim just a little further, or breathe just a little better. One of my best personal examples of how fear can paralyze you is when I would only swim 5 feet away from the wall because I would panic whenever I approached deep water. Somehow, seeing the line on the bottom of the pool indicating six feet and beyond scared me to pieces. By May, I had learned to swim and had identified that the breaststroke would be my key stroke for this tri event. I then hired a wonderful tri swim coach by the name of Deborah Cass- Jackson who taught me how to swim for endurance. She told me that her job was to show me how to relax in the water. I had no idea what she had in mind because swimming was far from relaxing for me at this point. After 15 lessons or so, she had taught me how to swim 45-50 laps without stopping and she took me to my first open water exposure to help me adjust for the tri experience. Open water swimming is a whole new world. I had nothing to hold onto... Yikes!

Deb shared the best advice regarding my event. She said that when you are in open water, you want to focus on what you feel and not on what you see. Isn't this a great metaphor for life? I remember getting ready for the open water rehearsal swim at Columbia Lake in July. It was only my fourth open water experience and I had to swim 44 laps. Would I make it? Was I ready or would I quit? I remember, like yesterday, jumping into that water with that herd of women all around me (I had no idea that so many people would be that close to my body in open water). I watched as some of my friends tagged out because of fear, being overwhelmed by the power of the great swimmers, whisking by in waves of twenty or thirty, kicking, bumping, splashing and moving you along. They later told me that when they looked at the buoys marking the remaining distance, it was frightening. I had the same realization but I always clung onto those words that my swim coach shared: "Focus on what you feel and not on what you see." What I saw made me want to scream for my mommy but what I felt was calm and relaxation and the physical ability to swim more.

I finished that swim and I knew that I was ready to face my big day. On August 19, 2011, I became an Iron Girl Triathlete, competing against 2500 women (the largest group of participants were between 40-49 -- middle aged women love a challenge). This year I have committed to do two Tri Iron Girl events. The Iron Mom team had nine women complete this event and, interestingly, 4 of them could not swim beforehand. This year, the Iron Mom team has grown to 15 women.

Today, I swim 2-3 times a week on most weeks and I am now swimming 50 laps every time. Committing to this event taught me how to swim and I learned that I am a pretty good swimmer. And that I actually love it. I often wonder what else I am good at that I possibly don't realize yet. I find the answer to this question intriguing and at the top of my list to answer each day to ensure that I live my life to the fullest. Have you ever considered what you might learn about yourself from facing what scares you? My children think that I really am an "iron mom" and promptly remind me whenever I say I'm tired or I've had enough. They learned a lot about me watching as I pushed beyond my known limitations. I learned a lot about me, too.