Forest Parker Rachel Pearson is a championship triathlete. | Courtesy Rachel Pearson

Finishing first in an athletic competition is something many people wish they could achieve in their lifetime, but one local woman just checked that goal off her bucket list.

On August 27, Forest Park resident Rachel Pearson came in first in the women’s international premier division of the 34th annual Transamerica Chicago Triathlon with a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 52 seconds.

The triathlon, which ranks as one of the largest races of its kind in the world, was held along the shores of Lake Michigan where athletes from near and far competed against one another in a mile-long swim, a 24-mile bike ride and a 6-mile run.

Pearson, an Ohio native who has lived in town since 2013, says she has always been an athletic person and participates in a variety of races year-round.

“I’ve always been competitive with sports,” she said.

Pearson originally became interested in triathlons in 2002 after a coach suggested she try something different in the off-season. 

“My high school swim coach said it would be a good thing to do as cross training,” she said.

Since her first triathlon 14 years ago, Pearson has continued to log multiple races per year, with the August triathlon being her fourth race of the summer. Because she races throughout the year, Pearson says she sticks to a pretty strict training regimen.

“I train pretty much year-round for triathlons,” she explained. “I swim two days a week, I run five or six days a week and I bike four or five times a week.”

The majority of Pearson’s athletic training is done outdoors, even in the bitterly cold months. During the winter, she continues to run outside but also moves indoors for biking and swimming at the gym for obvious reasons.

While she does most of her training alone, Pearson was happy to join a training team based in Chicago for the August triathlon, which she said she enjoyed.

“I had support through training and a coach who helped me out,” she said.

While being a competitive athlete as an adult might sound exhausting, Pearson said she sees it as a positive extension of her career as a physical therapist.

“I like to teach cross-training so people don’t get overly fatigued or are only working certain kinds of muscle groups,” she said. “Triathlons are good for that because it makes you get competent in multiple different disciplines and work multiple different kinds of muscle groups to stay healthy.”

Pearson said racing is also important as an outlet for her personality and high energy.

“I find a reason to train, a reason to be healthy and [a way to] relax me and give me that physical and mental relief I need.”

This Sunday before last, Pearson competed in her latest triathlon at the ITU World Triathlon Championships in Cozumel, Mexico, where she finished in ninth place, a minute-and-a-half longer than her Chicago finish of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 23 seconds.

For adults who are interested in becoming more competitive in athletics, Pearson offers this advice:

“You have to find something that you enjoy doing,” she said. “If running, swimming and biking are things that are enjoyable, then it makes it easy to train for it. A lot of people try to push themselves to do a marathon just because they want to do a marathon and then have a miserable time training for 12 months. You’ve got to enjoy doing it and always start with the basics.”