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Personal Best

Being a mom was all I ever wanted. It would converge all that mattered most to me: loving and being loved, needing and being needed, teaching and learning, striving and leading. When I finally had my own children, I was smitten, overflowing with love and pride, eager to nourish them forever. In Yiddish, this is kveling. I’m the queen of it, and I would never want it to be different. My life was complete.

Barbara Edelston Peterson and daughters But life can change in seconds. Lightning strikes, you win the lottery, you fall in love. It happened one afternoon in my kitchen – nothing X-rated (unless you count the initial) – just a lively conversation with my sister that led to an unexpected tingling sensation, a mounting curiosity, and an overwhelming desire as she described a new triathlon called XTERRA. Knowing my passion for mountain biking, and our mutual love of athletic challenge, she felt it would be perfect for me. This sister, my identical twin, is an endurance athlete known for her Ironman triathlon conquests and long-distance running. She assured me that this off-road triathlon would be doable; it attracts only those who swim open water, ride extreme terrain, and run trails and soft sandy beaches.

Much as I might have told myself that motherhood was all I wanted, I never stopped being a romantic adventurer, someone to whom passion is as important as water, air, or food. I am a student of self-discovery, an advocate of learning from nature, a zealot for the active life. I tell my daughters and others, “Find your passion, and take the first step!” Listening to my sister, my breathing accelerated, my heart rate doubled, my inner world began to spin with primal desire to take the first step toward this wild sport. I lusted for details, I wanted to see it, hear it, taste it, smell it! I needed dates, locations, photos. I burned to try it as soon as possible.

I plunged into the physical, training for hours, days and weeks to prepare for my first attempt at this exotic challenge. My husband and daughters, our extended family and friends, our dog, the neighbors, the mailman and UPS driver, even the teachers at school watched in fascination as I fell madly in love with XTERRA. Everywhere, I found new energy to push myself athletically without losing an ounce of momentum for family or work. I rose at five each morning to swim, and returned punctually at seven for an equally important commitment: serving breakfast, lunch production, the kiss-my-husband-goodbye-before-work, and the carpool to school. At noon, I tore out of my office to run as far as I could within the bounds of a one-hour lunch break. I repeated the magic words “whatever it takes” to keep myself up to this irresistible quest that now lived inside me, alongside my intense love for family.

My husband showed signs of frustration with my divided attention, yet he was busy running his company, pursuing his own love of cycling and skiing, and finding quality time for his attentive daughters, whose new interest in ‘dad’ had ballooned.

The process of getting into shape had little to do with romance, or bliss, or glamour. Rather it was bumpy and rugged, possibly more than the upcoming event. Yet I couldn’t get enough. Distance trail running prompted stomach cramps while my legs delighted in the exploration of extreme terrain. Steep climbs and long descents on the mountain bike caused hip, back and neck pain but I cherished the natural scenery and overwhelming feeling of exhilaration. Open water swimming invigorated me deeply, regardless of the choking sensation from the tight-fitting wetsuit.

Moms are experts at perseverance, endurance, and manifesting positive energy in all conditions. My daughters liked my highs after long workouts. My husband admired my directed ambition, and out of it he found a new passion – surfing the Internet just to study XTERRA course maps around the world. With only a week to go, he excitedly announced that this local course appeared to be the toughest of all.

On race day, I gave myself fully to the 1.5 kilometer frigid swim in the Pacific Ocean, the 35k mountain bike course through redwood groves and steep coastal terrain, and the final 12k beach run to the finish line. I finished in second place for Masters women, well-cheered and greeted by my family, my best friend (who traveled from New York City to San Francisco for the occasion), and others in the crowd. I was proud on the podium, and fortified by the complex challenge and the feeling of accomplishment.

As I stepped down, an official extended a firm handshake and an orange slip of paper. Back at the car, we all stared into my hands. I was holding an invitation to the World Championships in Maui! But I felt complete. It was time to turn my attention back home.

