3/9/16

My educational journey - from passion to profession


Today is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day.
I feel so lucky to be one of many qualified nutrition experts who are helping people improve their lives through food and nutrition.

My educational journey to today has been a long one so I thought I would share it with you today. 

2000-2001
After graduating from Paul Laurence Dumber High School in 2000, I went to IUP in Indiana, Pennsylvania for my freshman year. I continued competitive swimming at this Div II University, specializing in 100 butterfly, 200 IM and 200 butterfly.
I was swimming more yards than ever before and we had swim meets almost every weekend during peak season.
I started my educational journey focused on medicine, wanting to be some kind of doctor. I was having a hard time balancing school with swimming as swimming was taking a big toll on my life and I was struggling to obtain the education that I wanted. Plus, I missed my family and friends back in KY.

2001-2004
I transferred back home (Lexington, KY) and went to Transylvania University - just down the road from UK. Transy (as it's known) was perfect for me as it was a small liberal arts school with an emphasis on writing, with a great student to teacher ratio and just 20 minutes from my home. I swam competitively at Transy for the next 3 years. Transy was NAIA turning Div III.
For my first year at Transy (Sophomore year) I continued to focus on chemistry as my major. As much as I loved science, I didn't find myself truly passionate with this educational decision.
Sometime near the end of my Sophomore year, I transferred majors to Exercise Science. I had the most amazing mentor Dr. Brown (and one of my teachers) to help guide me in a new educational direction. I absolutely loved every class that I took as I found myself eager to learn more and more and more. In my Junior year, I minored in psychology as I loved learning about the mind and how it affects exercise performance. By the end of the Junior year, I was focused on being a strength and conditioning coach and I even interned with the UK basketball team and cheerleader team. I thought it was so cool to write strength programs for athletes who were almost double my height!
As my on and off back issues continued (swimmer problems) from so much butterfly, I switched to 100 breastroke to give my back a break. I found myself improving a lot with my swimming from 2001-2003 but by my senior year, I was a bit burnt out from swimming so I thought it would be fun to try something completely different - cross country running.
I joined the cross country team my senior year and trained and raced from the late summer until fall during my senior year. Well, I sure did miss the water so my burn out didn't last long as I was finishing my last year of competitive swimming my senior year of college.

2004-2005
During my senior year, I applied to several Master programs to continue my education in strength and conditioning. I figured if I was going to continue with higher education, I would go somewhere warm and sunny....so I choose FLORIDA!
I was accepted into FAU (Florida Atlantic University) on the Davie Campus and received a stipend to be a graduate assistance - collecting research, assisting in lab studies, teaching undergrad classes, etc.
Without knowing anyone in FL, my parents helped me move and I was starting a new life, in a new state.
I forgot to add that in the summer of my junior and senior year, I participated in two triathlons. A sprint and Olympic distance, respectively. I actually received my first bike (A Giant hybrid - with a kickstand) the week of the sprint triathlon. My dad went with me to the race (I can't remember where but I still have the t-shirt!) and I won my age-group...At the age of 21, I was the only one it it (18-24). Then in the Olympic distance, I think I won my age group again (not for sure). Needless to say, I had quite the advantage after swimming competitively for the past 10+ years.
Graduate school was extremely challenging. It was my entire life, all day, ever day. It was stressful and overwhelming but I learned a lot. Many of my teachers were involved with the International Society of Sport Nutrition and I was involved with a lot of research studies (the behind the scenes stuff like pricking fingers, underwater weighing, doing pulmonary functioning tests, taking or conducting other performance tests).
My professors focused their research on creatine and beta-alanine so I was learning a lot about supplements.
As a former water aerobics, personal trainer, spin instructor, core instructor - you name it, I also taught undergrad classes at FAU on the Boca Campus. (I actually fell in love with FAU as Transy would go there for winter training - "hell week").
Although I was extremely busy while in graduate school, something was missing in my life. I missed training. I was staying active exercising and taking aerobic and spin classes at 24 hour fitness and swimming several times a week but I really wanted to train for an event. I missed competition and the student athlete in me didn't feel balanced without sports.
I signed up for my first marathon (why not?) and created my own training plan.. I also participated in a few more sprint and Olympic triathlons. After the Miami marathon, I learned that I had qualified for the Boston Marathon (3:38) and discovered that my passion for exercise physiology extended to sport nutrition.
Nearing my last semester of graduate school, my desire to be a strength and conditioning coach was subsiding as I wanted to do something that included nutrition and physiology. 

2005-2006
After graduate school, I had no money because I spent it all on triathlons and running races. At the age of 23, I moved in with my parents (who had moved to New Port Richey, FL as my dad got a job as the chief optometrist of the VA clinic) and took an intern position at the WTC (formally owned by Dr. Gills). I came across the internship position and with a new love for endurance training and racing, I wasn't sure how to use my MS in Exercise Physiology so I decided to do something fun and intern with Ironman and IronGirl.
During my 6-month internship stating in Jan 2006, I was bite hard by the endurance bug - I was training for the Boston Marathon, my 2nd marathon (April), my first half ironman in Disney (May) and my first Ironman in FL (Nov).
After my internship I took a position as the Wellness Coordinator of the YMCA Suncoast. I had a wonderful boss Lesley (also a triathlete). I taught spin classes and was a personal trainer alongside my coordinator responsibilities.
In May 2006, I met Karel.
After winning the 18-24 age group at IMFL (my first IM) and qualifying for Boston after my first marathon, I felt my calling was in endurance sports.
I wanted to write articles and write a book, speak, coach and counsel and I felt that the only way I could gain the credibility of being a nutrition expert would be to obtain my RD credential. Little did I know how long, hard and expensive of a journey that would be, but I didn't consider any other options. It was the right thing to do.

