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Breakaway Triathlon and Cycling

Mabelle Chua

What activities or sports do you enjoy?

Besides riding and and running, I also practice hot yoga twice a week. Your swim clinic got me more comfortable in the water, so I am starting to enjoy swimming even though I am not too good at it.

Outside sports, I enjoy the theater, cooking, traveling and reading.

Are you currently training for any events?

I am doing a Northampton-to-Brattleboro, VT ride and a few charity events, which are “fun” activities. Nothing that I need to train for because–quite honestly, I am not a huge fan of training. It wears me down even more mentally than it does physically. I have a tendency to over-train, so I stick to a physical regimen, instead. If I see a race or event I want to do, I would just sign up a few days or even weeks before.

What are your favorite workouts?

My favorite workouts are riding (computraining in the winter) and yoga.   They’re the yin to my yang; the balance I need in my busy work and home lives.

What motivates you to train so consistently? 

My consistent training and working out is a result of a lifestyle change after decades of being overweight. We all have our reasons for working hard to stay in shape and be on top of our game. Mine is to continue on the right path so I don’t go back to my bad habits.

When you (Lisa) told me that you wanted me to be your March Athlete of the Month, first thing I thought was, “Why me?” I haven’t broken any records, never been on a podium, haven’t even done a full marathon nor a bike race! The only reason I can think of is that you felt bad about how much water I inhaled and choked on during our swim clinic sessions.

I grew up in the Philippines and had severe asthma as a child. It was so bad that, on many occasions, I was rushed to the Emergency Room and hooked up to an oxygen tank. This condition exempted me from Phys Ed through 7th Grade. My asthma attacks lessened in frequency as I got into high school, so I participated in intramural sports like volleyball and soccer, although I played only a few minutes at a time. My parents and my grandmother made sure I didn’t exert too much effort in anything I do as that could have induced an attack. Since I got very skinny, I was given orexigenics, which made me eat constantly.

The asthma attacks diminished when I went to the United States as an exchange student for my senior year of high school, but the non-stop eating continued. I came back home 30 lbs. heavier a year later. Everyone commented on how overweight I was, so I lost weight by cutting back on my meals and fasting. Once I reached my desired weight, I started going back to my old eating habits and this started a vicious cycle that continued for decades.

I migrated to the United States in 1985 and looked forward to once again having the processed and fast foods I so enjoyed when I was an exchange student. In a few years, I accumulated clothes in about 10 different sizes to accommodate my fluctuating weight.   I asked my doctor repeatedly to check if I have hypothyroidism because I was sure this caused my weight gain.   She told me my thyroid was fine and that I might want to consider working out. I came up with all sorts of excuses. I had two small kids, a husband who travelled constantly at that time, a bad back, etc., etc. A friend suggested the Jane Fonda workout video, so I worked out with Jane from home three times a week. I also got a Suzanne Somers Thighmaster.  I felt like an athlete and brave enough to go to the gym. I spoke to a personal trainer who wanted an “assessment” and asked me to do a sit-up. She had this look of horror in her face and said, “Wow, you’re really out of shape!”–I couldn’t get my upper body to move up an inch. Needless to say, I failed the “assessment” and she ended the training session. I took group aerobic classes, instead, with all the twirling, the clapping under the knee and overhead, the skipping, the turning to the left and to the right.   These classes were so choreographed that being new, I ended up bumping and hitting people. It was too nerve-wracking and dangerous, so I went home frustrated and headed towards the refrigerator. I never went back after the trial period.

By my late 30’s, I had to add a new, bigger size to my wardrobe. My yearly check-up showed that I was 60+ pounds overweight and that I had high sugar– which worried me because diabetes ran in my family. I also had to go on short-term disability because my lower back went out on me. I needed to make a lifestyle change, so I got a treadmill but only stared at it for months. Then, one day, I decided to use it. I was out of breath after walking 2-1/2 minutes. I got off and said I will try again tomorrow. The 2-1/2 minutes turned to 5 the next week, then to 10 and so forth. I started to run slowly in a few months. I started to change my eating habits, as well. Gone were the days of Venti Macchiatos and Egg McMuffin breakfasts, Chinese Buffet lunches and dinners with apple pie or Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. It wasn’t easy. It was, at times, quite depressing.

I shed off 45 lbs. in two years. I felt better, my back pain wasn’t as bad as it used to be and my health stats were much better. Once again, I signed up at the gym and worked with a trainer.   I eventually heard about this thing called “spinning.”   I signed up for a class and, after feeling I was going to faint after 20 minutes, I ended up sitting out for the next 40. After two days, I decided to try again and did better, so I continued. I went up to 5 classes a week on top of running on the treadmill earlier in the day. An additional 15 lbs. came off after 1-1/2 years. Some of my friends now considered me “obsessed” with working out and felt some resentment because this became my priority. I ignored and marched on.

I met someone at spin class who insisted that I try riding outside. I said I haven’t ridden a bike on the road in over 30 years. He offered to help me look at bikes and I got my first bike at 47 years old. I quickly realized that getting off your clips from a stationary bike is much easier than when you’re moving, so I fell a couple of times.  I also thought the left and right shifters did the same thing, but eventually figured that one out, too. I called everyone in my family the day I rode 8 miles by myself. I felt a sense of achievement. The next week it was 10, then 12, so on and so forth. Six months later, I went touring in Maui with about 40 lb. pannier loads. I joined a cycling group when I got back and never stopped riding.

I started running outdoors at when I turned 49 and did my first half at 50.

So you see, I was never an athlete and hardly think of myself as one.

I tell people losing the weight is the easy part. Maintaining is the bigger challenge and that’s my motivation for consistently training/working out.

 What are your most memorable fitness/sports accomplishments?

 Touring in Maui was memorable. It was really tough because we went during high-wind season in November. There were times we can only go as fast as 5mph on a flat road due to the headwind.   I was so new at road biking that I struggled going up the big hills with that heavy load and ended up walking it. I never went touring again after that and doubt I ever will.

Another event I won’t forget was the Boston Half I ran in 2013. Not because it was a huge accomplishment, but due to what happened to me during the race. A sort of pushing pain on my right side started nagging me around mile 7 and I thought I just needed a port-a-potty break but there were lines at every stop. I decided to continue running because I wanted to finish the race under 2 hours. I could barely move when I reached the finish line. Found out a week later that I fractured my Inferior Pubic Ramus during the event. Good news was I did finish that half under 2 hours. Bad news was I was out of commission for 3 months. It was too much, too soon.

How has training at Breakaway impacted you and your training? 

I always believe you need to like what you’re doing and enjoy the people that you are working out with and that’s what I found at Breakaway.  Honestly, it did take me a few months for me to feel comfortable here.

I went to your very first Open House, but somehow felt intimidated and decided not to sign up, although coming over here was always in the back of my mind. Last year, a friend said that you were having a Beginner Computraining class on Sundays, so I signed up. I felt the classes helped, so I signed up for the next session. These new classes were so much harder than the beginner classes. I can’t seem to keep up not only with the workout, but with the strong athletes in the class. Fortunately, the coaches were there, always ready to help. You explained what things I was doing wrong and how to correct them. You also assured me that, in time, I will get better and I felt I did.

Most of the negative chatter in my head began turning around ever since I started coming here. You have different levels of athletes and the intimidation I felt in the beginning has now morphed into inspiration. There is no health club drama here, only accomplished coaches who work to make people get better in what they do. They also make it fun, so I look forward to coming.