Published on June 1st, 2012 | by Phyl Newbeck0
Rachel Payne | Reader Athlete June 2012
Rachel Payne was an overweight kid who was nobody’s idea of an athlete, but last year at age 39, she completed the Lake Placid Ironman Triathlon. While Payne has no aspirations to be an elite athlete, she’s proud to be an inspiration to chubby kids and adults to get off the couch and see what they can accomplish.
VS: What was the first of the three triathlon sports for you?
RP: I ran for a number of years, and my husband, who’s a cyclist, tried to get me into riding. When I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, I realized I needed to cross-train. He kept saying he had to get me on the bike, and four years ago, I finally started riding and did my first Olympic-distance triathlon in Cambridge, New York.
VS: What made you start with Olympic distance rather than a sprint?
RP: I chose it mainly because it was close to our home, but I wasn’t intimidated by the distance. The biggest issue was that it was my first time ever swimming in a wetsuit. I had to borrow it from a friend, but I had a blast.
VS: You’ve said you weren’t athletic as a child.
RP: I was very overweight as a child. I tried to swim, and I was OK as a swimmer, but I was very self-conscious and didn’t keep at it. In high school, I lost 90 pounds and started playing field hockey and tennis. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t very good. In college I tried hard to keep the weight off, so I rowed crew and started running as cross-training.
VS: So how did this overweight kid become an Ironman triathlete?
RP: Several years ago, a friend visited and said she was going to do the Ironman. I thought she was crazy. Then, in 2009, a photographer friend told me the story of Matt Long, a former New York City firefighter, who had been run over by a bus on his way to work and not only survived but fought to get back into shape and completed the Lake Placid Ironman. I saw his finish on YouTube and decided I had to try it. In 2010, I volunteered at the race, and then entered in 2011. I hit the gym in January and February, found a training program online, and started training in March. I was worried about not making the cutoff times. You need to finish the bike loop by 5:30, and I came in at 5:15. I ended up completing the race in 16 hours, so I made all the cutoffs.
VS: And did you enjoy it?
RP: It was great. I had only done small, local triathlons, and this one has thousands of people supporting their athletes. My husband and children were there, together with my parents, my brother and his wife, my sister and her family, and lots of friends, all wearing T-shirts supporting me. It was a long day for my kids because the race started at 7 a.m. Before the finish, you go through the Olympic Oval, but then you have to run another two miles and come back. My youngest was still awake when I went through the Oval, but then he fell fast asleep when I came back in, in spite of the loud music and cheering. It was very emotional and just great.
VS: What do like about endurance sports?
RP: I just like being out there for a long time to see if I can keep going. I don’t know what allows me to keep up and endure the pain, but I enjoy that I can do it. I like the challenge and the mental part and the fact that people think I’m crazy. Honestly, it’s a good teaching tool. My kids know the story about me being overweight as a kid and being teased about it. I can show them that you don’t have to win; just do your best. If you work hard at something and really want it, you can get it.
VS: How do you find time to train?
RP: There are some mornings that I’m up at 3:30 to run or use my bike on a trainer or to be at the gym. I do that for two hours and then I meet my friends at the gym for boot-camp stuff and weight training. Then I bring the kids to school and go out for a run or a swim. I also work out with the Mountain Girls Triathlon Club in Bennington, which is a wonderful support group. It does take time, and I have to admit, sometimes my house isn’t always the cleanest, and I don’t make the most exciting meals.
VS: Your husband says you’re an inspiration to others.
RP: I hope so. Some of my friends say they think about me when they don’t want to go out for a run, and it makes them go out. I volunteer for Girls on the Run, which is a great group. Some kids struggle with their weight, and I look at them and see myself as a child, and I want to help. At the end of the Ironman in Lake Placid, a little girl—maybe 12 years old and overweight—asked me if I wanted anything. I said I was fine, and she said that she was impressed with what I was doing. I told her that I used to be overweight, and she told me she thought I was amazing. That was so inspiring. I’ve got my kids doing triathlons too. My youngest did one with a life vest for the swim part and riding a tricycle. They think it’s pretty cool.