Dispatch: Leap Of Faith–A Fledgling Pro’s Tips To Pursue The Triathlon Dream

New pro Alyssa Godesky shares her journey of making the leap from above-average age-grouper–with a secure career–to rookie pro.

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On March 30, a number of the sport’s top talents will toe the line at Ironman Los Cabos. One name will be an unfamiliar sight on the pro roster–Alyssa Godesky, who will race for the first time in the women’s professional field.

Godesky played soccer throughout grade school, then took to distance running as a member of the Navy Marathon Team at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Although she transferred from the Naval Academy after two years (opting to attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville to complete her college career), Godesky was hooked on going long–to date she’s a veteran of more than 35 ultra marathons, including an age-group win at the prestigious Western States 100-Miler in 2009.

During college Godesky also began to test the triathlon waters, tackling her first Ironman in 2009 (Louisville) and improving gradually–a mix of patient practice and the guidance of a newfound coach, Hillary Biscay. Godesky worked her way through the age-group ranks, earning starts at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in 2011 and in Kona in 2012 and 2013. 2013 proved a pivotal year for Godesky; she was honored with a 1st Place Overall Ironman Age Group Ranking, her cumulative results enough of a confidence boost to turn pro in 2014.

But making the leap from above average age grouper–with a secure career–to rookie pro–minus a regular paycheck–isn’t an easy choice for anyone. Here, Godesky shares her advice for navigating the process, how she’s handled obstacles along the way and encouraging words for anyone wobbling on the brink of pursuing their passion.

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The Protocol Is Clear…
Anyone that meets the USAT qualifying criteria–published annually–can apply for a pro license. “There are a handful of different criteria that can be used at various races, “says Godesky, “Some having to do with your finish time in relation to the winning pro, or–the one I used–finishing as one of the top three amateurs at a race with a prize purse of $20,000 or more.”

…But The Decision To Go Pro Is A Process
A single great result can be an indicator of future potential success, but a longer-term plan, as well as consistent confidence building performances, may be a better option, suggests Godesky. “I’ve been working with Hillary for three years now, and about a year into it was when the question first crossed my mind: Am I good enough to race as a pro? Hillary and I talked about it and agreed we would keep doing what we were doing and see how the next few years panned out. My plan was to try to race my best anyway, so we didn’t make any immediate changes. In 2012 I made good progress and got to Kona. Then in 2013 we shifted the focus from just qualifying for Kona to qualifying to race as an elite, and hopefully also getting to Kona along the way–and we set up my race schedule accordingly. I opened last year with Ironman Los Cabos. That was an age-group win for me and I felt pretty good, but I also wanted to confirm that it was a good race–one age-group win may or may not mean that you’re ready to take the next step. Rev3 Williamsburg was where I hoped to qualify for my pro card with a top-three finish. By no means do I consider myself a specialist in the half distance–I definitely prefer the Ironman distance and I think I’m more suited to it–but I came out of Rev3 feeling that it could not have gone better. I felt so strong the whole time, I was the second-place amateur and it almost gave me more confidence being able to do that in a half, rather than a full. And then the icing on the cake was Ironman Lake Placid. I think the women’s pro field only started two or three minutes in front of the age groupers, which for me was a fantastic opportunity to be in the mix with the pros. I came out of the water with the pro women, I felt like I was racing against them on the bike and I went out on the run head-to-head with some of the pros. I finished that race strong and with the age-group win, and it was such a positive experience, being able to keep my head in the game while racing at that level. That was really the final straw–both for me and for Hillary–not only feeling physically ready but also knowing I had the mental experience.”

Specific Preparation Is A Plus
The majority of pros that plan their race seasons around Kona need to race multiple Ironmans each year to qualify for the World Championship (in accordance with the KPR ranking system). Therefore, Godesky touts the benefits of testing your body in repeat long-course efforts. “Racing not just one Ironman, but also putting together a second one well, and then doing it a third time in Kona–that made me much more confident that I can focus on the iron-distance and race it multiple times in a year and do well,” she says.

Keep Triathlon In Your Place
In January 2014, Godesky rented out the comfortable home she owns in Baltimore, Md., sold a majority of her earthly possessions, packed the remainder into her car and drove to Charlottesville, Va., to set up camp in a tiny basement apartment, home base for her new life as a professional athlete. “My living situation feels like a sitcom at times, with things falling apart and going wrong,” she says, laughing. “But my move from Baltimore to Charlottesville was a cleansing experience, kind of ceremonial actually. And the space I live in here is small but it’s simple, so it’s sort of a daily reminder that I’m here as a triathlete. The apartment is set up to help me do what I do. My pool stuff, my bike stuff, my run shoes–I look around and it’s all right there, right in front of me. It helps keep me focused on what I’m here for and what I’m doing.”

