Moving across the world, Edition: 6 months in

Sofie Goos and I after a climb in Calpe, Spain. October 2017

Well – it’s often been said, but the more I travel, the more I realize it to be true: my most productive times are usually while sitting aboard a plane and being high above the clouds. Is it the change of pressure that knocks some sense into us? Perhaps it’s the complimentary (or sometimes not) coffee and seatbelt combination that keeps us glued to our seat but hyped up with caffeine. Or maybe it’s the fact that, for once, our phones are on airplane mode and we can’t default to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Strava, or email (for the record – I’m guilty of all of these). Whatever the case is, as the sun rises above the clouds, and we are soaring at an incredible speed (although funny enough, the clouds don’t seem to be moving that quickly), I’m feeling quite inspired and ready to reflect.

Six months ago today, I was also sitting on a Ryanair flight returning from training camp in Spain. When I had flown to Mallorca for training camp, I had planned to return with the team one week after arriving.

Training with my good friend Sara!

However; I had just moved across the world, and I didn’t have everything sorted out in Belgium just yet. Specifically – I didn’t know where I was going to live (minor details…) Maybe this was bad planning, maybe this was just how it goes, but Mallorca was comfortable. I spoke the language, the sun was always shining, and in that period I could focus on being a triathlete, instead of being a belgo-american moving across the world. So, two days before the return flight home with the team, I pulled the plug, changed my flight, and decided to delay these aforementioned problems for one more week.

Still can’t believe this happened… Thank you for the picture @sunnyspellsjp

Summer was a whirlwind. Record amounts of training. Record amounts of racing. Record-breaking performances. Some winning, some illnesses, some family time, some quiet time. A couple trips back to the US for weddings. If I wasn’t preparing for a race, I was racing. If I wasn’t racing, I was preparing for a race. All of these reasons combined made it for a very quick 6 months.

As I sit here, flying back from my second Spain training camp (is this real life?!), exactly 6 months after my first, I realize how much has changed. For the first time in my life, I am gaining a real insight in what it must have been like for my parents just married, at 22, to move from their home country Belgium, all the way to America. Though I wasn’t there to see it myself, I can imagine their struggles adjusting to the language, the difficulties with the foreign accent, the sacrifices of missing family weddings, birthdays, births, deaths and holidays. At the same time, and maybe more importantly, I understand the “why.” I can understand the fire, the passion and determination to make a big adventure work. The reward and satisfaction of arranging little things like health insurance, or renting an apartment; understanding road signs, and navigating bureaucracy. I can see the excitement of making a big dream a reality. I can also see that their oldest friends are their most loyal friends. The ones who helped them adjust to life in America gave them a lifelong gift. 

I see a lot of parallels in my parent’s journey, and I’m very inspired by their bravery and the decision they made 35 years ago. I thank my training partners on Atriac for making my summer so memorable. To the guys for not taking it easy on me during open water sessions, and accepting every challenge for a race ;).

Volunteering at a kids triathlon with teammies and friends Heleen and Brittje

To the girls for being such great friends, giving me rides, lending me clothes/equipment/baking dishes, and having the patience to translate everything from Dutch to English for me. I also owe a lot of thanks to my coaches (Bart and Olivier), the club president (Claude), and of course our team sponsors (Runners Lab, AA drink, Sporting A, Giant Benelux, Ideal Systems, Heavy, Bioracer Speedwear, Ohr Cycling), and individual sponsors (Flatout, Dolfin Swimwear)  for doing everything they could to help me adjust. Thank you to those who have hosted me in and outside of Belgium (specifically Bart Decru and family, Mommy Hilde, Sofie Goos and Jef, Eric Justus, and Ines and Eric in Antwerp). Those who helped us move between each of our 3 apartments (a big shoutout to my cousins, Aunts and Uncles). I’m so grateful for this triathlon community and I’m so looking forward to continuing this journey together!

My coach, Bart and family!

