“It helps me have a reason to get outside and breathe fresh air, and not be cooped up all the time. With reduced hours, moving around and being active is what I needed. It really did help me a lot.” ~ Crystal Shirk

For health care workers on the front line, sport training helps to reduce stress

Now that pools are reopening, Crystal Shirk is back in the water at 6am to get in her lap time. She is training for her first triathlon this summer, the Asheville Triathlon, a sprint tri being put on in Hendersonville July 19th. 

“I love trying something new,” says Crystal. “I love the challenge and the excitement of knowing you have an event coming up.”

The triathlon is good timing for Crystal. When COVID-19 hit, her job as a certified athletic trainer at a local high school changed dramatically. Her hours were reduced, and she and her fellow peers were asked to screen patients at Urgent Care for coronavirus symptoms, putting them directly on the front line of the pandemic. 

To help alleviate stress and stay motivated, Crystal, revved up her running and cycling.

“It helps me have a reason to get outside and breathe fresh air, and not be cooped up all the time,” Crystal says. “With reduced hours, moving around and being active is what I needed. It really did help me a lot.”

Setting a goal

Crystal is very goal-oriented, so when sport events were cancelled in March, it became more difficult to stay motivated and stick to a training plan. The Asheville Triathlon offers her an event to look forward to and work towards.

“I need to have a purpose,” she says. 

During COVID-19, Crystal also focused more on strength training and yoga. She found herself getting stronger, and now she feels more confident that she can complete a triathlon.

“I don’t want to go out and win it, I just want to do the best for me. I want to prove to myself that I can do it,” she says.

Returning to sport events 

Crystal says she understands numbers may be limited now at sport events, and protocols need to be put in place to keep everyone safe and adhere to current guidelines. As an athletic trainer, she is constantly working on bringing back events at the high school level. 

“That’s our daily talk right now,” she adds. 

When asked if she was nervous about returning to sport events, Crystal said she feels comfortable with it and is not afraid to do events again.

“Working in the healthcare industry…this doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I feel like in running events, being outdoors, I don’t worry about (COVID-19) as much.

“There’s going to be comfort levels. There’s going to be fears. Things have to return at some point. A select number of events here and there I think is a good idea.”

A sprint tri offers ‘doable’ distances for every level of athlete

The Asheville Triathlon course includes a 400 meter swim, a 12.5 mile bike course and a 5K run course. These distances make this sprint triathlon a good fit for every level of triathlete, and it’s a huge hit among locals who want to go out and try their best at a new sport.

“I think I’ll have fun doing it, and enjoy it,” Crystal adds.

Crystal is most afraid of swimming, she admits. But she knows she can swim at least 400 meters, which is the distance of the swim in the Asheville Triathlon. It’s mostly the transition she needs to practice at this point.

And no, she does not have a tri suit.

“I’ll probably wear a bathing suit with shorts,” she adds, laughing. “I don’t have an official suit.”

The Asheville Triathlon takes place on Sunday, July 19th, and changes have been put in place to address COVID-19. The location has been changed to Patton Park in Hendersonville, NC to ensure athletes are able to spread out and stay safely far enough apart from one another. The participant number has been limited, packet-pickup will be a drive-through option, and extra sanitizing precautions will be implemented. There is also a fun virtual option available where participants can swim, bike and run on their own time and still receive a shirt and medal. 


Crystal lives in Black Mountain, NC with her two children and her husband, Conrad, who is also doing the Asheville Triathlon. Crystal is also an Asheville Marathon and Half AmbassadorWe look forward to cheering on Crystal and  Conrad in July! 

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