A friend knocked on our front door a week later. A race car driver, he gave me the requisite high-five and tight hug of congratulations, then looked at me straight in the eye, his face a little too close to mine. He had come with a purpose: “If I have to take you by the hand and escort you to the plane, you are going to Maui!” And so the journey continued. I was further seduced, slightly fearful of where this love affair was going, yet excited by the positive momentum of life’s expansiveness.

My husband and I packed bikes and bags and boarded an island-bound flight for our first world-class excursion. We joined hundreds of ultra-fit competitors and an equal number of spectators from around the world. We met celebrity athletes in droves, and together we listened to race reports on tides, sharks, heat, and hydration. My heart pounded uncontrollably, all beneath Haleakala, the island’s sacred mountain that in just three days would test everyone’s superhuman power. Extreme stamina was at the core of this sport, what related all of us to this scene, and what connected the dots in my new life.

Maui far exceeded our expectations. I made it to the podium again, and as might be expected, I was even more in love with this sport. My thoughts both day and night shifted between the technical elements of a mountain bike course and ocean swimming, and my daughters’ worlds of school, horses, gymnastics, and skiing. Blood and oxygen now flowed rapidly throughout my lean body, life had all new forces.

For the next several years, I traveled the world solo, often waiting outside our house in the dark for my 3:00 a.m. shuttle to an international flight. The drivers came to know the petite woman from Berkeley, with her heavy bags and large bike box, heading resolutely overseas. My independence and courage surprised me. I’ve been told love transcends fear.

Running - Barbara Edelston PetersonThe Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu said it best: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That first step in my kitchen led me to ten years of XTERRA, riding a wave of fire and passion throughout my forties and fifties. Training and competition took me to multiple U.S., European, and World champion titles, ambassador status, a leadership role in environmental activism, and sponsorships with the world’s top sport, health, and wellness companies. I was crowned Ms. XTERRA one year, and soon after, in a leading sports magazine, I saw my name next to the words “Mother of XTERRA.” By now, I was thriving less on “the good life” and more on being good in life.

Our family grew very close over these years, in healthy and positive ways. My daughters understood my passionate ways and never doubted my love for them. They assured me no one starved during my lengthy absences, or suffocated from over-zealous kveling! We found health, balance, and oneness in our shared love of sport and respect for hard work.

I watched my husband’s energy rise higher than ever before, from the rewards of pro-active giving and living. He intensified his cycling routine during his lunch hour to be energized for everything and everyone in his life. At night, he cooked dinner for us, and afterwards went straight to the garage to tune skis for our daughters, who had developed into serious ski racers. I fell even more in love with him throughout this time, a champion of patience, unconditional acceptance, and family devotion. And I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that today each of our daughters is a champion athlete: the older is a collegiate all-American skier, and the other is the youngest member of the U.S. Ski Team. Passion and love are infectious!

But another of those instantaneous life changes was in store. Attempting to get one last item from high in my closet the night before leaving to compete in Europe, I lost my footing and fell, breaking both heels. I never made it out the front door to catch the shuttle, or to the XTERRA start line which was by now metaphoric for my winning path in life.

Immediately, I knew the universe had other plans for me, and that it was time to transition – not from swimming to biking, or biking to running – but to a whole other world beyond sport. Limited to kneepads and a wheelchair, I found myself reviewing the qualities I most admired about motherhood for inspiration and motivation. I stayed positive, and adopted a simple but powerful mantra, “yes I can,” and felt something happen, another new step.

Training the body trains the mind, a powerful process that reinforces focus, strength, and stamina for all aspects of life. Someday, I will return to swim-bike-run, but for now walking is winning. Each new step illuminates uncharted terrain with extraordinary possibilities, and invitations for my kind of compassion, and extreme endurance.

My family leaned in close to me at the dinner table when I recently announced there’s another title I desire: “It’s time I become a champion of humanity—are you guys ready to coach me?” Each smiled from ear to ear while my youngest daughter put her arm around me, offering the sweetest words of encouragement: “Mom, we know you can do it, and we know you’ll do whatever it takes—your best!







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