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The Pro: Two-Time Olympian Laura Bennett
If it’s hard to imagine a time when Laura Bennett wasn’t the talk of the triathlon world, it’s because she’s been a dominant force for almost two decades.
Born and raised in North Palm Beach, Fla., Bennett is one of five kids in the Reback family. She was still in grade school when her two older brothers went off to college and returned to share an exciting new discovery with Laura and her father, Paul: triathlon.
Bennett, now 37, was around the age of 10 when she entered her first race at an IronKids event. But triathlon was just one of many sports she enjoyed as a youngster. She picked up running at 8 years old, no doubt because her father was a runner, and joined a club swim team at the age of 12 at a neighbor’s urging. She also played basketball, softball, flag football and soccer, but by the time she entered high school, she’d narrowed down her repertoire to swimming and running, competing in triathlon on the side.
Though the world will never know how far she could’ve gone in football, it was clear she had a future in the water and on the track. As a high school athlete at Cardinal Newman High, she won All-American honors in swimming and was the Florida state track champion in the mile and two-mile events — twice. She also raced as a member of USAT’s junior national team in 1993.
She continued to swim while pursuing a finance degree at Southern Methodist University, co-captaining the team her senior year and earning All-American honors eight times.
“I dreamt of going to the Olympics in swimming,” says Bennett, whose favorite event was the 100-meter butterfly. But after failing to make the 1996 team at the Olympic Trials, she was forced to reassess her goals and decided that she didn’t want to shoot for Sydney in swimming. That’s when the triathlon gods shined down on her for the first time in the form of USA Triathlon’s current Chief Operating Officer Tim Yount.
Yount invited Bennett to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to train and try her hand at becoming a professional triathlete. She still wasn’t certain, however, that she wanted to put in the 10 years she believed it took to become a world-class triathlete, though she did show promise, most notably placing fourth at the 2000 Olympic Trials in triathlon. She planned to make the 2000 season her last, but the triathlon gods wouldn’t let her go that easily. This time, they came in the form of Australian pro Greg Bennett.
“We met at a training camp in Victoria, B.C.,” Bennett says. “I think what I was first attracted to was how easy we got along.”
Since they met in 2000, the two have been inseparable, marrying in 2004. Sharing the lifestyle with Greg made being a pro worth it to Bennett, and with Greg by her side, Bennett racked up an incredible list of achievements, including four world championship medals, four world cup titles, two national champion titles and a fourth place finish at the 2008 Olympics.
When Greg decided during the 2012 Olympic qualification process that he would focus on long course racing, Bennett found herself in new territory, gunning for an Olympic slot without him. In an emotional last-chance race at the San Diego qualifying event, Bennett secured the third and final 2012 Olympic slot, edging out fellow 2008 Olympian Sarah Haskins to compete in what may be Bennett’s final Olympic race.“This type of racing is where my passion is,” Bennett says. “The first time around, it’s about experiencing the experience. The second time around, it’s about maximizing it.” Four years from now, she says, she’ll likely have started a family. An Olympic medal would be icing on the cake of a long and legendary career.