Crossing the finish line together

The life-changing magic of joining a club

It’s no secret that running crews and training clubs are basically a gold mine of motivation, expertise and new friendships, just waiting to be tapped. But when you find your club – the one that hits all your checkboxes for fitness and support – life-altering things can happen. Just ask twin sisters Julie and Andrea Kocsis, members of the Barrie, Ontario-based triathlon club the Barrie Baydogs, who went from just walking to finishing multiple marathons.

“With the Baydogs, whatever you start, you finish together,” notes Julie. “With hill training, everyone waited at the top, you all high-fived each other and then ran down together. Even if you were the slower runner, you never felt like people were waiting for you or that you were left behind. They include everybody. You don’t feel like an outsider or that you’re slowing anyone down.”

That sense of family and belonging is something that was a massive motivation for the pair, who Andrea says were brutally teased throughout school. While they’ve always been each other’s biggest supporters – they start and finish races together, holding their hands triumphantly in the air as they cross the finish line – they really got the welcome and community encouragement they were looking for through the Baydogs mentoring program.

Triathletes coming out of the water and biking

Julie post-swim, Andrea riding her bike.

“When we went to the mentor training, they really welcomed us with open arms,” recalls Julie. “Everyone there was of all different physical abilities and were very sociable.”

“It was important for us to join a club that understands the importance of supporting each other and finishing together,” adds Andrea. “They built up our self confidence and our mental strength. It’s not ‘I can’t do anything’ anymore, it’s ‘I can do it, and if I believe in myself anything is possible.’”

The twins have made massive strides in their fitness levels over the years. They each weighed over 200lb. (91kg) when they started with walking in university. Over time, they decided to pick up the pace by running to a neighbourhood landmark, like a light post, then running a kilometre and so on. Eventually, they set a goal to finish a marathon before graduation. Not only did they hit their goal, but they’ve lost over 120lb. (54kg) between them and now exercise regularly, greatly improving their overall health.

“When you’re in a group, if you’re suffering, you’re all suffering together, so you don’t feel like it’s that bad.”

Andrea’s knee injury was the key factor in joining the Baydogs. A friend in their run club suggested they try triathlons, so they bought bikes and joined up. “The number one thing I’ve gotten out of joining the group is knowledge,” says Julie.

These days, the twins welcome a bit of sweaty stress. They completed the Disney Dopey Challenge in 2015, which sandwiches together four days of back-to-back running, starting with a 5K, then a 10K, half marathon, and full marathon, for a grand total of 78.2km. “We’ve probably done a good 10 half marathons and four full marathons,” estimates Andrea. “We have a half coming up in May, and we started working with a coach that we met through the Baydogs to help us with our running. We’ve PB’d the last three races we’ve been in. The big goal for us is a full Ironman in August.”

Disney's Dopey Challenge run

Left to right: Julie, the twins' Mom Kelly, and Andrea rep Pluto at the Disney Dopey Challenge.

The successes haven’t been without their interruptions either – last year Andrea faced a rugby injury and had to take the summer off. “That was really tough for me, as a twin. Every day I’d see my sister out and wish I could train. But it allowed me to grow mentally stronger.”

“It was tough for me too,” echoes Julie. “I never thought I’d be starting or finishing the half Ironman without my sister on the line. I found the run particularly difficult. That’s when Andrea is usually yelling at me ‘it’s all in your mind! Just keep going, one foot in front of the other’! Or we start singing to each other. Last summer our go-to was ‘Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten.” Since Andrea couldn’t join Julie for the Muskoka 70.3, she wrote different song lyrics on the handlebars of Julie’s bike.

If they could impart one lesson, they hope people know that they are capable of more that they give themselves credit for.

“The only thing that’s stopping you is you, putting up the wall. Just put your heart into it. Speed doesn’t matter,” they say.

“There’s that quote about how the slowest person is still faster than the person sitting on the couch, so no matter your physical ability, just get out and try. You see so much more of the world when you’re out running.”

MEC is proud to support Julie and Andrea’s efforts through the Community Contributions program via a grant to the Barrie Baydogs, which helps fund their mentoring program. Good luck on your Ironman!

Kim Budziak

Wordsmith, avid skier and rookie road biker. Firmly believes the best days are the snowiest ones.