She Said “What If?” and So Did We!



Cherie Gruenfeld, running toward first place in the 140-mile Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 2015.

Thirty years ago, Cherie Gruenfeld watched the LA Marathon on an actual television set (no iPads in the 80s!), and asked herself, “What if I could do that?”

She was already an early pioneer in the development of Artificial Intelligence, so she wasn’t average. She set out to run a marathon, and since then (spoiler alert!) she’s gone on to become a decorated Ironman triathlete, 2015’s Grandmaster of the year, and the founder of Exceeding Expectations, a non-profit organization that supports at-risk kids.

When she told her story to the entire Boingo organization, admittedly we felt a little ordinary. That’s when she challenged us: What if YOU could do a triathlon?

Cherie isn’t a person who accepts excuses… she’s heard them all and she has a reason why you can overcome anything. So, with the good fortune of having another world class triathlete, Chris Vargas here on staff and willing to train us, ten Boingoites set out to conquer the Playa del Rey Triathlon.


Team Boingo

Team Boingo

Chris provided weekly training suggestions, hosted group swims, and even advised us separately based on our personal athletic ability. Swimming was the biggest concern. The looming ocean swim was intimidating. I mean, I used to swim competitively, but that was more than 20 years ago so I still had plenty of work ahead of me. Chris talked about mental preparation. He helped us visualize what to expect at the race, such as how to transition from the water to the bike.

Meanwhile, Cherie prepared us for the unknown. She said to approach the race – and life – with these three themes, regardless of what lies ahead:

  1. Get over it!: “If you’re trying to do something new and dragging your feet because you may look stupid or fail, get over it. Everyone looks dumb trying new things.” She said she literally fell over sideways on her bike multiple times in the middle of downtown Los Angeles trying her new clip-in bike pedals! Even world-class Ironman athletes have to start somewhere…
  2. Fully commit:“Jump in with both feet. Believe that you will achieve whatever you have set your sights on.  Don’t listen to naysayers, because everything great lies just outside your comfort zone.” Cherie stared her triathlon career at 42 years old, a time when most athletes are hitting their peaks and retiring.
  3. Have “Grit”:“You don’t always need extraordinary talent or smarts.” What you do need is:
    • Great passion. You have to want it and want it bad, and be willing to set aside other interests for it.
    • Perseverance. Nothing will stop you. Whether a big wave pushes you back 20 yards in the swim, or you get a flat tire on your bike, you find a way to keep pressing on.
    • Fearlessness. Push through the urge to hesitate or stop. You need to convince yourself that you can figure ANYTHING out, no matter what training or the race throws at you.

We did it!

Even with all of that preparation, our race day had its speed bumps. Our swim times ranged from 10 to 40 minutes, even though we all traveled the same 600 meters. Our bikes – and our legs – were of varying quality and condition. And the run was the run. Some of us held back on the bike ride in anticipation of the run; others went all out and had to push through on legs that felt like rubber bands. BUT we all crossed the finish line! We’re already talking about our next race. We still have a lot of work to do before we reach the level of Grit that Cherie and Chris have, but each step of the way, we’ll be saying to ourselves, “What if?”

So, what about you? Not ready for a triathlon? Cherie has an answer to that excuse. “What if” you could make a huge difference in someone’s life today, right now, just by sitting where you are? Would you? As founder of Exceeding Expectations, Cherie devotes her time to young people, teaching at-risk kids to use triathlons to train for real life. Her highest priority is helping kids graduate high school and go to college. Check out this worthy cause and help make a difference.

About Melody Demel

Melody is Senior Manager, PR for Boingo Wireless, where she is responsible for media relations, brand building and thought leadership initiatives. Melody is a die-hard Nebraska Cornhuskers fan and retired NCAA DI college field hockey player.
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