I went from couch potato to triathlete, and you can too

Two men running uphill in the forest


The couch potato is not the healthiest of vegetables, but even they have the capacity to turn into a triathlete. It’s no easy feat, but as ex-couch potato STEVE BAXTER explains, with some commitment and hard work, it’s entirely possible.

I was a pretty healthy kid, but I fell off the wagon when I grew into an adult. Over a decade ago, when I was about to have my first child, I came across a piece of information that said men whose waists circumferences are more than 100 centimetres (and 90 centimetres for women) are twice as likely to develop cancer. At the time, my waist circumference was 107 centimetres.

I realised I needed to make a change. When my two children arrived, I asked myself, ‘Am I putting myself in the best position as they grow up? Do I want to be there when my kids get married, and when they have kids of their own?’. That’s what motivated me to change my lifestyle.

I signed up for a triathlon almost right away. I saw a sign advertising a mini-triathlon at my daughter’s swimming centre. It was a six-week program, and I really enjoyed the structure and the training. I was pumped when I crossed the finish line. I was walking around saying to people, ‘I’m a triathlete’. Even the word sounded so weird to me, it was such a foreign thing. I always felt like the people who did these races were superhuman, and suddenly I was one of them. It gave me a great sense of joy, and it made me understand the value of incremental training.

The beauty of triathlons is that there is always something bigger you can do. After that first mini-triathlon, I maintained a bit and trained about once a week, then I thought, ‘Why don’t I do a full-spring distance triathlon?’ I kept building my distances, and I’ve now gone on to do three Ironman Triathlons (long-distance one-day events).

I signed up for my first Ironman a year in advance. I thought I’d sign up, then figure out how to do it, which was great for my motivation. Along that journey, the realisation I came to is that it’s not about the race. The race is like an exclamation mark on a very long sentence. What I’m most proud of is the dedication and effort that I put into training, and the sacrifices I made to get to that finish line. Really, anything can happen on a race day – you can puncture a tire, or the wind can be wrong, or the food can make you unwell – so that’s not what you celebrate. Completing the race and calling yourself an Ironman is just a reward for all of the effort you put in. Instead, I celebrate all of the little things that led me up to that point.

I find the mental challenge to be bigger than the physical one. The body can actually do a lot of things, if you’re willing to push yourself and let it. I think the hardest part of any journey is actually that first step. It’s getting off the couch. When people ask me for advice on getting in shape, I say the first thing you need to do is put your training gear on. The second thing you need to do is step out your door. Once you’ve done those two things, everything else takes care of itself.

Physically, I feel amazing. I’m carrying 20 kilograms less than I used to, and it has freed me up to do more things, like stay active with my family. That said, I still battle. I find myself looking for new goals, trying to beat my personal best, or striving to improve my health in other ways, like quitting processed sugar. I’ve learnt that health is an ongoing process, but the goal should be to always get that little bit better.

I feel like I’ve made an intergenerational change. It gets me a little bit emotional when I see the impact my health journey has had on my two kids, Lexie (11) and Xavier (8). I feel like I’m setting a great example for them, and I now have the tools to teach them about balance and nutritional alternatives when it comes to their food choices. At the end of the day, that’s the biggest benefit of my health journey – it’s about what it can teach my kids.

(As told to Taryn Stenvei)


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