A season of firsts

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goeth

Becoming a two time National Champion! Olympic Distance National Champs, August 2017

How to sum up the season so far… Incredible, unbelievable, powerful, … magical. A year ago, I made a really difficult decision. I had just come up on my 2 year anniversary working as an engineer, and I knew that I couldn’t continue balancing both sport and engineering. I liked using my engineering degree, but I also really liked triathlon. I was working an acceptable 20 hours a week, but I knew I had reached a point of maximum progression in the role and commitment I had. Any upward progress would have required more commitment and therefore more hours. Conversely, in my triathlon world, I was constantly injured, sick, or feeling over-trained. I wasn’t resting properly, I wasn’t recovering correctly, and I didn’t feel like I was giving everything I could to discover my potential.

In June 2016, I took a leave of absence of 7 weeks from my job, in order to go to Belgium, be closer to my (at that time new) coach Bart Decru, and see what it felt like to have a daily training partners. My first race was devastating. It was an ITU European Cup in Holten, and I finished close to last. I missed the front pack on the swim, had a dismal first transition, got dropped by a couple bike groups and well, let’s just say the run wasn’t pretty. I was jet-lagged, lonely, disappointed, but mostly just really embarrassed. Here I was, halfway across the world, all energy, no results. After a few pity parties, I told myself, well, it can only get better from here. And luckily it did. With every race, and even within training sessions, I matured, learned all that I could, and finished my European stay with my best result in 2016, a 5th place finish at Olympic Distance Belgian Championships in Izegem, Belgium. I didn’t win any races in Belgium; in fact, I didn’t even come close to a podium finish. I had no champagne showers, and no-one telling me I was particularly talented, just a burning desire within myself to see what more I could do.

T3 Win in Deinze, August 2017. Thank you Krist Vanmelle for the wonderful pictures.

With the full support of my better half Carl and my parents, I made the decision to leave my steady paycheck behind, live off my savings, and commit myself 100% to triathlon. My goal has always been to go to the Olympic Games, and I knew that in order to even come close to this, I had to see right now, not in a few years, if I was capable of making the progress necessary to get there. I subconsciously gave myself 1 year. I didn’t say it out loud, or put too much pressure on the year, but I knew, if I was still running 19-20 minutes in my 5K and 40 minutes or above in my 10k at the end of 2017, I probably would need to consider some other life choice.

I put my head down, had a LOT of emotional, mechanical, physical (and every other type of) help from Carl, and we did what we needed to do in the off-season

Carl in the Santa Cruz Mountains, January 2017

to get me stronger. In 2016, I was a really weak climber, so from January-March 2017, we went to the Santa Cruz mountains in California, and trained. In 2016, I had found that the longer I stayed in Belgium, the better my racing and training became. So in April 2017, we packed up our apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said goodbye to our dear friends and family, and made the big move to Belgium. We focused on rest, recovery, and consistency. We didn’t do everything right, but tried to do as much as we could, as well as we could.

In March, after my best winter of training yet, I had some knee pain. Knee pain is not something you want to mess with, so Bart and I made the right (*note* not easy) decision to take time off from running. 2 months later, I was able to start building up my running, but my confidence was really low. How could I start racing again, after not running for 2 months? How would I ever show improvement in my run, when I hadn’t trained it in two months?

The always classy, Sophie. A true sports(wo)man and a fierce competitor! Thanks for the wonderful picture Mario Vanacker.

