Sue Reynolds - Becoming a Triathlete


Brian Lord: Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the Beyond Speaking podcast. And today we have on Sue Reynolds. She's the author of The Athlete Inside: The Transforming Power of Hope, Tenacity and Faith. At age 60, Sue couldn't walk to the mailbox from her house. Then she went out and lost two hundred pounds and she also became a world class triathlete, which is just crazy, amazing. So we're going to talk about Sue's amazing story and how we can apply her wisdom to our lives. So, Sue, thanks for coming on.


Sue Reynolds: Thank you. Thank you so much. It's my honor to be with you.


Brian Lord: Now, first of all, I'm going to apologize to everybody listening. So we graduated a few years apart, but Sue and I went to the same small Indiana college called DePauw University. So anytime someone from DePauw gets famous like Brad Stevens, who's the head coach of the Boston Celtics or Vice President Dan Quayle or Angie of Angie's List and of course, now Sue Reynolds, like everybody, cheers them on. So apologize in advance if we're talking about some school you've never heard of but still is awesome. So I just I get that other way because we're going to have a little DePauw time in here. But first of all, so, Sue, you've got this amazing story. Now, were you an athlete growing up or what's kind of your sports background?


Sue Reynolds: No, I was not an athlete growing up. And really, it wasn't until age 60 that I even knew that I like sports and that was quite a surprise.


Brian Lord: That is that's so funny. So why didn't you... Did you just have a family that didn't do them or did you just, like, skip gym class or how did that happen?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, so when I was in school, we didn't have sports for girls. The P.E. class, the boys would go to the gym to play basketball and the girls would go to the home ec. room to square dance.


Brian Lord: [Laughing]


Sue Reynolds: We just... Yeah, we just didn't have the opportunity to participate in sports. And there's probably a lot of women like me who are athletes and don't know it.


Brian Lord: Wow. And so I guess, you know, from jumping from there, you know, part of your story, we know a lot of people were introduced to kind of the famous picture you posted like here's me at three thirty five and then here's me at two twenty five or so and then one thirty five. Where did you get to where you didn't want to be or... How did you get to where you didn't want to be?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, so I was obese for most of my life. When I married my husband he was very skinny and I decided I would to fatten him up and he gained three pounds and I gained 30. It didn't work at all. Yeah. And then I had a job that I really, really liked. I founded a nonprofit that helps community organizations implement the process of change. And I love that job and work a lot of all nights and to stay awake, I would eat. And as the nonprofit grew, my waistline grew as well. So. And then I finally got to the point where I just got really fed up with all the things that I couldn't do. You know, when you're really obese, it's like a disability. I couldn't fit in a restaurant booth. I couldn't even tie my own shoes because my stomach was so big I couldn't reach over it to get to my feet. So every morning I'd have to ask my husband to put my socks and shoes on for me. There's just a lot of things I couldn't do. And I just got to the point where one morning really nothing special happened. But I just hit that breaking point and I was at breakfast- in front of a high-calorie breakfast. And I just remember putting my hands up in front of me and just saying, enough, this is enough. And at that point, my direction changed and I started making different choices.


Brian Lord: And what was kind of the first change that you made?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah. So, you know, I didn't know exactly what to do or what a successful diet was like, but I had heard a lot about Weight Watchers. So I joined Weight Watchers and I actually lost a lot of weight on Weight Watchers, but I didn't do it the way that Weight Watchers intended. I ate all of my points in donuts and waffles for breakfast and then I just didn't eat the rest of the day. And because my calorie intake was lower, I lost weight. But that wasn't a good way to sustain a nutrition program. And I ended up gaining all that weight back. And then I went to a different type of nutrition program, a whole foods program, where I just started eating really healthy. Nothing special about it but I just eat healthy, and that not only allowed me to lose the weight, but allow me to sustain the weight loss program for a long time.


