More Than Just a Number - April Graham
April Graham (#172) did her first XTERRA in 2004 after reading about it in a magazine.
"I had just gotten out of a relationship, I was going through a transition in my life, and I was trying to find myself again," said Graham, now 38.
"Doing the XTERRA at that point in my life - not just the race but the training - brought me back to the fun things I did as a kid. I rode my bike and ran in the woods and went swimming. It brought back a spark of life during a difficult time."
For Graham, who ran cross-country in high school and became an avid mountain biker after college, XTERRA training and racing was a way to stay connected to what she loved and to create a new community.
"Doing that first XTERRA, I found the people to be so refreshing," said Graham. "They were so warm and incredibly kind. And impressive. They were just the kind of people you want to surround yourself with."
When Graham was 33, her father died of colon cancer. She was overcome with grief and decided to dedicate her life to helping others heal.
"I chose naturopathic medicine because I wanted to treat the whole patient and not just treat symptoms," said Graham. "I had to really immerse myself in school and stop racing but I knew I wasn't done with XTERRA. I knew I would be back."
Now Graham is in her final year of medical school, which she is balancing with motherhood. Sixteen months ago, she and her husband welcomed their first baby.
However, the transition wasn't always easy and between changing diapers and being with patients all day, Graham felt as though she was losing herself a bit.
"I knew I needed to do something to take care of myself," admitted Graham. "You have a baby and you lose your body a bit. I really believe that when you are a new mom, you need some excess to deal with all of the demands, but after a year, I wanted to turn it around."
Graham said she knew exactly what she needed to do. She followed her tried and true solution and signed up for an XTERRA.
"I wanted to do XTERRA Victoria because it's such a technical course and I love technical courses."
After the first 10 weeks of her training, Graham was back to her pre-pregnancy weight without even changing her diet. What was different this time around though, was that Graham wasn't as tough on herself as she had been in the past.
"In the calendar life of an athlete, I knew I was starting at the beginning, in winter," said Graham. "I decided to take baby steps, just like my son. I'm prone to injuries so I started running two miles. Do you know how hard it is as an athlete to say you are just doing two miles? But I didn't want to risk hurting myself."
Graham kept on, just as she started - not pushing forward and not standing still.
"I knew that even if I just trained for three times a week for an hour, I would eventually get there."
Using an old XTERRA training plan published in 2003 by XTERRA World Champ, Jimmy Riccitello, Graham kept at it. She did a long run on Sunday with her husband, her German Shepard, and her baby in the jogger. On Monday she rested because she was in school all day. On Tuesday she swam during her son's swim lesson and got an interval run in if the stars aligned. Wednesdays were dedicated to a training ride at lactate threshold and on Thursdays she swam with a masters group. On Fridays, she did a hilly run and on Saturdays she did a long mountain bike ride with friends.
Some days, Graham doesn't always accomplish what she sets out to do, but rather than give up, she hops on her bike trainer and watches XTERRA TV.
"I watch a lot of XTERRA TV," she says, with a laugh. "One way that I frame things is that you have to be gentle with yourself as a mother and an age-group athlete," said Graham. " If something comes up and I can’t do my workout I don’t beat myself up. I chalk it up to an extra rest day. Over-training is a big issue but that’s not ever going to be an issue for me and I’m grateful for that."
On July 9th, Graham's hard work paid off, and she qualified for the XTERRA World Championship at XTERRA Victoria.
On October 26th, she flew to Maui with her team, which included her mom, her husband, and her baby. Three days later, Graham tackled the XTERRA World Championship less than one year after setting a goal to compete in XTERRA Victoria.
"I just went for it," said Graham. "I was so honored to be a part of the XTERRA World Championship and be there with other athletes from all over the world. That #livemore spirit? It extends to my life. I just want to live to the fullest."