We were on a training camp in Mallorca, and I called my dad in tears. I had just made the biggest commitment of my life: a permanent move across the world to pursue my athletic career. Except: I couldn’t even do that athletic career properly. I felt like a fraud, and I feared I would never be able show improvements from 2016. I told my dad that I felt like no-one believed in me. He stopped me right there. “Valerie, do you believe in yourself?” Well… that’s a good question. Honestly, at that moment, probably not. But there again, an important lesson. Did it really matter whether other people believed in me or not? At the end of the day, wasn’t it more important that I believe in myself? And maybe it was good to build up an edge, to have to prove myself, to give me that fire to stick to the plan, execute as well as I can, and let race day take care of itself. And well, let’s leave it at, thanks to this approach, Bart’s expertise, and my incredible support system, it’s been a season of firsts, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Thanks to all of the above, I’ve enjoyed the following “firsts” in 2017:

First time:

In total shock. First international win, ETU Wuustwezel August 2017. Thx Arnaud Dely

 

Why a break is important

Fall in Ann Arbor is one of my favorite things in the world.  What is better than football games,

On the deck of the Norwegian Sky cruise ship docking in Miami.

On the deck of the Norwegian Sky cruise ship docking in Miami.

cider mills, colorful trees, and dirt road riding?  My first thought when I finished up my season in New Orleans was… What now?  In my head, I had already planned that I would finally join in on the infamous weekly “Nacho Ride,” where bike racing meets dirt roads and finishes up with beer and nachos.  Or maybe I would try my hand at the “Dirt Hammer,” a full hour effort (ok, probably slower than that for me) of a 23 mile scenic loop touching the some best dirt roads in the Ann Arbor and Dexter regions.

Not having a detailed training plan meant I didn’t need to be too careful of not spending too much energy on one ride or run, and I could fully enjoy all the fun that training in the fall offers. But it took some careful thought to realize that as much fun as all of those things sounded, I need to take this time away from all things swimming, biking, and running.  If I had any doubt about this, a my first run 5 days into my break, I stepped on a stick and rolled my ankle. (It quickly healed, no worries coach!)  Nevertheless, that’s all I needed to convince myself that some rest, away from my normal activities is just what I needed to take advantage of this time of year.  So I replaced my running shoes with dancing shoes, and enjoyed some time lifting with my sister.

Can you see the resemblance? ;)

Can you see the resemblance? 😉

It’s more difficult said than done, as having a schedule to follow is addicting.  However; I never want to do something just because that’s what I do, especially triathlon.  Yes, I am someone who enjoys structure, but I do really believe that the only way to be really successful in sports, is to make sure you love it and don’t just love the structure that it brings.  So even though Ann Arbor has had nothing but sunny and beautiful days (photocred: Lex Williams) since my return this fall, I have resisted the urge to take my bike out, or put my running shoes on.  Instead, I’ve filled my time with appointments, vacations, family time, and planning for 2017.  

Cruise to the Bahamas

Cruise to the Bahamas

I know by taking time away from the sport that when it is time to lace up the running shoes, I won’t be critical of my splits, form, or distance.  Instead, I will be able to feel the freedom a simple run gives you.  To enjoy the satisfaction of feet pounding on the pavement.  This time off will allow me to recharge and remember everything I love about my sport.

After a month off, when it is time to gear up for 2017, I am confident that regardless of the weather, I will be mentally and physically ready for a long 11 month season.  For now, I will be active, but in different ways from my typical triathlon schedule.  Maybe I’ll take up golf or something. 😉

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Quitting my job, going full speed!

It’s been awhile since my last blog post. Sometimes, I feel that in order to write a blog post, I need to have something magnificent to talk about. So I am nervous, if there aren’t huge performances or insane training camps, that people won’t care what I have to say. Well, people probably don’t care ( 😛 ), but I’ll post anyway!

Message me for a sweet discount code!

Message me for a sweet 50% off Rudy discount code!

I suppose there have been some big changes in the last 6 months. I started working with Bart Decru, coach of Belgian Olympian Katrien Verstuyft, in March of this year. With my goal of being a Belgian ITU athlete, I figured having a connection in Belgium would be helpful. It was also exciting to learn about the success his athletes have had. I really liked Katrien when I had met her before, and I was looking forward to the possibility of training with her in Belgium. So in June, I decided to take 7 weeks off from my job and travel to Belgium, in order to be closer to Bart and compete in some European triathlons.

