What keeps triathletes in seven different decades of life motivated to keep tri-ing
Conventional wisdom says that we become less driven as we age. The ambition to excel beyond our peers when it comes to work, sports or social status dwindles, and instead we seek to find meaning in something deeper. For some this could be strengthening relationships with friends and family, for others it could be examining their faith, while some seek to expand their worldview by traveling and experiencing different cultures.
If triathlon is a metaphor for life—as the case has been made—then it only seems fitting that a triathlete’s motivations should change and evolve as they age. At age 25, an athlete may have the singular focus of qualifying for Kona. By 45, that same athlete might be happy finishing a half-Ironman in less than six hours so that he can maintain enough fitness to keep up with his kids.
We talked to successful triathletes from every decade—from under 20 to over 70—to find out what gets them out of bed to train in the morning and how that’s changed over the years. Whether you’re 19 and cramming for midterms or 74 and kicking it in retirement, these athletes say there’s no excuse not to be motivated through every decade.
19 & under
Audrey Ernst, 18, South Elgin, Ill.
“When I first started triathlon, I was driven by the challenge that tested my grit both physically and mentally. There were technical difficulties and a myriad of race venues that gave each race its own unique character. My initial motivations have evolved into my passion to achieve higher levels of validation in the sport. I strive to actualize my potential and overcome setbacks, injuries and unknown mishaps.”
Derek Vanstone, 23, Oconomowoc, Wis.
“Initially I was driven by the goal mainly just to finish. The race medal and the finish-line pictures are nice, but eventually I got past that. I enjoy the journey much more now. I enjoy the time I get to spend working out. I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself. I take pride in what I do and hope to inspire others. Being able to eat anything and still have a super sexy body helps too.”
Emanuela Bandol, 37, Penticton, B.C.
“When I’m struggling to get out of bed to train, I focus on the feeling I get once I’m done with my workout—how good I feel and how accomplished. I shut my brain off and hold off judgments about how I feel when my alarm goes off at 4:45 in the morning, knowing that I get the sunrise and the first tracks on the trails. I also ski and hike in the mountains during the off-season. I think variety is key. I’m always doing something different, and when it’s time to get back to specificity, then I do it wholeheartedly.”
Jano Soto, 48, Marbella, Spain
“My motivations have totally changed over the years, and they’ve become more focused. With age you realize that often the small things in life are the most important. Just taking a couple of hours to ride each day brings more happiness to my day. Nowadays, I get to spend most of my day training, so you could say I’m a happy man.”
Rob Urbach, 52, Louisville, Ky.
“One of the reasons why triathlon is such a tremendous lifelong sport is that you never truly have a perfect race. Post-race, you make the mental changes to nail your next race, but it will never be perfect. That’s the beauty—the attractive devil and never-ending challenge that keeps me motivated in perpetuity.”
Bruce Cook, 65, Greenwich, Conn.
“I love the health and mental benefits derived from this sport. I usually don’t find motivation a challenge. Working to slow down the aging process is very motivating! When I am challenged, I have found that training with friends always provides the incentive to get out the door.”
Natalie Grabow, 72, Mountain Lakes, N.J.
“I love the day-to-day process of training, and that has remained consistent over the years. Racing well is extremely rewarding, but I will always train or move forward in some manner, even when I can’t race anymore. Fortunately I don’t struggle with motivation. Rather, I am always grateful for the opportunity to swim, bike or run on any given day.”