When you grow up accustomed to the round-the-clock hours of a working farm, a typical career’s full-time workweek sounds more like a vacation. But Abbey Copenhaver packs a lot of mileage into her extra hours.
As a dietitian, consultant, and dairy farmer, Abbey agvocates for the nutrition of dairy foods during speaking engagements, blog posts, and farm tours. As a triathlete, she advocates for the fitness of the average person who may not think they’re athletic. “Our limits are where we set them,” she says.
Abbey’s current limit is set at the Ironman Lake Placid 140.6 in July (the 140.6 is, of course, miles).
Her training plan for the race — it’s her first full-distance triathlon, though she’s completed 10 less grueling lengths in the past five years — involves two running days, two swim days, and two biking days per week. As the big day closes in, she’ll double up and do two types of workouts on the same day.
Abbey says living in the country gives her the upper hand on a lot of other triathletes. The Finger Lakes, New York, landscape offers her a lot of long, hilly running and biking routes surrounded by lakes. During summers, those clear lake waters offer great swim training, and she swims at her local Y after the lakes close for winter.
For such a busy person, “This is my jam when it comes to fitness, because I can do a lot of independent training, I can make it work with my own schedule, and there’s lots of races available locally.”
At first glance, farming and triathlons may not seem congruous, but they are to Abbey. “I’ve come full circle because growing up on a farm, it’s year-round, 365. So when I got into training, the mental aspect was just really quick for me, because yup, the day of the race seems really glorified, but the other 364 days of the year, you really have to be passionate about it, because there’s not fans there cheering you on, and you really have to put the time into it to see the quality of your work on race day. And it’s the same thing with farming. If you’re taking really good care of your cows and you’re diligent on every aspect, hopefully you’re going to see that reflected in the health of your cows and their milk production.”
The 700-head Ivy Lakes Dairy was born in 2013, when Abbey and her husband, Austin, joined up with two couples they’d met during their Animal Science studies at Cornell University and with a Stanley, New York, couple looking to retire from farming. It was a natural fit for Abbey and a lifelong dream for Austin.
“I’d like to think balancing our dairy farm, grad school, and my consulting business, Farmstead Nutrition, gives me some schedule-juggling street cred,” she said in a blog post for American Dairy Association Northeast, which sponsors her IMLP journey, at www.dairyspot.com. The association recognizes “the opportunity this journey provides to advocate the agricultural, athletic, and nutrition communities,” she said.
Growing up on a large dairy farming family, she said, gave her the drive to achieve her athletic goals. She started running to stay in shape in college, but at first, she didn’t think of it as fun — running was used as a punishment in her childhood sport: soccer. But she loved the cardio aspect, so she kept at it. “I recognized that If I’m going to be setting an example for people, I need to be physically active myself.”
After a few years, the start of Abbey’s dietitian career (in which she focuses on dairy foods) and the birth of her dairy farm, her sister discovered triathlons. At first the pair competed together in small races, with Abbey telling herself that while a sprint-distance triathlon was doable, no way could she complete a full-distance. But eventually, she completed a 70.3-mile triathlon, also known as a Half Ironman, and her goalpost and attitude shifted. “I said, you know what, how long have I been telling myself that I can’t do it, when maybe by telling myself I can, I can be more open-minded to how I can work it into my schedule so that I can train for one. “
She says she wasn’t raised to have things come to her easily and that if something is worth it, then you must work hard for it. So one of her most rewarding and motivating parts of training is watching progress build up little by little.
Likewise, a new goal she’s picked up along the way is to motivate others who may not think they’re cut out to be athletes, much less triathletes. “I think there’s a lot of people out there who think they’re not athletic so they can’t do fitness stuff, or if you’re not fast, then you’re not a runner. How can I show people that you can do it if you want to? That if you’re not fast, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it?” From there, she started writing educational blog posts for ADAN and doing motivational speaking events.
Abbey is a self-described “odds and ends worker” at the farm, and her role includes giving tours. She likes to start her tours away from the milking parlor, to show what life is like for dairy cows and dispel the misconception that cows are always kept in the parlor. She says her farm’s goal is “for the cows to spend the least amount of time in the parlor as possible so they can spend the rest of their day doing whatever they need for their bodies to be healthy. If cows aren’t taken care of or if they’re stressed, or their nutrition’s off, they’re not going to perform well.” Kind of like a triathlete.
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