The Ironman Newbie: Vicki Chernin

Vicki Chernin, of Boca Raton, Fla., is a 53-year-old grandmother and an active Ironman athlete. She tells her story of going from overweight to fit while caring for her grandchildren and shares how she morphed into a triathlete in her 50s.

Vicki 2I did my first full Ironman in Kentucky in August 2012. There was something about watching the World Championships that just touched me; I couldn’t watch without crying and feeling the emotions of the race. (I know now that when I cry watching something, I’m doomed!) I’m now a short three weeks away from Ironman Texas and really looking forward to it. I can’t believe – two full Ironman races in less than a year!

You see, 2 short years ago, I was 200 pounds, taking 8 Hydrocodone per day to handle back pain from 2 herniated disks and 2 failed surgeries. I actually walked with a cane many days. My daughter and baby granddaughter moved in with my husband and me, and I started taking care of my granddaughter at night while my daughter attended school. I didn’t know what to do with an 8-month-old baby, so I put her in the stroller and started walking. After a couple of weeks of walking, I realized that it was the only time of the day that I was actually pain free. I kept walking and started losing weight – initially, not meaning to.

I hit a weight loss plateau after losing 60 pounds, so I started running between light poles. My husband said we should get on the bikes and ride. At first I couldn’t even go up a small hill in my neighborhood; but eventually I worked up to 18 miles on my bike, and loved the feeling.

Next my husband suggested a sprint triathlon. Well, I figured I couldn’t drown in a 400-yard swim, and I could ride my bike 10 miles; and if I couldn’t run 3 miles, I could walk it – so I signed up for the Huntington Disease Tri and placed 4th in age group in my first triathlon! The next couple of years I competed in only sprint triathlons; then I built up the courage to do the Olympic distance, then a half-Ironman in Augusta, Ga., where my mom and brother live. I didn’t think I could ever do a full Ironman; I was in complete awe of those who did. But I live in the land of overachievers and became friends with people who competed in Ironman races. I figured if they could, I could.

This year, I’m racing on a women’s cycling team that has elevated my cycling ability. I race time trials and road races, and did my first crit this year. I ride a Specialized Transition and a Specialized Ruby Pro. I’m very comfortable on the Transition (even though my back still gives me fits some days). I use Infinit for my fuel, and have changed the formula a few times trying to eliminate cramping during longer sessions.

I have no real preference on clothing, other than a thin chamois. I use Assos for my chamois cream. I was sponsored via the last couple of years, as well as Odwalla year before last, CLIF last year and TeamKidZone this year.

Vicki 3As for my family, my kids are grown. I have a 31-year-old son (a pilot for American Airlines, which helps me get to races!) and a 29-year-old daughter. I am grandmother to 2 girls, ages 7 and 3. My grandkids know about a healthy lifestyle because of their grandma; during the run portion of Ironman Kentucky last year, I wore a shirt that said, “Run like a Grandma”! I give many thanks to my daughter, as she babysits my 6 rescue dogs when I travel, and HUGE thanks to my husband – I could not do it all without his support.

When it comes to racing, the mental part is easy. In my heavy training period, I’m either in the gym by 5:00 am or on the road running by 5:30. I like to run to my granddaughter’s school to walk her to class in the morning. Her teachers, faculty and friends all know her grandma is an Ironman, so that pushes me even more. I’m setting an example.

The biggest struggle I have mentally is swimming in a 25-yard pool…but as I’m talking to myself, trying to battle the “It’s okay to skip out early”, I think of my ultimate goal of finishing in a good time. If I follow the plan, things fall in place. I don’t want to disappoint myself. I also have many people in my family that are obese and unhealthy, and they need me to push them. I think of my dad during training (and the cramps during an IM), who passed away 23 years ago; he would be so incredibly proud. He’s watching me.

I own a bookkeeping business. When it comes to budgeting for races, I do budget for at least one full per year. I just stash away a few dollars here, a few dollars there, and it adds up! My 86-year-old mom has also contributed.

I recently had an MRI of my back….I have four herniated disks, a torn disk, slipped disk, stenosis, and quite a bit of arthritis in my back and my hips. Every now and then I take a Celebrex, but prefer to try to eat a very clean, anti-inflammatory diet. I’ve cut out red meat, most dairy and a lot of wheat. I’m very careful as to what I put in my body, as it can affect my arthritis.

I could not imagine not having my athletic goals…I want to be one of the 80-year-old ladies still racing!Vicki 1

Tips for the Newbie Ironman

1. Follow a plan.

2. Eat for fuel.

3. Keep peddling.

4. Make sure you get enough sleep.

5. Thank your family and supporters, and let them know how important they are to your success!


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