The Great Balancing Act: The Triathlete Self Identity

“It is our choices [...] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 

― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


My name is Yume and this is my story of being an ER nurse and triathlete.


Yume Kobayashi Triathlete with Coach Kyle Jensen

I moved up to rural northern Alberta in 2015 after graduating from nursing school. I went to school in Toronto mega-city. I got experience in some of the major teaching hospitals and swam six times a week with an awesome masters group called “Masters of the Universe” - the name says it all.


Moving from Toronto to Peace River, a town of just over 6,000 people was an adjustment in all aspects of life. My first experiences of working as a full fledged RN were in a general ward, 12-hour shifts – old, young, acutely ill, pregnant; it was overwhelming and exhausting. I found it hard to eat well, sleep well, and generally feel like a regular person. About six months in, I moved into a position in the emergency department and haven't looked back. I now do 8 hour shifts (still shift work – but more balanced) and find the work challenging but rewarding.


Not long after moving to Peace River, I had another big change in my life: I bought a tri bike. My thinking at that time was somewhere along the lines of “well, I have to have something to do around here.” And then I joined the swim team. Peace River has no masters team, so I became the oldest member of the Wahoos. All good. So I signed up for a triathlon.


So how do these two lifestyles mesh? How does one body encapsulate the love I have for two (seemingly) diametric opposites?


To begin with, heres what I love:


I love the mental challenge, having to approach situations calmly, the need for constant inquiry, the notion that there is always more to learn and more ways to improve. I love the need for collaboration – it's much harder to go it on your own; and tough experiences bond you. And I like the grittiness of it, you need to be able to take sh*t and keep going; take criticism, take failure and learn from it.


Triathlon is a sport of perseverance. Athletes in this sport work not only long, but they work hard with minimal showcasing of their investment. Most triathletes rise to neither fame nor fortune outside of the tri-world. And,  especially at this time of year, with races looming in the distant future, it can be hard to justify countless hours spent staring at a black line on the bottom of the pool or on a trainer often alone, without any quantifiable results.


Triathlete on the podium in Europe

Nursing can be like that too some days. We see patients come in and out of our emergency department, chronic health issues  and meds seemingly never under control. Or, people involved in drugs and crime that we stitch back up (literally and metaphorically) and send back out onto the streets. They come weekly, even daily and I often wonder what exactly we are doing to help enrich their lives.


Both triathlon and nursing can seem like an enigma to the untrained eye. Both are activities that are more than what they appear superficially. Nursing is more than a job and triathlon is more than a hobby. In many ways they become part of who you are – part of who I am.


Triathlon and nursing for me operate on a kind of invisible reward system. The little investments I make, can make a difference in my life and perhaps in that of others; sometimes right away, sometimes many days later. The time and efforts put in are not always tangible, but in order to keep going, and to keep your sanity, you have to have some optimism, some belief in the value of your actions.


I feel incredibly lucky to be practicing as a nurse and to be able to do triathlon. I think both education and sports are incredible privileges that I don't take for granted.


I want to be the kind of person who strives to fulfill my potential. I want to be someone who sees their potential as being limitless. I want to give it everything I got, and regret the things I did do, rather than the things I didn't.


Triathlete with her new bike

Yume Kobayashi is a nurse in Northern Alberta and a veteran member of the T1 High Performance Team.