2007-2010
A lot happened in these three years. Karel and I got engaged (2007), then married (2008), we moved to Jacksonville for Karel to become the GM of Trek Bicycles of Jacksonville, FL, I completed my first Kona (2007) after getting injured a month before the race (the start of 6 years of chronic on and off hip/back issues), I continued to race triathlons more competitively, I supported Karel racing bikes as a Cat 1 cyclist and we added to our furry family (welcome Campy and Madison).
Oh yes, and I went back to school to become a RD!
Seeing that I had my bachelors in exercise science, I discovered that I could obtain a verification statement to meet the requirements to apply for an internship. I took my dietetic classes online from UNCO (in Colorado) and took other pre-req classes locally (Clearwater, then Jacksonville).
During this time, I completed my 3rd Ironman (IMKY in 2009) and found myself improving as a self-coached triathlete. I did a lot of speaking, consulting and writing for free as I continued to build my knowledge (and reputation).
In 2007, I completed my level 1 coaching certification for USAT and become a triathlon coach.

2010-2011
If graduate school wasn't stressful enough, my dietetic internship really took over my life. I managed to squeeze in one Ironman at the beginning of my 10-month, 1200 hour internship (distance internship - from Marywood University) during my community rotation with Preferred Nutrition. I ended up qualifying for Kona again but thankfully it was for the following year. I ended up hurting my back/hips again so I didn't race a single run or triathlon race between IMWI (Sept 2010) until Kona (October 2011).
There were things that I liked and didn't like during my internship but I learned a lot regardless if I was passionate about what I was learning. I didn't want to become a RD to be a dietitian but instead to be a qualified nutrition expert - not sure if that makes sense. Oddly enough, when I was finishing my clinical rotation at St. Vincent's, I actually found myself enjoying the constant learning of the human body when working with patients in the hospital. I found this to be a great compliment to applying nutrition to "healthy" athletes.

2011-2014
After several months of studying, I passed my RD exam on the first try. What a relief!
After not wanting to be a dietitian, I found myself with the most amazing opportunity to be a PRN (as needed) clinical dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches. I learned so much and I loved the constant challenge of having to make decisions for each patient. After completing my 2nd Ironman World Championship in October, it was time to turn my passion into a profession.
In Jan 2012, Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC was created. 
As I continued to develop my philosophy and voice, I started speaking and writing more on sport nutrition and found myself balancing being a clinical dietitian with being a sport dietitian. I loved every day of the constant learning. I started consulting with athletes and coaching more triathletes and runners.
By 2012, Karel found himself wanting a new challenge and after racing bikes all his life, he decided to train for a triathlon - and learn how to swim!
By the summer of 2013, Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition was growing and I found it critically important to keep myself learning to stay up with current research and practical applications. After qualifying for my 3rd IM World Championship at IM Lake Placid and sharing the course with Karel for his first Ironman, I realized that my knowledge of sport nutrition and endurance training and racing was not only benefiting me, but I could help other athletes. However, in order to continue to help athletes with triathlon nutrition, training and racing (all distances), running nutrition and fueling and endurance sport nutrition and training, I needed some help to be able to focus on my specialty areas. 

2014-2016
With some changes at the Trek store, Karel and I decided that it was time to grow Trimarni together. And in order to do so, we needed to live in a place that catered to our love for healthy eating and active living. We picked Greenville, SC and have never looked back since we moved in May 2014. Our job is coaching athletes and improving performances through the diet and sport nutrition and through RETUL bike fits (Karel). 
After holding my RD credential for 2 years, I met the minimum requirement to apply for my Board Certification in Sport Nutrition. This was a goal of mine since earning my RD credential and the first time since my Masters that I found myself 100% focused on exactly what I want to be doing with my career - sport nutrition, daily nutrition and training for athletes (specifically triathletes and runners). With several months of studying I was loving this chance to improve my knowledge in sport nutrition even more. I ordered several textbooks and materials to help with my studying for the 3 hour exam, I was reading more research studies than in graduate school and I was loving training in Greenville for my 4th Ironman World Championship (with Karel).
I passed my board certification (found out in October, took the exam in July) and since then, I have been writing and consulting more than ever - and loving every opportunity that I have to help athletes improve performance and health. 



As I look at these expensive pieces of paper on my office wall, I am constantly reminded of the steps that it took to be the nutrition expert that I am today.
Learning and communicating the "best" way to educate athletes can be challenging, especially with so much information available to the public.
But I have been determined to maintain a similar philosophy for my nutrition practices since the day I became a RD. While research and my recommendations may change, I still feel strongly that it is my responsibility to provide trustful, accurate and realistic information to each of my athletes based on my athletes needs and goals.
I am performance focused but not at the expense of sabotaging good health.

Now that my passion has turned into a profession and I have a specialty area of sport nutrition, I wake up excited every day to help athletes from all over the world improve health and performance by training smarter and learning how to nourish and fuel an active lifestyle. 

I realize that there are many nutrition experts out there.
Thank you for choosing Trimarni.