My Ironman Journey - Joanne

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It all started with the decision to have weight loss surgery.  This has been a decision I have always kept very private. I realise one day I am going to have to share this with others and I know that when I do I will embrace it because without having the surgery I don’t think I would be where I am at today.

After the surgery life felt good.  That first year was exciting; I was losing weight (as I thought that was going to solve all my issues), I thought I was gaining confidence because I felt like I looked more acceptable to society and overall I was feeling more positive about life.  I wasn’t a slave to food anymore (little did I know!).  I thought everything was going well and I had everything under control.

That year I went to my first retreat. I didn’t really understand some of the stuff that was being offered but enjoyed being around other people that were part of my weight loss surgery (WLS) family.  

As the first year rolled into the second and life, food & emotions started coming back into play,  I felt like I was losing control of the situation a little.  My Dad passed away that year (my mum had also passed away at the age of 50 quite a few years earlier), I felt alone, and I was slowly putting on weight again.  Before I knew it, I was panicking and the army of voices in my head started rising up – “You are a failure, you are not good enough”; the negative list went on & on in my head.  Things didn’t feel good and I decided I needed to do something, so I booked myself into another retreat.  I had come to a place where I knew I needed HELP and I certainly couldn’t do this on my own.  I was getting closer to where I was ready to make a change in more ways than one, but didn’t realise that at the time.

April 2017 came and off I went to the retreat and once again I felt at peace as I was surrounded by my WLS family.  At the time I didn’t realize that this retreat was the beginning of making some real-life changes to bring healing to me and my body.   I had a great weekend and over the retreat I realized I had never really been able to express my emotions and I had been stuffing them in a big pot for years. This was so bad that I had got to the point where now the pot was over flowing, and it was time for me to unpack that pot (this also explained why I cried at the drop of a hat all the time, everything was falling apart due to my pot). 

 If you are not 100% sure what I am talking about I will try and explain.  During the workshops we talked about how we feel when something bad happens and the emotions that occur.  Other people at the retreat would describe a physical feeling when something bad happened to them e.g. they would get a sick feeling in their stomach or a very tight throat.  I had no understanding of what they were talking about as I had never experienced this. I did not experience anything physical but I would say things like “I felt sad”.  Because of this I started to ask questions as to why I didn’t feel things like the others. After talking this through with some of the experienced staff at the retreat, I came to realise that I had been stuffing my pot for years with all the things that had happened to me and that now the lid had come off and my emotions were spilling out.  I needed to start unpacking some of the stuff in my life from my past that I had shut off because of hurt and rejection and bring restoration to my body.

 After I left the retreat I had lots to work on and thought I could work through what I had discovered, but within a few weeks’ things got worse to the point where I was using food to self-medicate again.  I had unlocked a pandora’s box of emotions and I really didn’t have any clue on how to fix it.  But help was never too far away – I called Kate who I had meet at the WLS retreat.  I felt I had made a good connection with her and she was someone safe.  I needed someone who I could trust and teach me to be vulnerable as I really didn’t know how to do that.

 Kate & I began working together and I started unpacking my life, my values, family and the past.   One of the key things I wanted to try and work on was becoming more selfless and having boundaries, as I lived a lot of the time not caring for myself.  It took me quite a while to work through some of this stuff and I think when I reflect on this, I know this is going to need continued work for the rest of my life.   I started learning how to stay in my own business as ‘Bryon Katie’ talks about. She talks about three kinds of businesses – Mine, Yours & Gods (which are things that are outside of our control).  Getting my head around this was quite a challenge as I discovered I seemed to live a lot of the time in other people’s business.  I was always worrying about what others thought of me, did they like me, did I say the right thing, are they upset because of something I did, the list could go on.  But over time I slowly, and I have to say SLOWLY, “got this” and I started living in my own business and not worrying about what others thought.  I find myself talking a lot to ‘me’ and this helps me check in with myself to make sure I am just in my own business – always asking myself questions – is this about me or them?  For me, doing this has freed me from always worrying about what others think and life is a lot less stressful.  

 A month and a half after I started working with Kate, another stumbling block came my way.  I had just started exercising again and feeling better about me, as I was actively doing stuff to help me, when I broke my ankle followed by one week later, my husband becoming very sick.  It was a tough period but I was able to use this time to continue to work on me (instead of in the past I would have become the victim) and I used some of my new skills to come out the other side and not be as damaged as I had in the past.

 During this time, I started making some big decisions, became extremely brave and I went to Rockhampton, Australia for two months to work as a midwife in one of their hospitals.   This was a huge challenge, but also a period of great self-discovery about what I was capable of (as I had never done anything like this before).  I had never done anything on my own, let alone be away from my family.  I really had to put those new-found skills into practice!   I discovered that I was able to be more confident and for the first time ever, I really believed that I was capable of much more.  I found that I had this inner strength I never really knew I had – it was rewarding and brought me a confidence that I had never experienced.

