I am entering my 9th season racing as a professional triathlete. I never knew what a triathlon was until 2009, so it’s safe to say I never dreamed of being a professional triathlete as a kid.
As the new year rolled in I found myself jaded when it came to triathlon. I am addicted to moving, so completing my training is not the issue. My personal life is the most stable and meaningful it has ever been. That wasn’t the issue either. My Blueprint Fit bloodwork came back and nothing is out of the ordinary. I considered that my Vitamin D was low with the dull weather, but everything else was fine. I have been examining my frustration with triathlon and have identified two possible sources of my apathy and I came up with two things.
Connection. What are we without it? I am learning that my breakdowns and semi- depressive/anxious episodes occur when there is a lack of connection with other people. When I start training hard the focus usually turns to being all about me. I tend to get the training done then go home and prepare for the next day. I fail to make time for friends, social interactions outside of the triathlon and for activities that do not involve sport. There seems to be this perceived notion that to be your best in this sport you have to have tunnel vision. I have to be completely selfish and make every decision based around my training and recovery.
This does not work for me anymore. I want more in life. I want to have an impact on others, have strong relationships, have conversations that go beyond swim, bike, and run.
The second realization I had was that triathlon has changed in the last decade. When I started the sport, hard work and talent were rewarded. That was it. Consistent and frequent results got you partnerships. I remember racing 17 times a season and consistently being on the podium. Hustling and entering every race to get my name on the board so I had a shot of making a career out of triathlon. I loved triathlon because it was a pure grind. I once raced in Minneapolis on Saturday and in Boulder on Sunday with podiums at both. The pure gritty nature of what was required drove me day in and day out.
Things are different now. If a pro athlete does not have a YouTube channel or a drone following their sessions with a professional photographer then that pro athlete does not have a shot at getting partnerships. There is little difference now between a brand influencer and a hard-working professional athlete. On social media right now, we see the edited beautiful and artistic photos/videos of athletes racing and training. That really is not what is going on behind the scenes.
I personally am intrigued by athletes with raw and unedited content. Isn’t that what people want to see? The good stuff, the unedited, unscripted and unmanicured content that is quickly captured between intervals or post workouts. The edited “plandids” and ad quality photography are basically staged and not reality. The sport is less genuine and more about “getting the shot”.
It is an unfortunate position to be in. To feel trapped between wanting to express myself as an athlete and feeling as though the portrayal of a ‘role’ is more important to sponsor. I feel pressure to have manicured content to maintain my position with sponsorships which ultimately decides my future in triathlon. This new era in triathlon has been heavily weighing on my mind. I catch myself anxious about how I can stage an Instagram post instead of figuring out how I can get teenage girls with eating disorders to discover sport as an outlet. Instead of worrying about how many “likes” I can get with a really sexy or artsy photo, I want to create a platform where I can make a difference in the next generation. And by that I mean being completely transparent and also being approachable so anyone feels like they can reach out with any issue they may need guidance with.
So what am I going to do to find joy in sport again? I am going to use my platform that I have built from triathlon to work with young girls struggling with body image, eating disorders, and social media. Here in Boulder this summer I am starting a youth girls group that meets twice a month to learn about cycling, social pressures, and healthy habits to implement. This is a massive area that needs to be addressed and I am going to spend my time figuring out a way to have an impact there instead of making a YouTube channel. By focusing less on myself and using the resources I have, my goal for 2019 is to teach young women how to be physically healthy, confident, and have connections with their peers.