The Great Winter Migration

I never in a million years thought that I would become a Texan. Nothing against the Lone Star state; in all honesty, I really didn’t see myself leaving Chicago for at least another decade. And yet here I am, eating tacos for breakfast, blasting country music out of my car, and rocking a pair of running shorts whose Texas flag pattern screams “State Pride” so loudly that I would have mocked them a month ago. How did this happen? The short answer: sometimes the desire to be better drives people to do all sorts of things they never thought they would do. The long answer: well, keep reading.

Last year, as my coach and I were discussing the upcoming offseason, she suggested that I relocate to a warmer climate so that I could continue training outside through the winter. Still traumatized by the misery that was Chiberia 2015, I started looking into other cities where I could spend the winter riding my bike outside instead of shoveling my car out of the street.

Road trip coffee done right
Road trip coffee done right.

After narrowing my list down to several cities whose weather was not soul-crushing, Austin quickly emerged as the frontrunner. I had about a half dozen friends who lived in Austin, most of whom are also triathletes. Considering my biggest hesitation about moving was leaving behind my social support in Chicago, I was much more okay with going to a place where I already knew people. I decided that I would stick around Chicago through the holidays, then migrate down south after New Years, and stay though the end of March.

Then in December my coach and I decided to go in different directions after two years of working together. The split was really hard on me, and in its aftermath, I was left seriously questioning if the move to Austin was still a good idea. I have never dealt with change particularly well, and moving across the country on top of changing coaches felt like more than I could handle. Many people close to me encouraged me to go anyway, assuring me that this would be an opportunity to get some valuable life experience. In the end, I decided to go not because I wanted to embark on a journey of personal growth, but because a. all my stuff was already in a storage unit and b. my sister had gotten me a gift card to a coffee shop in Austin, and I didn’t want it to go waste. Sadly, I am only 40% kidding here.

A run with Shawna on Lady Bird Lake
A run with Shawna on Lady Bird Lake

So off I went on my “winter migration” (because I realized that you can’t really call a 10-week stint in another city a “move”). My friend Shawna was crazy kind enough to make the drive from Chicago to Austin with me. We decided to drive straight through–a decision that I DO NOT recommend–making the trip in 19 hours flat. Aside from stopping to fill the gas tank and empty our bladders, our only real detours were to obtain hot water for my french press (a necessity 10 hours into the trip) and a rotisserie chicken from Walmart (another obvious necessity).

After a day of exploring the city together, I dropped Shawna off at the airport and returned to the apartment that would be my new home for the next two months. As I approached my front door, alone for the first time since I arrived, the reality of what I had just done hit me smack in the face and nearly knocked me off my feet. With the exception of going to college—which was a convenient 90-minute drive from the life that I knew—I had never just picked up my life and moved to a new place before. And now that I’d done it, I doubted that I was strong enough to survive it. As I sat in my empty apartment, clueless about my surroundings and uncertain about my immediate future, I don’t think I had ever felt so alone.

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Riding with my favorite roadie, Caroline

Luckily, my pity party did not last long. I was far from being alone; I just needed to rely on a little help from my friends. And man, did they deliver. With their help, the next 24 hours included a home-cooked dinner, a group ride, introductions to new friends, and my initiation into the wonderful world of breakfast tacos. And within a week, I was shocked to realize that my social life was actually more active than it had been in Chicago.

It’s only gone up from there, and these days, I am absolutely loving my time here. The weather has been nothing short of perfect — low 40s in the morning, rising to high-60s/low-70s by the afternoon — and has reminded me how a little Vitamin D and a tan can make you feel so much better about the world. Every week I am discovering new places to train, from challenging running trails to quarries for open water swimming. The cycling has been particularly awesome, and I have a growing repertoire of routes that are a hundred times better than anything I’ve ever found back home. I have training partners that join me for all of my key sessions, which has brought a whole new level of joy and fulfillment to my workouts, and has pushed me in a way that I’ve never been before. I’ve found some solid coffee spots that I frequent in between workouts, and am eating tacos on the daily (literally. every. single. day.). But best of all, I have an amazing group of people that have made this place feel like home. These people are the reason why I wake up each morning excited for the day ahead. And they are the reason why, as I sit here realizing that I’m just about halfway through my time here, I’m actually a little sad.

Sqaud life.
Sqaud life.

I’m now thinking back to all of the people who told me that this would be a growing experience, and I’m astonished by how accurate they were. They say that in order to be successful, you need to take risks; to step outside your comfort zone; to do things that are scary. Going to Austin was easily one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. It may not seem like a big deal, but in my mind, I was basically turning my whole world upside-down at the most inopportune time. I was leaving behind everything I knew and everyone I loved 9 months before Rio on the off-chance that it would make me a little bit better. But I can honestly say that that risk that I was terrified to take is already paying off, and is doing so in ways I never could have foreseen.

The training itself has been great and I can see the gains that I’m making; but the physical growth doesn’t even scratch the surface. The real growth has been in the mental strength that this experience is affording me. It’s the confidence I’m gaining from taking something that scared me to death, doing it anyway, and then making it work. It’s the empowerment in realizing that change is not something that I need to run away from, but something that can open doors to greater things. And it is these lessons—these developments in mental fortitude—that transcend the sport, and that I will carry with me long after I’m done competing.

These lessons and also breakfast tacos. Seriously guys, those things are life-changing.

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