“I wish I could say that I did it for the medal and the self-satisfaction, but it was actually more about the hours of alone time,” said Hillary Simpson, who completed a course of swimming, biking, and running along with others in Ironman Wisconsin.
While finishing an Ironman Triathlon is a true feat, what makes Hillary’s achievement more amazing is that, less than 24 hours before the start of the competition, she was shopping at the supermarket with her three children hanging off a cart.
Participating in a race was not on her mind, as Hillary had not been in a gym in forever. It was at the store that she saw her neighbor, Rebecca, who is a personal trainer and fitness guru.
“I typically avoid conversations with Rebecca because she doesn’t have kids, we have little in common, and you can see her scary ab muscles through multiple clothing layers,” explained Hillary. “I get intimidated just living on her same street! However, since my toddler took that moment to fling his snack bag all over, we couldn’t slip past Rebecca.”
Loose Cheerios hit Rebecca’s head, and when she turned, her eyes fell upon Hillary. It was then that Hillary noticed Rebecca had her arm in a sling. Social norms dictated she ask what had happened, so she did.
It turned out Rebecca had been lifting a 40-pound kettle bell with one hand, had gotten cocky, and had attempted to do the same maneuver with just her pinky finger. Rebecca’s whole arm gave out, resulting in a shoulder tear.
The injury was made worse because it prohibited Rebecca from competing the next day in what would have been her 50th Ironman competition.
“It was awkward listening to her moan and groan, actually,” explained Hillary. “I felt bad, but I had to get home to clean the house, pay bills, give the dog a bath, make dinner, and squeeze in story time with my kiddos because we were finally to the good part of Junie B. Jones where she actually gets in trouble for her bad behavior.”
It was just as Hillary’s children were beginning to impatiently growl that Hillary noticed Rebecca wiping her red-rimmed eyes with a white square. It was the racing bib Rebecca was supposed to wear in the next day’s Ironman. After soaking it with tears, Rebecca let it slip from her hands to the ground and waved goodbye.
Hillary’s five-year-old immediately picked up the discarded bib and shouted, “LITTER BUG.” Hillary quickly grabbed the running bib and stashed it away while simultaneously producing suckers for each of her children in the hopes of gaining some much-needed silence.
It was not until later, after all of the kids were asleep, that Hillary rediscovered the running bib in her diaper bag. She went to discard it but first read the disclaimer on the bib.
It discussed health precautions and also had a statement about how Ironman Triathlons could take 17 hours to complete.
“Over half a day of no interruptions, no spills, no meltdowns, no shin kicking, no car seat wrangling, and no whining…it sounded like a dream,” said Hillary, who decided to keep the bib and participate in Ironman Wisconsin.
The next morning she awoke early, found some old running shoes in the closet and borrowed gym shorts from her husband. She located a one-piece maternity swimsuit that was stretched out around the belly, but Hillary was able to tighten it with the use of a clip-on earring from her daughter’s doll collection. Hillary then hauled her bike out from behind the holiday decoration storage and was ready.
Her husband Josh and the kids drove Hillary to the race and even walked her to the starting line.
The whole time, Josh kept thinking Hillary would abandon this futile feat much like she had in the past with other equally adventurous goals, such as scrapbooking, joining a book club, yoga, drinking morning coffee hot, and taking daily showers.
“I wanted to be supportive, but I was not 100% sure Hillary could swim in water unless it was full of chlorine and involved kids clinging to her waist and legs. I mean, what if she forgot what it felt like to swim solo? Or float alone without watching a child do an underwater handstand?” explained Josh.
Hillary knew the concerns, but the thought of being alone with her thoughts for hours was too great of an opportunity to ignore. Plus she felt she had been training for this event her whole mothering life. Her arm muscles were strong from carrying babies and from being the sole person responsible for loading and unloading groceries.
Hillary felt the 2.4-mile swim would be “easy peasy” compared to wrestling three kiddos into an overflowing bathtub while trying to scrub them free of magic marker.
She said the 112-mile bike ride was glorious and gave her legs lots of credit. They were in decent shape from years of chasing children and squatting under beds to find lost toys: “My eight-year-old let me borrow her unicorn safety helmet and my husband gave me his wireless ear buds. Instead of being grueling, I felt like a magical princess jamming out to X-rated lyrics.”
“I was tired going into the run, but also refreshed in a weird way,” remarked Hillary. “I had been in my own head for so many hours that during the run I continued listening to music but also took the opportunity to multi-task and make mental notes regarding grocery lists, appointments, carpooling duties, etc.”
A mother’s job is never over, not even during or after an Ironman Triathlon. At the finish line Hillary had to cut photos and this interview short, because her youngest needed to pee and he refused to enter the port-a-potty without his mother and her shiny, new medal.
About the Author
Kelly J. Riibe has three kiddos, a husband, a dog, and a mildly curbed addiction to Diet Coke. Keeping busy for her involves staying home with her children and also finding work as a freelance writer. She has been published in Nebraska Magazine, Heels on a Farm, and is the co-writer for the blog: familyfootnote.com.