This month I am honored to feature Laura Backus, a woman that has deeply influenced me as an athlete. She’s inspired me to go farther, try harder, and ignore my limitations. Her story is nothing short of amazing, and I’m pretty sure that after you read it, you’re going to hop online and sign up for your first triathlon! So without further ado, here’s Laura:
Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m a 41 yr old, stubborn (determined?), short, married, sarcastic, no kids (furkids, one named ATHENA), fat, slow, medically challenged, IRONMAN. I really enjoy the sport of triathlon and found you can do great things if you believe it, then put the work in to do it.
I have a genetic disorder, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which among other things makes my body unpredictable day by day. I dislocate many of my joints on a frequent basis and it is nearly impossible to build strength like normal people. I quickly atrophy, and many muscles just do not work on their own without conscious engagement of each contraction.
Running is especially difficult and my arches usually collapse within 45 min of any run. I have to worry about many other medical issues, such as migraines, but these are the big ones.
I don’t want my disorder, or my weight to define me, however. I’ve learned that I can speak for those with EDS, or any invisible illness, as well as the larger or slower athletes.
How did you get into triathlons?
In 2007, a friend asked me if I wanted to do Danskin, a triathlon that was 1 mile from my house. I told her to go to hell. Next day I thought ‘well WHY NOT?’
I don’t run well, and I’m UBER slow so I was worried. 2 weeks before the race, I fell off my bike and broke my arm. I had to wait a full year to do my 1st and the rest is history…total addiction.
What made you decide to become an IronMan?
I’m a very stubborn individual, once someone tells me I CAN’T do something, I’m all in!
I never thought I’d do an Ironman. I did Providence half Ironman and technically didn’t finish in time, but they were awesome and let me walk on the sidewalk the last 2 miles.
I felt great and thought if I could just get rid of the run, I could do a full. So signed up for Chesapeakeman Aquabike (now Ironman Maryland) scheduled 2 months after Providence. I was ready to take on a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike. I had a great body day and nailed the bike.
When I got off and saw my time (and first place Athena), I realized I would have 8 hours to walk a marathon in a full 140.6. I booked my flight to Florida the next day!
The IronMan distance is the pinnacle of triathlon achievement, and very few people can last through the training, much less the event itself. You did it all while dealing with EDS and managing a busy career and family life. How do you make it work?
I had a coach that scheduled workouts for me, so my days were planned. You have to be a type A planner I think to do an Ironman. With EDS, it was really tough because I didn’t know what each day would hand me, and I could wake up and suddenly my body would refuse to work for days. My coach worked with me and put together a ‘sport-centric’ plan rather than the typical build, peak, recover type plans. That way if I missed a few days I would be OK.
I had to learn to be totally cool with missing workouts, and with contingency plans. Work would get in the way sometimes too. I am an IT software manager and sometimes those systems just do not understand you are out of the office.
I recall one long training ride (on a bike path), I heard my phone ring and I knew it was work. I put my phone in my aerobars and answered it on speaker. I talked my teammate through fixing an issue while basically shouting into my aerobars. I know I was getting crazy looks! You gotta improvise!
I guess the biggest thing is to learn to ‘roll with it’. Practicing your improv skills during training will help you on race day. You cannot plan for everything that COULD happen, so having coping skills will go FAR on race day.
Do you have an inspirational and/or funny triathlon story (or stories!) to share with us?
My life is a series of funny little things. Some I write about, some not.
For example, through Triathlon I learned that getting milk in your eye really burns. Your car ends up being a giant locker-room by peak training. I went to the grocery store and purchased a gallon of milk. I tried to grab it from my trunk, it got tangled on who knows what, then I dropped the milk – of course it exploded and splashed up into my eyeball. No one believes me!
Probably my more horrifying embarrassing moment is when I discovered I wore a shirt backward for an entire race. OK great right? Well, I didn’t figure it out until a year later. After being interviewed about my participation in the Pan Mass Challenge, I submitted that picture to be used on the FRONT PAGE of my local paper. Once it was published, I realized my shirt was on backwards. If you look close you can even see the stupid tag.. it was a cool pic though!
How has triathlon changed your life?
It has become part of my life. I love being outside, riding, running (eh), swimming. I love encouraging others, I love sharing my love of the water with folks who have a fear of the water.
In the summer when I’m not racing, I am volunteering. I LOVE being a swim buddy coordinator. There is nothing better than seeing someone finish the swim after they considered quitting and you encouraged them through the course. I live for the days when someone tells me that they did something they previously thought not possible!
What words of wisdom do you have for aspiring triathletes?
Whatever your dream is, it is possible. Don’t talk about time; focus on “did you finish.” Break scary events into small sections, are those doable? You are strong, if you believe you can, you can.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I find inspiration daily from many things, from the dozens of women who have lost over 100lbs that come share their stories; to my friend Dawn with Parkinson’s disease actually finishing a 5K, something she never thought possible.
I find inspiration in watching OTHERS try to be positive in the tri community, give back, give a high five instead of a snide remark to the back of the packers.
I love the back of the pack. If you want inspiration? Hang out with the last finishers of ANY race.
Lastly, you may hear more about it later, but Joe Stone has inspired me beyond words. Joe is a quadriplegic who attempted Ironman Florida in ’13.
We connected over some interesting parallels between our physical limitations. We both believe that most are just perceived limitations and where there’s a will there’s a way. Joe inspired me to be a better advocate for Ehlers Danlos.
Previous to meeting him, I would mention it, but I didn’t realize how many other lives I could affect by being vocal and out there. I founded an EDS Athletes group to help encourage those with EDS to be active. The progress there alone has been amazing.
I also have the honor to be included in Joe’s film It’s Raining, So What, coming soon in 2015.
What is your one must-have piece of gear?
My bike. First it is rather distinctive, but really you just develop such a personal relationship with the RIGHT bike! I love her (but she still doesn’t have a name, no names have stuck).
What are your top 3 songs to listen to when you train?
I listen to most everything except country. Want me to lose my breakfast? Play country.
I generally try to not train with music when outdoors. First, it’s safer, and second you aren’t permitted electronics in races so you might as well get used to entertaining yourself and lastly, it is awesome to sing stupid off-key songs and get caught! OOOh the looks you get sometimes! I was caught at Chesapeakeman belting out Sesame Street.
What’s next for you?
I’m at it again for a big year. Eagleman 70.3 in June then Ironman Florida in November. I’m actually pretty nervous about the 70.3, the cutoffs on the half do not give me much slush room to finish my run in time. I am also contemplating the Dopey challenge. I am absolutely nuts for considering this given my physical issues with running, but why not try, right?
What else would you like us to know?
Here is my IM finisher video, apparently I scared a bunch of people! They didn’t think I would make it!
With the changes in Ironman starts now (rolling), I’m sad that no one will have the pleasure of chasing the clock like that anymore!
How can we find/follow you on social media?
TWITTER (although I’m very new to Twitter).
Jill, thank you for the opportunity to share my story!
Thank YOU Laura for sharing your story with us! I urge all of my readers to visit Laura’s blog and social media sites. You’ll find a ton of inspiration and inspiration and I promise you’ll leave knowing that you are capable of so much more than you ever dreamed possible.
Check out other Rockstar Runners HERE.