When Shahzad Ahmed used his FLEXBenefits to reach a personal fitness milestone, he also ended up helping to support his own community.
Shahzad, who already has two full marathons and a few half-marathons to his credit, competed in the Santa Cruz Triathlon in September in just about the time he had planned.
“My main objective was to learn from the experience and the process itself, although I knew that the bigger cause was a good charity, and that helped me through the entire time of my training,” said Shahzad, a Senior Network Security Customer Success Engineer, Prisma Access SASE.
The Santa Cruz Triathlon is a non-profit event, with proceeds being donated directly to the local area. After the 2021 event, $90,000 went to help Santa Cruz High School, the University of California Santa Cruz swim program and a number of other local groups, many of which provide volunteers to help staff the yearly competition.
Finishing a triathlon isn’t easy, and neither is getting ready for it. Shahzad spent almost a year in training while juggling his busy professional and personal life.
He also coped with his father’s cancer diagnosis, which meant he needed to take a break in his regimen this summer to be there when his dad started treatment. When he returned home, he and his family then endured a bout of COVID-19, but even that didn’t sidetrack Shahzad.
“I was quite determined, and I had perseverance,” he said. “There was a lot going on, but I just kept my head down, focusing on the goal and trying to invest bit by bit toward each of the formats. I always had a bigger picture in my mind, for the bigger cause, thinking about my father and thinking about others. This journey has translated beyond personal goals and eye opener towards bigger causes.”
When he began training, Shahzad used his FLEXBenefits to help buy the bike he would need for the race. His biggest obstacle was the swim, which takes place in the turbulent ocean off the Northern California coast.
“You don’t need to rely on people to start your journey,” he said. “If you are true to your goal, you will find true people in your journey.”
Shahzad did start to practice his open water swimming with some BAD Hikers members whom he had met while on his Saturday morning treks in the Bay Area.
“It was very shaky in the initial stages because in open water, you have all the other factors in the ocean, the current, the swell,” he said. “Initially everything is tough, however, if you are true and ready to put effort towards your goal, It becomes easier. This model applies to anything in life and to anyone seeking to start any journey.”
Shahzad managed the swim without difficulty in the race and enjoyed the sense of accomplishment that comes with surmounting a hurdle that, just a year ago, may have seemed impossible.
Shahzad now has his sights set on a bigger goal for next year and he’s glad he can count on the FLEXBenefits program to help cover some of the training and other costs that come with preparing for an athletic event.
Shahzad strongly believes in setting personal and career goals to enhance the motivation that ultimately translates to a bigger vision.
“FLEXBenefits are something that you can lean upon, and Palo Alto Networks is helping you move forward,” he said. “I think it's all about the experiences and journey and the process and, with the help of Palo Alto Networks, we are able to leverage it and make an impact in this world.”