Brian Lord: And where did you kind of get your start? Because not everybody goes, "OK, I need to get healthy. I'm gonna become a world class triathlete." What was your sort of athletic pass or, you know, kind of the path that you took there?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah. So in terms of exercise, my first exercise was to just go for a walk with my husband and that was something that my family had been nagging me to do for a long time. And I kept telling them no and finally I said yes. And we walked out the back door. I think I was holding on to his arm. And I think he was carrying maybe half my weight. And we just walked to the next driveway and back. So that was maybe a hundred yards. You know, the length of a football field and I was exhausted. I collapsed on the couch. And that maybe was the hardest physical thing I've ever done is to, you know, at 335 pounds just to walk to the neighbor's driveway and back. But at the same time, I was really I was really pumped because I had exercised. And the next day we walked to the second neighbor's driveway and then the third neighbor's driveway and then it just kept getting farther and farther. And to make a long story short, I thought, well, let's do a little bit of a different kind of exercising. So I joined a water aerobics class and then a spin class. And then I got this crazy idea in my head that maybe I could do a triathlon someday. And I never really thought that I would do one. But it just gave purpose to my exercise and was kind of fun to dream about.


Brian Lord: Now did you start off with a triathlon? Did you like a 5K first or what was kind of that path?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, so I did a- I walked a 5K and to this day, including all of my world championships, that first 5K walk was the hardest thing that I've ever done. I'm sure that my heart rate was over red line the entire time. The the 5K walk, my very first one was appropriately named the Krispy Kreme challenge. So that was a little crazy. And the twist was at the halfway point they gave you a half dozen donuts to eat. And so I not only had the challenge of the walk, but I also had the challenge of not eating those donuts.


Brian Lord: [Laughing That's just kinf of cruel!


Sue Reynolds: So, yeah. [Laughing] So I walked that one. And then my first- I did the Couch to 5K program to run a little bit. My first run was literally 10 feet. I'm not I'm not really sure I was running, but my elbows were bent and so I called it running. So yeah. And then I finally got to the point where I could run a 5k and then I tried my first triathlon and I really wasn't sure that I could finish my first triathlon. I took my cell phone with me so I could call my husband if I couldn't make it to the end and I had no idea what I was doing. I had never seen a triathlon, I didn't know any triathletes. So I just showed up and kind of watched what everybody else was doing and swam the swim, got out of the water and sat down in transition and brushed my hair and ate a sandwich. I think I spent 30 minutes in transition and then went out on the bike and just loved the bike! I went down hills and yelled "Whee" as I flew down them, I just was having a blast. And then the run, I just went super, super slow. And, you know, a lot of people in their first triathlon. One is, you know, because I know you've done some triathlons, too. But they you know, you can dog paddle to swim. You can walk the run part. You don't have to go fast. And I certainly didn't go fast in mine. I came in in my first triathlon... So I often came in dead last but I didn't care because I crossed the finish line and that's what it was all about.


Brian Lord: Well, you know, a big part is not just the physical part, but it's the mental sort of emotional part. And and I've talked to... And you mentioned I do them not to the level you do but, you know, triathlons and that sort of thing. And there's so much fear and pride that goes into doing it so what was your journey like there and how did you deal with it?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, that started in my very first triathlon. I was scared to death and I found myself in transition before the race started and right up until I got in the water, I was considering backing out. And I finally just told myself, "Go away, fear." And then the other part was and again, in my first triathlon, I mean, I'm still obese. And I you know, I never thought that I would wear a bathing suit in public at my size and I really had to tell my pride to go away, too. And all throughout my journey, I've found that pride gets in my way more than anything. So I've just developed these slogans: Go away Fear, go away Pride. And, you know, sometimes you know, I hold my hands out in front of me and I'll put fear and pride in one hand and then whatever I want to accomplish in the other hand, literally. And I you know, I weigh my hands up and down and decide that I want what I want to accomplish much more than I want to be controlled by fear and pride. So, yeah, that was that was a big mental part for me to just say, OK, "Go away, fear we're going to do this."


Brian Lord: Along this, you know, through your journey, were there any times that you quit or was it smooth sailing the whole way?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, well, it certainly wasn't smooth sailing. There were many, many times where I was just terrified. You know, my first triathlon, my first large triathlon, my first world championship, and I never quit. But I had many total meltdowns where I would tell myself things like, oh, my gosh, "You're out of your league. You're an imposter. What are you doing?"


Brian Lord: [Laughing]


Sue Reynolds: You know, "You're just a beginner and you're at Worlds." But again, those are the places where I'd say "Go away, Fear" or "Go away, Pride" and just make myself keep going.


