“We know we’re not going to break up, so why argue? We’re not going anywhere,” said Laura, expanding on their commitment. “And we like to do the same things. We’re similar athletes, but we’re different in some areas. We definitely complement each other in a positive way, but the way we deal with things is each a little different.”
Since the couple began coaching themselves in 2005, Greg has mapped out their overall training program while Laura’s focus has been on nutrition, recovery and daily details.
“Laura’s the one who holds us together,” Greg admitted. “I’m the big-picture planner. I need to be able to plan in four-year blocks. The day-to-day stuff is more Laura, hour-to-hour. And she’s the one who can handle emotions. Her emotions manage my emotions very well!”
Laura agrees with her husband’s assessment of their individual strengths.
“My role is to help him get to the starting line without taking himself out of the race. He knows exactly what he’s doing once the gun goes off. I’m there to calm him down before the start.”
Indeed, Laura functions as the pair’s sport psychologist.
“One of the things early on with Greg that I tried to get across was that when people tell you, ‘You’re going to win today,’ they’re just backing you,” she said. “Think of it as backing you, not as pressure. They’re saying, ‘I believe in you. I love you. Go for it! And I’ll be here if it falls apart.’ It’s not like, ‘I’m not going to talk to you when it’s over unless you’ve won!’”
Greg appreciates Laura’s emotionally mitigating influence.
“I sort of negotiate with Laura,” he said. “If a race doesn’t go my way, I’m allowed to be disappointed for an hour. And that’s important to me—I need that time. I can’t just wave it off. But then I move on. That’s what I try to explain to the younger guys coming up in the sport—you’ll lose far more often than you’ll win. It’s about dealing with disappointment and dealing with expectation.”
A year in the life of Greg and Laura Bennett includes a happy-go-lucky, party-fueled winter break, balanced against an admittedly boring in-season routine. Indeed, the couple has a reputation for being anti-social, even invisible, during peak training and racing months—a tough rap to shake when dinner happens at 5 p.m., bedtime at 8 p.m. and the morning alarm sounds as early as 4 a.m.
“That’s definitely my fault!” claimed Greg. “I think Laura would choose to be a lot more social.”
“I would,” she agreed, “but it would be irresponsible of me.
“We end up setting a routine,” she continued, “For training, diet—everything. We basically have a five-meal dinner rotation—it’s down to that level of routine. We don’t have to think about it and that’s exactly why we do it. You’re so tired and you can’t be bothered to think what to cook tonight, so we just buy five meals in a row. At that point, it’s not really like we’re enjoying food anymore—you just have to get it in so you’re ready for the next day.”
This practiced discipline will surely prove beneficial when the Bennetts move beyond racing to the next stage of their professional lives. Their company, Bennett Endurance, is a work-in-progress in terms of its specific direction, but it’s evident the pair intends to do something with the knowledge they’ve gleaned through their years in the sport.
“At the moment we’re just getting all sorts of people’s input,” Laura said. “We’re in a really good part of our lives. We’ve experienced so much that now we can make good decisions about the future. But we also know we don’t know everything. We’re really willing to listen to people’s ideas. There’s opportunity knocking every day—you just have to be ready to listen.”
“Absolutely,” Greg agreed. “I think we’ll always be involved in triathlon in some way. But maybe we’ll do something completely different. It could still be something to do with ‘endurance.’ Everybody in the world is enduring something, whether you’re working a 9-to-5 job or whether you’re a parent, whether you’re an athlete or not. The lessons we’ve learned in the sport, with all we’ve endured, I think we could go down several avenues helping people follow their own path, whatever that is.”
Again, the couple’s complementary differences benefit their emphasis on teamwork.
“I’m not too much of a dreamer because I’m very realistic, which is kind of a dream killer,” said Laura with a laugh. “I’m very practical, where he can dream really well.”
“She can be hard to brainstorm with sometimes!” acknowledged Greg. “But she gets things done.”
The dream of parenthood is one the Bennetts are also entertaining, balancing the best-laid practical plans against the uncontrollable unknowns.
