Kim Edwards: Triathlete – A personal journey

We met Kim Edwards  at the ITU world championships in Abu Dhabi and started up a conversation about Triathlon. Turned out she was the Chairwomen of Riyadh Triathletes, where some of us did their first triathlon. A really inspirational story and we are very pleased to make this our first article.

Kim Edwards: Triathlete – A personal journey

A triathlon is much more than just a swim, bike and run. It is shaking off a lifetime of being told I can’t do it. It is smashing down walls of self doubt. It is hurtling past all the lies that I am too old, too fat, too slow. It isn’t easy. It takes a first quavering step and months of solitary training. I am nervous about everything. My lungs burn, my legs cramp, my muscles ache, and I cry floods of tears when I cross the finish line. I am a Triathlete.

My first ever experience at a triathlon was watching my daughter participate in the Pink Triathlon on the Gold Coast Australia in 2007.  I was a proud cheering Mum, racing around the course to watch her from every vantage point around the course, and embraced her at the finish line.

My own triathlon journey began ten years later.  Just two years ago.  A friend invited me to a triathlon event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to photograph the event and to volunteer some support.  For three hours, I watched a very motely crew of amateur athletes race around the course.  They were a diverse group of ages, nationalities and fitness levels, but they all showed great commitment and passion as they flew past my camera.  At the end of the race, I was in complete awe and cheered every athlete across the line. 

Caught up in the energy of it all, and on a complete spur of the moment whim, I signed up to do my first triathlon a few months later.  I borrowed a mountain bike and learnt how to ride. I started swimming for one hour a day, a couple of days a week.  Having a deadline ahead of me kept me motivated.  My fitness level slowly increased, but I was certainly not what I would consider to be a typical athlete.  I was 20 kilos overweight and a 57 year old grandmother! 

My first event was a disaster.  I almost drowned in the pool and had to swim breast-stroke most of the short 400 metre distance, I barely made it up the small hill during the 20 kilometres bike ride, and then I had to walk the whole of the 2 kilometre run leg.  But, it didn’t matter.  When I crossed the finish line, I felt as if I had won an Olympic gold medal and I sobbed great gulps of tears.  I was hooked.

As soon as I finished that first race, I signed up to become a Riyadh Triathletes Member and set my sights on the next event a few weeks later.  While working full time in a demanding job and a hectic social life, it wasn’t easy at first to put in the time to train, but I committed to 2 hours a day to train.  I bought a Garmin watch, downloaded Strava and recorded my progress.  I changed my language and my priorities.  Food became fuel, and I swapped the word ‘dieting’ to ‘training’.  My energy increased and the weight started to take care of itself.

Joining a Running Group was my biggest lifestyle change.  I had never been able to run, and I used to wag school on Sports Track Days.  The first night at a running group inside a secure compound, bitter tears stung my cheeks and I had to push aside all those old school feelings of failure. I hobbled around the track, came last in every exercise and puffed my way up the stair sprints.  But, instead of feeling ridiculed, I felt welcomed and included.  I listened to everyone’s stories, and was surprised to find that most of my fellow runners were also new athletes.  Despite wanting to give up many times, their stories inspired me to keep going.  Three months later, I completed my first 42 kilometre marathon as the first and only woman in my Masters category.

Just two months later, I walked into the arena at my first International World Triathlon Championship event in Abu Dhabi.  The crowd was noisy and excited, loud speakers, helicopters, and cheers, completely overwhelmed me. Tears stung my eyes and insecurity whispered into my heart. I was intimidated by the young muscly legs of elite athletes and their carbon fibre Triathlon bikes. I was a grandmother with a second-hand roadbike, and I was instantly terrified. I didn’t belong here! Athletes stood with teammates, coaches or partners. I stood alone, and loneliness washed over me. No one special would be waiting for me at the finish line. Months of training and preparation suddenly evaporated and I faced a wall of doubt. I decided to turn around and run back to the shelter of my hotel room. 

Just as I was near the exit gate, I saw a friend and heard my name. It was a fellow triathlete from Riyadh.  The tears fell down my face and I let myself cry. ‘You can do this,’ she said.  ‘I will see you in the water,’ she shouts as she headed towards the start. 

Still shaking, I looked at my Race Kit. I read my name. I did belong here. This was my place. I was not the fastest, the strongest. I didn’t feel brave. But I was here. 

I plunged into the salty water and the cold took my breath away. My goggles were knocked off my face and I searched frantically to find them. I stopped. Took a breath. Fastened my goggles back over my head. I struggled to remember all the details of the Race Briefing. My strategy was to follow everyone else. And that was all right with me.  The cheers of the crowd, and my insecurity, settled into the background. I swam. I rode. I ran. The moment I turned the last corner into the final straight down the blue carpet, I cried.  I was salty, sunburnt and exhausted, and I knew it was all worth it.  I crossed the finish line, the oldest woman among 2,500 athletes from 86 nations.

My triathlon journey started just two years ago, yet in a short time, I have already achieved more than I ever thought possible.  Since that first triathlon, I have now completed dozens of triathlons, competed internationally, finished 10 half and one full marathon, participated in the Bahrain Ironman 70.3 and in May 2019, I represented Australia as part of the Triathlon Australia Duathlon team at the World Multisport (Triathlon) Championships in Spain.

A triathlon is more than just a swim, bike and run. It’s about constantly growing as a person, learning new skills, understanding the strength of your power, reaching goals and achieving new personal bests.  Likewise, my triathlon club is more than just a sports club:  it is a community, a tribe, a family.  

I am a triathlete.

Kim Edwards is an Australian businesswoman who lives in Saudi Arabia and is Chairwoman of the Riyadh Triathletes Club

Published with the permission of Kim Edwards

Posted on 17th Apr 2021