by Hannah Hawkinson
After suffering a stroke in June 2016, Karen Voris thought participating in a triathlon would be a thing of the past.
Voris, who serves on Women of the ELCA’s executive board, has competed in the Alaskan Gold Nugget Triathlon “on and off” since 1986.
“Some years I am able to train for it more than others,” she said. “But no matter how my training has gone, I know it will be a fun time.”
Women of all ages and abilities are encouraged to participate in the spring event, which attracts 1,500 athletes to Anchorage each year. Voris, of Eagle River, Alaska, said, “The race draws women back year after year because it’s open to everyone and it reaches out to every kind of woman.”
So too does Raising Up Healthy Women and Girls, Women of the ELCA’s health and wellness initiative, seek to reach and include all women regardless of age and ability. The initiative aims to promote healing and wholeness in the church, society and world by investing in women’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health with a particular focus on heart disease and stroke. Through education, sharing and advocacy, Women of the ELCA seeks to help women understand, care for and celebrate their bodies.
Getting to the starting line
In that spirit, Voris decided to train for the 2018 Gold Nugget Triathlon alongside her friend Mary, who was also struggling with medical issues that limited her training. In addition to the lingering effects of the stroke, Voris dealt with Peroneus Brevis Enthesopathy, an inflammation in her foot, while Mary suffered from knee and shoulder injuries.
“Sometimes getting to the start line is the hardest thing to do,” said Voris. “But we both said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this! We can do it!’”
Voris said that endurance is the foundation not only of her training regimen but of her faith. “My faith journey, like my training journey, has had its ups and downs,” she said. “There are good days and bad days. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.”
“My faith journey, like my training journey, has had its ups and downs. There are good days and bad days. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.” – Karen Voris
Swim training challenging
Training for the swimming portion proved especially challenging for Voris, as two of her sisters had drowned in a canoeing accident several years ago. “The first few times I got in the pool, I had a slight panic attack,” Voris explains. “All of those memories came back to me, so I prayed that I could keep it together. My goal wasn’t to be the fastest – it was to finish.”
Relying on her faith and a supportive group of friends, Voris continued to train. And sure enough, she finished the triathlon, but not without some battle scars.
“Little did I know that by the end of the triathlon this year I would have two broken ribs from when I was dropped while being helped out of the pool,” Voris said. “I did, however, make all three of my goals – the start line, the finish line and the food line!”
“Each day I give thanks that I can continue to be active,” Voris said. “I continue to be amazed at how resilient my body is. Although I frequently take for granted just how amazing and adaptive my body is, it is my constant companion and carries many seen and unseen scars. I will continue to challenge myself each day to celebrate everything my body does well, channeling my energy into gratitude.”
Hannah Hawkinson is an intern for Gather magazine and a master of divinity candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.
Photo of Karen Voris, right, and her friend Mary