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Ever since she burst onto the scene as the Under-23 National Champion in 2004, Sarah Haskins has been an absolute force in triathlon. The 2008 Olympian’s athletic resume is as sparkling as her ITU World Championship silver medal, and includes a massive collection of 50-plus professional wins in draft-legal and non-drafting Olympic distance races as well as 70.3. This week, after 15 years in the sport, Haskins, 38, announced her retirement to focus on her family, which includes her husband Nathan Kortuem, and her children Caroline, 6, and Connor, 2. Here, Haskins, who lives in Eureka, Missouri, shares what went into her decision to leave the sport, her favorite moments as a triathlete–and her plans for the future.
Triathlete Magazine: Walk us through your decision to retire.
Sarah Haskins: After my son was born in 2017, I said to my husband, Nate, ‘I think I have two years left in me.’ I knew racing professionally wasn’t something I could do forever, and I wanted to give Nate time to think about his next steps. For years, his full-time job had been supporting my triathlon career. So this allowed him a timeframe to decide what he’d do next, which he did: He’s enrolled in school now for education with the goal of becoming a high school teacher and coach.
Tri: Still, it must have been a very emotional choice to make.
SH: Of course. It seems so surreal that a huge part of my life is over. For 15 years, I ate, drank, slept, and breathed triathlon. I met some amazing people. And I’ll miss it. I’ve had a few good cries over it, but I’m content with the decision.
To be honest, the fire to compete just wasn’t there any more. Recently, I was feeling a lot of anxiety about racing, which I’d never experienced before. I was training a lot on my own, too, and it was just hard to find the motivation recently. There was also more pressure. Triathlon was my full-time I job, and I had to support my entire family. It wasn’t a hobby–there was always that need to do well and earn money.
Tri: This year, you won the St. Anthony’s Triathlon for a record-setting eighth time in April. Then in June you won the Herbalife24 Los Angeles Triathlon in and placed third at Escape From Alcatraz. So what changed since then?
SH: Actually, I got sick with a virus after Alcatraz, so I had to take an unplanned break. And then I had plans to race in the fall, but my son, Connor, has been hospitalized for asthma a few times recently. That put everything into perspective. I couldn’t put in the hours of training when I needed to be there for him around-the-clock. I was stressed. I was also sleep deprived–I still am! He’s better now, but not a great sleeper. I didn’t want to start traveling to races and be away from him. You have to have a huge drive to compete in and train for these major races, and once that’s gone, it’s hard to keep it up.
Tri: Looking back at your career, what are some of your favorite moments?
SH: It’s hard to pick one, because I’ve been racing for so long! But there are a few. The first is the 2008 ITU World Championships in Vancouver, when I broke away with [eventual World Champ] Helen Jenkins and earned a silver medal. I had trained so hard, and raced aggressively. Things really came together there.
Then, there’s the Hy-Vee race in 2012. I’d just missed making the Olympic team, and that was a redemption for me of sorts. The race started at noon, and it was summer, in Iowa, so like 90 degrees. And in Olympic-distance racing, you’re going all out from the start. There was so much pressure, so much money on the line. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. [Editor’s note: At the time, Hy-Vee’s $1.1 million prize purse was the largest in the history of the sport. Haskins finished second in an all-star field and earned $75,000, plus primes.]
Finally, in 2014, I returned to St. Anthony’s for the first time after having my daughter. Even though it was just five years ago, there really weren’t many women coming back to racing after having babies then. Someone I once raced with even told me, ‘you can be a great mom and a great triathlete, but you can’t do both.’ That stuck in my head and added a lot of fuel to my fire. I wound up winning that race and breaking my own course record.
Tri: What’s next? Will you race again?
SH: Right now, my focus is on my family. Nate is gone 12 hours a day, and I am the hands-on parent. My kids keep me busy, but maybe once they’re in school, I’ll go into teaching–I have a degree in education–or coaching.
And I will definitely stay fit. Running is the easiest thing for me to do right now. My son hates the childcare at our gym. He literally screams when I drop him off, and I don’t have the heart to leave him there. So, for now, I go on runs with my son in the jogging stroller, sprint up and down the stairs while the kids are playing outside, and do lunges in my living room. And we’ll do some local 5Ks as a family to support the community.
Do you see yourself staying involved in the sport at all?
SH: I’m sure I’ll do events around St. Louis, working with tri clubs. I don’t know what else my role will be, and I’ll take the time to figure out what that avenue will be. I do know that this sport will always be a huge part of my life.