What I didn’t expect when I started working with Bart was how lucky I would be to find myself a member of the Atriac Topsport Team. Bart, also working as a trainer for the Antwerp based triathlon club, asked if I would be interested in joining the group. There was no hesitation. More training partners?! Absolutely. I didn’t know what to expect heading to Belgium in June, because this sort of club structure doesn’t exist in the US. I knew there would be some organized training sessions, and that I would be representing the club in triathlons in Belgium, but beyond that I was going to Belgium without any knowledge of Dutch, or what “topsport” really meant.

Man, did I hit the jackpot. If I could describe Atriac, it would be “the-fix-it” team. Lost bike and luggage? No problem, we’ll lend you one, and provide you with gear for the weekend. Need some help with your running form? We’ll set up an appointment with some famous running specialists (thank you RS LAB!!). When I had medical problems or needed help finding a place to live, Atriac was there to help with the logistics. I came in hoping for training partners, and left with more than I felt I deserved.

It was clear from the beginning that this was a better situation than I anticipated. Then, with each race I did, my performances kept improving. In the first seven weeks, I competed in 5 triathlons, and each race was better than the previous. I know I have a lot of improvements to make to be competitive in the ITU circuit, and to keep progressing from continental cups to world cups and hopefully one day (soon) WTS circuit! So, since things were going well in Belgium, I didn’t want to leave and disrupt the consistency. Why break something that isn’t broken? You don’t always get to choose when you’re injury free and when you’re making improvements. So I decided, since things are going well, let’s make a jump and fully commit to triathlon. In order to do that, I needed to leave my engineering job.

I extended my trip in Belgium by a month, and now I am back in Michigan in time for my last race

T3 Series Vilvoorde, July 10

T3 Series Vilvoorde, July 10

of the season in New Orleans. Last weekend, I competed in a local sprint triathlon, finishing first overall, 6th among the men, and winning $500 in prize money! Thank you Allendale Countryside Triathlon! I’m pleased with the progress I have seen in races, and excited about the potential I’ve shown in training.

I am surprised to find myself a little sad that the season is almost over. In the past, by the end of swimming or triathlon competition seasons, I was always ready for a break, both mentally and physically. This year, after my return to triathlon racing, and coming out of a year and a half period ridden with injury, I think I got a new perspective towards the sport. Running and biking pain free is no longer something I take for granted. That, combined with finding a team more supportive than I ever felt like I deserved, made it for a special year of training and racing, and I’m already looking forward to 2017!

First out of the water. 5th overall. Thanks Katrien for this picture!

First out of the water. 5th overall. Thanks Katrien Decru for this picture!

Riding to France!

Riding to France with my teammate, roommate, and friend, Sara.

Climbing Mountains

Wow. There’s nothing like summiting a mountain on two wheels that makes you feel so small yet so powerful at the same time.

Ever since I read the Nancy Drew Bike Tour Mystery book in 3rd grade, where Nancy and her best friends Bess and George go on a bike tour around Ireland, I had always dreamed about having my own European biking adventure.  Spain is not Ireland, but alas, my dream did come true these past two weeks.  Collectively my buds, Claire (aka Bess) and Johan (Claire’s boyfriend, aka George) cycled a total of 400 miles throughout the 14 day span on Mallorca Island.  

The views were beautiful. The contrast of the beauty and pain I was feeling was enough balance to keep me riding. These training sessions were a big wake up call for me, a realization that as much as I thought I had ridden “hilly” courses before, the hills can always get “hillier”! As challenging as it was, I loved every minute on the bike.

Claire and Johan kindly leading me through the routes.

Claire and Johan kindly leading me through the routes.

I appreciated having some incredible guides to follow. Johan led us through multiple 3-4 hour rides, rarely repeating the same route, and somehow managing to never get us lost.

