How One Author Uses Triathlon To Get Inspired

How former Navy helicopter pilot and current novelist Anne Wilson uses triathlon to get inspired, even after 28 years in the sport.

Photo: Nils Nilsen

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How former Navy helicopter pilot and current novelist Anne Wilson uses triathlon to get inspired, even after 28 years in the sport.

In the novel Hover, helicopter pilot and Lieutenant Sara Denning enters and excels in the Naval Academy, despite her fear of water. In Clear to Lift, Alison Marone works on a search and rescue team, where she survives a harrowing ordeal on a mountainside during a sudden dangerous blizzard.

Both novels are gripping tales of bravery and tenacity, with strong female characters at the helm. It’s the trademark of author Anne Wilson, herself a strong female character.

A former competitive swimmer with the U.S. Naval Academy, Wilson quickly rose through the ranks as a navy helicopter pilot, heading up a unit that earned the Naval Helicopter Association’s award for Helicopter Aircrew of the Year in 1997. Wilson also worked for three years as a search-and-rescue pilot in Nevada, where she specialized in high-altitude, tactical mountain rescue. Though the pilot job was immensely satisfying, Wilson found herself looking for a new challenge. She found it at the 1988 Severna Park Triathlon in Maryland.

“I remember how excited I was to get out of the water at the front,” the 49-year-old recalls, “only to have the vast majority of the field pass me in the next two disciplines.”

Despite eating what she calls “a large serving of humble pie” that day, Wilson was intrigued by the challenge of multisport. She took to triathlon with the same intensity as her time in the Navy, determined to work her way to the top. In the years since, Wilson has collected a handful of overall and age-group wins, competed in USAT National Championship events, and crossed the finish line of four Ironman races.

“I love the variety in training and racing,” Wilson says of her 28 years in the sport. “Three disciplines, so many distances, so many venues—it’s hard to get bored!”

Wilson also credits training with sparking her current career as an author. Much of Hover, Wilson’s first novel, was written on the trails near her home in Fountain Hills, Ariz. “Training is literally where I do my writing—on runs, especially,” she says. “Whole scenes will play out for me when I’m running, and then I rush home and start typing away to get down on the page what was in my head.”

Just as Wilson found parallels between Navy training and triathlon, she sees strong similarities between triathlon and writing. “Just like you have to be patient and do your base training before moving into harder interval workouts, so you need to be patient with both the writing of the book and then the publishing process after,” Wilson says. “Disciplined, consistent work is a hallmark for good training, but it is just as important for writing.”

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