When you're 12 years old, your whole world revolves around your friends. And you usually have that one best friend you spend all of your time with – your “BFF.”
But then you grow up, move on with your life and find other best friends along the way. You may lose touch with your friends, but you never lose the memories.
That's exactly what happened to me and my best friend from 7th grade, Dana Willett, who now lives in Longmont, Colo.
We went our separate ways after high school, attending colleges in different states. Though we both received journalism degrees, Dana moved to California and lived in Japan, while I moved around the U.S. for my career in television news. So it was easy for us to lose contact with each other.
But with the power of social media, we reconnected and became Facebook friends a few years ago. After 30 years, we were able to catch up. That's when I also noticed many of Dana's posts and pictures online revolved around her passion for triathlons.
I, too, had been dabbling in the sport of swimming, biking and running.
We eventually realized we were both addicted to triathlons and spending countless hours training for our first Ironman, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run.
We were both in our mid-40s and late to the game in attempting our first Ironman. I competed in Ironman Wisconsin. Dana competed in Ironman Arizona. And we both finished.
“I remember how remarkable I thought it was. How we had this huge, time-consuming, obsessive hobby in common,” Dana said. “Neither one of us was a competitive athlete growing up.”
Michelle Bandur, TV Media Program chairwoman at Iowa Western Community College, blogs occasionally for livewellnebraska.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I did some swimming and diving in the summer, but was never very good at any of it. I never made the varsity volleyball, basketball or track teams. I spent my time on the sidelines as a cheerleader. I never called myself an athlete.
As a matter of fact, the closest Dana and I got to a triathlon was in junior high when we would sneak out and go “pool hopping” in our neighborhood, jumping into pools and running out as soon as someone turned on the lights.
In the summer of 2012, about three years after finding each other on Facebook, I ran into Dana at a 70.3 Ironman race in Lawrence, Kan. I was injured and couldn't compete. I volunteered and supported other Omaha athletes at the race. It was so cool because out of 2,000 triathletes, I spotted my childhood best friend running toward the finish line. I yelled her name and greeted her after she crossed the finish. We were just teenagers when we saw each other last. But we didn't skip a beat.
Dana was my best friend from the ages of 12 to 16, and she is back in my life as though no time has passed. Dana's parents still live in the Omaha area so now when she visits, we train. I have been to Colorado to compete in triathlons with her. It's a special friendship, one that I cherished when I was 13 and one I appreciate even more now.
“I think it's rare,” Dana said. “We're really lucky to reconnect in an amazing and positive way. We have so much in common through the sport and at the heart of it, we still have the silly adolescent joy of being girlfriends. We laugh at silly stuff. We get each other.”
Dana and I are both driven, creative and competitive, which poses an interesting dilemma with us when it comes to races. We are the same age so we compete directly with each other in our age group. I've given up hope of ever beating Dana because she is much faster. However, in a recent race I did manage to race two minutes faster than her on the bike.
“It ups my game, “ Dana said. “ We make each other better triathletes and at the end of the day, we are happy for each other.”
Our journey continues as we will be competing with each other during Ironman Arizona in November and in Ironman Boulder in 2014. It will be tough, but there is a comfort in knowing my best friend will be out on the course with me. She will also be in pain, struggling physically and mentally. As difficult as it will be to get through 140.6 miles in less than 17 hours, I can count on Dana to help me make it to the finish line.
If you would have told me when I was a 12-year-old girl that Dana would be one of my lifelong best friends, I would have smiled and said, “Of course she will be!”