Reinout, Claire’s coach, and Kathleen Sterccx joined us for the second week of training camp. Together as a group of 5, we cycled a total elevation of 18,000 ft (assuming my Garmin is not telling lies).  Kathleen is a fearless descender, so I picked up a few tricks trying to stay on her wheel winding through the hairpin turns.

From L to R, Me, Johan, Claire, Kathleen, Reinout

From L to R, Me, Johan, Claire, Kathleen, Reinout

Kathleen is fearless on the descents!

Kathleen is fearless on the descents!

Following Claire’s training plan and preparations for the Olympic season was impressive. It was inspiring to see her dedication to improving her weaknesses both in the pool and on the bike. She has spent much time looking at her inefficiencies in the pool, and working on her stroke. I can say from 6 months ago when we last trained together in Ann Arbor, she has improved a ton! I can’t wait to see her in action this season (Abu Dabi WTS in 2 weeks!). I think she will make Belgium very proud!

Practicing beach exits. Details!

Practicing beach exits. Details!

Training camp was not so different from the winter training camps I went on as swimmer in college. Daily routine was very similar. Wake up. Eat a lot. Drink a few espressos. Go do the first session of the day. Come back and buy lunch. Eat a lot. Drink some tea.  Sneak in a nap. Go complete session 2 and maybe 3 of the day.  Enjoy the incredible dinner buffet. Have some dessert. Head to bed.

It's not all serious at Hotel Viva Blue ****

It’s not all serious at Hotel Viva Blue ****

The training camp ended in the best possible way. Waking up to find my alma mater had won the Big Ten Championships for the first time since 2004. My heart couldn’t be happier! I may be doing a new different sport, but my pride in Michigan Swimming is always so strong. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m happy to have been a part of the journey!

Class of 2013

Class of 2013

Patience Young Grasshopper

Quick weekend visit to one of the Triathlon Meccas - Boulder, CO

View on my long run in Boulder, CO! Quick weekend trip to visit a Triathlon Mecca.

After being injured over the summer, the hunger for a carefree run was real.  I was thrilled at the prospect of having training plans, and… oh my! a schedule, again!! My legs (and feet) were giddy with excitement!! All I could focus on, was getting back at it, right that second. “Put me in coach, put me in!” was all that was echoing in my head. “When do we start? Tomorrow? Today?? Right now?!?!?!?”  and all I wanted to do right at that moment was a 6 mile sprint, balls-to-the-wall, see-what-you-got kind of effort. (Thank goodness my reliable team comprised of calm and logic held me back from a potentially fatal move.)

The point was, it had been SO LONG (in my mind) since I had done anything “quality.” Which, in the logic of a triathlete, means one of the following:

  1. A swimming session where you finish with a bright red face. AND/OR
  2. A biking session where you’re legs scream in agony, you rest for a minute, and repeat for the duration of the ride. AND/OR
  3. A tempo and/or track and/or hill session.
  4. Tackling a footlong Subway sub in under 3:00 (very proud of this record).
3rd Place and my best Draft-legal finish!

3rd Place and my best Draft-legal finish!

I got my schedule via email, and opened the excel attachment with euphoria.  Trumpets were sounding in my head.. this is it… FINALLY.  And what I heard while reading was more like a kazoo. No tempo runs. No track workouts. No hills (or footlong sub eating competitions). For. Three. Months.

I spent all of November, all of December, and most of January “building base.” And, this week, with just as much fanfare (in my head of course), I completed my FIRST track workout since April 2015.

I recently came across some pictures from a few of my first triathlons. I got this feeling inside, itching to get back out in a lake, river, ocean, and get back to racing triathlons.

Stoked to partner with Aquaman for 2016!

Stoked to partner with Aquaman for 2016!

(Another instance where it’s nice to have some sane people around you to remind you that yes, the lakes are frozen in January in Michigan, and no, as good as your Aquaman wetsuit is, it will indeed not keep you warm enough).

