My LopeLife: Take a chance, ‘tri’ something new!

April 24, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

Matthew Penskaw (right) had some trepidation about trying out for the Triathlon team but learned to love it.

Editor’s note: My LopeLife is a feature in which GCU students, staff and alumni share enlightening experiences. To be considered for My LopeLife, please submit a short synopsis of your suggested topic to with “My LopeLife” in the subject field.

By Matthew Penksaw

On a chilly October morning at 7 a.m., I found myself questioning the legitimacy of Lake Pleasant’s name. Frigid lake water swirled around me and splashed against my face. Five, four, three, two, one. My head plunged beneath the surface and I struck out for a bright orange buoy along with a hundred other triathletes.

In the confusion of bodies and opacity of the dark water, I panicked — several times. Maybe I wouldn’t make it back to shore. What if I couldn’t swim to the buoy and back? I really didn’t want to pay a visit to the bottom of the lake. I wished I was back on land where I belonged. How did I get myself in this situation, anyway?

The story began seven months ago, along with my senior year of college at GCU. During the first week of school, one of my new roommates asked me if I wanted to check out the Triathlon Club with him. I thought I might as well give it a try.

I had spent the summer telling myself that I would go out for a run “sometime soon.” Here was the perfect opportunity, so I went to the club’s informational meeting with my roommate and signed up later that day. It was that simple: I just wanted to try something new.

Fast-forward through a few gallons of sweat and chlorine, and we arrive back at the scene of Lake Pleasant, my floundering body and my heartfelt desire not to become fish food. Thankfully, I managed to pull my mind together and complete the 650-meter swim. I flopped onto the cement boat ramp and jogged determinedly up the steep grade to my waiting bicycle.

After shoving a helmet on my head and shoes on my feet, I hopped onto my bike and whirled through the 12-mile ride. Then, I returned my bike to its resting place and struck out again, pounding the ground with my feet for 3 long miles. As I crossed the finish line I was cheered by the cluster of GCU Triathlon Club members who had finished before me.

At this time last year, I could not have imagined myself completing a triathlon. I would not have dreamed of entering one in the first place or of jumping into a rather murky lake for fun.

But I did those things. I have now completed four triathlons with the GCU Triathlon team. It has not been an easy journey, but it has been worth it.

The first few practices were especially rough. Stepping onto a track for the first time since elementary school was intimidating and resulted in days of soreness.

Biking wasn’t new since I grew up riding bicycles every now and again, but it was still a challenge. Then there was my weakest area and the cause for much anxiety: swimming. I had spent some time in the water as a child (beginning with the summer my parents enlisted my poor 6-year-old self in swim lessons), but I was unquestionably a dabbler, not a swimmer.

The only thing that carried me through these trials was the presence of my teammates and the patient guidance of my coaches. Now, it is inspiring to look back over the year and reflect on all the little moments of growth I have shared with them.

I have memories of waking up before the sun on race days, enjoying team dinners, running around campus and up and down parking garages, going on group bike rides to South Mountain and staying in the pool after swim sessions to postpone the inevitable moment we would have to exchange the heated water for the chilly air.

I am extraordinarily grateful for this last year of my education. I was able to explore a hobby that will help me stay fit. I also found a wonderful group of people to work alongside. Last, but not least, I learned not to take myself too seriously.

If I had my way, I would have been an Olympic level athlete by now. Sadly, life does not work that way. Many nights after practice I felt terrible about myself and my failure to make progress.

 I finally learned my lesson after banging my head against the metaphorical wall of my limited abilities too many times. I think we all go through episodes like this, where we expect too much (and think too highly) of ourselves.

There is a fine line between glorifying God in our pursuit of excellence and getting lost in our desires for success on our own terms. Through this experience, I have learned that it is best to work hard but retain the humility and excitement of a beginner, of someone who just wants to try something new.


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