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Four years ago, stepping atop a podium to accept a medal in a sporting event must have seemed akin to scaling Mount Everest for Victor Chisholm. Ever since he was a boy, Chisholm had been an athletic outcast — an especially difficult situation as a teenager, a time during which such shortcomings are the perfect fodder for ridicule. "All my life, people have been telling me 'You can't, you aren't, you won't.' So I stopped doing anything athletic," the undergraduate research officer says.
After completing his BA at McGill in 1997, Chisholm decided he should do something to get into shape. He tried his hand at cycling and immediately loved it. Later, while volunteering at a camp for people with AIDS, he realized that he had completely forgotten how to swim ("I gave up swimming as a teenager due to my pathological fear of taking my clothes off in public," he says with a laugh). Chisholm signed up for a class and relearned how to swim, overcoming his fear of putting his face in the water.
A friend suggested he try triathlon. After all, he had two-thirds of the events down pat.
Chisholm liked the idea so much that he set his sights on the sprint triathlon event at the Outgames to be held in Montreal in the summer of 2006. The only problem was, he hadn't done any running.
Undaunted, Chisholm signed up for a Learn to Run course as part of the McGill Staff Fitness program this past spring in the hopes that it would be the missing piece to his triathlon puzzle. Buoyed by his training, Chisholm not only entered the Outgames sprint triathlon, he also signed up for swimming and cycling events.
Once at the games, however, Chisholm had a new obstacle to overcome: his own self-doubt. "I thought, 'My gosh, what have I done? How am I going to do this? It sounded like such a good idea at the time.'"
But Chisholm was no longer the frustrated teen who turned his back on sports because they didn't come naturally. Instead, the 30-year-old screwed up his courage, climbed on his bike and, incredibly, won a bronze medal in the road race for his age group. "Needless to say, I was shocked," he says in his Dawson Hall office, grinning widely.
Two days later, Chisholm found himself charging into the open water with a mass of competitors as the horn sounded to start the sprint triathlon. "We were like lemmings into the sea," he remembers. Having done virtually all his swimming in a pool, the native of Sydney, Nova Scotia became disoriented in the dark, open water off Île Ste-Hélène. Setting his sights on the shore 750 metres away, Chisholm resorted to the breaststroke — his favourite stroke, but wildly unorthodox for a triathlon. "It didn't matter," he says. "I was just there to have fun."
Following a solid 20k bike ride, Chisholm set off on the 5k run to the finish. Much to his own surprise, Chisholm, who had only been running since April, kept passing people. Crossing the finish line in 1 hour and 16 minutes, an ecstatic Chisholm knew he had given it his all. "I may have been able to go farther," he says. "But I couldn't have gone any faster."
Because there were different age categories all competing at the same time, it took a while for officials to sort through the results and determine where everyone had placed. After what seemed like an interminable wait, the final standings were posted. Poring over the printout, Chisholm couldn't believe his eyes — he had finished second in the 30-34 age group in this, his first-ever triathlon. "I kept double-checking to make sure it wasn't a mistake," he says.
At the medal ceremony, Chisholm had an epiphany of sorts. "I was watching all these buff he-men walking around and I came to the realization that for all those years that I had been saying 'I'm not them, I'm not them,' — but there I was getting ready to climb on the podium," he says. "I remember thinking, 'My gosh, the possibilities are so much larger than I expected.'" Taking that last step atop the podium to join his fellow athletes, Chisholm smiled. Everest had been conquered and he was standing on top of the world.