As much as I wanted to get on the track on that very first day of November because I finally had pain free running, I did not. And as much as I want to dive right into competition because I had my first successful track workout, I remember that time is good, and “simmering” just makes things sweeter.  The beautiful things about honest winter training are not captured by race-day professional photographers. The beautiful things about honest winter training are much more subtle. Coffee on the couch after crushing a saturday morning long run. Long rides indoors with buds, catching up on the latest gossip or TV shows. Knowing that this session, plus the next, combined with that long run last weekend, and everything in between will get you to that triathlon, marathon, ironman, open water swim finish line this summer.

So on that note, for now, we simmer!

Winter long runs, and Dirt Roads.

Long Run Bliss and Dirt Roads.

Sudden Change

In college, on the swim team, we used to talk often about sudden change.  By being ready for sudden change you do not feel as if you are reacting, but rather in charge and calm with whatever is thrown your way.  I think this concept is exceptionally applicable to triathlon racing.  When you look at results from a triathlon race, you only see one dimension.  Sometimes there are race recaps which the ITU creates. And these certainly help give the mom, sister, cousin, fan, <insert other person here>, a better idea of the climate, light, number of triathletes, conditions of water, road etc.  These recaps give a great visual feel and tell the story of the best, but they can only do so much in 3-4 minutes of summary.  In fact, as I’m coming to realize, even the 1-2 hour live stream races, as in depth and clearly detailed they are, only tell a certain dimension of the race.

A swirling beautiful mess!

A swirling beautiful mess!

In my opinion, the race begins much sooner than race day. The race starts when your plane is delayed and the airline says you won’t be able to fly into Cozumel until the day after the actual competition. Or, when you arrive, and your bike bag has wheeled itself onto the wrong aircraft, and you find yourself wheel-less. Or when the water is unsafe to drink. Or when you do receive your bike bag, but find your derailleur hanger bent and have to use hotel pliers to hopefully bend it back. Or when TSA decides your allen wrenches, are actually Edward Scissorhand knives.

And similar examples can go on, and on. The point is, you may read that paragraph and, especially if you are a bike fanatic, get really bummed. But, that wasn’t my intention! The point is to say that the beauty and challenge of triathlon is the complexity. Each course, trip, travel arrangement, support crew, water condition, air, wind, sun, heat condition is different, and if you aren’t ready to roll with the punches, and make sudden changes – it does not matter how fast you swim, bike, run – you don’t stand a chance.

What the race recaps and live streams don’t show are the stories of the athletes leading into race day. Did they pack canned vegetables and fruits in order to ensure they had safe food? Is this world cup their first ITU race ever? Did this athlete crash in several ITU races on the bike and is working on gaining her confidence back?

Chasing the chasers.

Chasing the chasers.

In both races in Mexico and Puerto Rico I felt my pre-race, and race-day preparation was perfect.  I hydrated and fueled so well, I may have needed to go to the bathroom during the race.  I didn’t stop to do so, I promise! The races themselves were… hard. I swam well in both, though I felt the lack of experience in ocean and beach starts was obvious. But, I proved to myself that my swim can keep me up with the best of them. 3 weeks of bike and run training was not enough to handle a World Cup level, although it was enough to keep me in the race, and prevent me from getting lapped out. And in the end I improved from my starting position. 68th to 57th place in Mexico, and 17th to 10th place in Puerto Rico.

Cozumel will host World Championships for Triathlon next year... and you can see why!

Cozumel will host World Championships for Triathlon next year… and you can see why!

 

You can look at these races and say – the water was choppy, the bike was windy, and the run was steamy. That’s great! But.. like.. so what? Each race has its own story, maybe the swim is long, short, up, down, sharks, ice. The bike may be hilly, flat, or technical. And the run may be hot, cold, long, and bumpy. These are great descriptors for painting a picture to your mom, sister, cousin, and fan. But they are not excuses for performances. There will always be conditions. It’s your job as the triathlete to prepare for whatever sudden change they demand.

