“Success Story”- Guest Blogger-Stancie Rhodes
Growing up, the message was clear: You can be anything you want to be. You can have it all. I was an only child, and, as such, enjoyed complete support from my wonderful parents. As teachers, they made a very modest income, but there was always enough for dance lessons, piano lessons, recitals, etc. I did well in school, but really excelled in the arts. I was voted most likely to succeed in my high school class, and it was assumed that I would likely end up on Broadway.
In college, my interests turned more toward science, and I soon found myself pursuing a career in medicine. It was important for me to do something where I could have an impact, make a difference, and leave the world a better place. Though I knew that part of me enjoyed the simple life, the other part was enamored by the “you can have it all” mantra. And so I went to medical school and became a surgeon.
It has been almost 8 months since the decision to leave my job as a full-time academic surgeon was firmly set in my mind. For months—or maybe even years, now that I think about it—I felt there was so much missing in my life. I had spent years studying and preparing myself for what I viewed as a very noble and worthy career of saving lives and alleviating pain. I had finally reached a point where I was pulling in a very nice salary and was poised to move up to a leadership position. But at what price? After years of missing school and family functions, paying others to raise my kids, relying on my husband to coordinate all the inner workings of our household, and neglecting my own health and fitness, I had had enough. I had known as a teenager that I never wanted to live to work, and yet I found myself doing exactly that at age 41. Of course, it didn’t help that I was about to “celebrate” my 42nd birthday—the age at which my mother met her untimely death. I had dreaded this age since I was 15. Never was my own sense of mortality and the urgency to live life to its fullest so apparent. Volunteering in the T1 Transition tent at Ironman Lake Placid, watching good friends and hundreds of strangers pull off what would turn out to be a mammoth feat of 140.6 miles in pouring rain, thunder, and lightening was the seal on the deal.
Being home with my family for the last 5½ months has been a dream come true. We’ve moved to the beach which, even in the harsh winter, is like living in paradise. Ending a brisk run by gazing at the surf hitting the snow-covered dunes is euphoric, and I never thought I’d be lucky enough to live in a place like this. We are much more active together as a family. My husband and I, having both been bitten by the triathlon bug, enjoy trainer rides and lap swims together every week. Involving the kids in our activities has also been a plus, with family swims and walks/rides to the beach on sunny days. And of course, following my dreams of self-employment and training for my own IM race (Lake Placid 2015!) are just icing on the cake. It makes me sad to think that most people spend decades working in jobs that suck every bit of life out of them, only to come home and collapse on the sofa for an hour before crashing in bed. By the time they can retire, they are too unhealthy and out of shape to take advantage of the free time—and that’s if they have any loved ones left to enjoy it with, after years of passive neglect. It reminds me of that classic song “Cat’s in the Cradle”, where the father is always telling his son he’ll play with him later, then before he knows it, his son has grown up and doesn’t have time for his father. I consider myself very fortunate to have figured this out early enough to make the change, heal the wounds, and “reinvent myself”, and hopefully create a better life for me and my family.
Today, I am sitting here working on paperwork to start a part-time position in the medical field. I have made some important discoveries—I do not want to work in medicine full-time, I do not want to work in academics, and I need to work to keep us financially sound while we grow our small business. I’ve also decided that my own health and fitness are too important to forsake. That said, it’s time for me to get back to using my skills to do some good for others as well as help provide for my family. I am trying to soothe the little anxious voice in my head asking me when I’m going to find time to continue to train for the Ironman. She also asks me nagging questions like, “Who will cook the meals? Who will host playdates? Won’t you miss your family?” The answer to the last one is a resounding “yes”. I will miss them terribly. But I also have the advantage of experience, and my “retrospectiscope” tells me that as long as we maintain a balance (there’s that elusive “b” word), as long as we keep things in moderation, that everyone will remain happy and healthy—and we’ll be able to pay the bills. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy being a physician. There is nothing quite like fixing a human being’s ailment or alleviating their suffering. I am looking forward to returning to my work, but with one eye on that slippery slope down into the valley of darkness. I will not return to that dark place again. If I do it right this time, I should have ample time with my family, time to dedicate to the business, and less financial strain. Exactly how I will maintain my fitness and keep up with my triathlon training is still a bit of an unknown. But we triathletes tend to be creative people. Maybe I can find a call room to park my bike in and plunk it on the trainer while I field phone calls from the nurses. Maybe a short run at 5pm before heading home to avoid the evil rush hour traffic. Anyway, it’s only part-time. I’ll figure it out.
