Taking My Life Back at 46… The Journey, by Tamara Campbell, RN

Where do I begin?  My journey to take back my life began at age 46, as a journey to become healthy.

I am the wife of an amazingly supportive husband and mother of 3 boys. My youngest was born with cerebral palsy – spastic quadriplegia, which would later leave him dependent on a wheelchair and full care.  This meant I had to work the night shift to be home to care for him during the day. My 2 eldest boys were very active in rep hockey from the age of 5 through 16 with my oldest continuing on when drafted into the OHL.  This meant if I wasn’t working, I was at appointments by day with my youngest or I spent most evenings at a hockey rink.

When I wasn’t parenting, I had an incredible career as a full time RN.  My career started at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto on the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit where I worked for 2 years. From there I moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and stayed for 10 years.  The stress was starting to show. My commute was an hour long before and after my 12 hour shifts.  I often found myself in tears driving home after a difficult day at work.  I loved the work but for how much longer could I do it?  I made the decision to move to a hospital closer to home.  They didn’t have a pediatric ICU, so that meant returning to class to complete certification in adult ICU, yet another stressor, but I saw it as temporary.

I settled into my new position in an adult ICU close to home.  My commute was 12 minutes.  My kids were getting older and less dependent. Then it happened. I attended a family gathering and of course pictures were taken.  I was shocked.  Who was this person?  I always saw myself at a healthy weight, but not this person in the pictures.  What had happened over the past 15years?  I guess I was delusional that because my life was so busy, I must be fit. After all, I had been  athletic in my younger years, and I still felt young.. I could give a million excuses. I had had 3 kids,  I was tired, I was busy going to appointments for my son on my days off. Basically I had devoted every spare moment to my family.  Somewhere along the way I had forgotten about ME!  I had taken a back seat for everybody else.  It was time for ME!  I hadn’t realized it, but the stress of life had taken a toll on me physically and emotionally. I was depressed  at the fact I had let myself go.

The “Before”

I needed to start practicing what I had been preaching to my kids.  You are what you eat. Don’t just settle on mediocre,  give anything you do your all. Once you start something you finish it. After all, my eldest boys had excelled in hockey, and my youngest had excelled beyond doctors’ expectations.  So at age 46 I joined a gym, and with it I got 20 sessions with a trainer.  To be honest I was not going to do more than those sessions with a trainer. I thought I would learn the exercises and be done.  From there I could do it myself.  And so began the journey.

The first few months were agony.  My trainer kept pushing me.  After 6 months it started to feel somewhat less painful. I was losing weight, my endurance was better, and people were seeing me happier and healthier. Besides seeing my trainer twice a week, I was doing spin classes and jogging when my kids were at school. My confidence was increasing.  So much so that I thought I could do a half marathon.  Nope, I don’t start with a 5 or 10 km race.  10 months after I started my journey I had completed a half marathon!  I had the bug. What else could I do?

I was feeling great. Exercising was the key to stress relief. I needed to keep going. I needed to keep setting goals for myself. When I wasn’t exercising I wasn’t happy.

The gym I attended was having an indoor triathlon.  Swim in the pool x 10 minutes, bike on the stationary bike x 30 minutes, and run on the treadmill x 20 minutes.  I could do that and see if I liked it.  Well that was the beginning of triathlons for me. I started to train towards a “real” outdoor sprint triathlon. Within 6 months I was ready for my first sprint. Since I didn’t even have a bike, I rented one from the local bike shop. I didn’t want to commit to buying a bike until I had actually done a real triathlon. Unfortunately, due to water conditions, it ended up being a duathlon.  By this point the Canadian triathlon season was over.   I was determined to do a “real” triathlon. It was going to be a goal for the next year, and in the meantime I would continue to train each discipline.

By the time the next spring rolled around I was in the shape I wanted to be in.  I had purchased a bike.  I had lost weight and I thought my conditioning just might be enough for an Olympic distance triathlon. Was I crazy?  I hadn’t even really done a triathlon.  Well as it would happen, our family vacation to Tennessee happened to coincide with an Olympic distance triathlon.  Truth be told, I think my husband planned this.  As it would happen I won my age group in that race. My first “real” triathlon, and I win my division.  This as it turns out qualified me for the US Nationals the following year.  What an experience that was.  What an incredible supportive group of athletes.  I haven’t turned back since.  This year, at the age of 50, I trained for a 70.3 Ironman. My first attempt resulted in a concussion on the swim from a kick to the head.  Having done the training I wasn’t going to let that be it. On my second attempt, 5 weeks later, I completed my first 70.3 Ironman.

I keep setting goals for myself. It keeps me going, and it keeps me healthy both mentally and physically.  People ask me how I do it. I tell them it gives me time, and space to myself. It’s my stress free zone.  My life is busy. I am coming up on my 17th year working full time in the ICU, 29 years in nursing.  I am still relatively new to triathlon, with just 4 years under my belt. My youngest is now in high school, and striving for independence. My older boys attend university and college. My husband is still by my side encouraging and supporting me with whatever I set out to do.

The “After’

Tamara was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She studied nursing at George Brown College in Toronto and has been an RN for 28 years, specializing in Critical Care for 26years. She has been married to her husband for 26years, who is also an RN. Together they have 3 boys.  When she is not training for triathlons she enjoys sunny vacations, family barbecues and jujubes. She has a secret passion for Veterinary Medicine. She is grateful to be surrounded by supportive and always cheering family and friends.


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