“Lover of life, poetry and good books. Passionate about movies, good food and wine,” were the words on someone’s Pinterest board.
I couldn’t stop thinking about those sentences, but more for how they made me feel about my life and all of the questions they posed to me.
Who am I? What do I like? What am I passionate about? I was 42 years old and who was I? I was a mom, a wife and a nursery school teacher. I loved my children and my family but what else did I love? What were my interests and my passions? I felt quite empty as I had no idea how to answer any of these questions.
At the same time my children had started club swimming at one of the Virgin Actives in our area. This meant lifting them too and fro on a daily basis and lots of spare time sitting aroud waiting for them and chatting to the “coffee moms”. The lesson wasn’t quite long enough to go home and come back.
One of the other moms invited me to do a spinning class with her one evening, which I loved. We continued doing classes each week and then she told me she had started triathlon training and swimming herself, and once again invited me to join her. I must say I was very tempted as she was very fit and had a stunning figure. I was, however, very overweight and the thought of putting on a costume or a pair of running shoes filled me with terror.
Eventually after much encouragement from her I joined the swimming group. Terrified, I stood at the edge of the pool, cowering in my rather large costume, at the very back of the slow lane behind some rather fit, athletic looking ladies. Would I be able to swim for an hour without drowning? Would everyone laugh at me because I was overweight?
After the first session I was hooked! Swimming had been a passion of mine at school and I soon realised I wasn’t too bad at it. The coach noticed too and started sending me the triathlon programs to follow.
By the end of the second day I was exhausted and could barely stay awake until 4 o'çlock. My arms and shoulders ached so much I couldn’t lift my arms high enough to blowdry my hair and I limped when going down the stairs. Each evening I would take a bath with Epsom Salts and wonder if I could manage what was on the programme for the next day.
After about a month it became slightly easier and I could make it until 7pm before collapsing on the couch. After about two months I noticed that my clothes had become looser and that I was actually enjoying myself. I was extremely fortunate because the friend who introduced me to triathlon became my training partner, which made each session more fun and easier to commit to.
My coach was also a huge part of my initial success - from the first week he knew exactly how to read me and when to push me and when to back off. He always spoke about “pushing out of my comfort zone”. I often wondered if he had pushed me too far!
After about three months of training my coach bamboozled me into entering my first triathlon, a 1,5km swim, 40km cycle and 10 km run. I had never cycled until I started triathlon training, let alone run 10km, cycled 40km or swim 1,5km in the open water, and all on the same day.
I was terrified! Unfortunately I got bronchitis days before the event and had to pull out. I was devastated and convinced I would never be able to complete a triathlon.
Once recovered, I entered another triathlon in Buffelspoort and loved every minute of it. The swim was fantastic, the cycle was amazing and then came the run. The dreaded run. I was about 3km from the end when I met up with a friend and we ran the last bit together.
I was absolutely exhausted but elated! I had finished an Olympic distance triathlon. Me, the person who couldn’t run 5km, was still overweight (even though I had lost about 10kgs by now) and hadn’t done any physical exercise for the last 12 years. I cannot tell you how amazing it felt.
Soon people started to see a change in me, not only the way I looked but a new confidence and zest for life that I had. For the first time in years I felt truly alive.
Soon exercise became one of the most important parts of my day. A priority. I set time aside each day for my training and made sure that I stuck to the schedule that my coach emailed out each week. Sunday evenings became like Christmas Eve, I would sit waiting eagerly, excited to see what was on my training program for the week ahead.
The more I did, the more weight I lost and the more fantastic I felt. My family also noticed the change in me and supported me the whole way, always believing I could complete the exciting adventure ideas I came home with.
In the middle of last year I set myself another to goal, to swim from Robben Island to the mainland, 7.5km through icy, shark-infested waters. “What about sharks?” everyone asked. “Won’t the water be freezing?” Funnily enough neither thought even entered my mind.
I worked with my triathlon coach and with Roger, swimming through the whole of the Johannesburg winter in an outdoor pool. Swimming from Robben Island was surreal; a life-changing experience. I had set myself a goal and had achieved it. Little old me! I had done it.
Since then I have completed many exciting adventures including cycling from Johannesburg to Durban, many half Iron Man events, a full Iron Man in Port Elizabeth, adventure races and the Otter Run!
And now I can finally write... Ronel Wallis, lover of life , mother of three, wife and triathlete. Passionate about adventure racing, trail running and seeing how far I can push myself.