Team in Training Memories / by Michelle Cowan

Ah, Team in Training... Let's return to the spring of 2003, when I had just moved back to Texas from an internship in Florida, and one of my two new roommates, Jenny, talked me into training with her for the Capital of Texas Triathlon in Austin, TX. At the time, I bingeing heavily and regularly; however, I had just switched my major to English and felt more positive about completing college than ever. I was beginning to make decisions based on my own interests, a novel thing for me as I was only then starting to differentiate between my true interests and the things I was "supposed" to be interested in for whatever reason.

What's more, I had proved through my full-time working internship that I could, in fact, complete difficult tasks and structure my own life somewhat. I was a functional ED sufferer on a VERY bumpy path to recovery. In fact, I did not believe in recovery at that point. I didn't believe in very much at all. But for some reason, I said yes to Jenny and decided to train.

Finishing was my only goal. I knew I could no longer put up the blistering running times I had in high school, and somehow, I had reached a point of acceptance. It must be said, for this is no small factor for me and the way I view fitness, body size, and recovery, that I was considerably heavier at the time of this training and racing than I am now. My weight stayed fairly consistent at this point; I suppose my body had learned my regular starvation/binge cycle. Nonetheless, I knew I was larger than our society's ideal. But after only a few weeks of training, I learned to love my body again. Only at age 20 did I truly begin to explore and appreciate my body, just as it was.

Even at my heightened weight, I raced faster than most people on our team. I knew it and harbored a special pride in it. I can affirm without hesitation that, despite the undeniable insanity of the bingeing, I was in the best shape of my life, aside from high school. Because of this experience, I am certain that body size does not directly indicate a person's fitness level or athletic ability. One of many, many lessons in not judging a book by its cover.

As for other lessons, Team in Training sustained me socially. Even though I made no close friends on the team, I at least gained surface-level friends. TnT events and training meetings provided me a place to go when I might otherwise have been bingeing or sinking into isolation. I didn't realize the importance of this structure at the time, but looking back, I can see how the training and fundraising gave me motivation beyond myself, kept me going to class, and offered structure to the chaos that was my existence.

As I wrote fundraising letters and people responded, I realized how many people in my life truly cared, not just about fighting blood cancer, but about me. I also received numerous personal stories from people who had survived or suffered with or knew someone who had cancer and met many who had participated in similar programs. I felt a positive connection to the world, a world that I otherwise classified as bleak, selfish, and unfeeling. I didn't recognize the window that was being opened at the time. Caring about others and feeling good about myself = a MAJOR breakthrough.

My first Team in Training experience came at a crucial juncture. I was making choices to finish school, to be responsible, to be honest, to have relationships with others, to go to class, to be involved in life at least somewhat. My living quarters were no longer a disaster area. I could face myself and learned to love myself just as I was. Even in a funk, I could get up and go to a fundraising event. I learned about my body and what felt good and what felt bad.

In any case, I hope this next Team in Training experience will prove even more impactful. I hope to be more mindful than last time of all the fabulous benefits involvement with this program affords. I can't wait to meet the honored hero I will be racing for, to start raising money, and to spread the word.

Significant Reflections ~

Back in 2003, having a fundraising website was almost unheard of. Now, it's a requisite! Feel free to visit mine at to read more or donate funds. Believe me, even a couple of bucks helps!

Let's hope I swallow less drainage water during the swim. Jenny and I both thought we were going to die, not of exhaustion, but of some kind of poisoning, after the last race. The combo of rain runoff and Powerbar gels just doesn't work with post-triathlon fajitas... Ugh... I'll know better this time.

I also recall the severe cottonmouth experience during a 3.5-hour bicycle road ride just south of Lubbock. Instead of mixing Gatorade with water, I had the brilliant idea to buy Propel Fitness Water. Never again! Not as much energy as the Gatorade/water mix and twenty times the stuffy mouth. I couldn't even talk afterward! Craziness. Absolute craziness.

I'll never forget my long swims in the University pool with its convenient removable top or the incredible rides in Ransom Canyon. The triathlon also spurred consistent riding around the Canyon Lakes for the rest of my college career. I'll never forget riding my regular Canyon Lake trail through the Windmill museum and beside the Joyland Amusement Park, taking pictures the week of my college graduation. Patterns and structure I set for myself while participating in Team in Training stuck with me throughout school and into the recovery I experienced in 2005.

There are deep reasons why I love physical activity. I love the meditative mood it puts me in, the removal from all else going on in my life. I adore being outside and flowing somehow with nature or taking control and tackling tough obstacles and hills on my bike. And there are the memories, the memories that bubble up to join me each time I get on the road or take to the pool. Today, I get to create more.

Yes, I'm racing to find a cure, I'm racing for those suffering with blood cancers, but I'm also racing for myself and anyone else who is trying to find his or her way out of other illnesses and disorders...or disorder in general. I truly love that girl who raced her heart out in Austin in 2003. She didn't know she'd be here in five years; she didn't believe life could be this happy. I'm glad I proved her wrong.