How a Haverford College sophomore became a triathlete
By Hannah Turner
What began as a casual joke has, over the past three months, become a way of life for Haverford College sophomore Bekki Schwartz. Now, in addition to musician, sister, and friend, Schwartz can add triathlete to her resumé.
Schwartz decided that she needed to take her fitness more seriously over the summer. She began running daily, and “was feeling really good about myself and about my body, because I knew I was doing the right thing for it,” she said. Until this August though, Schwartz “would not have self-identified as an athlete…Not at all.”
When she told some friends about her new fitness kick, one facetiously suggested that she train for a triathlon. “But then,” Schwartz said, “we looked it up on Wikipedia and realized that this was something I could definitely do, and something that would fill a void in my life.”
This void, she explained, was two-pronged. First and foremost, she said, was the fact that she still had no specific goal to keep her motivated. The second, more general, issue was that “I’d kind of settled into a niche on campus…It had been a long time since I’d done something totally outside of my comfort zone…It was time for me to do something totally different, and to prove to myself that I could do it,” Schwartz said.
Getting a trainer
Schwartz first used the internet to implement her plan. She found several free triathlon training plans for beginners, picked one, and intended just to follow it. She realized quickly though that Google couldn’t provide her with the advice and feedback crucial to a successful training program. Schwartz decided that she needed a coach, and asked for funding as a birthday gift from her parents.
Again Google came in handy as Schwartz looked for triathlon trainers in the area. She called several and in a “purely fiscal decision” found Mary Sundy Kelley. Armed with a new trainer and plans to compete in a specific race (The Bassman Distance Sprint Triathlon in Tuckerton, N.J.), Schwartz began her seven-week training program.
Schwartz’s schedule included six workouts per week, with one off day. These workouts included one long bike, run, and swim each week. The other training days were comprised of interval workouts, combining varying intensity levels in one of the events with a short session of one of the others. By the end of her seven weeks, Schwartz’s workouts exceeded the duration of those in the actual race.
By the time race day arrived, Schwartz felt physically prepared. She had noticed the changes in her fitness over the past two months, and was proud to put her new strength to the test.
“I wasn’t sure I would finish gracefully,” Schwartz said, “and I wasn’t sure I would finish in a respectable time, but I was fairly confident that I would at least finish, that I would manage to sludge through it.”
After preparing all of the race-day logistics, such as body numbers, registration, and setting up her transition spots, Schwartz joined the other competitors on the shore of the ice-cold lake.
The water’s freezing
When she jumped in, “the temperature of the water literally took my breath away,” Schwartz said. “I created some kind of free style doggie paddle and was just trying to breathe, and by then the clump had kind of spread out…I passed most of the pack, and ended up in a good position, which,” she laughed, “I quickly blew in the bike.”
As the race proceeded Schwartz began to feel the adrenaline rush. As she ran into the final portion, “there was music playing, and everyone was cheering, and that’s when…. I was like ‘I’m so happy that I’m here’,” Schwartz said. The youngest competitor, she placed 18th out of the 40 women present.
Of the whole process, Schwartz reflected, “I think what I can’t get over is how much your body can adapt…even though I’m still really reluctant to call myself an athlete, I did this. I feel good about my body-I haven’t lost weight, but I feel better. So now my attitude is ‘whatever my body is doing, that’s fine, because I’m healthy.’ I think that’s an attitude a lot of women my age could benefit from,” she said.
Schwartz has already begun channeling her pride and enthusiasm into a community effort. She and another sophomore triathlete, Nico Moreno, created the Haverford Triathlon Club.
Schwartz said that she intends for the club to be as inclusive as possible. “Our policy is gonna be ‘here is the workout schedule, come whenever you want to come,” she said.
Their goal is to equip interested students with the skill set necessary to begin training for a spring triathlon. With any luck, by next April Haverford College will have a group of proud and empowered traithletes roaming its campus.