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  • Mar

Learning the Lessons: Interview with Jessica Onines

Jessica Onines, this month's Body Physics Endurance Coaching Featured Athlete, is a mom of two and an IRONMAN. She is also a teacher with a passion for fitness, working as a Middle School English Teacher as well as a part-time fitness instructor at Lifetime Fitness. Perhaps it's no wonder that, during the interview, she shared several lessons she learned (or had to learn!) on her journey to the title of IRONMAN. Here they are.

Lesson #1: But First, Learn How to Swim.

As is frequently the case, Jessica began her Triathlon journey as a runner. Living on her own in her 20s, she was looking for something to do and settled on joining a gym. There, Jessica met several people who were runners; they ended up inviting her along for a long run one day and, so, she caught the running bug. She started running Marathons in 2007 and aimed to do at least one race a year; although, her record was running three in 2013. What’s ever more impressive is that she ran all three—Fox Valley, Chicago, and New York—within three weeks of each other.

When all her close friends started getting into Triathlons, Jessica decided to challenge herself as well — beginning with learning how to swim. Since she never swam before, her first time at the pool found her unable to complete even one length. But, undeterred, Jessica kept coming back. After two years of practicing, she finally felt that she had enough confidence to sign up for a Tri.

Jessica chose the Naperville Sprint Tri as her inaugural event. However, even with all her years of training, she ended up panicking while in the water. She recalls wanting to yell for help at the lifeguard but eventually got through the swim by standing on pylons and hanging on to the lane dividers. This experience taught her that she needed to practice swimming in race conditions and do more open water swims, which brings us to the next lesson.

Lesson #2: Train to Decrease Race Day Anxiety.

Jessica's pro tip: practice, practice, practice. For instance, she has found it helpful to ride the bike course before the race, especially when it is hilly. The route of IRONMAN Wisconsin, which Jessica completed in 2017, is famously "rolling" and the downhills can certainly be anxiety-inducing. Consequently, she rode the course at least five times before the race to work on her fear of crashing while speeding down the hills.

Jessica also recommends doing open water swims in different conditions to mimic possible race day circumstances. She recalls doing her first Half IRONMAN race (Steelhead) and having to deal with 3-4 ft swells. Luckily, she trained at Ohio Street Beach in Chicago which prepared her, physically and mentally, for the rough waters during the event. Jessica also advises swimming in a wetsuit often since it can be constrictive and could cause additional anxiety during a race. Lastly, getting in a practice swim at the event's location is vital. Jessica recounts a Sprint Tri earlier this year where the pre-race swim got canceled due to a storm. Without the opportunity to familiarize herself with the water, she ended up having a terrible panic attack and was not able to put her face in the water for the first 300 meters. She did finish but calls it one of her worst Triathlon experiences.

Lesson #3: Find your "Village."

Having a support team is vital!

To work on decreasing her open water swimming anxiety, Jessica also joined her local Master Swim Team as well the Oakwood Otters at the Oakwood Beach Club in Lake Zurich. She not only gets in her swim practices once a week but has also found support in her teammates. They are part of her "Village"—those encouraging and helping her on her journey. However, the most important member of her Village is her husband, Jesse. He not only provides race day support, but also takes care of their two small children, a 4-year-old Maddison, and a 1-year-old Owen, while Jessica trains. Because Jesse is a runner himself, and works on Saturdays, the couple tends to switch off doing long runs on Sundays so they can both get their training in. Luckily, Jesse's mother is available for help occasionally as well, so they are sometimes able to run together.

Jessica also includes Coach Tom in her Village. She credits him with being able to balance her Triathlon training with family and work responsibilities. She was able to complete the IRONMAN while Maddie was two because of his help, and the frequent indoor training sessions he incorporated into her routine to accommodate her schedule. He also keeps her more accountable by providing her with individualized workouts that are difficult to ignore and skip!

Lesson #4: Find a Routine that Works for You.

So how does Jessica manage to get all her training in while working two jobs and taking care of two little ones? She has managed to establish a routine that works for her and sets her up for success. As a morning person, Jessica prefers to wake up at 5 am to get her training in before Jesse leaves for work at 6:30 am. She feels that accomplishing her workout first, allows her to be more productive during the remainder of her day. Since she is pulled in so many directions as a teacher and then in the evenings at home, she operates from the standpoint, "it's now or never!"

IRONMAN Wisconsin completed!

The training also helps her stay sane and handle the daily chaos of kids and work. But that's not to say it's always easy. Preparation for an IRONMAN is a challenge no matter the routines or support. Jessica recalls that she cried after finishing the Half IRONMAN Muncie this year because it took so much to get her there. To cross that finish line meant lots of sacrifices and early hours for this supermom. However, her perseverance and determination serve as a fantastic example for her kiddos. In fact, Jessica is considering another IRONMAN race in 2021 to not only celebrate her 40th birthday but to also show them how important it is to work hard to achieve one's goals.

Lesson #5: Compromise

After crushing her goals, including multiple Halves and a full IRONMAN she never thought was possible, Jessica feels like it's time to step back for a bit. She would like to focus on doing a few local Tris next year so she can support her husband's running goals. It's his turn to have some fun!


Written by: Marta Dolan

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