Save, Save…And Save Some More
Godesky quit her full-time day job–a lucrative corporate marketing career–to turn pro. She survives off a mix of part-time income (contract marketing for race production company Bad To The Bone Endurance Sports, coaching Team HPB triathletes, supplemental income from her rental property and occasional prize money and sponsor incentives) and savings, and has significantly tightened her budgetary belt. To anyone considering a pro career, she offers this financial advice: “As soon as you even think it could be a remote possibility for you, start saving. I always thought I was saving–I mean I was saving for retirement, and I bought a house. But saving in a more liquid vehicle would have helped me a little bit more. You can’t take everything out of your 401k!”

Present Your Plan
While Godesky’s friends–many of a similar athletic ilk–were every bit supportive of her endeavor, her parents needed convincing of the pragmatism of her choice. “That required a little more planning on my part! I started dropping hints early on that it was something I was thinking about, and then eventually I presented them a full plan, with spreadsheets and everything,” she says. “Showing my family how I planned on supporting myself and how I was going to make it work was an important part of talking to them. Because I knew they were going to support my decision, but I also wanted them to feel justified in supporting me. I didn’t want them to constantly worry–even though my mom still does! The hardest part–for them–is the unknown. I showed them a solid two-year plan–a window of time where I feel confident that I can support myself. But of course the obvious question is: Then what? And I’m OK with not having that answer just yet, but it is hard to explain to your parents that it depends on how the next few years go.”

Embrace The Big Picture Sponsor-Wise
Godesky harbors no illusions that sponsor support will come quickly or easily. “It’s a tough industry,” she says. “I’m very fortunate to work with three companies so far as sponsors–SMASH, PowerBar and Oiselle. It is hard, but my feeling is that it’s hard for everyone. The best I can do is stay positive and try to be someone that, a year or two from now, more companies will want on board to represent their products.”

Choose A Strategic, Cost-Effective Training Spot
“I came back to Charlottesville after spending two years of my undergrad here,” says Godesky. “The cost of living is lower than in Baltimore, but more importantly I think being around any university makes for great facilities. I’m able to use the pool and gym at UVA and that’s a big plus. And I have miles and miles of country roads to ride on. I can go out for a seven-hour ride and see just a handful of cars, which was definitely not the case in Baltimore.”

Keep It Positive And In Perspective
“Whenever I’ve questioned my decision, something I’ve always come back to is to ask myself: Worst case scenario, what happens? And my answer is: Worst case, I go back to living the life I was living two months ago. And it was a darn good life! So if that’s my worst case scenario–and I would wager it’s the same for most people in my position–that’s not too bad,” says Godesky.

Ultimately, Just Jump!
At some point, says Godesky, action is the only option to pursue the pro dream. “The thing that separates me from so many other people who talk about going pro is the fact that I’m actually doing it. I acted on it,” she says. “And I was scared to death! I was nervous, there were tears as I was leaving my job and moving and driving away from home, but I went through with it. And just letting yourself take that chance, in and of itself, is a huge step.”

Don’t Deny The Survival Instinct
It’s OK–motivating even–to race for real-life rewards, says Godesky. “I think racing pro will definitely make me a little hungrier for the competition and for the chances to prove myself as an athlete. Because I’m no longer looking at it like: If I do well it will be cool to talk about! Now it’s like: Doing well will pay my health insurance this month! If I win I won’t have to stress out about rent. I hope that helps me to dig deep and get it done!”

Celebrate Your Choice
While humble in her hard-work approach, Godesky doesn’t hide her excitement at seeing her name on the pro athlete roster for the first time. “It’s so cool!’ she exclaims. “I was so excited for the Los Cabos pro list to come out. And I was like: I want to tweet it! No, I don’t want to tweet it. Yes, I want to tweet it! I finally let myself do it. It’s funny because I’ve watched some of the girls that are racing for years and I’ve looked up to them. And then some of them are girls I raced against as age groupers not too long ago. So it feels totally surreal, but at the same time it feels right. I believe that my name fits with theirs.”

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Follow along Godesky’s journey on Twitter @alyssagodesky and on her website and blog Alyssagodesky.com.

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