Brian Lord: So there's a big difference- for those who haven't done triathlons... There's kind of this big difference between doing your little local one and doing a big mass one in a... Like, Lake Michigan in a gigantic city with all these different things. So tell us about- And was it Chicago was your first big, big race?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, Chicago was my first large race. I went to the World Triathlon Championship, not as a competitor for Team USA, but just as a somebody wanting to race in their open race. So at the world championship, each country sends its best athletes to compete, but then anybody can go and compete in the open race. And so I went there and there, you know, there's 4000 athletes there. And it was really the first time that I had competed with a lot of other athletes my age and so, yeah. So that was quite scary. And I learned also that at large races, there's, you know, it's so hard to coordinate an event with multiple races and 4000 thousand athletes and things don't always go as planned. So, you know, there were adjustments that the race organizers made at the last minute. And I really had to learn to adjust to chaos. And I think, you know, that's a good life lesson as well, that life sometimes throws things at us that we're not expecting and I've learned through triathlon to just accept whatever is thrown at me. And then to make adjustments and to just keep going. So, yeah, that was a crazy race. And it was also, as I mentioned, the first time that I had to race against other women my age, a large group of women my age. And it was that race was kind of a life changer for me. I was in the middle of the swim and it was very, very crowded. It was the first time we did a mass start. So in my local triathlons, they would start the triathletes one at a time and then they'd adjust the times at the end of the race. But in this race, you know, a gun went off and I think there were a hundred and twenty of us. We all started at the same time. And so it was very congested. And my arm came down in the middle of another woman's back. And I'm thinking... and I'm looking we had to swim under under a little bridge that was narrow and it had RipWrap on the side, so I wanted to make sure I didn't- I was in the middle going through that bridge and my arm came down on her back. And, you know, in real life, I'm a kind of a gentle person in real life. I would have, you know, pulled back and said, "Oh, you go right ahead." But, I'm in a race and I want to beat her to get under that bridge. And so I just kept my arm moving. And in the process, I shoved her under water. And I ended up swimming over the top of her head. And I beat her to the bridge. And I found that I just loved that feeling. And I found that I not only like sports, but I had this competitive kind of monster inside of me that [inaudible]. And that was a that was actually quite disturbing. And I thought, oh, my gosh, I shoved a woman under water and I liked it.


Brian Lord: [Laughing]


Sue Reynolds: And it was... It was nuts, so I went home and talked to my coach, and at that time I was working with a coach. And he said, "Sue, that's a good feeling. You know, that's that's part of competing is wanting to beat people. And everybody knows that there's going to be a winner and a loser. And, you know, it's just part of competition." And he said that's a really good feeling that you have in sports is that competitive desire. So yeah. But that was... That was a game changer for me.


Brian Lord: So that's one of the things... Is like learning that you are a real competitor. At what point did you feel like you were a real triathlete?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, that was hard because, you know, as an obese person, like when I bought my first bike, I was embarrassed to go into the bike shop because I knew that everybody was gonna be thinking, "What? Why does the obese person, you know, want to buy a bike?" And I had a really, really hard time adjusting mentally to thinking of myself as an athlete. And again, I started working with a coach just because I wanted somebody to tell me what I was supposed to do in transition. I never thought a coach would want to work with an obese person, but I discovered that he did. And I've been working with him for, oh, gosh, going on seven years now. But in the beginning, I couldn't even call myself an athlete. I would refer to myself as an athlete wannabe or a pseudo-athlete. And about when I finally was not obese anymore, and I wasn't overweight, that morning when I got on the scale. You know, I thought I'd just be so excited because I was no longer overweight, but I was lost. I didn't know, like, who I was. I didn't have an identity anymore because I was always the obese person. And my coach helped me think of myself. He said, "Sue, you're not an obese person. You're an athlete." And I did a lot of self talk. I would look at myself in the mirror and say, you're an athlete, you're an athlete. And it just sounded so preposterous in the beginning. But then I actually looked up the definition of athlete in the dictionary. And I train every day and I compete in sports. So I slowly learned to think of myself as an athlete. But yeah, that was a big mental change.


Brian Lord: Did you have any friends you were going through this journey with or was it just you and your coach?


Sue Reynolds: It's pretty much just me and my coach. There were folks that I would see at the pool, you know, that I would chat with about triathlon. But when you you're when you're working with a coach that gives you specific workouts to do each day that, you know, say, you know, run hard for two minutes and then, you know, go easy for 30 seconds or whatever that workout is, it's really hard to train with other people because nobody wants to follow that regiment. So, yeah. So it was just pretty much me. And I have a wonderful relationship with my coach. He's younger than my children. So that was a little weird to get used to taking directions from such a youngster. But he's done a fabulous job. And I really- I credit with him. I like to say that he's the brains behind the operation, he develops the perfect training plan. And my job is to execute his plan perfectly.