Some have asked me if I would ever encourage my kids to pursue a career in medicine. My response is usually that I will provide a healthy dose of reality if they express interest in this path. This would be my advice to anyone looking to pursue a career in any of the competitive professions: Know Thyself. If you know deep in your heart that travelling the world is a priority to you, then being a surgeon might not be the best decision. If spending your weekends fly fishing on a quiet river is your ultimate goal, then maybe you should choose a life other than that of a corporate attorney. Being successful does not necessarily require you to make 6 figures nor work 100 hours/week. Success should be measured in simpler currency: sipping a glass of wine while sitting on your front porch; the sound of children laughing during an evening walk on the beach; feeling the warm sun on your face during an early morning run. These are other markers of a successful life. A life full of health, friends, family, and the time to stop, inhale deeply, and just enjoy being. This is the next chapter in my success story.
For years I said “I would do a triathlon–if it weren’t for the swim and the bike.” As a runner who has completed 5Ks, 10Ks, Half-Marathons, Marathons and multiple obstacle runs, I enjoyed endurance sports, but absolutely despised the bike, and have never been a good swimmer. The change began in July 2012, when my family went to watch a friend of ours race Ironman™ Lake Placid. We were going to support her as it was her first full-distance triathlon. We had a great time hanging out with the families of her teammates and watching some of the world’s best athletes compete. It was then when the tides began to turn…
Two months later my wife was competing in her first sprint distance triathlon, and we all travelled from our house to “The Shore” (Seaside, NJ) the day before the race. I did my usual and went for a run that afternoon along the beach, despite the 20+ mph winds (going south was great, heading back north SUCKED!). Later that day, we went to packet pick-up and found out that the swim was cancelled for the next day due to 10-foot swells. Good idea, since our good friend on Coast Guard reserve duty that weekend said 3 of his “rookies” threw up on the boat because the waves were so big…but I digress. The triathlon was now a 1 mile beach run, bike, and run again. I watched as Stancie and Lauren, completed the course, despite the high winds, and appeared to be having fun. I secretly wished I had raced too–mostly because there was no swim involved, and I like to run!
Several months later, Tri Everything was conceived…and how could I be involved with a triathlon company without ever having done a triathlon? So, after volunteering at the 2014 Ironman™ Lake Placid, I decided to go buy a bike and got a Cannondale road bike. For my first ride, Stancie and Lauren decided to take me out for a leisurely 30 mile ride. REALLY GIRLS?! Actually it was not that bad, and it turns out I can hold my own on the bike. I rode as often as possible with 2 kids and 2 full-time jobs. Talk about a crash course in balancing work, family, and training!
Six weeks later, there I was at the start line of my first triathlon, The DQ Treasure Island Sprint Triathlon, in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. With years of running, weeks of biking and 1 open water swim under my belt, I walked to the start line. I’m in the 3rd of 5 waves (if I remember correctly), and the Race Director (who is now my Tri coach) sounds the horn and we are off. I had read somewhere to stay to the outside to prevent being assaulted during the start, so I chose the right side – closest to shore, in case I needed to be rescued. The first 100m went well, then the wheels fell off the bus! I began hyperventilating, and couldn’t catch my breath. So here I am wondering if the business is about to get an infusion of cash because my wife is collecting my life insurance! I roll to my back and complete the final 300m doing the backstroke. But I finished! With the hardest part done, I could now concentrate on bike and run, which I finished without incident.
Lauren greeted me at the finish line, and I said something to the effect of, “That sucked! Why would I do that again?” She offered words of encouragement (“Beers and tacos for lunch?”) while I recovered and waited for Stancie to finish, as she was in a later wave. Stancie finished and then it was time to get our daughter ready for her first kids’ triathlon. After she left T1, we head back to the timing table, where Lauren proceeded to tell me that I finished 19th out of 193 racers…I was so shocked that when we got home, I signed up for my first Ironman™ 70.3 in Raleigh, NC in May 2015! I guess I better work on my swim. Wish me luck!
As an aside, one of the DQ Events timers found me after the race because he thought there was a discrepancy in my times. The conversation went like this:
Timer: “Dude, we think there was a problem with your chip.”
Timer: “Because your swim registered at 13 minutes, and everyone else in the Top 20 was around 7-8 minutes.”
Me: “No discrepancy. I backstroked the last 300m. This was my second open water swim ever.”