Iron Will, Iron Jill: Overcoming Obstacles to Become an Ironman

Iron Will, Iron Jill: Overcoming Obstacles to Become an Ironman

Through our Brand Ambassador program we get to work with incredible athletes across the globe. Our team of Brand Ambassadors embody what it means to #SacrificeNothing, and are beacons of inspiration, hope and motivation to others in their community, both online and in-person.

One of those athletes is Jill Kuhn of Texas. By sharing her story, Jill has garnered an online following through her Iron Will Iron Jill social media accounts and created an engaging and uplifting community.

Just four years ago, at the age of 38, Jill started on her endurance journey. Now an avid triathlete and trail runner, Jill’s unwillingness to fold to life’s challenges has inspired more men and women alike to give endurance sports a try.

Jill riding a bike outdoors

Get to Know Jill

I am 42 years old, married, and a mother to 4 very active boys ages 11, 10, 7, and 6. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Education. I was a therapist for children with autism and I taught elementary school for 10 years. My husband and 4 boys keep me busy now.

I also have Rheumatoid Arthritis, hypothyroidism, osteoporosis, asthma, and a slew of other autoimmune issues - but I refuse to let any of these issues keep me from doing what I love. I just recently completed Ironman Texas. And now I am training for my first ultra-distance trail race.

How Did You First Get into Triathlon?

In 1987, I participated in the IronKids triathlon. I didn't know how to swim, so I doggy paddled and back stroked the entire time. It was pretty awful, but I finished that race. I finally learned how to swim at 38 years old.

It's never too late to learn something new! And it was exactly 30 years later I completed my first Ironman 140.6.

Jill training on an indoor bike trainer

Your trip to Ironman Texas wasn’t an easy road. Can you tell us about your injuries and how you mentally (and physically) overcame these hurdles to accomplish your dreams?

In the time since I began the journey to become an Ironman, I have been dealing with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), I have broken several bones, and fought chronic infections and illnesses in relation to autoimmune disorders and a compromised immune system. There are days getting out of bed with RA is extremely difficult and each step is a challenge. But having such a big goal helped me stay focused and motivated to push through the pain.

In November, only 5 months before the race, I broke my foot. I had to take off 6 weeks completely. And it was 10 weeks before I could attempt running. This only left 3 months before race day. Many told me to rethink my plan for Ironman, postpone it a year or look for another race. But I was not going to give up.

I followed doctor's orders to a T. I went to physical therapy twice a week, every week. I did everything I was supposed to do. When I started back running it was a modified plan. In fact, for IM training the most mileage I ever ended up doing was a 10-mile run. This is not ideal, I realize, but there was no other option. I just worked harder in the pool and on the bike.

In the meantime I was also fighting infections. I spent four months straight on antibiotics. And during that time I ended up with pneumonia, with only a month before race day. I had to take a week off to recover. I felt a lot of pressure to cross that finish line. Not only to prove to myself that I could do it despite the obstacles I had to face, but I wanted to do it for those who could not. I wanted to give hope to others that they too can dream big despite anything that may stand in their way!

The doctors advised me against doing a full Ironman. And I'll be honest, it was very hard on my body and I often question if they were right. Yet while my body was faltering, I cannot begin to explain how my mind and spirit grew.

When people say the journey changes you, they are right. I found an inner strength I never knew existed. I crossed that finish line for me and for my family, but also for those who can't or who are not sure if they ever can.

Jill training on an indoor bike trainer

What Inspired You to Start Iron Will Iron Jill?

I have heard so many people say they wish they could do something, but they don't attempt it because they don't have the time, the energy, the good health, or any other excuse or reason. I have a list of reasons, and I refuse to let them be an excuse.

I wanted to show people that if they want it, there is a way. I wanted to encourage people to make their dreams come true despite any obstacles. I think people see my story and think if she can do it, so can I. At least that's what I hope.

If You Had to Write a Mission Statement for Iron Will Iron Jill, What Would It Be?

I can. I will. And nothing is going to stop me. We all have our battles. We all have a story to tell. That's what makes us unique. It's what makes us stronger. It's what pushes us to accomplish anything we set our minds to. Overcomers are achievers.

Jill training on a bike trainer in driveway

Your kids have been a big part of your journey. Can you talk a bit about their role in your story?

I couldn't do it without the support of my family. They not only believe in me no matter what, and encourage me along the way, they train with me. They hit the pool with me for laps, they run with me, and we go on bike rides together. On long trainer rides they refill my drinks and fuel, and they keep me company. They have also been so patient through all my illnesses and injuries and take care of me when I am down. And the best part is when I cross that finish line they are waiting there for me and are so proud of all WE have accomplished. They know they have earned the medal right along with me! It's definitely a team sport.

Not only do I want to be an example for my boys to grow up living a healthy lifestyle, I want them to learn not to let anything hold them back. I want them to pursue their dreams no matter what may stand in their way.

I also want them to see that women are strong. Growing up in sports they hear all the banter like, you hit like a girl, throw like a girl, run like a girl, cry like a girl. All this alluding to girls not being strong. I want them to see women have strengths. They know I can out-run, out-bike, and out-swim their daddy. I want them to realize mommy is strong. I want them to respect women, and I want them to marry strong women.

What's your favorite part about being part of the social media community?

When I began this journey and started Iron Will Iron Jill, I had no idea what was in store for me. I could never have dreamed of all the support I would receive. I am sponsored by some pretty amazing companies. I am a part of a community that supports and encourages me. People from all over the world follow my journey and share in my successes and my failures. I am held accountable and feel a responsibility to the amazing people that follow my journey. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime.

These are people that even though we come from different backgrounds, areas, countries, languages, we share common interests. And their belief and faith in me is a constant source of encouragement. Their stories inspire me to be better!

Jill Kuhn

You can follow Jill's journey on Facebook and Instagram @ironwillironjill, as well as on her website.