My Journey of Gratitude: ENDING on a MAKE


On a typical day, my small-framed, tenaciously competitive 8-year-old son, Finn, spends his time playing hard, getting dirty, and competing as though he is in a professional combine at the Joyner household with his two best friends, Kai and Ryk. With no organized structure, it marvelously resembles old school play. Starting to play is easy. For up to 8 hours in one day, whether it’s football, basketball, hockey, or soccer, they love battling, they love keeping score, and they LOVE each other. It is a beautiful little friendship.

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Finishing play is another issue.

“Finn! It’s time to go!”

“Just wait! I have to end on a make! C’mon Mom-pleeeasssse let me end on a make!”

 

“Ending On a Make”—a basket, a touchdown, a goal—has become a compulsion for these little boys. To appease this healthy ritual, I smile, observe, wait, and wait longer, until gradually I become impatient when Finn is having an off day, or the opposing 7-year-old goalie is producing a Saturday afternoon highlight film.  I allow him his “make” and finally, we head home.

 

Imagine if all athletes could only feel satisfied ending their careers on a Result Focused Make. In triathlon, rarely would anyone end their journey. They would keep seeking that last ‘W’, and sadly, never feel satisfied. We observe triathletes all the time who DO win big and STILL never feel satisfied. Then we observe others who fade away out of triathlon without any public announcement or proper closure. They just stop. How come? Nobody would argue that our sport success is ALL about day in and day out grind, continual learning, and unwavering commitment, yet it is STILL easy to judge careers by the ‘makes’, and not by our own unique personal journey. Results are archived and hidden away, but the process shapes us and we take that with us indefinitely—that’s the true value.

 

Unlike my son, upon reflection, my definition of ‘Ending on a MAKE’ has shifted over the past several months. Ending on a MAKE in our life is when an important value was realized, when we stood up for what’s right, when we took risks with the unknown, when we admitted to our mistakes, when we gave our ALL, and when our journey was replete with integrity and hard work. Perhaps most importantly, a MAKE is speaking truth about our purpose filled process, sharing our growth story, sharing ALL of our disappointments and failures, and minimizing our successes in an attempt to help others achieve their greatness too. Great performers realize that ultimate satisfaction isn’t about the final prize, it’s about our honorable walk.

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Today, I am pleased to announce that I am ending my professional triathlon career on countless MAKES. My GREATEST Make, however, ultimately drove my decision. This make is more meaningful than an Ironman win and more centering than a 5-hour bike ride on Minnesota county roads. I’m ending on a make after I have not only successfully rehabilitated a hamstring injury to 100% health, but I have created a blessed new balance and restored energy in my life. Gained time, presence, and focus with my growing children (13, 10, 8) has won my heart and during these injury months, my life has slowed down dramatically—that is a MASSIVE make for me. As every mom knows, this is what we crave most.

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In my own quoted words when coming back from my injury,

 

I would feel a greater LOSS for the new time, experiences, and energy I have gained with my kids (in which I now need to re-adjust again) than the loss I would feel from losing triathlon.

 

Verbalizing this statement out loud was the only time tears streamed down from my face in this decision. It provided crystal clear clarity that it was time for me to say goodbye to the incredible adventure I have been on.

 

Contented to say, this was a perspective changing injurynot a career ending injury.  In my downtime, my lens shifted after taking trips with my family, making priceless memories with my kids, being less self-focused, feeling fresh enough to play night games, taking long hikes, playing endless soccer in the front yard, and giving new pause to my daughter’s sweet freckles on her nose—it was the little things.  I felt so present. Also, my kids are seeking their own dreams now and I want to watch that unfold, instead of managing that unfold while I try to find the nearest pool to do my training.

 

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I am incredibly proud of the hard fought ‘good races’ but looking back, I remember races—good and ‘bad’—not just by my finish place, but what went INTO it, who I shared that special moment with on race day, and how I changed as a person, mother, teacher, and coach from this truly special life experience. I am proud of what I was able to accomplish every day in professional triathlon given my life situation as primary caretaker of three beautiful children. To ALL mothers out there—IT IS POSSIBLE.

 

This is a very happy ending for me. I made this decision eight weeks ago with my outstanding coach, Matt Hanson, and my incredibly supportive and beautiful family, however, I am just now finding the right words, but there hasn’t been a single day that has passed with regret. With fondness for the sport, there are many proud MAKES that I would like to share in my farewell.

 

MAKE #2: MY PURPOSE STAYED INTACT.

 

My purpose stayed intact since I began the sport seven short years ago. At times, I needed reminders, but overall, I did not stray. At the start, I made a promise to myself that I MUST stay true to my purpose and to my values. That was my #1 priority. I reminded myself daily about why I train, why I compete, and I shared it with others regularly. My purpose helped me stay strong, grounded, and faith reliant. This drove me on a happy path and made me a more resilient athlete who could bounce back quickly and who wouldn’t clench onto anger or disappointment. Genuinely sharing our purpose is critical not only for our own sport longevity, but for others to understand what the elusive term may mean in their walk. Sharing Instagram success photos is great, but sharing our purpose, our stories of trials, teaching through humility, and connecting face to face can be impactful. With her blessing to share it, the following is a touching letter from a woman, Abby R., who listened to one of my “Purpose” talks at my sponsored store, TerraLoco. The letter was inspired after she broke a national record in a powerlifting competition. Notes like this are my second greatest make.

