State of Professionalism in Triathlon
There is an epidemic among the professional triathlete ranks, and I fear it is spreading. From blogs to race reports to twitter feeds, my compatriots are lamenting the difficulty of their life as if they have a tortuous job working on a chain gang. This constant hum of ‘woe is me’ self-pity is starting to worry me. I am not immune and have on occasion blamed others or circumstances for my own shortcomings. However, I have been lucky to have coaches who have taught me the importance of taking personal responsibility. When I started triathlon, I worked with Siri Lindley and more recently have been coached by Simon Lessing. Both have taught me an invaluable lesson for all athletes namely taking control of one’s own destiny and accepting responsibility.
In 2006, I started training for triathlon and was fortunate to learn some important lessons in self-reliance early in my career. First, in one of my early races, another competitor clobbered me in the swim and tore off my goggles. At the finish line, I was complaining that this happened and it ruined my race…..insert dramatic music here… but my coach just looked at me and said that is racing suck it up and deal with it. In another instance, also during my first year as a triathlete, I learned the athlete’s responsibility to know the race course. As a compulsive first year pro, I drove every bike course the day before the race. I am embarrassed to admit that as a rookie I also tried to memorize all the street names at every key intersection. As a result, except the leader who had a vehicle escort to follow, I was the one of the only athletes to take the correct turn on the course. Since I had driven the course the day before the race, I didn’t even glance at the traffic cops stationed along the course to direct traffic. Apparently, the cops were sending the athletes on the wrong way on the course. Although I am no longer as compulsive, I still believe it is the athlete’s responsibility to know the course. You can’t depend on volunteers or anyone else out there to tell you where to go. It is not their job to know the course it‘s our responsibility.
In the last two years, I have continued to benefit from my early lessons and received additional insights into the importance of taking responsibility. For example, more recently in 2008 a few weeks before the Olympic trials, I was in a bad bike crash in a world cup race New Zealand. During the drafting bike leg, one Austrian athlete, hit the front wheel of another Austrian competitor while we were in a high speed decent causing her to go down hard. I was in the wrong place in the pack and was taken out as she crashed directly into my front wheel. Needless to say, I was quite distraught, lamenting my terrible luck, and devastated to be unable to swim or bike leading into the Trials race. But my coach though somewhat sympathetic turned it all around for me by saying it was actually my fault since I wouldn’t have been in the second bike pack if I had swam to my potential. In her mind, I should have been safely up the road in the front pack and avoided the accident all together. At first, this seemed harsh; however, not only was it completely true but by shifting my focus back to my own actions, which I could control, it enabled me to pull out of a self-pitying funk. Then, I was able to move forward and focus on what I could do to prepare for my upcoming race. Sometimes, merely a shift in attitude can help an athlete focus on taking responsibility and being positive rather than sulking in self-pity.
In the last few years, another lament that rings from the chorus of pros is how unlucky…. I got a flat tire or my bike didn’t work or my brakes were rubbing. If you get a flat tire, it’s not about luck; it simply means that you rode over something in the road. In the past few years, I have had flats and bike mechanicals, and they have all been my fault. While it may be impossible to prevent mechanicals from never happening, by taking good care of equipment and being prepared all athletes can minimize the likelihood as well as the damage to race performance.
Finally, the most wide-spread virus within the pro ranks, is the drafting cries. So many athletes rant that they were riding a perfect race with no draft the whole time while all the other athletes were drafting cheats or when penalized for drafting then the officials must have had a personal vendetta. As an athlete, our only job is to ride legally and allow the officials to find and bust those not following the rules. If everyone who claims to be riding clean outside the draft zone would just focus on doing that and stop complaining, then maybe there would be no drafting. As athletes, we need to focus on how to fix the drafting issues instead of just whining about the current situation. In all aspects of our sport, we need to take responsibility and stop blaming external forces for our own mistakes.
I call on all professional triathletes to stop this epidemic now. While there are many triathletes who never complain and are completely self-reliant, too many of our cohorts don’t take responsibility and blame anything or anyone except themselves for their missteps. I hope that we can all start being accountable for our actions and treat this lifestyle as a career.