Culture

The Ups And Downs Of Being A Professional Triathlete

Being a professional triathlete is truly a dream job—but it’s still a job.

Being a professional triathlete isn't always a fun job. Photo: Delly Carr/Triathlon.org

Being a professional triathlete is truly a dream job—but it’s still a job.

Written by: Samantha McGlone

POLL: Do You Dream Of Being A Professional Triathlete?

Along with the latest gear and international travel come long, monotonous training days, painful injuries and lack of financial security. Some of the best things about being a pro? The opportunity to see places that I would never visit otherwise is high on the list: Ishigaki, Japan; Tasmania, Australia; Tiszaújváros, Hungary; Kansas—all off-the-beaten-path destinations with cool races and interesting people.

I think the highlight of this career is having the time and resources to pursue excellence in something I love to do and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same.

But it can be a double-edged sword. The sport is all encompassing—you are an athlete 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When your body is your career there’s no leaving the office. Everything you do as a pro—train, eat, sleep and recover—has an impact on performance. A few bad workouts can leave you in a funk for days. This may seem extreme but sport is fickle—one bad season or a string of injuries can mean the difference between having a career and not. We are hesitant to do the fun stuff such as skiing, surfing or mountain biking even in the off-season, either for lack of energy or fear of injury. Going out on a Friday night is not an option when you have a six-hour workout the next morning. And while we get to travel to some amazing places, it’s always on business—I have spent way too many taper days holed up in some generic hotel room when a sunny beach beckons just outside the window.

Being able to make a living by swimming, riding and running all day is the culmination of many years of hard work and a dream come true for every pro I know. I polled a cross section of professional triathletes; here are their ideas of the best and worst things about our job. (Ice cream was mentioned more than once, as were 5 a.m. swim practices.)

Paula Findlay

Photo: Triathlon.org

BEST: Achieving goals, being active and fit for a living, traveling to cool places and meeting new people.

WORST: Packing, traveling with lots of luggage, airports and homesickness.

Melanie McQuaid

Photo: XTERRA

BEST: Having the luxury of time to pursue your best possible fitness.

WORST: Feeling the pressure when you aren’t performing at your potential.

Laurel Wassner

Photo: Kris Mendoza

BEST: Having the platform to influence and inspire others to go after their dreams, whether it’s just getting off the couch or training for an Ironman.

WORST: Missing out on parties, weddings and family events because of being tired, having to get up early or traveling to a race. But I try to make up for it!

Damon Barnett

BEST: Guilt-free ice cream! Chunky Monkey is where it’s at.

WORST: Being away from my friends and family.

Kevin Collington

Photo: Paul Phillips

BEST: The feeling I get after having a result in a race that matches or exceeds my expectations. All the pre-race stress is replaced by a pretty nice feeling of euphoria, and most races are in some sort of exotic foreign location so I can get on with enjoying a little vacation!

WORST: The bad days in training. Maybe the monotony of a training block is catching up with me or I just failed a workout. Either way it’s a pretty big downer.

Linsey Corbin

Photo: Kurt Hoy

BEST: Packages of cool new gear and unlimited supplies of Clif Bars or Big Sky Beer arriving at the house, getting paid to do something that rarely seems like a job, swimming outside in the sun, coffee-shop bike rides.

WORST: Getting injured, missing flights, having to go to bed early and missing out on fun nights seven to nine months of the year, flat tires.