THRIVE is a public school alternate program designed to enable kids with learning disabilities to build their skills and experience success.

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Written by THRIVE Program Teacher, Tyson Schoeber • Last Updated: 09-21-2014

My eldest son joined a fabulous youth triathlon program several years ago. Watching him develop skills, gain confidence and find success there inspired me to set a goal for myself last September — to compete in a triathlon of my own within a year.

In a triathlon, participants swim, bike and run long distances with only a brief period of transition between each segment of the race. The event I entered included a 750 meter swim, twenty kilometers of cycling and five kilometers of running. While it was hard, I did it — completing the race in about 99 minutes. Better still, the process of achieving this goal has taught me a few things that I'm sure will impact my teaching in the months and years ahead.


I saw this goal as much more than a physical challenge right from the very beginning. For example, I'd already been working on the development of our new Challenge Center for more than a year by that point. It's general shape and purpose was already clear and I knew that challenging myself to do something hard would be a great way to model the kinds of attitudes and efforts I wanted this new initiative to develop in my students.

As I began training for my triathlon, I knew that I had a couple of strengths I would be able to build upon. I could already swim pretty well and I'd always enjoyed cycling. In those areas, improving my technique and building the stamina I needed would be the main challenge. Yet I also had to admit that the run would be the hardest part for me. I've never really enjoyed running and I'd also suffered injuries while running in the past. Moreover, the run comes at the very end of the race, after all of the swimming and cycling is done. I had my work cut out for me!


In tackling any major goal, there are all kinds of things that can go wrong. One lesson I learned is to try to anticipate those obstacles — and to develop strategies for overcoming them. In my case, I found that having the right tools was crucial to my success. Keeping a diary of what I was eating helped me to lose 16 pounds during my training. A step counter, an intervals timer and a GPS app kept my training on track. Regular stretching and yoga helped to prevent injuries. These kinds of supports were critical to my success. Without them, I probably would have failed — just as I'd often failed to keep previous resolutions or achieve other goals at various times in my life.

Along these lines, I was reminded that we see kids make the most academic progress when we teach them strategies for success 1 — and provide the tools, training and feedback they need to learn those skills well. There are no short cuts or quick fixes in life.


I was also reminded that it's essential to break big challenges into small, manageable pieces. Learning to run long distances demanded starting with one minute intervals and building up gradually. Improving my speed and skills in the water meant spending many, many hours in the pool over the past year — often alone.

I took my commitment seriously and worked very hard on my training. I cycled up and down big hills, over and over again. I ran when it was raining — and even once when it was snowing! I swam longer and longer distances, as much as two kilometers in a single practice.

Whether it be completing a triathlon or helping a dyslexic child improve their reading skills, I've realized that it's easy to get overwhelmed by problems unless we make a determined effort to break them down into parts that we can handle.


All my efforts paid off and I have to admit that the work got easier as the months went by. At one point during the cycling portion of my race, I vividly recall thinking, This is easy! Yet as that thought bounced around in my brain, it evolved into something a little deeper: This is easy because you were so well prepared! You can trust in your training!

final thoughts

It came to me that a lot of the kids that I've worked with over the years have had to work just as hard to develop their reading and writing skills as I did to complete a triathlon. I get that now, at a deeper level and in a way that I don't think I ever did before.

Of course, participating in sports can teach all kinds of valuable life lessons. I could easily write more about the support of my family, friends and fitness coach during the past year. I could spend more time exploring the connections between this personal goal and my day-to-day teaching. Be that as it may, I'm glad that I challenged myself in this way and I think the experience will make me a better teacher, too.


1    This website is filled with information about the kinds of tools and strategies we've found work for kids with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Please feel free to look around and to contact me if you have questions.