I recently completed a personality profile that listed some of my top traits as: achiever (ability to work hard, enjoy being busy and productive); focus (prioritise, set goals, act) and learner (desire to learn and continually improve). When I reflect on these traits, I have to admit that they are close to the mark (although I’d also add a few others such as procrastinate, organise and tidy!). They are traits that I developed into strengths as a professional athlete. They are the strengths that push me through every training session, every competition, through illness and injury and propel me to be the best athlete that I can be.
In 2013 following 18 months of time out due to injury, I returned to competition. I finished on the podium in every race that I entered. I made it my focus to qualify for the World Ironman Championships. I finished on the podium in all but two races in 2014. These were the two most important races: World Half Ironman and World Ironman Championships. I am confident that I can explain on a physiological/scientific basis what went well and what went not so well in those events. This alone gives me the confidence to think about where I can learn and improve and start to look at what I want to do in 2015.
In 2015, following more than a decade as a professional triathlete, I will be making a career change. It’s a decision that I made quickly, so much so that it has even taken me by surprise. However, it is not a decision made in haste or taken lightly. I know that I can still improve as an athlete, I know that I can be competitive, I know that it is a lifestyle that I love and I know, and appreciate, that triathlon and the triathlon world has given me more than I can begin to articulate. What I also know is that over the past season I have struggled to be fully mentally focused on triathlon. Training, racing and travelling has not given me the same positive feedback, fulfillment and personal satisfaction that it has done in the past. I found myself questioning why I was training and competing. When I was standing on the podium projecting joy and enthusiasm, those feelings were not always reflected internally. When I failed to finish at the World Championships in Kona I was hugely disappointed, but I wasn’t as heart and gut-wrenchingly disappointed as I had been in previous years when things did not go to plan. It’s only now that I can acknowledge that I did the “ostrich”: I stuck my head in the sand and refused to acknowledge my thoughts, feelings and emotions. It’s only now that I can see that my mental and emotional being was reflected in my desire to commit to fully to my race day performances. As an achiever I got busy being busy, I lost connection with, and I was dishonest to myself. I convinced myself that racing and training were my raison d’etre. When it came time to walk the walk I couldn’t follow through.
I did sketch a season plan for 2015 with new and exciting races and different challenges. I thought that this would override the feelings of disengagement that I was experiencing. The reality is that it would have been a temporary fix. In some ways it would have been the “easy” option: a step into the known: consistent training equals strong racing. It’s a formula that I have tried, tested, refined and proved many times over.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Henry Ford (1863-1947)
The harder decision is to move on from being a professional athlete. I’m no longer driven “to get what I’ve always got” through triathlon. I know that it is the correct decision. I’ve taken my head out of the sand and evaluated where I am, where I am headed and ultimately what makes me happy. It’s time to change and to develop new opportunities to challenge myself. I’m not entirely sure what these new challenges are. For someone who thrives on focus, routine and working to a plan it is daunting, intimidating and scary. But that also makes it exciting!
My triathlon road has been paved with many golden bricks. Sponsors have enabled me; friends and family have supported me; coaches have guided me; homestays have welcomed me; spectators have cheered for me; competitors have pushed me and volunteers, organisations and race organisers have given me a hook on which to hang my hat.
I’d like to thank you all for being a part of an amazing journey. I am an achiever, I have focus and I love to learn. If sport has taught me anything it is that with hard work, persistence and dedication to a goal, I can and I will succeed. My path has diverged I’ve chosen the road less traveled by. I hope to see you somewhere en route.
The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost1874-1963)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.