Jackie Atkinson

on . Posted in TCSD Conversation

I recently talked triathlon and Ironman with TCSD member Jackie Atkinson.  Please join me as we congratulate Jackie on her first ever Ironman finish at Arizona on April 13th in a solid time of 12:51:38.

Craig: What was your athletic background prior to triathlon?

Jackie: Prior to triathlon I played many sports when I was a child.  Once I hit High school my concentration turned towards softball/fast pitch mainly due to the fact I wanted to play in NCAA.  I played almost 9 months out of the year and many leagues around the east coast, which is where I am originally from. I attended State University of New York at Buffalo, NY where I played softball until my junior year, when at that time I was selected to play Women's Professional Baseball.  That lasted a year then I went back to college and finished my degree in Criminal Justice.

Craig: You've told me that you were formerly smoked.  How did you fall into that nasty habit?

Jackie: After graduating college I joined the United States Marine Corps and I attended Officer Candidate school in 2000.  At the end of my training I became stationed at Camp Pendleton as a young 2ndLt Combat Engineer Officer.  At this time, 9/11 had just hit and I became very busy at work, as you could imagine.  I enjoyed running in order to stay in shape and would average 3-5 miles a day. Somehow in the beginning of 2003 when we were faced with deployments to the Middle East my days became longer and I began smoking socially on weekends with friends.  In the end of 2003 I was deployed to Iraq and the beginning of the deployment there was down time in Kuwait, I began smoking more and actually began purchasing packs at our px or bummed smokes off other officers.  This was a very rare sight to see however because until this deployment, it was never very acceptable for officers to smoke.  Once we entered into Iraq I found that I began smoking almost a half pack a day of cigarettes.  When we couldn't get American brands we bought the local smokes off of the Iraqi's. After my tour in the end of 2003 when I returned back to the States I continued to smoke socially, i.e. weekends and nights out.  I also began noticing that I was drinking alcohol more.  At this point I asked myself “is this the direction I wanted to go?”  I did some soul searching and by the beginning of 2004 never smoked another cigarette again.  It wasn't hard to quit.  I just began to turn my concentration into personal athletic goals and those goals would not coincide with smoking, therefore, I never felt the need to smoke again and I began staying out of bars and clubs. Currently I can't stand the habit nor being around smokers. 

Craig: How did you get introduced to triathlon? 

Jackie: I left Iraq via a hospital in Madrid Spain, there I had many magazines to read and came across one that had an article about the World Championships in Kona. I began to read about the sport and something about it really attracted me and I thought how great it would be to accomplish an Ironman.  The only problem was I was not a very good swimmer, I did not own a bike nor had I ever been on a road bike and a marathon seemed unattainable, let alone an entire Ironman.  In April 2005 I jumped into the pool at MCAS Miramar for my first time to experience "lap swimming".  It was such an odd concept to me at the time and could barely make it 25 meters my first try.  I went everyday and finally after a swim buoy was introduced to me by laughing lifeguards, it was my first step in order to complete a sprint triathlon that spring. 

Craig: What was your first triathlon and how did that go?

Jackie: In that Spring of 2005 I did the Koz Enterprises Spring Sprint at Mission Bay.  That 500 meter swim seemed incredibly far, and everyone around me just seemed so much better.  I felt like I was the last one coming in from the swim (later I learned I wasn't), my transitions went well (thanks to the great military training I have had), then off to the bike. I used my new road bike I got a month before, a respectable looking Cannondale in which I set up on the rack next to some extremely intimidating tri bikes.  It seemed the other bikes were all pimped out with Zipp wheels, carbon fiber and weird looking water bottles cages on the back.  At this time in my biking ability I wasn't comfortable enough to change gears on my bike, therefore just getting around fiesta island with not falling out of the clips was my goal.  Once the run was approaching I felt I would be more at ease with the whole 3 sport process, that is until my feet hit the ground and I could trip over a tic tac.  Overall, I did well and enjoyed myself immensely, and so began my love with the sport.

Craig: Why did you make the jump to Ironman? 

Jackie: From the beginning I believe this was always my goal.  I just knew I had to take the steps to get there. I started with no experience in any of these sports therefore overall it was about my dedication, mental toughness, and my heart that brought me to achieve the title of Ironman Finisher.

Craig: What was your Ironman experience like?  

