What can we say about Tsitsi Merritt in one word?
Determined. Tsitsi is a person who overcomes the adversities that life puts in her path. A person who takes on the hurdles in her way in one perfect stride. While most of us would give up, surrender, or choose an easier path, Tsitsi races on.
Growing up in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, Africa, Tsitsi developed her love for endurance activities. As a child she was always adventurous, seeking out new challenges. She traveled far, ran, hiked and walked enormous distances. The activities were never quantified because at times it was a way of life, and at other times it was play. Looking back, Tsitsi realized she was an athlete from her early years. A passion for endurance activities was her way of life.
Most of us have heard stories of how our grandparents and parents walked to school. For Tsitsi, it was a daily three mile journey during her early years. High school was a bit easier, only two miles away. A cherished memory of hers was walking 2 to 4 hours to pick her favorite wild fruits. When her grandmother needed her, Tsitsi would answer the call, trekking three miles to fetch water or five miles to the grinding-mill for supplies. Furthermore, mandatory attendance at church was a three-mile hike.
She wasn’t the fastest in her family. She shared with us her reflection on those cherished days of her childhood.
“I had attempted to run and I remember racing one time in some athletic event. I realized then I was not really fast. My cousins were much faster runners, my aunt was a super sprinter, and my brother was a soccer super star, where did that leave me? A guest athlete, a drum majorette leader, and a member of the drama club.“
In 1994, Tsitsi needed more of an adventure.
Consequently, she set her sights on a life in the USA. However, the lifestyle of America took its toll on her. Growing up, Tsitsi was always slim, and a healthy lifestyle was her way of life. During her thirties when she lived in America, Tsitsi added an extra 40-50 pounds. The lack of activity and access to high-caloric foods added to her ballooning weight. She continually battled depression, grief, and at times shut down from the world.
Tsitsi knew she needed to change her approach. Therefore, she found a solution to reverse the weight gain: finding her inner athlete. Tsitsi took up swimming, biking, running, living, loving, and laughing a lot. The road was in front of her, and her determination was providing the fuel.
“When I started running, I was just content with running and finishing races. If you asked me back then if I’d accomplish anything that I have so far as a runner, I probably would have laughed. Running has brought so much to my life. It has taught me I am strong when I feel weak. It has encouraged me to never settle and to keep pushing myself to see what I’m capable of.”
However, it all came to a screeching halt.
Tsitsi was hit by a car as she was cycling home from a training ride. Although she was in denial from the very beginning, her strength came from within. Going through extensive therapy for 18 months, learning simple reasoning and some basic skills, her wits kept her deceivingly fine. The struggle was hers and only her own. However, trauma affects not only the individual but many close loved ones. Even Tsitsi’s own son would become emotional and cry, “no mom, you are not disabled“.
The financial and personal toll were daunting. She became isolated from her friends and sunk into a depression. Digging deep, Tsitsi vowed to come back stronger. Albeit slowly, Tsitsi emerged from the darkness that depression holds over people. Determined, Tsitsi worked hard to be normal again. She quickly put running in her future again. On her journey to recovery, Tsitsi befriended a world champion at her gym, Mr Hugh Ross. He is now her mentor and training partner. She was also coached by IFBB Pro, Pauline Nelson, and Doc Sean Bassel Calisthenics King. Her first race after the accident was in May of 2016 at the Brooklyn Half marathon. A sub two-hour finish provided the confirmation that Tsitsi was on the right path for a full recovery.
The inner athlete was reborn.
Tsitsi raced in the Achilles Hope and Possibilities race. She reached the podium as the 3rd female overall in a race that had over 2,000 female athletes, all like Tsitsi on the road to wellness. Tsitsi continued her training and focused on improving herself both physically and mentally. To others, Tsitsi seemed in a better place. However, Tsitsi took hours to recover and sometimes experienced unimaginable pain. A shadowy memory from her past kept her constantly aware that her struggle was her own.
In September 2016, tragedy struck again.
A random act of violence and heinous crime by the Chelsea bomber would affect Tsitsi and her son. Heading home from an enjoyable evening together, the blast shattered their car as they where within the blast zone. They both miraculously walked away from the devastating explosion. However, the scars from the trauma are still crippling to both Tsitsi and her son. The echoing of the blasts still lingers.
Tsitsi quickly moved on from the tragedy. Additionally, she strives to become a better human being every day and is determined to become the best athlete possible. She set a goal to realize her dream of representing her country in the master’s world championship. Tsitsi also plans to compete in a full Ironman. As Tsitsi explains, ‘I have planted the seed, and I am going to nurture it‘.
Tsitsi embraces happiness and kindness with wide open arms. For example, she mentors an African-woman’s Facebook group that has grown from 5,000 women to over 10,000 since Tsitsi joined the group. Women started telling her how much they were inspired by her daily actions. She is humble and admits she doesn’t really know why and how. But just spend two minutes talking with her and it’s very clear.
Tsitsi’s road may be filled with potholes and bumps, but the horizon is rich and rewarding.
She is a determined soul embarked on a path to inspire.