Some very powerful women gathered Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Tempe, Ariz., for the inaugural Outspoken Summit. The event—geared toward female triathletes, coaches, and industry members of all ranks—attracted more than 100 participants and multisport trailblazers.
After attending the event, there were many reasons to be stoked for the future of triathlon. Several important topics were discussed, and many attendees wrapped up the event with action items to work on over the next year with the goal being to support women in triathlon and grow multisport participation.
Here are 10 inspiring takeaways from just some of the Outspoken Summit participants:
1. “If we don’t fail, if we don’t lose, what is going to drive us to be better?” Pro triathlete Meredith Kessler posed this question to Summit attendees. Although she certainly knows about winning—she has several Ironman titles to her name—she’s intimate with the other side. Think Kona 2018, where she DNF’d. “That was my 10th Kona, give or take, and my 10th time failing, 10th time, 10,” she said. “I’ve walked the Queen K more times than I’d like to admit.”
Unafraid, Kessler shared her vulnerabilities and captivated her Summit audience. “No matter what we are, athletes or not, there are always going to be stumbling blocks,” she said. “Never let success get to your head, but never let failure get to your heart.”
2. In 2018 at age 60, former pro and multisport icon Julie Moss raced her final Ironman World Championship, finishing third in her age group with a time of 12:08:40. Her Hawaii swan song was planned for the 2017 championship, but she DNF’d that year. “Quitting was not how I could finish my relationship with Kona,” Moss told Summit participants.
Throughout her professional triathlon career, Moss’s brand has been perseverance. She was the athlete who, in 1982, put herself—and Ironman—on the map with an unforgettable crawl to the finish line. She offered this advice to the Summit audience:
“It’s about the character that you bring to the race, and your character will change over the course of that day. You will get stripped, and you will find new character, new strength, new reasons to keep going. But you have to have an absolute bottom line when it comes to endurance, and you have to have a bottom line when it comes to life. When you know your bottom line, and you’re secure in that, you can move mountains.”
3. Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) has fought some tough political battles, including her most recent that culminated in a 2018 midterm-election victory. As a triathlete, she’s pushed through challenging racecourses as well, but her start in multisport was unassuming and went something like this: 1) watch a friend do a half Ironman; 2) get totally overwhelmed by the experience; 3) sign up for an Ironman (bikeless and unable to swim).
Ambition has served the 42-year-old politician well. She told Summit participants, “Be inspired by what’s around you, and do double what that is—then systematically go through the process to achieve it. That’s the work we have to do to make women have full equity in the sport of triathlon.”
4. “Let’s look at this sport differently and let’s raise the bar,” Hall of Famer Sally Edwards told Summit participants. The triathlon pioneer has blazed so many trails—sport, business, education, publishing—and, at age 71, she makes no bones about where women should focus if they want to affect change in multisport: politics, money, business, and power. She encouraged attendees to start taking control. “Don’t sit back,” she said. “We can become the majority [in multisport].”
When an attendee asked how female race directors can affect change, Edwards flipped the question. “How many of you are race directors?” When only a few hands raised, she shrugged to prove the point, “There you go.”
5. Dr. Stacy Sims’ research into human performance—specifically sex differences in training, nutrition, and environmental conditions—is groundbreaking for female triathletes who want to get the most from their bodies. When asked during the Summit about the role of mental illness on performance, Sims was very candid, explaining how a year ago she was in a horrible place, mentally, because she wasn’t properly caring for herself. “I find it very common in so many female athletes where they feel this pressure to not only perform well, but they have to look good, they have to be smart, they have to be empowering, and they don’t have a support network,” she said. A support network is something to fall back on … “it becomes critical for mental health, for performance.”
6. In 2008 Rachel Joyce gave up her career as an attorney to become a professional triathlete and advocate for women in the sport. When she started out, sponsors helped her, but today all but a handful of elite triathletes make a living in the sport, she said. Joyce would like to see professionals and key industry players collaborate to help raise the status (and pay grade) of triathletes and triathlon. “I feel like the professionals have to fight for their position in this sport, otherwise it’s a dying breed,” she said.
7. Diana Bertsch is one of the most senior executives at Ironman. She’s tasked with spearheading the organization’s biggest events: the world championships. Having finished an Ironman World Championship in 1995, she has a keen view of multisport and is positioned to look into its future.
“We are unique as women … and there is nobody who can get in our way to tell us any different, to tell us we can’t do whatever we strive to do,” she reminded Summit participants. “Are we going to make mistakes along the way? Absolutely. Every single day each of us makes some kind of a mistake. But reflect on where we came from in this sport, and nothing will get in our way.”
8. Jamila Gale-Agans is a busy woman. She’s a triathlete, a coach, a businesswoman, she sits on the USAT Women’s Committee, and she’s an active-duty Army logistics officer (among other things). She’s also an advocate for increasing the number of sprint and Olympic-distance races as a way to decrease barriers to entry and grow multisport. She told Summit attendees, “I think the smaller races actually give more opportunity to 1) get more comfortable with the sport and 2) [smaller local races don’t] take the same logistics.”
9. “I see triathlon as a way to get more people active and to use it as a means for cultural shift,” Gabriela Gallegos told Summit attendees. She’s an attorney and race director who works to increase access to triathlon. Her hope is the conversation around multisport shifts. Much like tennis, golf, or swimming, she believes triathlon can be a lifelong sport, not just a bucket-list event.
“The thought that if you don’t have 20 hours a week to give, you can’t do this—that’s unreasonable for most people, especially women,” she told Summit attendees. In order to grow the sport, “the narrative of a triathlete has to change. [Triathlon] … is being active. You can set a goal. You can just be training. You can also take it up to the next level of achievement. Triathlon is a way to stay active for many years. It’s a way to integrate friends, family, multi-generations.”
10. Dana Platin’s new favorite acronym is F.L.Y., which stands for First Lead You. She’s a leadership development strategist who’s using her experience as a triathlete and mountaineer as a way to help others successfully push beyond personal limits into leadership roles. She shared with Summit attendees, “So it’s really easy to jump into a leadership position, but we first have to figure out how to lead ourselves.”