Jackie: My "ironman experience"  began when I started my Ironman training program in Oct of 2007.  During this time I met 3 other tri club members: Kirsten Browne, (who was also signed up to do April IMAZ) Mike Maile and Jiea Kim.  The 3 of us began to do long rides on the weekends and it got me into a much needed routine.  I can honestly say those cold 5 am wake-ups weren't that terrible because I really enjoyed spending the day being humbled on my bike and in the water by all 3 of these individuals. In the month of Oct 2007 I completed 2 marathons, a half-marathon and a century ride.  Not the smartest way to begin training, although, I felt like I needed it to jump start it all.  Without my training buddies, discipline and maybe even at times insanity I do not believe that I would have made it through the grueling hours/miles it took to prepare.  Jan, Feb and March consisted of long hours at work, long hours at the pool, long hours on the bike, long hours on trails and on top of all that trying to maintain a healthy new relationship (fyi, which happened to be my third try since starting the sport of triathlon).   It just seemed there were not enough hours in the day to do it all, and you have to find a way to balance everything. I was also sent to work in the Los Angeles area for the month of Jan and Feb and lived in and out of hotels for 2 months.  Every weekend consisted of dragging my bike back to San Diego to make rides with friends and during the week I found gyms with great people watching, I learned that in Los Angeles that's not hard to find. This brings me to April, FINALLY! At this time I experienced the famous emotion of "did I do enough"?  I tried to maintain my sanity and not overdo the next couple of weeks.  

Then finally the week came, I packed my car and left San Diego to become an Ironman.  My training partner who is also referred to as the "wind beneath my wings"; Kirsten Browne and I went together and I was so relieved to be sharing this experience with her.  This was Kirsten's second Ironman therefore she was my rock throughout the entire experience.   Once we arrived we quickly settled in and spent a lot of time at the expo, we also practiced in the Tempe Lake and prepared our race bags for 3 days. It wouldn't have taken 3 days if we didn't miss the "mandatory" athletic meeting. This was not done on purpose of course, but Kirsten managed somehow to get us VIP bracelets that allowed us to rub elbows with the elites and sponsors at the carb loading dinner before the meeting.  Due to our newly discovered VIP status and severe confusion we followed an escorted group tour up to an exclusive bar in the building next to the dinner. After 15 mins we realized we were the only athletes in the area and the meeting was taking place without us, we ran down and caught the last two minutes.  So all I learned from the meeting was that I could have no more then two of my children run with me to the finish line.  This was of no help considering I do not have children. 

Race day:  Amazing from the beginning, some nerves but not as many as I thought I would have had.  It was settling in that finally after all this time I have been consumed by this race, it was actually happening.  It was very similar to the feeling I had while crossing the line of departure into Iraq in March 2003.  After all this time how will I be? Have I done enough? Will I survive?  All of these questions, then the cannon sounded.  The swim was fierce, I was hit by swimmers in the face and legs the entire 2.4 miles, the bike was even more fierce due to the heat and powerful wind, I managed to average 10 mph out and 33 mph on the way back for 3 loops. The run, was hot and consisted of 3 loops of munching on ice, and pouring water over my head at every aid station.  The first run loop was exciting, the second was diabolical and the third was quite pleasant due to the fact I knew then it was the last.  I loved every crazy minute of it! I can honestly say the 12:51+ went by too quick.  When I finished I realized that even though the last 6 months I had my career, family, friends, relationships and training to balance, I must have done something right.  I had so much support at the end from the most important people in my life and they were all there to hold me up, even my boss called to see how I did.  For the family and friends that couldn't make it, they tracked me all day online.  I felt so many people watching over me and supporting me that there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish and finish strong. 

Craig: Now that you have 1 Ironman under your belt, what advice would you pass along to other first timers? 

Jackie: If you want to do it, you can do it!  Don't let anyone or anything keep you from it.  You just need the discipline and the desire.  Everything else is easy, Oh ya and BALANCE, BALANCE, BALANCE!

Craig: What other races are you doing in 2008 and what are your triathlon goals beyond? 

Jackie: I am doing the 50k run in Bishop CA. with Kirsten Browne and Jiea Kim. The AIDS Ride, a week long ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Barb's half-Ironman up in NORCAL, The North Face 50k run in Wash D.C., The North Face 50-mile run in San Francisco, Camp Pendleton International Triathlon and I am sure a few more along the way.  I was selected on the Zoot/Gu race team in Jan 2008 and look forward to meeting more of my teammates throughout the season.

Anyone got any idea"s?  I am always looking for more races!!!

Craig: Who is your hero and why?   

Jackie: My hero(s) are the men and women in the armed forces sacrificing their lives, marriages, comfort, etc. for all of us.  Not a day goes by that I don't think about how lucky I am to be here and doing the things I am capable of doing.  There are a lot who served and continue to serve that are not capable of going out along the PCH/101 on a beautiful day to run, bike or even swim in the ocean, let alone come home to the comfort of their families and beds. I am inspired by them.

Craig: What do you do for a living?  

Jackie: After leaving the USMC in 2006 I began working as a Contract Federal Investigator in support of national security investigations.

Craig: Jackie, we are so proud of you for overcoming so many challenges and successfully completing your first Ironman.  It is great to have you in our triathlon family.  I’m certain there will be many more successes for you in the future.  Thank you for sharing your story!