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My name is Kirsten Sass, and I love to swim, run, and ride my bike. I would like to share my story with you - how I got started in triathlon and where it has taken me, and where it continues to take me. My hope in doing so is that it may serve to inspire someone, somewhere to step outside their comfort zone - to chase their dreams and see where they can go.

I grew up in a small town in west Tennessee. We didn’t have a track or cross country team. We sure didn’t have a swim team. But I DO have a father with a passion for running. I am the oldest of six kids and he decided that we should all run a 5k once in our lives. If we never ran another step that was our choice, but at least we would have that experience. So, we did. I ran on and off throughout high school, not very fast, not very competitively, but I found it was something I could always go back to - just put on a pair of running shoes and go run.

High school brought other interests, I started driving and my dad started doing triathlons. I remember him doing repeats up and down the hill in front of our house dubbed “the killer hill” by us kids when we ran it - and I just shook my head convinced he’d lost his mind.

I went to university up in London, Ontario, Canada and went from a small town with four brothers and a sister in the country to a BIG city, an all girls dorm, and a challenging school schedule. I was slightly stressed. So, I started running. I found it helped balance everything out somehow. One day my roommate said, “Kirsten, you like all this exercising stuff - you should try swimming. It’s a great form of exercise”. Sounded interesting so off we went to the pool. It was all I could do to get to the end of the 25yard pool. Sure, I knew how to swim (ummmm - girl scouts) - but I was dumbfounded - how could it be so tough? So, it became my challenge.

The next year I moved OUT of the girls dorm, got a mountain bike - and commuted to school. I kept swimming and noticed there was a girl there most times I swam who seemed to be knowledgable about swimming. One day I caught her in the locker room and asked her “how many times back and forth make a mile?”. She kinda looked at me, said she’d seen me at the pool, informed she was the coach of the university tri club and offered me to come swim with them. Well, yeah!!!!!! (Gabbi Whitlock I am forever grateful for you!)

She taught me about swim technique (Total Immersion - which is also how my dad swims), and I entered the team’s splash and dash - my first attempt at swimming in a race. I remember watching the earlier racers from the stands (it was a pool swim) in awe that the swimmers were not even taking a break at the end of the pool - just doing some kind of flip and continuing on. Well - I think I took a long break every lap and it probably took me 20 minutes to swim 500 yards - but the sense of accomplishment was priceless. I officially joined the triathlon club and my dad was SO excited. I finished school for the summer in May - and he announced that would be just in time for the Memphis in May triathlon, and promptly signed me up.

It was 1999. I borrowed his road bike (he is 6’2” and I am 5’9”) - I didn’t even get in the aero bars at all. I stopped in transition and put on my running shorts and high socks (way before compression socks were cool) - and I was probably passed by 1,000 people. But you know what? I would say 99% of those who passed me offered words of encouragement. Again I was dumbfounded, what kind of sport is this where your competition is cheering you on (granted I was not much in the way of competition - but still). Afterwards there was live music, food, beer . . . a party. It took me almost 3 hours, I was dead last in my age group - but I was totally hooked. Plus I thought maybe, just maybe, I could get a little faster. (He gave a framed photo with my pictures from that race and I have it hanging on my wall to this day).

So - I started doing more races. Still bringing up the rear - but loved the challenge of pushing myself and finding areas to improve, as well as the supportive nature of the other racers. I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, started doing some cycling with a women’s group out there, and found some friends to drag to triathlons with me. My dad signed up for an Ironman - the Greater Floridian. I remember he sent me the bumper sticker from it - “Are you tough enough” it read - Swim: 2.4, Bike: 112, Run: 26.2. I was again convinced he had lost his mind. No way.

I moved back to TN, ending up back in my hometown, in 2002. In 2004 my father and I did IM Florida together.

So - I’ve done a lot of races - and a lot of life has happened along the way. I have done some bike racing, multiple Ironman distance races, National championships, World championships, and local, grass-roots races. I have gotten married, finished school, started working, had two children, fallen off my bike (multiple times), been through injury and illness. Somehow I have carried this love for multisport through it all. It balances me out.

I love New Year’s - how it gives a fresh start and I always try to make resolutions/set goals - so for a long time now I have picked a Swim/Bike/Run/fitness/etc focus that I would like to work on as that goal. Family is hugely important to me, so it is ideal to combine them. One thing my father and I have had on the ‘bucket list’ for years was to do an open water Total Immersion swim camp - so a few years ago (2013) my father, sister and I went to St. John for a week, and to this day it ranks up with one of my favorite adventures. Last year (2015) my father, sister, her now-husband, and I went to Arizona to do a Bobby McGee run camp - and the impact on my running has been beyond words.

I encourage you to set your goals, but keep it fun. Push yourself and know your limits, but don’t limit yourself - the possibilities are endless. My dad says, “It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster, until you reach a certain age then you just try to get slower, slower”. One of my favorite sayings is “When I do the best with what I have, then I have won my race”. I would add that I then figure out where I have room for improvement and go to work! I have done SO many races coming out late in the swim, doing well on the bike, only to get passed by runner after runner. To this day, I am constantly expecting the same. I go to a race, look around, and think, wow, look at all these fast girls, I’m going to be happy just to finish mid-pack. Then I just focus on what I can do and try to give it the best I can. Some days that is enough. :)

So - it is kind of like when you are doing an Ironman. The goal is KMF. Just keep moving forward. the overwhelming tendency can be to slow down, to set limits, to think you have reached your best - don’t give in to that. Dare to dream, and then dare to chase those dreams with everything you have. One of the coolest things about triathlon is that it is an individual sport. At the end of the day the bottom line is, did you have the best race you could have given your training/capabilities. Are YOU satisfied that you gave it what you had? There are a lot of races I have finished mid-pack that were more challenging and satisfying because I had to overcome some challenge, or dig deep - and was able to do so. It might not have been enough for a podium - but sometimes you have to be satisfied with doing the best you can.

No matter what, take the time every race you do to savor that finish line. I never take those for granted - from last place to first, there are plenty who wish they could and can’t. Enjoy every.single.one.

Just - KMF. And - smile.