It is no secret that triathlon is a highly demanding sport. It requires countless hours of effort and discipline. Combining it with life, family, career and daily commitments means a big challenge in terms of finding the correct balance. If we look around, however, we will find examples of athletes who have managed to find that balance between their careers and their families and have been able to intertwine triathlon into their daily routines.
Today we spend 5 minutes with an athlete who has been able to keep her training consistent and has managed to find both the perfect balance, and has been able to use her family as motivation.
For many athletes, having a child means that you are forced to change your priorities. In some cases, this means leaving your athletic dreams aside. For Cheryl Swann though, it ended up being the complete opposite. After becoming a mom, she realised the importance of keeping an active life and the great benefits it brings her. She could see how positive an influence it was on her family, and specifically on her child’s healthy development.
This early insight led Cheryl into creating a fantastic team with her husband (Dan) and her daughter (Anika), who have been right by her side though her first triathlon, running Marathons, achieving podiums and inspiring others to implement a structured training regime into their own lives. Below, we get to hear more about how she manages her time and what tips she can give to all the aspiring athletes out there who are still a bit unsure on how to get into the sport.
Nestor: How did you get into Triathlon? What brought you to do this?
Cheryl: I’d wanted to do triathlon for years before I finally took the plunge. I thought it looked like an amazing challenge but felt too intimated by all the fancy gear that I thought was required. I did a corporate triathlon a few years before which was a good introduction to the sport. When I had my daughter, Anika, in 2018 I decided I needed a post-pregnancy sporting goal so signed up for a sprint triathlon when she was just 7 months old and I’ve not looked back since!
Nestor: What is it that you see in the sport that attracts you to it? What brings you joy from this sport?
Cheryl: I love the focus and structure of training. I do enjoy racing but as I’m not the fastest triathlete out there I certainly get my kicks from ticking off the training sessions and working my way towards my next goal.
I also like the fact that the triathlon community is so friendly and welcoming and that everyone genuinely wants to see you do well in the sport.
Nestor: How did you end up committing to the challenge of Triathlon?
Cheryl: I wouldn’t have been able to commit to triathlon if it wasn’t for the support of my family (specifically my husband Dan). I definitely train better when I have a goal in mind so I always make sure I have a few races planned to keep me motivated and getting me out of bed and training every day. Having a triathlon coach Melbourne based, but who is also great at being an online triathlon coach really helps with planning and motivation.
Nestor: Just completing a triathlon is a demanding challenge on its own, adding kids into the mix makes even harder. How do you manage to stay on top of your game?
Cheryl: It certainly is a challenge to train and race with a 2 yr old. Anika has been to all of my races and is a big motivator for me during the races as I look for her smiling face cheering me on. She is also at the age now where she understands what I am doing when I’m going to training and tells me to go out on my bike or to enjoy my run. Dan is also a runner so we are very understanding about giving each other the time to get out for our training.
Nestor: What do you think is the biggest challenge of having a child while staying competitive?
Cheryl: I think my biggest challenge is the mum guilt I can often feel when I am riding or running for hours on end and not spending that time with Anika. I have to constantly be reminding myself that this is ‘my’ time. The pleasure I get from training and racing is such a benefit for my mental health that Anika will certainly also benefit in the long run. She is also at the age now where I feel I am setting a good example for her – for her to see two active, happy parents working away towards their goals must surely be a good thing.
Nestor: What do you think is the best thing about having a child while staying competitive?
Cheryl: She is my biggest fan and is a great cheerleader!
Nestor: What is your biggest motivation to keep moving?
Cheryl: My biggest motivation is to be able to show Anika that if you work hard and persevere at something you can do anything you put your mind to. I only really learnt to swim properly about 4 years ago (and guilty secret is that I still can’t do breaststroke) so I am motivated by learning new skills and techniques and seeing slow, but consistent improvement.
I like to challenge myself with longer races as I personally get more satisfaction finishing a longer, endurance event, than a shorter, faster event such as a sprint. So I am also motivated to just keep getting longer – an Ironman is definitely on my bucket list as is a 10km OWS.
Nestor: What role does your family play in your training and your events? And what role do you think your sport plays in their lives?
Cheryl: My family is on my mind a lot when I am racing, or during a tough training session. I know I could never quit during a race and have to give it 100% as I think about the support and sacrifices my family have made to keep me training and competing. Dan has seen firsthand the positive effect that training has on my mental and physical health. He even joined the squad this year on a running program and has said that I inspired him to get into running.
I think Anika will grow up with sport being a big part of her life and will learn some good values through sport. She told me a few months ago that she wants to learn to run faster (she is already pretty fast for a 2 yr old) so we may even get to do some events together when she is older.
Nestor: What message would you like to send to any parents who would like to get into the sport?
Cheryl: To any other mums and dads out there wanting to get into triathlon, I would say just do it and don’t be too intimidated about your first event! You are already a parent and that is your superpower. If you can do that you can do anything. You will feel so proud when you realise how you are inspiring to your family. Whether your kids are young or old, having them standing on the sidelines cheering you on and wanting you to succeed is a great feeling.
The message is clear for every mum and dad out there who is thinking about taking up the challenge of triathlon. Don’t be intimidated about the sport, being a parent means that you are already equipped for everything out on the triathlon course. It will be great for you, for your family and all of those surrounding you.