“It’s one of those things of thinking forward—if we do have kids, how would we want to do it all? How do we maximize the next few years racing to make sure that the next life we have is as prepared—and enjoyable—as possible?” asked Laura.
“Kids will throw you every loop imaginable, but I still think you can have an overall plan for what you want,” continued Greg. “And then you roll with it.”
“Totally roll with it, still trying to keep that ‘it’s an experience’ outlook when you take that responsibility on,” agreed Laura. “I’m sure it’s scary as hell, but there really is no rule book.”
“And if we do have kids,” added Greg, “I’d almost rather they don’t know our triathlon history. It’s why we never had Olympic rings tattooed on ourselves. I don’t want our kids to ever feel that they have to compare themselves to us at all. Then they can do whatever they want. We did our lives; they can do theirs.”
But Greg and Laura Bennett’s rich life experiences aren’t limited to the race course.
“We’ve had our long breaks and big experiences away from the sport. After the ’04 Olympics we had three months totally off. It’s nice to know we still like each other when we’re away from it!” Greg said, laughing.
Following the Athens Olympics, the couple’s focus was on their impending nuptials rather than any finish line. They married in November of 2004, then honeymooned in South Africa. Laura briefly returned to race in Europe (she was on a French team at the time). Then, in early 2005 they discovered a deal on first-class round-the-world airline tickets and purchased the journey of a lifetime. The adventure was highlighted by a stay at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, touted as the world’s first seven-star hotel. It culminated with a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate Laura’s parents’ 40th anniversary.
“We were completely spoiled!” said Greg. “We haven’t done anything like it since—we can’t afford that. I remember at one point, Laura and I had gotten in the habit of waking up at 9 a.m. One morning Laura rolled over and said, ‘I could get used to this.’ I said, ‘Laura, you know this is not what we get to do if we’re not doing triathlon? We’ll have to get a real job!’ It was a reality check! We decided we’d better continue racing and started putting plans in place. There was a void in that Laura hadn’t been to the Olympics yet, so we focused on Beijing. Around that time was when Life Time Fitness put up all that money and the huge series [which Greg went on to win with a perfect series record, netting the sport’s single-largest prize purse of $500,000], so for me it was an easy avenue. And since then we’ve been like, ‘OK, what next?’
“The sport is simply a process to let us experience more things together,” he continued. “Beyond triathlon, we just want to go experience things. So the sport really doesn’t change who we are as people. We found each other and now it’s like, ‘OK, let’s go find stuff out. Let’s go do stuff.’”
Whatever the result from San Diego’s qualifying race, the Bennetts’ holistic outlook allows them to use London 2012 as a pivot point for the next “stuff” they do together.
“That’s the beauty of the sport,” said Laura. “There are so many opportunities. If we make the Olympics, we’ll go for it with everything we’ve got. It’s 100 percent the focus for now. But if we don’t make it, we’ll go down path B. We already have it mapped out.”
Nothing illustrates this attitude of acceptance better than Laura Bennett’s reaction to Gwen Jorgensen, who, virtually out of the blue, secured a U.S. Olympic triathlon team spot by placing second in London. It was a spot that many had expected would go to Bennett. Nevertheless, when Jorgensen passed Bennett in the race, Bennett reached out and gave her rival a congratulatory tap on the behind.
“I’m not a poor loser,” Laura said. “I appreciate how hard it is to have a great day. Gwen’s race unfolded perfectly. This sport is so humbling, and it’s so hard to get it all right. If anyone does, I’m right there to say, ‘Good job!’
“It’s about experiences,” she continued, repeating the couple’s oft-spoken mantra. “Anything more than an experience is a bonus. We absolutely love to race. We love the game. Winning is great, but it’s more about the process than the result. If you look at life like that, I think it helps a lot. It’s so easy to be serious, and we try constantly not to go down that road. And truly, we have no real responsibilities. Everything on our plates, we’ve put there. We’ve chosen to try to be the best in the world.”
Take a good look at the team of Greg and Laura Bennett and the life and passions they share, and it’s clear they’ve chosen wisely.
Holly Bennett, who shares no relation to Greg or Laura, is a Colorado-based freelance writer.