I’m a medical anthropologist by education, a public health policy “wonk” by trade and recently, among other things, I’ve added thinking-about-being-a -triathlete to my list of labels. I emphasize the “thinking about” aspect of this label as to date I’ve only competed in one triathlon and only have another two lined-up for this coming season. In just a year there is so much I have learned about this new sport and new “culture” and it has provided yet another lens to view my day-to-day work through.
As a swimmer “since birth” it’s not a huge surprise that I was drawn in my late 20s to triathlon. Some might say that having a strong background in swimming – swam competitively through graduate school – gives me an edge, since swimming is the weakest and most daunting leg for most triathletes. I’d beg to differ. Yes, I don’t really worry about my swimming and could complete 1500m practically in my sleep if I wanted to. But I know how much swimming can hurt, how your arms and lungs burn at the end of a race and how terrifying the anticipation of that feeling can be. Cycling is still a fun (if not slightly terrifying) novelty to me and running I’ve just gotten to the point of no longer hating. I am still relatively naïve to the sports of cycling and running, but swimming, swimming I know.
Having explicit knowledge and experience about one area of work and not others while working within a broader discipline is a common theme within my day-to-day in public health. I work with tobacco experts, nutrition experts, physical activity experts, global health and domestic health experts, economists, statisticians, etc. And I am somehow stuck in the middle of them all, combining all the various nuggets of evidence and experience to produce a coherent, multi-faceted outcome. It seems I work in one of the multi-sports of public health.
Like with triathlon, I’ve come to international public health policy with a background of experience in one particular sub-discipline – medical anthropology. And like with triathlon, I’ve had to work to gain both competency, confidence and endurance in a variety of new sub-disciplines and topic areas. I am comfortable with an anthropological framework yet know its limitations, like in the pool, and I’m slowly but surely (and sometimes awkwardly) gaining a working knowledge of those other areas. And then somehow, combining it all together into a single – hopefully successful – result.
There are a lot of things I like about triathlon… Its dynamic; it lends itself well to my over-organized tendencies; and it has been very welcoming and supportive of beginners to the sports.
There are, however, some aspects of the sport that I haven’t fully embraced… It is expensive – by no standard measure is triathlon an easily accessible sport (financially); there seem to be underlying themes around body image, weight and diet; and of course, the running.
I have evolving feelings about public health too and like with any multi-discipline endeavor, it’s all about balancing your strengths and weaknesses, often trying something new and then maybe, trying to piece it all together.
Image: Author’s own. Getting the season started with a swim – Windsor, UK. June 2013.