How many World Triathlon Series races will Gwen Jorgensen win in her career?
It Takes a Village to Raise a Triathlete
While my mom always had a quiet attentiveness to my academics, my dad was the backbone of my athletic and extracurricular pursuits.
I remember one time in particular he drove me from a cross country race hours away to a Saturday band event back home. We left without cooling down, I changed into my band uniform and plumed hat on the highway, and we arrived only 20 minutes late. Another year, I participated with about 10 others in a 1-mile downhill race to open the Christmas parade in my small city in Michigan. My dad was waiting at the finish line with a Gatorade and snack, van engine running, to take me to the back of the parade, so I could march down the street again with my high school marching band. My dad was always making the balance between my interests possible.
In the dead of Michigan winter he would pick me up from swim practice and drive to an open indoor track meet almost an hour away. We showed up as a two-person team, and spent Friday nights breathing thick, dry, indoor track air, and picked up mounds of Chinese food from Ping’s later on the way home.
When outdoor track came around, my dad volunteered to time at every home meet. He said it gave him the best seats in the house.
Now that I live in Connecticut, it’s my coach and friends who make everything I do in triathlon possible. I race exclusively with my coach Kelli’s helmet. I phone my friends George or Julio practically every time I drop a chain, and they tell me how to fix my bike. I wouldn’t have made it to half my races if my roommate hadn’t lent me his car. And my training buddy Dave makes me bike an hour to 5k fun runs to keep me from taking them too seriously.
Whether it’s agreeing to meet at my pool for the ungodly 6 a.m. swim or giving me the appropriate socks for my first group ride, it’s thanks to them I’m able to do this at all and balance my full-time job with triathlon. Unless you are independently wealthy and have the dedication of a saint, triathlon is not a sport you can do on your own. It takes a community of people who care about your success, and about whom you care as well.
My story is not unique; almost every successful triathlete – from age group to professional – has an army of people behind him or her, contributing to the journey. And we need it, because most of us have a day job to keep, or kids to take care of, or a commute, climate, or local pool that’s less than ideal. For me, discovering this community has been the most delightful and fun part of my short, 18-month career in triathlon.
My point, which some might find cliché, is this: triathlon is an individual sport, but very rarely is it one accomplished by the individual alone. And thanks to the internet, the village that is raising me is scattered across the country: my dad, my coach, the USAT Collegiate Recruitment Program, my friends – they deserve the lion’s share of credit whenever I cross a finish line. And with some luck, I can also support my community around the U.S. My dad (pictured to the right) just did his first triathlon this year at 57, and tells me he’s never felt better. We’re planning our big father-son debut race for Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee later this year.
Enjoy building your own village. Be grateful for your network of support, and let them know that you are. Here’s to a great 2013 season with them.