Colonial Manor resident goes from fitness zero to hero

Colonial Manor resident goes from fitness zero to hero
Rachel Shrader, left, and another ambassador give the thumbs up after finishing the Fintro 10-kilometer City of Gent race.

It was never on Rachel Shrader’s bucket list to compete in a triathlon. 

The 59-year-old Colonial Manor resident was not a jogger or a cyclist and as a native Floridian, the only swimming she had ever done was to take a dip in the ocean or splash around in a pool. However, on January 6, 2019, as she eyed her approaching 60th birthday, she had what would become a life-changing epiphany.

“I realized life is short. Life is amazing. Why not make it the best possible experience while we are on this earth?” she said. “For me that meant feeling better, feeling stronger, and feeling healthier, so that I can be around for my children as long as I possibly can.”

At the beginning of this year, she had made a resolution to work out with her neighbors, run 5K and 15K races, and observe “dry” alcohol-free January, when, as fate would have it, an email came to her at work saying it was time to apply to be an ambassador in her company’s Win4Youth program.

In 2010, Shrader’s employer, The Adecco Group, started its Win4Youth program to raise money for youth charities through inviting employees, associates and clients to clock up kilometers and minutes exercising to raise money for its global charity partner, Plan International. Over the past decade, the program has raised nearly $2.8 million. 

Rachel Shrader rides her bike during boot-camp training in Gent, Belgium.
Rachel Shrader rides her bike during boot-camp training in Gent, Belgium.

Each year for the past decade, the company has selected a group of employees and associates to become Win4Youth ambassadors and live a life-changing experience by assisting them through coaching and training to take part in a major sporting event. In the past the ambassadors have competed in the New York Marathon, the Garmin Barcelona Triathlon, the Athens Classic Marathon, the Col du Tourmalet Cycle Climb and the Gavá Triathlon in Spain among others. This year, the event will be the Win4Youth Triathlon, powered by Ocean Lava, on Saturday, October 26 in Lanzarote, Spanish Canary Islands.

As a director of corporate real estate for Adecco North America, Shrader, who has worked for Adecco nine years, had received notice of the program each year and never considered it, but this year was different. “It was the age-old question, ‘Why not now? Why not me?” she said. “I didn’t have any pressing (medical) issues, but I had let myself go, and I certainly didn’t feel healthy and wasn’t happy where I was. Doing it would be the motivation to see what I could accomplish. It was a beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once I was selected, I was just over the moon.”

To be part of the program, Shrader submitted her application in March, which was evaluated on the basis of team spirit, entrepreneurship through organizing an event, responsibility through fundraising for a cause, motivation and passion, and customer centricity, putting the people you support first. This year 76 ambassadors were selected from Adecco’s 5,000 world-wide branches with three, including Shrader, coming from its corporate office in Jacksonville.

“They look for people for whom this will be a life-changing event. That certainly was my situation because not only have I never done a triathlon, I’d never run before, never ridden a bike competitively or even just for exercise, and I’d definitely never swam before – not in high school or in college. It was just a whole new thing for me to try to do.”

Shrader raised $1,050 by raffling off a sit/stand desk to her work colleagues as her fundraiser and planned a Win4Youth walk for her office mates, so they could rack up kilometers by walking a half-mile loop around the office complex. Globally all Adecco employees have a goal of logging 10 million kilometers collectively through swimming, biking, running and walking this year. In reaching the goal, the company plans to donate at least 500,000 Euros ($557,389) to Plan International to support its youth employment and youth economic empowerment project, Fit for the Future.

In May, Shrader joined the other ambassadors at a week-long boot camp in Belgium, where they trained eight hours a day, while being coached in swimming, cycling and running techniques, nutrition and diet tips. Each received a customized training program derived from a bicycle stress test to determine maximum heart rate and a body scan. They also took part in a mini-triathlon – 87% of the 76 participants had never competed in one – and a 10K road race before going home.

Rachel Shrader practices the swim portion of her triathlon training at Jacksonville Beach.
Rachel Shrader practices the swim portion of her triathlon training at Jacksonville Beach.

“It was intense, but everybody made it through with flying colors,” Shrader said, noting that although she is the oldest participant in the program, she was not dead last in either event. “They have an incredible program that will get us in the best possible shape for Oct. 26 as long as we follow it.”

When Shrader started working out in January, prior to being accepted into the program, she had difficulty finishing the Donna 5K run in February and the 15K Gate River Run in March. She found the only way she was able to cross the finish line in each race was to run a minute and then walk a minute repeatedly. “During the race, it was the recovery period I was looking forward to. I had never run before, and I was really bad at it,” she said, noting that prior to the Belgium bootcamp, she’d invested six weeks in a “Tri with Skye” triathlon program to prepare.

In mid-July, with 15 weeks left to train, she can easily run 45 minutes without a break and her swimming endurance has increased from 25 meters (one length of the pool) to 500 meters without stopping. “It just blows me away,” she said. “I never, in a million years, would have imagined I could do it. I’m like a walking science experiment. What you put into it, if you understand the training process, really works.”

Each week her coach emails her a six-day training schedule and advice. She is responsible to follow it to the letter and log her mileage online. 

For training, she routinely does three to four mile runs back and forth along Old San Jose Boulevard near her home, swims laps at the YMCA in Riverside, and does long-distance bike treks along the Baldwin Trail. So far, she has lost 20 pounds and toned her muscles beyond recognition. “I have muscles where I never had muscles before,” she said. “I feel great. I’ve never felt this good in my life. I feel strong, fit and healthy. I feel amazing. It works!”

Once she reaches the Canary Islands, her goal is to finish the Olympic distance triathlon course by swimming 1.6 kilometers (approximately 1 mile) in an hour, cycling 40 kilometers (approximately 25 miles) in just over two hours and running 10 kilometers (approximately 6 miles) in an hour and a half. Swimming is the toughest of the three segments for her, she said, but she also expects the biking portion to be difficult because Lanzarote is a volcanic island and much of the bike course will be uphill.

Another benefit of the Win4Youth program is the camaraderie she has developed with other ambassadors and her coaches through a shared Facebook group, monthly webinars, and communication through WhatsApp.

“It’s amazing how many people have come up to me saying I’ve inspired them to get on a workout program,” she said. “This has been such a positive lifestyle change. My kids and husband have been inspired. My friends and work colleagues also can see how it has changed my life and my health,” she said, noting once it’s over she plans to continue a rigorous training schedule. “I won’t give up after this is over,” she said. “Why would I go back to doing anything else?”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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