Taking risks and stepping outside of one's comfort zone, whether going to college, traveling to a foreign country or competing in a triathlon for the first time, can bring rewards that exceed any possible dream or expectation.
Karen Durkin, dean of Institutional Research at Rowan College at Gloucester County, provides a prime example of such courage. If someone had asked her two years ago if she would ever compete in a triathlon, she would have laughed at the thought, since she considered herself a "couch potato." Yet if asked today, Durkin would still chuckle because she completed the full-distance Challenge triathlon in Atlantic City.
"I am still surprised that I registered let alone finished the race," said Durkin, who did it in a time of 16:23:52. The full-distance 140.6 mile triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile marathon run.
Durkin became intrigued by the Challenge triathlon after a friend completed the event. Compelled to learn more, Durkin watched the Ironman "Anything is Possible" YouTube video, which further sparked her curiosity. The video was so inspiring it begged the question, "Can I do this?" In that moment, she made it her mission to compete in the triathlon and cross the finish line.
First, Durkin had to convince her coach Jason Kilderry, an alumnus of Gloucester County College and Rowan University, that she was ready to put in the hard work and train despite being a "newbie" to the world of triathlons. Kilderry, founder of ETA Coach, expressed his initial concerns about overuse and injury while training for such a high caliber competition. He designed a personalized plan for Durkin to prevent either from happening.
"It is vital to focus on the individual and be specific versus 'cookie-cutter' to help people succeed," said Kilderry, who is currently pursuing a master's degree in Exercise Science. "I encourage my clients to train in small amounts instead of going to the extreme right away."
When training began in November 2013, Kilderry wanted Durkin to stay consistent with her workouts because the key to success is long-term development. The former cross country athlete knew that Durkin would need to train incrementally to build her strength and then endurance.
As a dean, Durkin channeled her goal-oriented nature to her training. She made small goals every step of the way, such as finishing each workout, to ultimately crossing the finish line. Durkin also became self-sufficient and "mentally tough" in order to endure the challenges of the triathlon.
"My attitude changed over time from 'I want to do it' to 'I can do it,'" said Durkin. "Training was difficult, but no one ever said it would be easy."
"Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens," said Kilderry.
Throughout her training, Durkin felt very fortunate to have a "support team" helping her along the way comprised of her coach and personal trainer, training partner Chris Armstrong — an alumna of the College's Nursing program — and her husband, John. Knowing that her RCGC co-workers were supportive gave her more confidence in her ability to compete.
"Everyone's training is different," said Durkin. "Some people are able to do it themselves without a coach, but from my experience with Jason, having a coach was so helpful and motivating."
When the day of the triathlon came on June 29, Durkin felt fired up and prepared. Despite seeing some participants get discouraged and not finish the race, Durkin kept fighting to the finish line. She achieved her ultimate goal by completing all three parts of the triathlon before the 17-hour time limit. She is still in awe that she was able to conquer the challenge in little more than 16 hours.
"I can't believe that I did it," said Durkin. "All of that training was worth it."
As Durkin reflects on her experience, she equates it to succeeding in college. Students must make a plan and stick to it to reach their end goal of graduating. She adds that academic advisors, like coaches, are able to instill confidence in students' success. Durkin also suggests that students stay in contact with their academic advisor throughout their time at RCGC to help stay on track.
Going forward Durkin will focus on running. In February, she will participate in the two-day Goofy Challenge in Disney World, which is a half marathon followed by a full marathon. It is "just for fun" in Durkin's mind. Then on to her next big race, the Ironman full-distance triathlon, in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Sept. 27.
"Training for a triathlon parallels succeeding in college," said Durkin. "There are a lot of variables that can discourage people from finishing, but in the end you have to keep going to reach your goal."