In the midst of a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is using triathlon to stay true to herself in a tough political climate.

Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is in the midst of one of the busiest phases that a politician can face: campaign season. Currently the U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 9th congressional district, Sinema is looking to become the first Arizona Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate since 1988 at this November’s midterm elections. Like all candidates, she’ll spend her year fundraising and campaigning, but unlike the others, she’s using swim, bike, and run to keep a sense of balance through the process. She is a seasoned triathlete, with two Ironman finishes under her belt, and is one of the founding board members of the Women For Tri organization, which was created in 2015 to champion the participation of women in the sport. Last Friday, Sinema spoke at the Triathlon Business International Conference to encourage the triathlon industry to speak out about the decreased funding for public lands. After her speech, Sinema sat down with us to chat about her passion for public lands, her experience with Women For Tri, and her future triathlon goals.

Triathlete.com: You’re very passionate about the preservation and accessibility of public lands. Why should triathletes care?

Sinema: I think a lot of triathletes don’t think about it, but every time you go to race, the road, trail, or body of water is almost always owned by a government body. Our sport is dependent on public spaces, not just for training but for racing. I think many of us have taken for granted that those spaces will be available. That you get a permit, you go out and race in that space. The reality is that we’re living in a climate where resources are scarce and priorities shift from administration to administration, and public lands are not at the top of the list for preservation. We’ve seen a number of proposals to reduce the size of national monuments, or double park fees, etc. It could result in reduced access for triathletes or increased costs.

Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema speaks at the 2018 Triathlon Business International Conference. Photo provided by TBI/FinisherPix.

Triathlete.com: What can triathletes do to help?

Sinema: As a citizen, you have the right—and I would argue that as a triathlete maybe the responsibility—to reach out to a government agency while they’re considering a change to a proposed regulation, and you can provide a public comment. There is a website called Regulations.gov. All open regulations under consideration are on that website. Any person who lives in America can go on that website, put your name and your address, and share your comments. … Each agency has to, by law, take in public comments, and they have to consider them.

Triathlete.com: Triathlon in Arizona seems to be booming. It hosts several great races, including the collegiate championships this year, and this weekend is hosting the TBI Conference. What has it been like to see the growth?

Sinema: Tempe is the prime destination for triathlon. It is an amazing place to engage in the sport. … We have great weather—you can do the sport year-round. In the summer you have to do it early, but you can do it year-round. … We also have the political support we need. The mayor and the city council are supportive.

One of the things that’s been done in Arizona that’s really smart is that the race directors both from the Ironman brand and from our local brands have really done a good job of making sure our races are destination races and that there’s a bump to the local economy when those races occur. When a race director has the ability to invest the time and effort in those local businesses and engage with the local economic vibrancy, you see great support.

Triathlete.com: A big topic at the conference has been working to get more women into the sport and the barriers that they face. What have you learned with your time with Women for Tri?

Sinema: The first thing we did as an advisory board was a survey where we asked women who were athletic, but not necessarily triathletes, a series of questions. Do they want to tri? What are the barriers to tri? What is stopping them from tri’ing? And what things would they find most helpful? We did a recent survey, and we found the same things that we found then.

There are issues around work/life/family balance, and then there’s the water—but that’s not gender-specific; most of us are afraid of the water. Another issue that is more related to women is wanting to feel confident and have a sense of community when engaging in a new endeavor. The recipe for success is not rocket science.

What are the things that you do to overcome those barriers? You have swim clinics in a pool and then in the open water. You do tire-changing clinics. You have childcare when you are doing a seminar at night to talk about triathlon and nutrition. It’s not hard, but what is hard is changing mindsets and changing the culture. What I’m really excited about is the Women For Tri project has been so successful that we are now fielding requests from races around the world that want to partner with us because they want to increase women’s participation in triathlon. One of the new things we’re going to do is work on partnering with races that are not part of the brands that we were formed by. We were born in Ironman, and partnered with Life Time, so that’s where our early connections have been, but we’re going to expand.

That’s our next stage of growth: both our global rollout and our rollout to races of all distances to make sure we’re participating and helping women enter at the distance that works for them.

Triathlete.com: The Women for Tri Facebook page has become a great place for women in triathlon to connect. What has it been like to see that growth?

Sinema: We just hit 40,000 women this week. It is something special. … It is a place for women to feel 100% confident about sharing both their successes and their fears. What they receive from our community is amazing. It’s more than support: It’s also tips and help and a sisterhood that I don’t even know how you replicate. I’ve seen women say, “I’m going to go to this race, and my husband has to work so now I have to go by myself.” And another woman, who is a stranger whom she’s never met, says, “I will drive to this race, I will be your Sherpa, I will be there for you.” People make lifelong friendships. It’s amazing. Our goal is to continue to grow that global community but also export some of that specialness into the groundwork that’s happening with these tri clubs and ambassadors, and races around the globe.

Triathlete.com: You manage quite the balance yourself! How do you make triathlon a priority? You mentioned the goal of someday racing Ironman New Zealand! 

Sinema: I told myself that I’m going to win a Senate seat, then buy myself a new bike, and then I want to race New Zealand. For me, even having a demanding schedule, making time for triathlon is what keeps me healthy. Not just physically healthy, but mentally healthy. I have a better attitude when I go into a 12-hour day of work or longer because I got my swim in this morning … even during times as difficult as the government shutdown. It was a horrible, stressful time. But I used it as an opportunity to deepen my relationships with people across the aisle. I convinced my friends to come run loops with me around the Capitol. I had to do an 18-mile run on Sunday [she’s training for the Phoenix Marathon on Feb. 24] and we were in a government shutdown.

So I got up early and I spent Saturday convincing my friends to take turns running with me so that I’d have buddies during the 18 miles. What else I did during that run was I spent time talking with my colleagues of a different political party about how to solve the problem that we’re in, so it’s about using my time in a way that’s helping me toward my highest and best purpose. But also to help me continue to be the type of person I want to be every day, which is someone who’s cheerful, who’s focused on solutions, who’s not judgmental or angry—and to be able to do all of that I need to go into the day with a positive attitude.