Meet our September featured athlete Chris Wodke, who will be competing in the ITU Aquathlon World Championships and PC Open races. She hails from nearby Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and looks forward to racing on the world’s stage and raising awareness for Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease.
WTS Chicago: What does it mean to you to compete in the World Championships?
Chris Wodke: I set a goal to be a world champion. It may seem like a crazy idea to anyone who knew me growing up. I was always the smallest kid in school and the last one picked for any team. My CMT meant I was slow, clumsy and tripped over my own feet. My only experience in organized sports was two years of sitting on the bench for grade school volleyball. As an adult I became a long distance runner, but since running was causing more and more injuries and I was cross-training by biking and swimming anyways, I transitioned into triathlons.
I like to compete at high-profile events wearing my Team CMT uniform, and I found out that I would need to place in the top 18 of my age group at Aquathlon Nationals to advance to the World Championships. With less than 18 signed up, all I had to do was finish the race. But even finishing the race was going to be a challenge. I am a self-taught swimmer and the swim is the weakest leg for me, but on race day I had a great swim and felt totally comfortable in the water. I set a goal, worked toward it and accomplished my dream of getting to the World Championships. It means so much to be in Chicago for this race. I live 90 miles north in Milwaukee. I've raced twice in the Chicago Triathlon. It is practically a home course. It is an immense honor to be at a World Championship event. I may not win a medal, but I am going to give my very best performance.
WTS: Tell us more about your multisport journey.
CW: I was a fairly good age-group runner, but after a bike accident my running times plummeted and I got tired of dealing with blisters, burning feet and constant lower leg injuries. I would later learn these were caused by CMT, the largest inherited neurological disorder. It affects 155,000 Americans yet most people have never heard of it.
It causes the nerves in the lower arms and forearms to break down. This causes fatigue, muscle atrophy, loss of function and a host of other symptoms. Most with CMT wear braces and would never dream of being an athlete. I decided to come out of retirement and compete in high-profile events like the Boston Marathon and triathlons. I founded Team CMT as part of this effort. We now have 168 members in 32 states and six countries dedicated to raising awareness of CMT and funds for research. So far team members have raised $18,000.
This is my fifth season as a triathlete. I race with a paratriathlete license due to CMT. I have raced four times in the PC Open division of the USA Paratriathlon National Championships in Austin, winning the division twice and finishing second once. In total, I've participated in six national championships as both an age-grouper and paratriathlete.
WTS: What do you like the most about aquathlon?
CW: I like that it is a bit of a challenge for me. Early in my triathlon career I really struggled with anxiety on the swim. I even dropped out of the swim portion of an event. I had to conquer the anxiety I feel even now at the swim start.
Sometimes to do great things and accomplish your goals you have to go out of your comfort zone. Training for aquathlon has made me a stronger and more confident swimmer. I know that the biggest obstacle in the way of me accomplishing my dreams is my own fear and lack of confidence. Being able to swim 1,600 meters in a race has been a tremendous boost for me. I love the race itself. Things are chaotic at the start, but during the race there is this incredible peace. It is just me on the water, watching the finish get closer with each stroke. It just takes a little patience and faith in myself to get there.
WTS: What are you looking forward to most about competing in Chicago?
CW: I am looking forward to wearing my Team USA uniform in the Opening Ceremony, meeting the other athletes and representing the USA. September happens to be CMT Awareness Month so I will be representing the entire CMT community at this event as well.
I am looking forward to getting some experience racing on a big stage. Hoping this will be good prep when I win that World Championship someday. I am looking forward to having a great race and having fun on the swim and run. I've learned to enjoy the process and not worry so much about the results because sports are what I do, they are not who I am.