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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Deseret News sportswriter Jody Genessy gets ready for the swim portion of the Shark Attack Triathlon.

A very fast guy and a very athletic woman won a triathlon they entered in northern Utah this past Saturday morning.

But a very pooped, somewhat chunky and sweaty dude, who's neither fast nor athletic, claimed victory as well.

I'm not sure how the other winners feel, but Shark Attack Triathlon participant No. 226 (yours truly) is still floating on cloud nine despite finishing more than a half-hour after the gold medalists and behind another 160 racers at the "sprint" event at Crystal Hot Springs.

After working for nearly five months to complete this triathlon, I didn't care where I finished. I just cared that I finished and preferably not on a stretcher, crawling, puking or after the cleaning crew and everybody else had left for the day.

As unbelievable as it still seems, the same guy who once weighed 371 pounds, who has made and strayed away from many goals in this weight-loss column, who was lazy and inactive, and who had never been in an organized race that didn't include mass quantities of food as part of the competition now officially has one triathlon under his ever-shrinking belt.

No wonder I can't wipe this cheesy grin off my face.

I trained. I tried. I triumphed.

I am a triathlete.

Pinch me now. Never mind. I'm still a bit sore.

Though I'm not a swimmer, a cyclist or a runner and never have been, and especially not all in a row, triathlons have always intrigued me. Of course, it always seemed like an unattainable goal, kinda like single guys wanting to date the supermodel or hitting the World Series-winning home run.

This year, however, my interest in triathlons was rekindled. I had fallen off the dieting bandwagon and was on my way to re-entering the dreaded 300-plus club. So, I committed myself to try a tri. I found a couch-to-triathlon program that helped me start slow and easy. At first, I simply walked 20 minutes at a time, only swam a couple of laps and biked just two miles. Slow and easy. I could handle that.

Over the weeks and months, the training became less slow and less easy, but I stuck to my plan. It helped me lose 50 pounds to bring my overall total loss to 145 pounds. I went from walking to walking and jogging, eventually getting to the point where I could almost "run" an entire 5K. Despite challenges, my swimming and cycling also steadily progressed.

Before I knew it, January turned to February, then whoa! — May was here, and suddenly I was wearing a swim cap, goggles and Spandex, my wife and two kids were yelling for daddy, and a guy with a timer was saying 3-2-1-GO! For a change, I wasn't writing about a sporting event — I was in it.

I hopped in the pool, and my triathlon moment I'd both anticipated and dreaded was here. I was swimming in a competition! The water was choppy and adrenaline and nerves got to me a bit, but I eventually found my rhythm, remembered to breathe (doing it with my mouth out of the water helped) and kept on stroking for 360 yards. I even passed a guy! Let's keep the fact that two girls zoomed past me a secret, OK?

From the pool, there was a short jog (uphill, of course!) to the transition area where I wobbled while putting on my shoes and got dressed for the bike ride. Soon I was hauling down the road in what turned out to be my favorite part of the race (massage and post-race meal, not included). The course was fairly flat with a couple of hills and, unbelievably, I even passed 10 or so people (yes, racing cyclists, thank you!). I was having so much fun out there I even let out a big "Wahooo!" to a group of stunned people at a park.

By the end of the 12-mile ride, my legs were yelling at me, but I got a morale boost by my cheering family and returned the cycling gear to the transition area.

Up next: the 5K finale, which, by the way, was not one of those fun runs you hear about.

I slowly started jogging, kind of dejected that other competitors were passing me and in the opposite direction. They did kindly encourage me, which helped. I only hoped they'd leave some grub for me. OK, I also hoped that my rubber legs would stop feeling like they weighed 500 pounds apiece.

I didn't break any land-speed records on my run, that's for sure. But I didn't stop or walk, either. I just kept going. Quite a few people passed me, even a girl who couldn't have been older than 12. I didn't care. I was in my this-is-what-life's-all-about zone. I remembered being really, really fat and training on snowy days when I'd rather be sleeping and the time I felt like quitting and crying while I was on a treadmill because I just knew I'd never be able to finish a triathlon.

The 3.1-mile run was a 36 1/2-minute journey into my soul —some places I wanted to be, some places I didn't. I switched from feeling the agony to the ecstasy, from smiling to gritting my teeth, to nearly bursting out into tears after seeing the finish line and my family.

And then the moment I'd played out in my mind so many times while training was finally here. A stranger congratulated me with a few steps to go. I smiled and raised my arms in victory.

Suddenly, the pain was gone.

The finish line was behind me.

I wasn't the first to cross it and I wasn't the last. But I crossed it. Even faster than I thought, too. I finished in one hour, 34 minutes and 35.57 seconds — well below my goal of two hours — and placed 163rd out of 218. The training paid off.

And the cheesy grin is still there.

Note: Sportswriter Jody Genessy, who has caught the triathlon bug and has signed up for another one in nine days, writes a monthly weight-loss column.

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