Standing with my bud Claire before she killed it with a 9th place!

Standing with my bud Claire before she killed it with a 9th place!

Fun to have a team of 3 in Mexico.

Fun to have a team of 3 in Mexico.

*disclaimer: not all of the examples of sudden changes are mine, most are, some are from my inspiring fellow competitors, and some I made up for dramatic flair. i’ll let you decide which is which. 🙂

Let’s go out and Tri

Well, as my Belgian compatriot Claire Michel recently told me, there’s no time like the present to dive right in. This past week I competed in the Aquathlon World Championships at the World Triathlon Series Grand Final in Chicago, IL. I did not literally dive in, as it was an in water start, but nevertheless experienced my first taste of world class level, elite triathlon competition.

Baby powder prep for running shoes. Feet smell fresh and shoes come on quickly!

Setting up transition for an aquathlon is easy!  All you need is your running shoes.

Before proceeding I should explain that an aquathlon is not the same thing as a triathlon.  I am not sure any one truly knows the correct pronunciation, so if you sneeze and add an “lon” to the end, you’ll probably be fairly close.  The aquathlon consisted of a 750m swim followed by a 5K run.  I had a blast.  In short, I had a great first 100 meter start, struggled to hold on halfway, and finished the swim strong.  My run was lopsided, but I managed to finish 12th, not reinjure my foot, and smile at my devoted fan club (thanks mom, Frederic, and Carl), making the race a total success in my eyes.

Strong finish down the chute!

Strong finish down the chute!

A bigger point I wanted to make in this post, besides giggling like a little girl everytime I try and pronounce aquathlon, was to explain a theory that I am actively applying in this triathlon journey.  Not being afraid to fail.  In high school, I was determined to go to the senior homecoming with a date.  I asked 4 guys.  Embarrassing?  Maybe…  But I tell this story because rejection makes you more resilient. (also *most* of them already had dates I promise…)

I’m not sure how fast I can be, and how high my ceiling is, but I will allow myself the opportunity to find out. I will try and not make excuses for poor performances, but rather go back to the drawing board and be better. I’m delighted that my foot has healed and a 6 month injury is now in the past. I do wish I were more prepared for the upcoming races in Mexico and Puerto Rico, but I keep the bigger picture in mind.  For me, the upcoming competitions offer an opportunity to gain experience and learn now, what needs to be tweaked before the triathlon season takes it’s annual winter hiatus.  I will consider it a success if I finish the season with a healthy foot and ready to train hard again.

Beginnings

Collegiate Nationals, 2014

If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

When I began my quest for being a professional athlete, in the fall 2013, I hardly told anyone what I was doing.  Yes, people knew I was active, swam in college, and that I did a triathlon on occasion, but besides my parents and coach, no one knew my biggest desire to become a professional triathlete.  Saying dreams out loud is scary, the fear of failure and criticism can be overpowering.

One of my sister’s best friends (conveniently who has the same first name as me… man those Valerie’s are ruling the world ;)), works for Zingerman’s (iconic local deli and gourmet foods store) in Ann Arbor, MI.  One of the things Zingerman’s trains and encourages its employees to do, is to write a mission statement… and share it.

I realized I had a mission statement, but I was too afraid to share it.  Over the next few months, instead of avoiding questions about my goals and intentions with triathlon, I embraced those moments as opportunities to share my mission statement.  I realized that in doing so, I did not receive criticism, but instead love, support and encouragement.

1.5 years later, I achieved what I first set out to do.  In light of trying not to make the same mistake twice, (something I’m working on), I share with you my next mission:  Make the 2020 Olympic Team on behalf of Belgium.

Using this blog as my platform, I am to stay natural, clean, and true to myself (no promises about unfiltered photos though).  I aim not to brag, but rather encourage those around me.  In return, I hope others have the trust to share their dreams and aspirations, big or small.