Chicago Triathlon Participant Highlight: Teresa Friel
“In 2010, I was 52 and decided to participate in the #ChiTri – it was my first triathlon ever and I am forever grateful. It changed my life. At 63, I’ve come a long way from that first one but that finish was the start of a new life.” – Teresa Friel
Sports have a consistent way of placing great influence on our lives. Whether you’re a fan, competitor, or one of the many awesome people that work for companies that produce sporting events, you have or know someone who has had their lives changed through athletics. And when we hear about someone’s life being changed by our hometown triathlon, we can’t help but feel a sense of pride towards that.
We all have our own story, our own path in life. So when we heard about Teresa’s TRI journey, we had to share it. Truly inspiring stuff and proves that it’s never too late for change.
What influenced your decision to participate in a triathlon, let alone our triathlon?
- AIDS Foundation of Chicago was offering a training program that year and I happened to see the advertisement on the wall of the ‘L’ at the blue line. When I was 23 back in the 70’s I dated someone who ran the ironman in Hawaii (before it was a championship race) and decided that someday I’d like to try that. However, I was competing and spending all my time in Tae Kwon Do, hoping to go to the Seoul Olympics in 86. Two things happened that impeded me: I got injured on the job and my brother died of AIDS. The cause of his death was hidden by my parents and they asked me to keep it a secret. Small southern town, the questions they would get, etc created their desire to hide this fact. I grieved alone and shared my brother’s death but not the reason very often. Carrying this burden for most of my adult life but feeling like it was dishonoring his life. I had vowed I would do something in his honor to memorialize him for others in a positive way when I could. I had already dedicated a scholarship in his name at our alma mater but it was not something I had shared widely. I decided in 2010 that was the year I would open the doors wide, and share stories about my brother and fund raise for other people with HIV and AIDS in his honor. At the same time I figured, I’d do that triathlon I said I wanted to do so many years ago, what the heck, it’s not an ironman but it’s a triathlon. I figured I’d do one and that would be it.
- Trimonster, FFC and AFC all put on an amazing program that year. Without them I would not have made it. They offer really the best beginner training out there. I could not swim a full length, and running wasn’t something I had ever done much of. Their weekly programs both in the gym and outside, open water and pool instruction from May to August, helped me to become confident enough to complete the OLY distance. I really had no idea what I was getting into. One the race course, that year the temps soared to 100F and the index was higher so I had to walk much of the run. But the spectators at the CHITRI are amazing. No place else has spectators cheering for you all along the swim. I could look up and see my coaches yelling encouragement the whole hour I spent in that swim. On the bike, there were people all along Lakeshore drive cheering for you, my teammates shouting my name and coaches again visibly excited at my progress. Then on the run, again the crowds were enormous and happy and cheering. As I labored toward the finish, people in the last mile yelled “you got this!” or “you are so close, and you’re doing it” and Indeed I was doing it. In triathlon, you get positive encouragement and support in the training and the races like no where else in life. I got hooked on that positive flow of support, the sunshine and being outdoors for the race and the excitement of the potential to become an ever better athlete. I had missed that after I left Tae Kwon Do competition and this sport brought that love back. I crossed the finish line that first time at 4:52, and extremely long race but I was proud, happy and tired all at once. The AFC tent had all my younger team mates waiting to congratulate me as I strolled up, the proud owner of my first medal.
What about that experience changed your life?
- Well, I didn’t stop training. The AFC program offered an extension to the FFC gyms through the all and I kept doing the training after the race. I looked at other races that the coaches would tell us about. I did the Chicago Tri again the following year and every year thereafter until last year. It’s by far my favorite triathlon. I’m far healthier now than I was when I began. I was having trouble with my knees going out, or just standing up from a squat to pick something up or bending over and standing back up. My muscles were weak, my balance was going and I felt very old. But the training has reversed those aging issues and made me feel like I’m in my 30s again. Last week I did 12 hours of training, including 4 hours of bike riding and 3 hours of swimming. While I sometimes have to take a recovery day to keep from getting over tired, a reflection of how things slow down as you age, in my current team or 300 athletes I rank in the top 20 of the training output every week. I retired this year and I’m coaching as part of my “work” I am doing. So my life changed because I brought balance and joy into my life. Having triathlon has connected me to a large group of like minded people through the Base Performance Company, Trimonster, 4 Star Coaching, and the Louisville Landsharks. Everywhere I go, there are probably people from one of these teams nearby, even overseas.
What have you been up to since then? Have you completed other triathlons or taken up other races as well?
- along the way I began doing more triathlons during the season and by 2013 I decided to try a half ironman. I figured I do one and be done (again). However, I failed to finish that race, missing the bike cut off by 3 minutes. After pouting a bit, I signed up for Steelhead in MI and completed that race and shockingly qualified for the world championship race in Las Vegas that fall. So instead of doing just one 70.3, I did THREE that year! That made me think about doing more. So I did. NOLA, OH, WI, MITI…it’s a long list of 70.3s and then I said “Could I do a full ironman and accomplish that goal I set out over 30 years ago?” The answer is yes. I did Ironman LOU twice. The first time I finished after the official race clock at about 16:45 and the second time I finished at 16:16 and got my official finish. Along the way, i decided to become a coach in 2015 to help other beginning women over 40 to achieve the same goals. I now coach for Ironman and USAT and have an athlete training for her first ironman this year. It’s a thrill to see her progress, and reminds me of my journey. Besides the ironman races, I also sign up for other OLYs and sprints whenever I travel. I usually take my bike anywhere I go and if there is a local triathlon I’ll sign up. Two years ago, I was in FL and saw a triathlon at Fort De Soto. I ended up in first place in my age group and had a 45 minute personal best on that Olympic distance!