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The Perseverer: Sarah Groff

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Sarah Groff’s journey to the London Olympics was a lot like baking bread, an activity Groff recently picked up with her boyfriend, runner Ben True: a long, slow, yet rewarding process.

Groff, 30, grew up the youngest of three children in the small village of Cooperstown, N.Y. She began playing soccer at the age of four and started swimming at seven because her sister didn’t want her on the team. “Of course I’d be more fixated on the sport if she didn’t want me doing it,” Groff says.

By the time she entered high school, she realized that her favorite part of playing soccer was the 2-mile run before practice, so she decided to drop the ball and run cross country and track in high school, in addition to swimming.

Her college decision, she says, was entirely academic. She picked Middlebury, a Division III liberal arts school in Vermont, because she was interested in the environmental studies program. She swam at Middlebury to stay busy, typically competing in the 200, 500 and 1,650 freestyle events. She ran and mountain biked on her own, and competed in a few triathlons every year for fun.

It wasn’t until mid-2004, with a brand new conservation biology and studio art degree in hand, that Groff thought about racing triathlon professionally.“I hadn’t put in applications for grad school and wasn’t really looking around at jobs,” Groff says. “I thought, ‘I really want to see how good I can get at this triathlon stuff.’ I felt like I still had some athletic potential I wanted to realize.” She decided to give herself a few years to see if she improved.

“One of the smartest things I did was I went to Boulder and had Siri Lindley coach me,” Groff says. Lindley had just coached Susan Williams to a bronze medal performance at the 2004 Olympics, and Groff was thrilled to be one of Lindley’s athletes. “If anyone in the country was going to convince me that I would be a decent ITU athlete, it was going to be Siri,” Groff says. “She’s super positive.”

Under Lindley’s tutelage, Groff certainly improved. She qualified for the Olympic Trials in 2008 and came up just short of making the team.

“When I didn’t make it in 2008, that was harder than I thought it was going to be,” says Groff, who moved to Hanover, N.H., in the fall of 2009 to live closer to her family. “It was hard for me to realize that I didn’t race to my potential — that mentally and physically I didn’t have the skills to deliver on my high fitness.”

Unfortunately, 2008 wasn’t the last year of disappointment for Groff. In 2010, she fractured her sacrum in a slow-speed bike crash that occurred during a commute to a running session. She fractured it again at the end of 2010, forcing her to take two months off running and riding.

“It changed me as an athlete,” Groff says. “It made me more grateful and detail-oriented.”

All of that mental and physical pain made Groff’s accomplishments in 2011 even better, she says. In June 2011, she became the first U.S. woman ever to podium at an ITU WCS race (in Kitzbühel). And in August, she proved that good things really do come to those who never give up when she placed seventh at the ITU World Championship in London, securing a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.

“I put in hard work and chipped away,” Groff says. For her, the sweetest part of making the Olympic team is “the satisfaction of knowing that hard work pays off, and that you can accomplish your goals.”

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