Brian Lord: What did your- Speaking of your kids... what did your kids think about this? And one of the things you bring up is that sometimes you shared things, your plans and goals. But a lot of times you didn't. So I'm curious to know what your kids thought of this along the way and what you actually shared with them and versus what you surprised them with.


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, I think that anytime that you're looking at doing a transition, there's you're always going to run up against resistance. And at first, my family was kind of concerned. They you know, they wondered if me, as an obese person doing triathlon would have a heart attack or was this really good for my health. But then as they saw me succeed and be able to finish triathlons and saw that I was losing weight and becoming healthy, but also how much joy I had in triathlon, they became my biggest fans. And I often in the beginning I would text them to say, you know, "I just walked my first mile" and they text me "Whoo hoo!" and yeah... They've been the, both of them, I have two sons, adult sons. And they both have been just tremendous at encouraging me, they motivate me a lot.


Brian Lord: Now, have you gotten any of your family members to become runners or do a triathlon?


Sue Reynolds: I have gotten my husband, to walk some 5Ks. And yeah, I've been really happy with him. And then my younger son, both my sons were athletes in high school and my younger son does half marathons. And my older son is active with a lot of hiking.


Brian Lord: Yeah. Yeah. Well but I'm sure they got that from you then. That's... Even though you didn't know it for a long time. That's good genes right there.


Brian Lord: So-.


Sue Reynolds: -Actually, I think I got it from them! I've learned from this that young adults can influence their older parents!


Brian Lord: Yeah, no, that's great. One thing I guess, you know, from this journey of going there, from starting from, you know, basically from nothing to the world championships. What is the... and I love your story, I'll let you tell it- But of you at kind of finishing at the highest point at not just Nationals, but at the World Championship. So tell us where those were and what that experience was like.


Sue Reynolds: Yeah. So at that same race where I shoved the woman underwater. And so... and at that point, I was not training seriously. I would skip a workout if life got busy and... But at that race, I came in middle of the pack without really taking it seriously. And I thought, oh, my gosh, you know what would happen if I really got serious? And I find that a lot of my lot of times in life when I go through changes, it often starts with what would happen "if." So this case is what what would happen if I really, really committed. So I when I came home, I talked to my coach and I said, "Hey, I'm in my second season and I know I'm a beginner, but what would happen? Do you think you could train me like I was an elite triathlete and I would commit like an elite triathlete?" And I thought he might roll his eyes, but he said, "OK, let's let's go for it." So, yeah, so. So our motto for both of us became, "No excuses, whatever it takes. Find a way." And my one goal for that year was to- actually I had two goals. One was to never skip a workout. And the second goal was to do whatever my coach told me to do with integrity. And so it became very serious. I really, even though I was still a beginner, I really tried to train like an elite triathlete. And we paid attention to swim, bike and run. We paid attention to nutrition and my recovery sleep and just everything. And we did that for a year. And then my kind of secret goal was to- which I didn't share even with my coach for a long time- was to qualify for Team USA. And I thought it would take me three years of training like an Elite to qualify. But we just I mean, I just nailed everything and we ended up qualifying the next summer. So-


Brian Lord: -Wow.


Sue Reynolds: That was thrilling. Yes, so-


Brian Lord: -And that was amazing, too. Like, I love some of the stories in your book about what you had to do with the whole no excuses thing. Like one time you swam in alligator infested waters to get your workout in. Was that true? Like, did you ever actually see any alligators? Or just... So for the backdrop, you go, your husband's at the car because he has to watch your bike and you go out to this like mangrove swamp to get your swim in. What were you thinking?


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, that that was crazy. So that was the year where my goal was to never miss a workout. And so I walked up to this swamp- it was a lake with a swampy entrance.


Brian Lord: Oh, okay.


