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Cristal didn’t think she was any good at sport as a kid. Now she’s a triathlete



Cristal Jones never thought she’d be able to complete a triathlon — she had grown up believing she simply fit into the “non-sporty” category of people and hated it.

Getting to the finish line of her first triathlon this weekend was a lot of work for the 37-year-old, who has had a number of health challenges in the past few years.

Those challenges included overcoming intracranial hypertension — excess fluid in the brain — and reversing insulin resistance with a 30-kilogram weight loss.

She also suffered from depression and anxiety. 

“I never in my life thought I could be a triathlete, but with a little bit of grit and determination and commitment to training I got here,” she said.

Intensive training also a form of self-care

Ms Jones (pictured third from right) was supported by her teammates in the group Females in Training (FiT) ACT.(
ABC News: Supplied

For the eight weeks leading up to Sunday’s Try a Tri event, Ms Jones underwent a “gruelling” and “intensive” training program with plenty of early mornings thrown in.

And although training for a 200-metre swim, nine-kilometre bike ride and two-kilometre run was tough, she admitted most of the work had been mental.

But despite the challenges — and the ever-present temptation to hit snooze on an early morning alarm — she just kept on getting up, even likening it to a form of self-care.

“I’ve never once regretted making a training session — it really set me up for the day,” Ms Jones said.

“After years of looking after the kids and running after them and running a household and trying to work and balance everything, I neglected myself.

“And I realised for my own physical and mental wellbeing, I needed to focus on me and feel like I am still my own person.”

Breaking the generational cycle

Women in swimsuits stand on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin after a swim.

For the past eight weeks, Ms Jones (far left) has been training with the group Females in Training ACT. (
ABC News: Cristal Jones

Ms Jones was partly motivated by a desire to show her daughters they could do anything they set their minds to.

“A big motivator for me was to normalise exercise to my girls,” she said.

“It’s something when I was growing up that we didn’t have. You had the sporty kids and the non-sporty kids and I was in the non-sporty category.

“So I never thought I could run, never thought I could cycle. I want to be a role model for them to know that they can do whatever you want to do.”

Putting herself out there has already paid dividends — one of her daughters has already completed a fun run, and both have been so inspired by their mum’s efforts that they say they also want to complete a triathlon one day.

“They can learn to lead healthy lives [and] know that if they work towards something they can, you know, achieve it,” she said.

“It’s not about winning, it’s about finishing.

“If their daggy old mum can achieve it, they can too.”

Ms Jones did not just achieve her goal of finishing, though, she came in a very impressive ninth out of 34 in the Super Sprint category. 

Bigger goals ahead

Ms Jones has already decided she will continue to train and has set herself a goal of completing a longer triathlon in Huskisson on the New South Wales South Coast in February next year.

She is part of a group called Females in Training (FiT), which welcomes women of any fitness ability — including those with no experience at all. 

Triathlon coach Cath Spratley said she often saw people joining the group who were in their 30s and 40s, or women who might not have done any exercise since having kids or having a break, as well as people from all kinds of backgrounds.

“We get people coming in … they can’t run further than a few metres, they can barely swim … they might just be able to ride a bike,” she explained.

“We get them running two kilometres, swimming 200 metres and cycling nine kilometres in one go.”

Ms Spratley said the women they trained found it easier to keep showing up because of the supportive, team-based environment.

“They need that structured training program … but the thing FiT is great at is the social aspect,” she said.

“These are your friends for life.”

A woman runs in the bush, wearing a drinks vest, sunglasses and a numbered bib, indicating she is competing in a race.

Exercise physiologist Kirra Rankin says it’s important to avoid injury when trying out new sports or exercise a little later in life. (Supplied)

Fitness is for everyone: exercise physiologist 

Returning to exercise after having children or picking it up as an adult is a growing trend, exercise physiologist Kirra Rankin said. 

She said Mrs Jones’s’ mission to empower her girls by being active was an important one. 

“Half of our kids aren’t getting enough physical activity, research shows,” she said. 

“The greatest way for our kids to get moving more is to be role-modelled by the people they love and respect and see everyday.”

But Ms Rankin cautioned against going too hard and too fast with a return to sport later in life, noting it could lead to injury.

“A coach is really important when you’re doing a new sport,” she said. 

“The biggest thing when you get older is to make sure you warm up properly.

“You’re not 13 anymore … you can’t just run out like you used to.”

But her biggest piece of advice is to make sure you enjoy whatever form of activity you decide to pick up.

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