What Triathlon Training Taught Me about Senior Care Giving

I’m four weeks away from my first triathlon.

There, I said it. Now it’s public information and I have to finish the race. Not that I would have squirreled out of it before, but hey, you know what they say about telling someone about a goal.

But, this isn’t about the travails of the world’s slowest triathlete. The truth is, training for this race has taught me some very important lessons about senior care giving. So, to be consistent with the triathlon, here are the three lessons triathlon training taught me about senior care giving.

1. Variety Makes the Job Easier

At the end of a long run, I’m super tired. If I had to run again the next morning, I couldn’t do it. It’s not just the wear and tear from running again that would get me. It’s the mental fatigue that comes from facing the same challenge day after day. The great news is, the day after a long run, I can swim. It seems simple, but the change of pace has become essential to my progress (and sanity).

The same is true of caregiving. If each time you visit your folks you refill the medication boxes, you’re going to grow weary of the task. If every time you take your mom for an outing, you go to the same restaurant, she’s going to get bored with it. Changing things up makes life more fun.

As a caregiver, caring differently can be a welcome change. Instead of caring for your folks at their house, bring them to your place one Saturday. Revisit an activity that you used to do with them years ago. I think you’ll find shifting gears to be an amazing change.

2. Finding Community is Critical

When I started training, I couldn’t swim the length of the pool without nearly drowning. I didn’t have a proper bike. And, I ran like an offensive lineman. My future as an Ironman seemed remote, to say the least.

Then I discovered the good folks at my local bike shop, who have put up with thousands of my newbie questions. In fact, they’ve loved sharing their knowledge. I’ve learned a lot, but most importantly, I learned that I wasn’t the only person who has no idea how to swim without looking like a drowning buffalo. I think just knowing that kept me going.

When I started caregiving, I was lost too. Most of us don’t know where to begin our caregiving journey. As one of our first clients liked to say, “we’re entering this caregiving movie in the middle.” It’s true. Our parents have been caring for each other for a long time. We arrive to save the day and end up looking like Underdog. It’s tough.

I love reading the comments on this blog. I love going to meetings at the Alzheimer’s Association. I love talking with other caregivers who are dealing with the stuff we’re dealing with.

It’s impossible to care for a loved one alone. Finding community is critical.

3. You Have More Ability than You Realize

When I started training, I was pretty certain it would be a year before I could complete a triathlon. That is, if I didn’t give up before then. It’s not that I’m prone to giving up, it’s that I was absolutely convinced that I could not do it.

I’m not an “endurance athlete”. In fact, I haven’t really been able to call myself an athlete at all since, ahem, the nineties. So, I was full of doubt when I began.

A few months ago, I was at the pool. The guy in the next lane was moving through the water like Michael Phelps. Or Flipper. Let’s just say he was fast and effortless. As I was struggling to catch my breath on the deck, he made a comment that has stuck with me. He said, “get back in the water and I’ll bet you can swim one more lap. After that, do it again.”

That comment reminded me so much of caregiving. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to one of the people we help and they’ve said, “I never, ever thought I could handle helping my mom with, you know, hygene stuff. Then, I just did it. I didn’t kill me or her. Now, I’ve been helping her for a few months.”

It’s true. You have more caregiving ability than you realize. You can do this. I refer to your loved one as your “loved one” for a reason: because you love them. That love can carry you over a lot of challenges you didn’t think you could overcome. But, you can and will overcome them.

In four weeks I’m going to cross the finish line of my first triathlon. Sounds tough, but since I’m a caregiver, I know it’ll be easy.

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