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Little actions matter ~ in sports and in 'Life Lines'

Suzi McKee • Feb 24, 2020 at 12:00 PM

When Dr. Jodi Polaha Jones and her Air Force veteran husband were looking for a place to live once he retired, East Tennessee State University and the Tri-Cities area offered them exactly what they wanted. With a plethora of lakes, hiking and biking trails, and outdoor spaces that were perfect for their recreational needs, they knew they had found the ideal place for their next address.

“I had applied to ETSU for work and was accepted to do teaching and researching in healthcare innovations,” Jodi explained. “Our love of the outdoors coupled with my job at ETSU was just the perfect arrangement for the next chapter in our lives.”

Jodi began swimming for fitness at the age of 23 when a friend who was training for a triathlon invited her to come along. The triathlon challenges participants in three continuous and sequential endurance races. Swimming, cycling and running are usually the three components of the event, and Jodi fell in love with the biking and swimming portions of the competition.

“My dad would always tell me as a child that if I wanted to do something, I should just do it and the Amelia Earhart quote, ‘The most effective way to do it, is to do it,’ holds special meaning to me because of dad.” So, with a newfound love of adventures that held a variety of challenges, Jodi set about to enjoy as much as she could in the beauty of nature around her.

One of the events she participated in was Swim the Loop, a 3.5-mile swim held at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. “There were plenty of jellyfish that day, but I was really lucky and didn’t get stung at all,” she said. Another organized event she swam in was the Rat Race in Chattanooga down the Tennessee River. “This was a 4.5-mile swim with the current which means that it was easier for swimmers to go the distance,” she explained.

One of the most personally satisfying accomplishments Jodi has achieved is swimming Watauga Lake, which is 12.5 miles long. She began swimming in Watauga Lake with friends because of how clean the water was and the challenges that it presented. “The group that I swam with would set small goals to try to reach ‘that island or that area’ and before we knew it, we had reached all of our goals.” After completing a swim for 5 miles to Butler Bridge, Jodi realized she could swim the entire length of the lake — and set that as her next goal.

Jodi worked in the pool for 2-3 hours per day and swam in the lake to practice with her husband paddling beside her. After four years of training, Jodi was ready to tackle her next challenge of conquering Watauga Lake alone. In August 2015, Jodi achieved her goal of swimming the entire length of Watauga Lake; she had achieved one of her dreams.

Any success comes with a great deal of training and swimming is no exception. “I’m a morning person,” Jodi began, “so I’m up and in the pool by 5 a.m. I thoroughly enjoy the quiet atmosphere and I find the repetitive act of swimming to be meditative.”

What lessons does Jodi see carry over from her training and swimming to daily life? “Swimming requires you to make a small commitment by yourself. You must make the decision to get in the water which is a little action that leads to further actions. The small decisions that you make in life in uneventful places convince you that little actions matter; they all build into something bigger.”

A Washington County, Tennessee, commissioner, Jodi takes plenty of endurance, fortitude and courage with her as she attends meetings for her constituents. Jodi’s story and her life achievements will be part of Jonesborough playwright Jules Corriere’s “Life Lines,” which opens Feb. 28 at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough. Jodi’s mother, who went back to school at the age of 70 and received her certificate for storytelling at the age of 73, is an actress in the play.

“It’s a great way to connect our community by sharing stories in drama of the community members,” Jodi shared.

For more details or ticket information, call (423) 753-1010 or visit Jonesborough.com/LifeLines.

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