Losing my rib, rehabilitating my body, and doing my first triathlon.

This is the story of meeting an accomplishment. Achievement is one stepping stone in building career and self-confidence.

Many people reiterate the importance of a "life goals" checklist - a list of things that you hope to do, by a certain time or year, in your lifetime. This summer I accomplished a huge life goal of mine: I completed an Olympic Triathlon. It may seem like a a regular goal to some, and it may pass off the radar screen for many. My family and friends know me as an athlete; then why is one triathlon such a goal for me?

When I graduated from college, one of my life goals was to do a triathlon in my years post-college. Instead, I got wrapped up in the hectic late night schedule of graduate architecture school and made a mess of work-life balance while trying to learn how to design. Three years went by, and it seemed I would never really be an athlete in the way I was in college. It was physically and mentally depressing - the lack of endorphins, the lack of adrenaline, of competition. I missed it.

In 2008, I finished my Master's program and, re-energized, I moved to San Francisco and quickly signed up to do a triathlon relay with friends on the SF Tri Club. The swim leg was amazing, but I still couldn't run or bike - and I didn't own a bike to ride.

I spent 2008-2009 training for a half marathon - running 5K's and training in the foggy cold morning hours and trying to figure out how to make my legs move faster than an 11-minute-mile pace. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I had my sights set on one big goal: the July 26, 2009 SF half marathon - my first half marathon. I wanted to focus on running training, and work my way up to a triathlon for the end of the summer 2009. I splurged and I bought my first road bike - a Fuji Roubaix Pro. The rest of my pennies went to a bike pump. Biking shoes would come later. Three weeks until the half marathon!

On July 4, 2009, I stopped by the doctor's office to figure out a problem with tingling and numbness in my right arm. I walked into the facility with my work clothes on and only my wallet and keys in my pocket - expecting to leave a few hours later.  Instead, I was transferred to the ER and later the ICU for 5 days to undergo an extensive set of tests that revealed a 3" blood clot inside my chest (blocking blood flow to the upper right extremities in my body), and it required immediate action. I was hooked up to a drip line of TPA (one of the most deadly chemicals available) to "melt" the clot and monitored on an hourly basis for vital signs and breathing. I was a test case for intervention radiology - a series of "living x-rays" - that show the movement of blood through your body after injecting dye into the blood stream. (There were some really cool pictures from this process).

Ironically, I had a rare condition in which my rib and collarbone were too close - nearly touching - pinching the vein and nerves in my thoracic outlet and creating a blood "traffic jam" in my body. After removing the clot, the UCSF hospital cleared the cardiovascular operating room for the whole day to remove my first rib and examine the extent of vascular surgery required. Thankfully, they did not have to cut through my breastbone and open my chest cavity - I was under for only 3 hours and left the hospital with a 6 week no-arm movement prognosis (and no yelling/talking/couching/sneezing or moving my chest, either).

My 2009 Fall season was filled with yoga, gentle runs, and working my way back into swimming - 300, 500, and 800 yards at a time.  In January I did a 1500-yard swim that didn't hurt my shoulder or neck - because in the process of removing a rib, the doctors also cut out some of the upper chest muscles that hold your ribs in place - making it really painful to reach, stretch, or put any weight or pressure on my entire upper body post-surgery. Sneezing, talking, coughing, and laughing were excruciating. Fortunately, the recovery time went quickly and by March, at 8 months, I swam 3000 yards.  I got out my bike from Sports Basement and started going on short 5 and 6 mile rides. I started riding to work (8 miles each way) and felt my legs getting stronger.

In late March, 2010 I renewed my tired inspirations to actually *do* a triathlon (now a goal over 5 years in the making) and signed up for SF Tri Club's track practice and Wildflower Training Weekend. At the training weekend, I did my first 25 mile bike ride (which left me panting, sweaty and shaking all over.) The swim was excellent, but the run sub-par (I ended up walking the last 4 miles of it).

And then, the summer of 2010. This summer was absolutely inspiring. I met triathletes who finished half ironmans and full ironmans and watched my friends use their bodies for 9, 12, and 17 hours without stopping. I ran my first 9 mile race and coastal trail runs and began to fall in love with running, especially through wooded, dense, forested areas.  I went on a 57-mile bike ride and waddled for days, but still came out grinning. I went to track practice enough times to make some new friends in the city, and swam with USF Masters many more times. I tried out my new tri-fit and wetsuit in Aquatic Park and got shiny new clip-in pedals (only 2 days before the race - whoops - never a good strategy). Each day I get to run, race, swim, or compete makes me incredibly happy. I can't take a day - or a race - for granted, and I'm so lucky to be able to live in beautiful San Francisco, spend time outside, meet fabulous people, and train and compete.

On a sunny, clear-skied early morning, I drove down to San Jose to do the Silicon Valley International Triathlon and complete my first triathlon. I was incredibly nervous and really excited. It was my first time doing a brick, my first time doing transitions, my first time in the tri-fit in a race, and my first time racing with clip-in pedals. I took it out smooth and long on the swim; negative-split the bike trying to keep a little energy in my legs (upon reflection, perhaps I could have gone faster), and ran the entire run course without walking. In the end, I was hot, sticky, sweaty, and unbelievably happy. I did it: 2 hours and 55 minutes of pure glory. I came out fast in the swim and was passed continuously on the bike and held on at the end of the run. I made it.

I can finally check off the beginning of my goal to start doing triathlons. I am now a triathlete.

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