We’ve all met those triathletes: the ones who don’t think twice about making their significant others take care of the kids every weekend while they leave for six-hour training days. The ones who insist the whole family has to match their precise eating and sleeping habits in order to optimize recovery; who won’t get off the couch to take the garbage out because they need “to rest and recharge”; who make every vacation a race trip that’s all about them.
But it’s not their fault, right? Triathlon is to blame. After all, we’re told triathlon is inherently selfish. It’s an individual sport that demands sacrifice from everyone in your life so you can be all about you. It’s not triathletes who are selfish, it’s triathlon.
But I’m not buying it.
Those selfish jerks we’ve all met would still be selfish jerks whether they did triathlon or not. They’d still be self-absorbed whether their self-centered focus was on triathlon or their job.
There’s no rule that says swimming, biking, and running have to make us selfish. The pursuit of being the best endurance athlete isn’t any more egotistical than the pursuit of crafting the perfect pastry, for example. (Go with me for a second.) In every field there are selfish people who believe their individual goals are more important than anyone else’s. It’s not triathlon that’s selfish; it’s whatever we choose to do at the expense of others.
And let’s be real, unless you’re actually Mother Teresa, chances are some of the things you choose to do in your life are somewhat selfish. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it just means sometimes we all do things that are first and foremost for ourselves. As long as you still pay attention to the people around you, then triathlon doesn’t have to be any more selfish than reading a book or going to a show.
Because, when it comes down to it, the best of the best realize their teams are an important part of their goals. No one makes the Olympics without the support of family, coaches, and training partners.
That’s also why the best triathletes are quick to recognize just how un-selfish triathlon can be. The sport brings people together: We help each other and motivate those around us; we do rely on friends and family, and they rely on us, too. Triathlon doesn’t have to be selfish, as long as you’re not a selfish triathlete.