 

“…That night, you discussed your personal experience with alternately losing and identifying a sense of purpose in your running, touching on the very basic idea that using your God-given gifts served a meaningful purpose in and of itself…
But the idea that I could use my natural gifts and pursue my potential for it’s own sake, and share my experience with people along the way has influenced my path over the last couple of years immeasurably. Since then, I’ve reached my goal of running a sub 4:00 marathon, I explored Crossfit, I’m currently tackling a long-time goal of swimming lessons, and this Fall I trained for and entered a powerlifting meet. Each time I considered trying these new things, I wrestled with questions of time investment, family-life balance, finances, naysayers, and my overall sense of purpose. Ultimately, your message that using your gifts can BE the purpose was the guiding value that pushed me over the edge in each of these endeavors.
I could start to comment on all the ways my life continues to be positively impacted through ripple effect, all the meaningful encounters and relationships that have come out of these journeys, and even speculate how my path might positively affect others. But my main goal is to let you know that your purpose and message had a massive impact on me and certainly will continue to do so as I reach farther in each of these and other areas of interest.” –Abby Russi

This woman inspires me beyond words and she is continuing to do incredible things in her life. I CANNOT WAIT to watch more of her ‘Makes’ unfold.

 

MAKE #3: LIFE BALANCE.

 

I mastered life balance and getting the work done. It was sustainable. I felt like I had superpowers most days of the week. I rarely missed a workout as my day was planned to the tee—sometimes arriving to school pick up with 20 seconds to spare.  I took pride on days that my kids jumped on the yellow school bus, I jumped onto the bike, my kids got off the bus, and I got off my bike. I would imagine them at lunch, recess, reading, and math class, all while I stayed in one spot with my rear end attached to my saddle. Efficiency was a necessity, however, I didn’t skimp on naps, eating well, and getting as much recovery as possible, knowing full well, that my hard work was useless without it.

 

 

Balance is a funny thing—it doesn’t mean 50-50. Balance meant maximizing family time AND triathlon time so one would enhance the other.  With my kids, I was a better athlete, competitor, AND mother. Whether I ran down competitors during a race, or held on for dear life during a 2 x 20 threshold bike session, Connor, Shea, and Finn’s spirit gave me LIFE, and I could push harder and dig deeper because I knew my journey wasn’t only about me—it was about teaching them. They were old enough to internalize it, see exercise as normal, and witness their 40 something mama persevere when discomfort told me to stop. If my career impacts them in a single moment’s time with their own dreams, I give myself a proud gold star. Ending on a Make.

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MAKE #4: JUGGLING.

 

A few years ago, I was asked during a coach search, “Is there anything that would get in the way of a high-volume program for you?” A BRIGHT FLASH of thought activity bombarded my 5 second pause…THREE kids means let’s TRIPLE this list of… school conferences, kid sports, extracurricular activities, dinner for 5, birthday parties, house errands, doctor appointments, kid sickness, sibling rivalry, babysitters, coaching, driving kids to 3 places at the same time, comforting kid emotions, homework help, and answering questions about politics, faith, injustice, and math. Ugh, math. My simple answer to this prospective coach, “Nope! I can’t think of anything!”

 

My fellow pro mothers with older children, like Liz Lyles and Jessica Jones Meyers, know exactly what I’m talking about! HA! The everyday challenge of getting quantity and quality into my training day became a game, and I was incredibly proud to stand on a podium or walk away with a top 5 result among talented women who trained the same 20-25 hours/week, but who didn’t have this other full time job to juggle. So much happened behind the scenes to make it possible. Ending on a Make.

 

MAKE #5: I LOVE SWIMMING

 

I started triathlon not knowing a swim length distance was 25m. During my age group years, the water was just an obstacle to get to my bike. I had such fear and apprehension in the water—a childhood memory of my brother rescuing me in the same pool in which I now train was overcome. Six years ago, I sat down with my master’s coach, Tom, to discuss swim goals. He shared that his ultimate goal was to help me learn to love swimming and become a life-long swimmer beyond my triathlon career. Since my decision, I have continued to leisurely swim, watch daily GoSwim videos, and craft my stroke as my indescribable intrigue for the swim will never end. I have improved patience and have fallen madly in love with the sport. Ending on a MAKE.

 

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MAKE #7: LOCAL SPONSORS.

I intentionally stayed local in my sponsorships and maintained the same sponsors for five years. We built and grew a genuine relationship which helped me thrive in triathlon. I wasn’t distracted by relationships that had minimal value. To Active PT & Sports, Rochester Cycling, TerraLoco, Rochester Athletic Club, Ally’s Bar, HED Wheels, THANK YOU. I will always remember your belief and kindness towards me, and I treasured feeling completely loved by you all. Ending on a Make

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FINAL MAKE: GOAL MARATHON: 2:45. OLYMPIC TRIALS 2020

 

Lastly, revisiting life projects, coaching tenacious girls, attempting to run a personal best goal of a 2:45:00 marathon is next on my radar. As everyone knows, running is my LOVE. Slashing triathlon’s requirements, all I need are my running shoes! Staying injury free will be my top priority, and we will balance this with care. My kids’ bike tires are pumped up and they are ready for chatting alongside their mom once ‘real’ spring hits here in Minnesota. My purpose remains, my activities change.

 

From worldwide travel and local grounding, I have innumerable moments, lessons, and friendships that will be locked away in my treasure box forever. Thank you for following my journey. I look forward to watching many of YOUR MAKES unfold.

 

RBM breaking the tape at 70.3 Kansas

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