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Look for a new “Salty Triathlete” from Kelly O’Mara every month in Triathlete magazine.
I was standing on the beach at the start of my open-water swim race when we were given last-minute instructions. “Be chill, no pushing, or shoving,” said the race director. “Don’t be all triathlete about this.”
Don’t be triathlete about it? He must mean don’t be awesome. When I think of how other people view triathletes, I like to think of that old Hawaii Five-0 episode: “Who could possibly climb this elevator shaft while carrying the stolen diamonds and still have time to finish the race as an alibi? A triathlete!” Granted, the triathletes were the villains in that episode and didn’t even bother to take off their aero helmets while committing the heist. But still, at least we looked kind of badass. It turns out, however, a more accurate depiction—at least in terms of how others see us—might be the Rob Lowe character on Parks and Rec, an annoyingly cheerful exercise end who constantly harasses others about his resting heart rate and his purely salad diet.
While we think of triathletes as go-getting Type A self-starters, apparently some other people think of us as that annoying co-worker at the water cooler. (Think: YouTube video “I’m Training for an Ironman,”) We think swimming, biking, and running are fun! Yet, apparently, some people think we’re just trying to be the best at exercising, while they play “real sports.”
It’s the equivalent of imagining we look gazelle-like as we race towards the finish line, hearing the Chariots of Fire soundtrack playing dramatically in our head, and then we see the race photos and realize there was nothing gazelle-like about it. It’s almost an internet meme: What We Think A Triathlete Is & What Everyone Else Thinks A Triathlete Is.
But what is a stereotypical triathlete nowadays? Sure, some of us are Type A intense with color-coded schedules. But some of us are so laid back we could use a little more organization. Some of us eat a lot of salad, but lots of us eat a lot of burgers, too. Triathletes are no more all the same than any other group of thousands of people can all be the same.
It used to be that there were stereotypical jokes to make about triathletes. You show up to a cycling group ride on your TT bike, and the cyclists would all moan. (No, seriously, don’t do that.) But I told this to some newbies, and they had no idea why anyone might make fun of triathletes or what the stereotype is. They really think they look like gazelles and that their co-workers think they’re cool. And, you know what, maybe they’re right. Maybe they could also pull off a diamond heist in cycling shoes. Or something else also awesome and triathlete and less criminal.
So, sure, be aware of how others might perceive your triathleteness. Then go ahead and be all triathlete about it anyway.