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With the triathlon two months away, I have started to take the training to prepare for this event more seriously. The course is a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike, and a 5K run. Fortunately for me, the swim doesn’t bother me that much. According to, the swim tends to be the most terrifying part of the race and is a deterrent for many “first tri-ers.” My mother says I started swimming before I was walking.

At age 8, I did a swim-a-thon in Dedham, Mass., to raise money for the Red Cross. People had to pledge an amount for each length of the pool I did in 30 minutes. With my party dress and pigtails flowing in the wind, my neighbors mistook me for a novice and many pledged $1 per length. Well, I did 60 lengths, so my very generous neighbors had to pay $60 apiece, when they thought they were going to be parting with five bucks at the most.

My mother was so horrified at the amount of money I had to ask for that she stayed in the car and ducked as I confidently strode up to each door. Although my neighbors weren’t entirely pleased, the Red Cross was very happy with me when I turned in my pledge envelope.

It was also at age 8 that tragedy struck. I was riding my cute little Schwinn with the bell and the basket to the library when I hit a rock on the sidewalk and wiped out. I had scrapes up and down my arm and leg; it was awful. A few days later, my mom took me to the doctor and we found out that it was infected. I had to soak it and apply medicine frequently, so my planned sleep-over birthday party had to be canceled! The horror! I blamed my bike for any social alienation that might occur and I never rode it again.

So, when I read on that the bike leg of a triathlon is the easiest, I wanted to throw up. I have recently done two bike rides through Devens with my friends, but if you listen closely you will hear me chanting, “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna fall, I’m gonna fly over the handlebars and break a bone.” Since this feeling of panic that I may skid on a rock and maim myself is not subsiding, I decided to seek out some help.

I was watching the Today Show about a year ago and saw a segment on Life Coaching. I was intrigued, so I told my kids I was folding laundry in my room but I was secretly watching TV. Life Coaching is a practice of assisting clients in determining and achieving personal goals. A coach will use a variety of methods, unique to each client, to move through the process of setting and reaching goals.

I needed to find someone to help me get over this loathing of a two-wheeled object and that person was Sheila Kelly of True North Coaching and Consulting. According to Kelly’s Web site, “True North Coaching and Consulting specializes in strength-based, solution-focused coaching for individuals who want to challenge themselves and take their lives to the next level.” I feel that I am ready to go to the next level, so I gave her a call.

Kelly grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, before attending and graduating from Boston College with a degree in political science. From there she spent a year, with her soon-to-be husband, Pat, in Belize teaching English as part of BC’s International Volunteer program. “This was a life-changing experience for me. Doing a year of service gave me new perspective on my life,” Kelly said.

From there she relocated to San Francisco and began working at the Burt Children’s Center, where she worked with severely traumatized children. “Working there really cemented my desire to work in the field of psychology,” Kelly said. While working as a counselor at the Center, she finished her master’s in counseling psychology at the University of San Francisco and hasn’t looked back.

A few years passed — with Kelly counseling individuals, couples, and families — when she and her husband decided it was time to start a family. With most of both of their families in the northeast, they chose to relocate to Massachusetts and had two children. In 2003, Kelly met Donna Shea and a new chapter in her life began. Shea owns and operates the Peter Pan Center, a family resource center in Harvard, Mass.

After spending some time co-leading social-skills groups for children, Shea encouraged Kelly to think about coaching as a profession and referred her first client to her. “It felt like a good fit and I have always loved talking to people about the ups and downs of their lives. I enjoy hearing about their obstacles and their triumphs, and if I can help some of those triumphs happen, I have done my job,” Kelly said.

Kelly sees about six core clients right now and is looking to expand her office hours in the fall. “I love what I do and now that my children are getting older, I am able to devote more time to this work.”

During the first coaching session, Kelly will help clients identify a goal or identify what the issue is that has brought them to her. “Then, we break down the problem, establish where they want to get to, and what strategies and techniques they can use to get there. I really like to emphasize what each client is already doing well. As individuals we seem to dwell on negatives and do not focus on our strengths enough.”

Kelly works on techniques in sessions and then she will follow up with clients on their progress via the telephone or e-mail. “I am like an advocate, a drill sergeant and a cheerleader, all in one,” she added. The between-session communications serves as an accountability function in the process. “I ask them what they have done that day to work toward their goals.”

I spoke with her about my triathlon goals and the fact that I would rather have a root canal then go out for a bike ride. She quickly picked up on the fact that I was suffering from an “I can’t do it” mindset due to my fall when I was 8. By the end of the session, I believed her when she said I am internalizing the message that I have had programmed in my mind since I was a child. She told me, “You need to create a new message for yourself. Your old message is not useful for you anymore. You are 35 and you are strong and you have techniques and coping skills you can use. If you get nervous, you can always get off the bike and walk next to it.”

We worked out a plan of strategies I can use and a schedule of things I will try before she e-mails me to check up on my progress. My dilemma was somewhat simplistic, but Kelly works with people in all different ways and with all different goals — both personal and professional. However, the one thing that remains constant is her desire to help people get on the right track and find their path to success.

Kelly has an amazing way of really making you feel like you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. I left there feeling like I could do the Tour de France, but I think I’ll start by riding around my driveway — after I pick up any stray rocks that are around.

For more information on Sheila Kelly and True North Coaching and Consulting, visit or call 978-394-6033.

Join me next week as I venture into the world of “disc golf” on Devens!

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