 As 2018 approached, I continued to work with Kate and decided I needed to start exercising again.  This was no easy challenge for me.  I joined a walk/run group and thought this would be a good place to start.  I had a plan - firstly turn up and then just walk. But this particular evening no-one else walked and a little bit of the old Joanne returned as I didn’t want to stand out! So I also ran, but this cost me dearly as I could barely walk the next day! Despite this, I found myself returning and really enjoying the process and it got easier. Before I knew it I was getting up twice a week at 5am to go to a cycle group as well.  After a while I had shared that I really wanted to do Ironman as about 17 years before I had gone to watch Ironman with some friends and thought ‘one day I want to do this’.  After sharing this dream with my family, who gave me their full support, I signed up to take on Ironman Taupo in March 2019. 

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 I decided to do this on my own.  This has not been an easy road as it has been very lonely at times, but I feel that there has been a reason for this, as it has helped me discover more about who I am so that maybe one day I can give back and help other women discover this about themselves.

 I found a coach to guide me toward my goal.  As my first half Ironman was on December 8th, 2018 and was approaching fast, I didn’t understand what this was going to mean to me.  I thought anyone could do this and the distances were just numbers (half ironman is a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and a ½ marathon 21.1km; Ironman is double this) and I also didn’t realise what it was going to mean to me when I conquered this.  

 My coach had prepared me well, but I didn’t feel I was that prepared adequately, as the longest distance I had ran at one time was only 18km, so there was a lot of mind games going on.  To this point I had compared myself to others even when wearing my wet suit I doubted what I was capable of.  But on reflection when I turned up to do an event or put that wetsuit on those feelings just disappeared and I got on with what I was there to do.

 Leading up to December I constantly put myself in vulnerable positions which required me to ask for help.  This was something I would have never done in the past.  But by doing this it opened lots of opportunities for me and I have met some amazing people, even if they are just in my life for a season.  I am very grateful for all the help and encouragement I have received along the way.

 It hasn’t been all cherry and roses along the way, as I have experienced many firsts and some have not been so great; like having my first ever panic attack when I first starting sea swimming. However, the guy I had gone out with (I only met him 10 minutes before entering the water – he must have wondered what he had got himself in for!) made me get back in the water and said I had to get back in and “just keep swimming”.  It has been people like this that have made this journey one of gratitude and has shown me that I can do anything if I just keep trying and never give up.  I also believe that all the self-work I had done prior to starting exercise equipped me with the skills to overcome the ups and downs that have come along the way. 

 I will never forget the day of my first half Ironman. In the morning I had no idea the impact it was about to have on me – it was a day full of joy, nervousness but hope and it wasn’t even the main event.  As my coach put it, “it is just another training day” but to me it felt like a whole lot more.  There wasn’t an option of failure for me but for the first time instead of feeling stressed I just focused on one discipline at a time and celebrated at the finish of each stage like I had just crossed the finish line.  The hardest thing about the day was I was racing the clock, as there is a time limit for doing any of these events.  But as I approached the finishing chute after the swimming 1.9km, riding 90km and running 21.1km I realised for the first time just what I had accomplished, and I was overcome with emotion.  The old Joanne would have never thought this was possible but the new one had overcome so much more than just becoming fit and healthy.  

 I don’t worry about what others think of me anymore or what the number says on the scales.  That number doesn’t define who I am anymore.  I worry less and most of the time I stay in my own business.  I have gained a life that is selfless and learnt to hold on to my values and love me for who I am.  I know now I have been wonderfully made and I have learnt to love who God created me to be.  

 I believe for me that if I hadn’t dealt with the past and the way I looked at myself, the burden would have been too heavy, and I am not sure where it would have taken me (probably not a good place).  

 I also know my story doesn’t end here, the goal of Ironman is just around the corner (5 weeks to go to the main event).  I am really loving my life and my new skills that at the beginning I had to work hard at implement, are now part of my everyday life.  The doubts and fears are still there, but I am learning not to worry about tomorrow and just deal with today and what is right in front of me.  I believe for me I will have to keep working on this for the rest of my life and feel now it isn’t the curve balls that life brings that are the problem, but it is how I choose to deal with them.  I believe for the first time I don’t sit in the “Drama Triangle” but live more in the “Winners Triangle” and I plan to continue to never stop stretching myself and learning more about who I am.

 I am thinking about the future and where to from here – Ironman in March 2019 and then watch this space J  I have a passion for exercise and I have now realised just how much I love the outdoors, and I love encouraging others and am thinking about how I can do all these at the same time.

 All things are possible, and I now know I am not a victim anymore “I am Enough” just the way I am.

 My journey over this time has been a bit like running the hills in Wellington where I live.  Some of the paths I travelled were narrow and winding, some of the hills I had to climb were steeper than I would have liked, and sometimes I would come across things on the path that I had work out how to negotiate.  There were periods when I was uncomfortable as I was pushing myself and found myself vulnerable, I had periods of breathlessness and had moments of wanting to give up as that was the easy option.  Sometime the paths were wet and slippery, and I had to think quickly and plan on how I was going to get to the other side, so I didn’t fall.  

 I have personally accomplished things in all areas – physically, mentally and emotionally and now I feel I have so much more control of my life.  I feel a sense of relief that I had been able to deal with the past & even though I am not 100% sure of what the future looks like, I know will be able to walk through it.

 It has taken me 50 years to come to this place and I am so grateful that I have been able to put the old stuff aside.  I am thankful for my family & their patience and allowing me space to go through this and to all the people I have meet that have guided me and supported me on this journey x