Dawn Lee, an administrator with City Harvest Church shares her personal journey from teenage athlete back to a lifestyle of fitness in her thirties.
I was relatively an active student in school. I represented River Valley High School and National Junior College in basketball. I joined City Harvest Church when I was 16. At 18, I stopped playing basketball totally when the weekly trainings for the National Basketball Team clashed with church services. After that, I led mostly a sedentary lifestyle. A huge part of my twenties and thirties was spent in church, getting married, giving birth and taking care of my two girls who were born in 2003 and 2007.
In 2013, as I was approaching my 38th birthday, I suddenly felt that I had lost the sense of motivation and focus for my life. Some people might call it the ‘mid-life crisis’; I was searching for solitude and stability in my life. It was during this time that I picked up cycling, after some cell group members bought me a bicycle in May that year.
Someone in the cell group suggested that we should try joining a triathlon. At that time, I could only swim breaststroke; I had just started cycling and I could only run two, maybe three kilometers. But doing a triathlon sounded like fun to me.
My first triathlon experience was at the Cold Storage Triathlon in August 2013. I swam 250m, cycled 10km and ran 2km in the Discovery category. Once I had my first taste of it, I was hooked to the adrenaline of racing, and the rest was history.
The following year, I took part in many triathlon and cycling events, including:
- OCBC Cycle Malaysia 2014 (held in KL): 30 January 2015 (48km)
- Aquathlon: 16 February 2014 (250m swim / 2.5km run)
- MetaSprint Duathlon: 16 March 2014 (1.5km run / 10km cycle / 1.5km run)
- OCBC Cycle Singapore 2014: 30 March 2014 (40km cycle)
- MetaSprint Triathlon: 13 April 2014 (250m swim / 12km cycle / 2.5km run)
- TYR TRI-Factor Swim : 11 May 2014 (1.5km)
- TRI-Factor Bike : 8 June 2014 (40km)
- TRI-Factor Run : 3 August 2014 (10.5km)
- ZOOT TRI-Factor Tri : 7 September 2014 (Sprint Catergory) – 750m swim / 18km cycle / 5km run)
I also participated in a few other memorable events that weren’t competitive races. In September 2013, I was one of 10 Straits Times readers selected to participate in the UBS Cycle The Circuit 2013 event. We were invited to cycle on the F1 circuit with Robbie McEwen, triple Tour de France Green Jersey winner.
In October 2015, I participated in MediaCorp’s popular Subaru Challenge. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a real test of human endurance. Basically, every competitor had to place his or her hand(s) on a Subaru car without lifting their hand. Every six hours, the participants were only given five mins break to eat, to go toilet and to do whatever they want. I stood for a total of 63 hours and 53 minutes, finishing Top 16! That was a total of two and a half days without sleep! I did not win the car, but I did win $1,500 for making the second closest guess for the winning time that year.
The highlight of my fitness journey was when I completed a half-Ironman race—it was a dream I had since mid-2014. I knew that I had to first overcome my fear of open-water swimming and long distance running. I was fortunate to make many like-minded friends who helped me along the way. Weekdays were filled with gym and running sessions; weekends were spent cycling on Saturdays and learning to swim freestyle in the open sea at East Coast on Sundays. For someone who could only swim breaststroke and run less than 5km at that point, there was a lot of work to be done.
My breakthrough came when I completed my first half-marathon (21km) in the Great Eastern Women’s Run in November 2014. Suddenly the dream of completing an Ironman seemed possible. I decided to register for the half-Ironman 70.3 Putrajaya, to be held in Malaysia in April 2015.
In order not to disrupt my time with my family, I woke up at all kinds of unearthly hours to train. I did many things to motivate myself. One of the ways to avoid giving in to complacency was to sleep in my training gear. I would wake up, wash up, lace up my shoes and go…
For the half-Ironman I had to swim 1.9km, cycle 90km and run 21.1km in under 8 hours and 30 minutes and I did it! My dream had come true in eight months!
My ultimate goal is to complete a full Ironman race (3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42km run). I have since completed two full marathons (42km) and could swim and cycle that distances in separate occasions. However, a full Ironman race will have to wait as it will take more than double the commitment and preparation to achieve all three in a single race.
What started out as an escape from a mid-life crisis has turned out to be extremely rewarding.
Physically, I am stronger and feel healthier.
Mentally, I have learnt to push myself beyond my limits and experience what my body can endure.
Emotionally, exercising brings stability into my life and helps to release stress.
Spiritually, the Bible has many references of comparing a Christian to an athlete. One of the passages that I can definitely relate to is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – ‘Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.’
As a working mother with two daughters, aged 13 and 9, my challenge is to juggle work, family and training. I thank God for a supportive spouse who never complains that triathlon is a time-consuming and expensive sport. His only constant worry is that I do not get enough sleep and that I am pushing myself too hard.
For those of you thinking whether it is too late to start an active lifestyle, age is never an issue. For me, every swim begins with a single stroke; every bike ride, a pedal; even run, a step. Consistency is the key. Do not do too much too soon. Break your goal into bite-sized morsels. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Every challenge looks more achievable this way. Do something fun and enjoy the process! Join a community that will encourage you. It is less painful when you know that you are not alone.
To read more about Dawn’s racing adventures, visit her blog Live Strong, Live Healthy.