Why This Pro Turned Down His Kona Spot

Jonathan Shearon will skip the Ironman World Championship to race in Ironman Louisville instead.

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Jonathan Shearon will skip the Ironman World Championship to race in Ironman Louisville instead.

Going into the 2018 season, American Jonathan Shearon had one goal: to get faster. And in his seventh year as a pro triathlete, he seems to be doing just that. Training under new coach Ryan Bolton, Shearon has notched some respectable results at the Ironman distance, including a trio of sixth-place finishes in South Africa, Boulder, and Hamburg.

Still, the thought of qualifying for October’s Ironman World Championships remained a more distant dream. Until, that is, he was offered the final qualifying position for pro men last week. A spot on the Kona start line was his to take.

Except Shearon didn’t take it.

Shearon, 38, decided to pass on the chance to compete on the Big Island, giving Great Britain’s Tim Don the final roll down spot. And he did so for what amounted to a very practical reason: to save money. After all, a trip to Kona would cost him several thousand dollars, and he stood an outside chance on collecting a return on that investment—prize money, which is distributed to the top 10—considering the steep competition he’d face at the championship level. Instead, Shearon will race on the same weekend several thousand miles away at the decidedly-less stacked Ironman Louisville, where he has his eyes on a win—and an automatic qualification for Kona in 2019.

“It was really hard to turn down the Kona slot, but it was an easy decision after weighing the pros and cons of racing Louisville versus Kona,” says Shearon. “My total expenses for Louisville will be around $700. There is never a guarantee when racing an Ironman, but if I have a great day and win there, I will receive a large paycheck [$8,000] and will qualify for Kona next year.”

Shearon, who has been open about his struggles with drugs and alcohol addiction and the impact triathlon has made toward his recovery, says that he is not motivated by money as a pro, but admits that finances are a factor when he’s at a crossroads in his career.

“My goal has always been to make decisions that will ultimately allow me to reach my full potential as a triathlete however long it takes,” he says. “Unfortunately, money plays a big role in that evolution. Triathlon is an expensive sport.”

Shearon, who lives in Tucson, Arizona and spends part of the year training at altitude in Santa Fe, New Mexico, says that his recent improvements in the sport has made him confident that he’ll be toeing the line in Kona next October.

“This year could be my only chance to race Kona as a pro, but I honestly don’t believe that at all. I have seen some great progress in the last year and that is what it is all about for me,” says Shearon, who last raced in Kona in 2011 as an age-grouper. “So I will keep my head down, keep grinding away and hopefully I will be in a position in a little over a year from now to perform at my very best on the Big Island.”

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