I always wanted to complete a triathlon, but my fear of the water made me think that would never happen.

When I was little my Mom signed me up for swim lessons. It was my turn to jump off the diving board into the waiting teacher’s arms. I took the leap, but the teacher had turned her head to talk to someone, and so I sank entirely underwater. I remember looking up through the water at my teacher, frantically dog paddling, thinking, “She’s not looking at me,” and doubting she would save me.

But she did. She saw me and quickly pulled me back into the air.

I hadn’t been drowning. I’d probably been underwater for less than a second. And really I know how to swim. I can swim perfectly well with my head above water and I enjoy playing with my kids in the water. However, I never learned the freestyle stroke which requires me to put my face under water. Plus, I have a recurring dream of drowning. That childhood trauma has affected me into adulthood.

Every time I thought about signing up for a triathlon, I would remember that swimming was included and tell myself I couldn’t do it. That fear held me back. I thought I would be fine never completing a triathlon.

Five years ago I saw signups for a duathlon (which is a run-bike-run event — no swimming). I signed up, and I ran and biked, and it was an awesome experience! I loved it! I thought it would fulfill my desire to complete a triathlon. It didn’t. I still felt this inner pull to succeed at a triathlon. But I still feared the water.

Last year when I read more about the Spudman Triathlon I felt confident enough in myself that I knew it was time to accomplish my dream and overcome my fear. I suddenly felt determination flow into my body. I paid the $100 registration fee and signed up.

I listened to some swimming tips from a couple friends and watched a few youtube videos. I did some major self talk and told myself that I was tough and capable. I started swimming a couple times a week. It was quite the struggle. I came home discouraged more than I came home motivated. Every time I got in the water I would have to talk myself through it. I was alone with my thoughts in the pool. For better or worse. All of my positive self talk that I learned about came into practice once again.

These past weeks have been brutal. I have been training 1–2 hours every day. When I wanted to sleep in, I didn’t. When I didn’t feel like swimming or biking or running — and when I felt like I had so many other things to do — I still swam, biked and ran. I have been very dedicated — even driven — to accomplish this goal.

Yes all this work has been for the triathlon. But it’s all bigger than just the physical challenge.

I’ve stopped making up excuses about why I couldn’t accomplish my dream.

I’ve learned a lot about myself these past 12 weeks. I’ve spent hours with myself alone in my head while pushing my body to its limits. I’ve seen just how capable I am. I’ve seen how beautiful morning sunrises are in the mountains on my early morning bike rides. I’ve felt how good it feels to use my body and thank my body for doing what I’ve asked it to do. I’ve learned that physical health is directly tied to emotional health (well I already knew that one.) I’ve given myself permission to believe in myself. In fact, I’ve demanded I believe in myself. I told doubt to take a hike and I told it often. And you know what? It worked.

I’m happy to report I now know how to swim.

Race day came and once again I didn’t allow myself to doubt. I knew I had prepared and I was ready. I could do it! I got in the water and my heart was pounding. For 24 minutes my heart rate was at its max. I swam freestyle then flipped on my back over and over again. My goal had been to finish the swim in 30–40 minutes. I did it in 24 and I felt great.

I quickly transitioned out of my wet suit and into my bike shorts and running shoes and off I went. I was able to see both my parents and my husband and 4 kids cheering me on as I left on my bike. I was on cloud nine. I had successfully completed the swim and now I was on to what had become my favorite event of tri: the bike.

On the bike I felt my legs immediately. I was kicking myself mentally because I knew I used them a little too much on the swim. I should have let my arms do the majority of the work swimming but I used my legs a lot. I was a little worried how my legs would hold up the rest of the race but the soreness wore off and I was able to get in the zone.

I think I smiled the majority of the 24.85 miles riding my bike. The scenery was beautiful farms and wheat crops ready to harvest. I felt great. In fact around mile 12 I started to cry because I thought about the fact that I had spent the majority of my life hating my body. Literally hating it. Wishing it were different and looked like someone else’s. I had wasted so much time hating that I had missed just how amazing my body truly was. My body is strong and capable and I am proud of it. I wish our culture was different. I wish we focused more on what our bodies can do and the gift that they are rather than what they look like and how they can be pleasing to another’s eye. The thing with culture is that it starts with us. You and me. We can teach our children that bodies are instruments rather than ornaments. We hold a lot of power as individuals, teachers, friends and parents.

My goal was to complete the triathlon in 3 hours flat.

I came in at 2 hours 47 minutes.

The euphoria of accomplishing a dream is something that I can’t put into words. Even as I type this tears are threatening to pour out. I am proud of myself. I had a dream, I set a goal and I worked hard. I stopped giving fear permission to rule my life. I didn’t give up when I doubted myself and ultimately I only allowed room for belief. I will forever be grateful for this experience and for what it has taught me about myself.

What would happen if you stopped doubting yourself?

What would happen if you believed in yourself?

This power can change our lives. You are the only one who can stop yourself from accomplishing your dreams.