I grew up in Downers Grove, IL, a suburb of Chicago, playing every sport available. I wasn’t naturally inclined toward anything that involved a ball (I’m still not!), but the minute I was tossed into the shallow end of the pool, I rose to the surface. I have this memory of starting swim lessons when I was four years old and “graduating” all the way to the deep end in the very first lesson. After that, swimming became my sport and the pool became my home.
In 1988, at age 16, I qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100 meter breaststroke in Austin, TX. I remember warming up in the recovery pool and Matt Biondi jumped in my lane just after he broke another record. I was in awe. It was then that I first felt gratitude for the gifts my body had given me. I didn’t make the Olympic team that day, but I became a highly recruited college athlete, and six years later I graduated from Yale University which was officially the end of my swimming career, and the beginning of the next chapter.
With a degree in sociology from one of the best colleges in the country, but no idea what I wanted to do with it, I wandered back to Chicago for a little soul-searching. It was the first time in my life that I felt the seeds of depression, because it was the first time that I didn’t have a purpose every day. I wasn’t told to wake up at 5:30am, jump in the water at 6, eat, go to class, show up for 3pm practice, eat more (and holy cow could I eat!), study, repeat. Without that structure, I felt aimless. I realized then how important it would be for me to keep my mind and body connected as I navigated these times of uncertainty.
I didn’t settle on my lifelong career during that time, but I did conceive a new mantra, something that continues to form that foundation for my life.
“When my body is fit and strong, my mind is fitter and stronger too.”
Armed with the knowledge that I would find a way to include fitness in my life, I decided to explore a new sport while waiting tables and working temp jobs – the sport of triathlon. In 1995, while flying down to Cancun, Mexico for the ITU World Championships, I got lucky. The cutest guy on the plane sat next to me. His name was Tim DeBoom. As it turned out, he felt lucky too. We were married a year later on December 28, 1996.
Together we pursued the triathlon lifestyle for many years. I turned pro in 1999 and started winning races. Tim was already a young phenom when we met in 1995 and he later went on to win the Hawaii Ironman World Championships in 2001 and 2002. (Tim was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2015). I loved my life as a pro triathlete, but I knew in my heart that something else was waiting for me, something that would change my world, and just possibly, the world of many others too.
In 2003, on a training run in Lyons, Colorado, I glimpsed my reflection in a storefront window and I had three thoughts.
1) I look like a boy in my unflattering men’s clothing.
2) I am totally uninspired.
3) I just want to feel pretty. What’s wrong with that?!
I cut my run short that day, sprinted home and started scribbling notes for what would later become my company, Skirt Sports. I wanted to turn the women’s fitness clothing market upside down and create something that had never been done before: a running skirt. My goal was to inspire and motivate myself and other women who couldn’t find what they wanted in the market. I wore a prototype of the first ever running skirt during the 26.2 mile marathon at the end of the 2004 Ironman Wisconsin – and won the race! I knew as I crossed the line wearing that crazy little swatch of red mesh fabric that I was going to do it. I was going to start a clothing company and help inspire other women to get out the door too.
I founded Skirt Sports three days later, on September 15, 2004 and didn’t look back. Most days I feel perfectly aligned with my passion and purpose. But there are some days when I struggle, when I wake up and I can’t remember what I was supposed to do that day. Those are the days that need to go outside and move my body, to reconnect to that mantra I uncovered so many years before. Even at 45 years old my mantra still holds true: when my body is fit and strong, my mind is fitter and stronger too.
Written by Nicole DeBoom, http://nicoledeboom.com/