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Healthiest Person I Know: Janette Dawson

Janette Dawson

Janette Dawson, RN, MHA, ACM, celebrated her 50th birthday by completing the Arizona Ironman.

Janette Dawson, RN, MHA, ACM, director of Case Management at Torrance Memorial, completed the Arizona Ironman competition on November 28, 2012 (140.6 miles of pure endurance—2.4-mile open-water swim, 112-mile bike ride followed by a full 26.2-mile marathon) to celebrate her 50th birthday. She is the ultimate hard worker, putting everything she can into each part of her life. Work/life balance is important to Dawson, who admits it can be challenging at the best of times.

“But I believe that if you enjoy your work and where you work, your personal life and work/life balance is much easier to balance and you become a happier person. I have that at Torrance Memorial Medical Center,” she says.

Striking this balance played a crucial role in allowing Dawson to train for and complete the Arizona Ironman. A major bonus: the support she had at work through her triathlon training with co-workers who had similar goals and the inspiration from Torrance Memorial’s senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, John McNamara, MD, who also completed an Ironman.

PULSE: What initially sparked your interest in triathlons?

Janette Dawson (JD): I have been athletic since I can remember, and I like challenging myself, pushing the limits and seeing how far I can get. I try to set goals that force me to work hard and stay on track physically as well as keeping me in shape as long as I can.

I grew up in the South Bay—surfing, running (10 marathons), playing beach volleyball, but I never really thought about doing triathlons. My feeling was that triathlons were for real athletes, not casual, after-work sportspersons like me.

When I started working at Torrance Memorial, I met Chris Bitcon. We started talking about running and races, and he invited me to do a triathlon. I agreed, while not realizing what I was getting into. And before I knew it, I was out training with him and my husband, Adam, for the Hermosa Beach TRI 2010.

Janette Dawson

PULSE: Which parts of triathlons are most challenging for you?

JD: The challenge for me was the bike. I had never ridden a road bike (only stand cruisers). Chris and Adam took me on my first road biking excursion (it was hilarious). I got so much grief! But they patiently showed me the ropes, and before I knew it, I was in the race, transitioning to my bike (still a bit panicked). But I finished and loved it! I did seven more triathlons, a half Ironman and an aqua bike in the 16 months following Hermosa.

PULSE: What made you step it up to complete an Ironman?

JD: It was a natural progression as I keep “upping the ante,” so to speak. If I can do a sprint triathlon, I can do an Olympic triathlon, and then a half Ironman, and why not attempt a full Ironman?

I did some investigating, and at the triathlon races I met many new friends and also ran into some of my old surfing buddies and schoolmates who had completed an Ironman. It was a crazy idea at first, but the more I talked to people who completed an Ironman, the more the idea didn’t seem so ridiculous.

With the encouragement of Adam, Chris and my friend Bill MacLeod, a two-time Kona Ironman finisher, I finally signed up for the AZ Ironman 2012.

PULSE: What was your overall training like?

JD: Swim, bike, run. It’s your laundry that tells it all. I wore only work clothes and workout clothes every day. “Just put your shoes on” became my mantra. At the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, I kept telling myself, “Just put your shoes on.” Once I got them on my feet, I knew I could get it done. Working full-time and training 20 hours a week can be tough. If I was tired, if it was cold, dark, windy, hot, whatever … just put your shoes on and get out there!

About two months into the training, I was about to throw in the towel. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how I was going to complete this race, because it was too daunting a task. I reached out to Bill, who steered me in the right direction and got me “out of my head.” He introduced me to an Ironman coach named Ian Mikelson. Coach Ian put a plan together for me, and I was in full training mode again with a better attitude and my goal in sight with six months to go. I put my head down and never looked back.

Janette Dawson

PULSE: What were your eating habits like during training?

JD: Everyone will tell you that I eat really healthy. I believe you are what you eat, so I eat fruits, veggies, whole wheat and whole grains. I drink tons of fluids: Gatorade, water, tea … I love tea! However, sometimes I can’t resist the chocolate cookies at Jared’s Café here at work. They are delicious.

Race week, I stay away from breads, packaged or processed foods (which is good advice all the time.) I eat avocado, sweet potatoes, eggs, fish. (I don’t eat red meat ever.) During the race, I eat what I call “real” food. Many triathletes eat GU, PowerBars, gels, chomps, etc. I eat potatoes (baked, loaded), sandwiches, Kind bars, nuts. This is not the typical diet during a race, and I get some laughs until I start eating. Then everyone looks a bit jealous as they choke down their 20th GU. When you are out there for 10 to 15 hours, real food tastes great.

PULSE: What was it like to finish the race?

JD: Our training group knows the pain, sacrifice and discipline it took to get us to that start line. The start of the Ironman is incredible: 3,000 of us treading water that’s about 60 degrees for 15 minutes before the gun goes off. It’s a violent start. Chris, Adam and I started together; however, during the race, we went at our own pace. So we did not finish together, but that was no matter. Once you hear those words “You are an Ironman,” you are in that club for life. There is a bond and understanding of what that means. They were there for me at the finish supporting me … literally. I was stumbling a bit, and they held me up—one on each side of me. That’s true support and teamwork! They were holding me up, and they were just as exhausted as I was. What great guys!

PULSE: What is your next goal?

JD: I am doing two half Ironman [races] this year: one in Puerto Rico and one in Miami. I am contemplating the Western Australia Ironman in 2014 (YIKES!) Here we go again!

PULSE: What’s your favorite spot in the South Bay to get in a great workout?

JD: My favorite places to run are the trails in PV and on the sand in Redondo. I swim in Redondo in the summertime and at South End in the winter. I love riding PV; it’s beautiful.

PULSE: When you aren’t training, what’s your favorite spot in the South Bay to relax?

JD: The beach, of course—at sunrise and sunset—to take a minute to reflect. I highly recommend it!

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