This Triathlete Uses the Sport to Reclaim Her Identity
Triathlon gives Sarah Kerr something to call her own.
Sarah Kerr stumbled upon triathlon when she was looking for a way to get in shape before getting pregnant with her second child. She wasn’t a swimmer, hated running, and didn’t mind cycling. For most, that would rule triathlon out, but for Kerr, it was a tolerable amount of each cardio-heavy sport.
Shortly into her first bout of training, which she was doing with her husband, Kerr was exhausted. Mother’s intuition told her it wasn’t training-related. She was six weeks pregnant. She stopped training, exhausted all of the time, but still completed the sprint triathlon to which she’d committed, crossing the finish line dead last and 17 weeks pregnant.
“It was terrible and I was instantly hooked,” says Kerr, 33, now a mom of a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. “Over the years triathlon became what kept me sane as a mom, wife, and full-time employee.”
We won’t say there are no excuses to achieving your goals. Life happens and giving yourself grace is crucial. But Kerr understands the importance of setting priorities to help pave the way for success—whatever that might look like. For Kerr, she often has to wake up at 4 a.m. to fit in a workout, before the kids are up and before she has to get to work as a business analyst for Clayton Homes.
“I know how I’ll feel the rest of the day, if I do my workout or don’t,” she says. “Training gives me a sense of empowerment and accomplishment, working toward a goal that’s mine. No one else can do the work for you.”
Kerr, who played soccer through college and joined adult leagues, knows that she needs to be held accountable to follow through on her workouts. She hired a coach, who, she says, has made her triathlon career, including one Ironman finish and a half Ironman finish, possible.
“When somebody else tells me what to do and is looking to see if I did it, that’s extremely motivating,” Kerr says. “Somebody else is giving their time and effort to help me so I want to execute.”
Triathlete, Business Analyst, Wife, Mom
It can be hard to separate mother from any other title a woman might have; it’s all-encompassing. But organizations like &Mother, created by Olympic runner Alysia Montaño, are working to fight back against barriers that make it hard for a woman to thrive in their careers and motherhood. Most mothers will tell you it’s important to have an identity other than “mom,” even if they cherish that one.
Kerr embraces the sport of triathlon because it’s hers. It’s her me time. It’s her accomplishment.
“Moms have to do something for ourselves, have something that is ours,” she says. “I do this for me and in doing so, I do this for my family because it makes me a better version of myself—a better wife and mom.”
It’s also important, she says, that her children see their mom working toward big goals. Kerr’s daughter can’t remember a time when her mom wasn’t training—she ran through the finish of Kerr’s second race with Kerr—and her son was almost quite literally born into the sport.
Unprompted, Kerr’s kids will play triathlon at home, and her daughter completed a kids triathlon when she was 4 years old.
“They understand that Mommy is practicing for something and I want to teach them that if we commit to something, we work hard to achieve that,” Kerr says. “Hopefully that gets pulled into other things like reading, math, school, baseball, or whatever.”
Call to Action
While crossing the finish line and receiving a hard-earned medal is rewarding, Kerr says her favorite part about the sport is the journey to the finish line and its supportive community.
“What really took me by surprise was the community,” she says. After all, triathlon is a very individual race environment.
“This is where [my husband and I] belong,” Kerr says.
She wants other people, particularly moms who might feel like nothing is theirs, to embrace the sport, the journey, and the community.
“We have to find a thing that’s ours, tri or otherwise. It provides an identity outside of being a mom,” she reiterates.
And the journey toward a goal is not unlike the journey of motherhood: filled with uncertainties, challenges, hard work, and of course, joy.
“The journey changes you.”