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America Ferrera on How Triathlons Changed Her Sense of Self : ‘Working Out Has Always Been an Emotional Experience’

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America Ferrera
Matt Harbicht

For years, America Ferrera used to focus on the limitations of what her body could do, and how it looked. But becoming a triathlete helped Ferrera rethink her strength.

“This relationship of being disappointed in our bodies is a relationship that I started at a very young age, whether that’s because of the culture around me or the points of views that I was exposed to,” Ferrera, 33, tells Triathlete magazine for their July cover. “I didn’t see a lot of examples — or nobody taught me to appreciate and love my body for what it’s capable of. It was always about what it wasn’t and couldn’t do, and what it could be.”

So the Superstore star set out to challenge herself, and signed up for the Olympic-distance Nautica Malibu Triathlon with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in honor of a friend who had just lost her mom.

America Ferrera and husband Ryan Piers Williams
Matt Harbicht

“I think recently in the past few years of my life I’ve started noticing a pattern of when something scares me, that’s an indication that I should do it,” Ferrera says. “There were absolutely times where I doubted whether I could do it. When we started, I was not a swimmer at all and I remember one night at swim practice where I was just literally weeping in the pool. I just started crying because I had to swim 600 meters in a row, and for someone who started like, ‘I don’t even know if I can do a 50! How am I gonna do this?’ ”

But she persevered; finishing the race with her husband, Ryan Piers Williams, the day before the 2016 Emmys, and even wore her number to a pre-Emmys party. The accomplishment completely changed her mindset.

America Ferrera
Matt Harbicht

“Why I think triathlons have changed my relationship to myself is because the whole sport is about going further than you think you can go, living at the threshold and pushing yourself to the place where you feel like, ‘I never thought I could be here and I certainly thought I couldn’t go further,’ ” Ferrera says. “It’s at that threshold that you have the opportunity to choose something new which could just be to be nice to yourself in that moment, to acknowledge yourself in that moment.”

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Ferrera — who finished her second triathlon in April — says the sport and its challenges gave her a greater appreciation for her body.

“Our little bodies — the small little space that we inhabit for the entirety of our lives — everything we feel, everything we experience, everything we do is contained inside of our bodies. And to be challenged physically is to have to meet all of your experiences,” she says. “That’s why, personally, working out has always been an emotional experience for me.”

America Ferrera
Matt Harbicht

It also showed her that everyone — including the 79-year-old and the man with cane that she spotted during the Lavaman Triathlon — can take on the challenge.

“What I love so much about triathlon is that anybody can do it.”