Sue Reynolds: And I got up to the point and there was no one around. There was no lifeguard. There was nobody on the beach, no boats, no water. There was nothing except a sign that said beware of alligators. So and I'm just... I'm thinking I don't want to miss one workout because I figure if I do, it'll be so much easier to miss another of the second workouts. So. So, yeah. So I finally decided to go ahead and do the swim. And there luckily before I got in the water, a boat did appear and there was a local gentleman on the boat. And you know, one thing I've learned in this journey is just how kind people can be. And it just seems that at every moment when I've needed someone, someone has popped into my life. I mean, it's just I like to think of it as the face of God. But this gentleman appeared and he said, I'll protect you from the alligators. And I thought, "What?" and he ended up- He walked out. He was a local gentleman and he was not afraid of the alligators. He walked out into the water and stood chest deep and watched for alligators. And I went in and did my entire workout with him standing there watching for alligators. And every time I took a breath, I would I would look to see if he was still watching, for alligators. [Laughing] But he was there. And I so appreciate his kindness and all the people in my life who, you know, just showered me with kindness like that and [I] got the workout in and didn't miss it!


Brian Lord: So. And I love that. I mean, like I can imagine that's like the fastest you swam in a workout, like "I've got to get this thing done."


Sue Reynolds: Yeah, it was. That's a good idea. I just need to pretend there's alligators behind me to swim fast.


Brian Lord: [Laughing] So where... Going to the- Fast-forwarding to the world championships. Where were they? And tell us how that went and what the result was.


Sue Reynolds: So my first world championship was in my... So after you qualify, then you your Worlds is the year after that. So my first world championship was in my fourth year of triathlon. So I'm still virtually a beginner. And I just again, that was a time where I had to constantly say, "Go away, Fear. Go away, Fear." I felt, I really did feel like an imposter. I researched all the other women in my age group. And I mean, they were like coaches of college athletic teams. They were former All-Americans. They were just these amazing athletes. And then there was me who a few years ago couldn't tie my shoes. And I really felt like I was out of my league. But that worlds was in Cozumel, Mexico, and I was down to my ideal race weight. I was at 135 pounds. We decided- and that was kind of a difficult decision and a lot of research went into, you know, when do I stop losing weight? Because, you know, and I was really afraid of stopping losing weight because every other time I'd stopped a diet, I just gained it all back plus an extra 20. So that was really scary. But we finally, with a lot of input, decided to go to 135. Actually, we went to 150. And then I started losing very, very slowly to see if I, you know, the danger wasn't weighing too less and too little and then I wouldn't be able to compete as well. So anyway, so we went down to 135 and going to Worlds, that was an experience that, oh, my gosh, I just will never, never forget. We get to wear as age group triathletes, we get to wear the same uniform that our Olympic team wears. So, you know, I'm wearing in the same uniform that says USA across the front. And it has my name on the front and the rear. So, you know, it's this USA Reynolds. I never thought I'd have USA Reynolds across my rear-end, but so. [Laughing] But yeah, so and then we're at the start and it was not a- of course in Mexico was not a, we didn't wear wetsuits because the water was warm. So, you know, you got to stand there and I'm looking around and here's, you know, athletes from Australia, Mexico and Great Britain and Germany. And I mean, it was just, you know, to be there at that start line and to think that I'm racing on behalf of my country against, you know, the best triathletes in the world. It was just humbling. It was scary. It was. I mean, I just, the emotions inside of me were amazing. So. But, yeah. So the race went well. I ended up finishing 11th, which ought to be 11th in the world after not being able to tie my shoes was just... I was just shocked. Yeah. So did that. And then came back a year later and competed in my second Worlds in Rotterdam. And at that one I finished sixth in the world and I was the first American and-


Brian Lord: -Wow.


Sue Reynolds: Yeah. When I saw those results, I mean it was just the emotions were just overwhelming. I was so excited and just so grateful to everybody that helped me along the way. And, you know, so many blessings. And just to discover a sport that I love and, you know, to be able to live in a country where we have the freedom to do the things that we love to do. And just I just felt just incredibly blessed.

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Transcript Brian Lord: Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the Beyond Speaking podcast. And today we have on Sue Reynolds. She's the author of The Athlete Inside: The Transforming Power of Hope, Tenacity and Faith. At age 60, Sue couldn't walk to the mailbox from her house. Then she went out and lost two hundred pounds and she also became a ...
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TRANSCRIPT. Brian Lord: Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the Beyond Speaking podcast. And today we have on Sue Reynolds. She's the author of The Athlete Inside: The Transforming Power of Hope, Tenacity and Faith. At age 60, Sue couldn't walk to the mailbox from her house. Then she went out and lost two hundred pounds and she also became a wor...
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