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April 09, 2019

It doesn’t matter the season of the year, you’ll always catch Hannah Fernando moving. From a young age, Hannah and her siblings were always outside. They would run through backyards with neighborhood kids, explore the great unknown, and entertain each other until the street lights came on. “I think this reality formed us to being adults who prefer to move and play rather than sit and stare at screens,” she explained. This upbringing has built a strong foundation into the adult she had become. Not only is she training for her third triathlon, Hannah can be seen skiing in the winter, cycling back roads, playing pick-up basketball with her brothers, hiking, or turning laps in the pool. Unfortunately, she’s often found herself a minority in the sports she is passionate about. “For several years, I was the only person of color on my swim team, not exaggerating.  And to this day I am frequently the only brown person on a backpacking trip or bike trip or in the pool.” These revelations hardly deterred her in following through with what brings her joy.

For Hannah, the passion formed into competing in triathlons. A triathlon combines swimming, cycling, and running, all in one. The nature of the sport requires many areas of focus when training and a lot of preparation for different types of strengths. It’s not an easy feat to cross a "tri" finish line, but Hannah finds the adrenaline addicting. Coming from a competitive high-school background, she found solace in competing against herself in the event. Without teammates to carry you, athletes are in a constant battle with themselves. “I love the space to compete as an individual and not for anybody else. [It’s about] finding the internal motivation for myself and the health of my own body, mind, and spirit.”  It wasn't always that easy for her though. When she first began racing, she would find herself in dark places, feeling overwhelmed by exhaustion and pressures. 

Time and growth have given her the realization and appreciation for her abilities and what hard work can do. Finding a balance between training, rest days, and social obligations were keys to success. Mental strength and endurance play key roles in success and, without them, athletes oftentimes find themselves burned out or drained. Hannah’s advice is to let go of expectations, doubt, and fear. Relieving one’s self of pre-determined expectations can be empowering and allow one to focus back at what’s most important. “I began racing with a huge smile on my face and saying 'yes' to every opportunity for outdoor adventures or pick-up sports, even if I was inexperienced or underprepared,” she explained. This has allowed her to live a fuller life and avoid frustrations or pressures.

For decades, women have been breaking down barriers and even pushing past the men as top performers in sports. But even nowadays, representation can still be skewed, which Hannah relates back to the many barriers women face. Barriers such as, “access to outdoor spaces, to accessing proper gear, such as cost and sizes, cultural expectations, inequitable gender role expectations, assumptions of capability that society places on women, the list goes on.” And although the industries are changing, there is always more to be done. Just this year, the USA women’s soccer team, who holds a World Cup Title and 3 Olympic Gold medals, sued for equal pay as the men’s team. Beyond that, representation of women of color has also been underwhelming to athletes like Hannah.

"Women are strong, women are fast, and women are fierce. Women can navigate complex river systems by themselves and go fly fishing with their girlfriends on the weekends for fun.  Women do not have to all have the same body type to be undeniably badass. Women of all color belong on the slopes and on the trail and on the mountains and everywhere in between. Women can cycle through storms and over hellish terrain and have a freaking awesome time while doing it.  Women can win races and whatever else they set their minds to." - Hannah

Neither the physical demands, the mental games, nor society's expectations will hold Hannah back. She has her eyes set on hockey to fill her winter activity itch between hitting the slopes and fly fishing. “I love the fresh water ecosystems of Michigan and our beautiful streams and rivers. Fly fishing seems like it takes a lot of finesse and speed, which intrigues me.” It all stems back to that feeling she got when she completed her first triathlon. Without experience, she finished the race and, through all the pain and effort, she mostly felt pride and personal accomplishment. She admits is was hard and uncomfortable, but that’s what made the feeling even more powerful.

Basically if I haven't tried it yet, that means I look forward to trying it in the future!


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