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Athlete Spotlight: Abby Churchill

Before we get started, here's a quick message from Coach Vicki:

Abby currently lives in Madison, so, most of our coaching is remote although I had the opportunity to meet with her for an initial assessment and she will join us at Endurance Camp in July!

Abby works hard, asks great questions during our meetings, and doesn’t blindly just follow the plan. When she feels like she needs extra work, or doesn’t completely understand the process, she freely asks. I love this about her!

After all, our job as coaches is to teach our athletes everything we are able to allow them to evolve as quickly as possible. I'm excited for you to hear her story!

Tell us about your family/career

I’m currently a lawyer in a non-lawyer job. I work for an insurance company called TruStage as a product manager. In the next five years, I am aiming to be in-house counsel. I also teach at the University of Wisconsin Law School as an adjunct professor, and I started and continue to help manage a pro bono legal project called Trans Law Help Wisconsin. My partner Sarah and I live in Madison, WI with our two very large rescue dogs, Cody and Finley, and a rescue cat, Willow.

What is your personal favorite sport/activity?

It’s hard to choose, as much of what I enjoy about participating in activities is the ability to experience some of all of it. If pressed, I would go with choral singing. I’ve been singing since I was 5 years old, and I will continue to sing until I can no longer sing out another note. However, I would never be able to sing without sports, or do sports without singing - both occupy a crucial and significant part of my overall joy and well-being.

Outside of training with Tri Fitness, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

Besides singing, I also play hockey. I love to travel and to play games with friends. I’m passionate about volunteering and am currently a board member for a local LGBTQIA+ organization, OPEN Madison.

What is your favorite motivational quote?

I don’t have one.

Favorite gear for summer/winter/racing.

It really depends on what sport I’m playing!

What keeps you going when you really don’t want to go?

Above all else, I am internally motivated by the goals I’ve set for myself. For example, I aim to complete a full Ironman before I turn 40. When I set this goal three years ago, I didn’t even know how to swim. Now, I can say not only do I know how to swim, but that I’ve done so in a sprint and an Olympic triathlon. In September, I’ll complete my first half Ironman. So when I experience those times when I really don’t want to go, e.g., drag myself out of bed to go swimming at 5 am, I remember my overall goal, remind myself that I’m actively training for an upcoming race, and reflect on all of the hard work I’ve put in to get myself here.

What got you started with training/racing?

After completing my first two triathlons on my own following a training plan off of the internet, I knew I needed more personalized assistance if I wanted to complete the half Iron on time. I got connected to Vicki through my partner Sarah’s mom, who has worked with Vicki for years. As a lifelong recreational athlete, besides participating in team sports in high school, I had never worked with a coach one-on-one. Now, knowing how significantly I’ve improved in working with Vicki, I will certainly work with a coach for my next lofty life goal, whatever that might be.

When you tell your friends/family about beginning your journey what was their reaction?

I still get confused and astonished reactions when I tell people about my “full Iron before 40” goal, especially when I tell them I didn’t know how to swim before I started this journey.

How long have you been training/racing?

My first triathlon was scheduled to be in July 2020. That, of course, didn’t happen due to the pandemic. This ended up being fortuitous, as I hadn’t quite realized how much work I would need to do on my swimming to be race-ready. My first triathlon was a sprint in July 2021, then an Olympic in July 2022. I’ll be doing the Madison Half Iron in September 2023.

Were you involved in other competitive sports prior to your adult years?

I’ve done a lot of sports in the past, but none competitively: dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, track & field, cross country, hockey (both ice and floor), rugby, softball, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and likely more that I can’t recall off the top of my head. I’ve also run in a number of races, including completing the Madison Marathon. I enjoy trying and learning new things, especially sports. I’m not great at any of them (and in some of them, I’m not even good!), but that’s okay with me - I never want to stop learning and experiencing everything this life has to offer.

Best tip for a newbie?

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. No one enjoys messing up, doing something incorrectly, or looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, but these moments are fantastic learning opportunities. Everyone has to start in the same place - putting on those skates for the first time, picking up that bat for the first time, etc. - and as adult learners, we all feel foolish learning a brand-new skill. It’s an incredibly humbling experience. Don’t let this stop you from trying, and don’t give up on it when you first fail. Learn to laugh at yourself, even (and perhaps especially) when others are laughing with you.

What is your favorite pre/post-workout snack/drink?

As with my recreational activities, I love variety in my diet. However, there are these frozen pita, egg, and cheese sandwiches that I consistently reach for both pre and post-workout.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

I don’t have anyone in particular.

What is your biggest struggle?

As someone who likes trying new things, I often feel like an imposter when I pick up a new sport. To date, I still don’t call myself a triathlete; instead, I’ll say, “I’ve done a couple of triathlons.” For example, I agonized over whether I was going to put aero bars on my road bike because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was actually good at biking. I’m hoping that I’ll feel more like a triathlete once I’ve completed my half Iron in time, but we’ll see!

What is your pre-race routine?

I get so stressed before races, and over time, I’ve found that it helps to make, follow, and stick with a plan.

Goals for the upcoming year?

Even though I have been running for many years, I still haven’t found that “zen” place some people talk about experiencing when they run longer distances. I’ve needed to distract my brain from what my body is experiencing through listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and music. On this journey, I’d like to find my “zen” place while running. I don’t know if I will be able to run a half or full marathon without headphones, but I won’t know until I try!

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