As a competitive dancer and cheerleader in high school, Rochelle Moncourtois, 29, was used to feeling pressure to perform her best. The Moorpark, CA resident danced up to 12 hours a week and won several scholarships. But when she turned 18, Moncourtois went from driven ballerina to depressed teen, turning to alcohol as a way to cope.
Her drinking quickly spiraled into an addiction. Though she had a supportive family and good friends, she got caught up in a rough crowd. She spent weekends binge drinking and blacking out, but during the week she would sober up and maintain a normal life—even training for and running two marathons in her drinking days in her early 20s. But her plan was flawed: “There were days when I’d miss runs because I was too hung over,” Moncourtois recalls.
Soon, the girl who’d never gotten in trouble for talking in class found herself in trouble with the law—twice. In 2004 she was slapped with her first DUI; in 2006, a second. Moncourtois entered rehab for the first time in 2010. She stayed sober for seven months after being released, and even earned her personal trainer certification from the Aerobics and Fitness Association for America (AFAA).
But old habits crept back into her life. “I knew deep down I wasn’t really ready to quit drinking altogether,” Moncourtois says. “One day, I just picked up a bottle because I wanted to—and once I started again, I was blacking out after every first sip.”
Finally, three years ago, Moncourtois woke up one morning with yet another hangover and thought to herself, "I can’t do this anymore." She voluntarily returned to rehab in September 2011.
Setting Her Sights on an Ironman
At rehab, Moncourtois was asked to name a specific goal. Her answer: to be an Ironman. “I’d never done a triathlon, so it seemed so far out of my reach,” she says. Setting a goal like this would require a complete lifestyle overhaul, something Moncourtois needed. After only 90 days sober, she signed up for her first Ironman in Sonoma, CA.
Thanks to her active background, Moncourtois jumped head first into training on January 1, 2012. Just as keeping a running date with a friend keeps you accountable, having a fitness plan in place helped her stay on track during her first critical year out of rehab, when most alcoholics relapse. “Every day I’d wake up and ask myself, would I rather be hung over or going out to train right now?” she says. The answer was always to train.
On July 27, 2012, Moncourtois crossed the finish line and became an Ironman, after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles. But she didn’t just feel happy about completing 140.6 miles—she felt changed. “I felt like this was my calling and I wanted to stay sober,” she says. “Crossing that line changed my life because I knew I wanted to live the life of an athlete, not an alcoholic.”
Moncourtois continues to make—and break—new fitness goals for herself. She started competing in 5K races, racking up six first-place wins in a row with a personal record of 22:34. “It’s still amazing to me that I’ve gone from being blackout drunk on weekends to winning 5Ks,” she says.
She also set a goal to place in a sprint triathlon (which involves a 0.47-mile swim, 12-mile bike ride, and 3.1-mile run), and indeed, she just placed second at the Santa Barbara Sprint Triathlon on August 24.
After three years sober, her athletic performance has drastically improved, she’s lost about six pounds, and her body recovers much more quickly than before. And staying sober not only enhanced her fitness level, but also her overall life. “I have a closer relationship with my family, my boyfriend, and my career has taken off,” she says. “I can now concentrate on working hard and staying focused, rather than thinking about when I’m going to have my next drink.”
Today, Moncourtois spends her time building her personal training business, serving as an Under Armour ambassador, and teaching group fitness almost every day. She leads boot camps, dance classes, and on-demand workouts streamed online at SkyFit Sports. On top of everything, she’s also training for big races in October: a half-marathon and sprint triathlon, where she’s aiming for first place.
Her vigorous training not only enabled Moncourtois to overcome the crucial first year of sobriety, but it also continues to motivate her. “When I’m zoning out on a long run or bike ride, I think about the toughest moments of my past and put them behind me,” she says. “Whatever mile I’m at, I think about how far I’ve come. It’s inspiration for me to keep running and moving forward—I never want to be back where I was.”
To learn more about Rochelle, follow her on Twitter.