Retirement Blog (Rated PG 13)
I’m retiring from Ironman and triathlon, that’s the main point of this blog post- if you don’t like reading long blog posts stop here.
When I started writing a blog about retiring I didn’t really know where it would lead. I figured the boring thing to do would be to say “yes it was fun, so many great experiences and I learned so much and there are so many people to thank and bla bla bla”, all true of course but as I got going so much started to come out that I just kept writing. And to be honest it wasn’t all fun- sometimes it sucked ass but I wouldn’t change it for anything. There were a seemingly endless number of great stories and paths I could have gone down but that is called a book. This is supposed to be a blog post; it’s just a damn long one.
This blog post is long overdo because I retired at the end of August but quite honestly I sometimes struggle with the whole notion of the social media world we live in these days. It seems quite self-serving and narcissistic to even contemplate writing about oneself. Like really, do people honestly give a shit? If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that nobody gives a shit more about your shit than you do. Yet we tend to think everyone does actually give a shit but here’s the problem; most of us are so consumed with our own shit we don’t actually care that deeply about someone else’s shit unless it somehow affects our own shit. Twitter, Facebook, blogs- all are weird ways to get attention but at the same time it’s a cool way to share stuff. So sometimes I’ve felt like putting this blog up and sometimes I read it and think, “wow who gives a shit?”
When I was a kid the only thing I ever aspired to be was an athlete. I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and the only answer I ever had for that was “athlete”. Kids dream big and for me that always correlated directly with dreaming big in sports. I loved big sporting moments and I wasn’t picky about them either. Watching a team win the Stanley cup or a World Cup ski race or an Olympic medal or Wimbledon all held the same allure. The thought of being part of a moment like that set me on a life path that will likely always involve sport at some level. Sport was what I was good at from a very young age. Either that or I just got enough positive feedback from adults that I kept going so I would get more positive feedback.
Sport can have it’s frustrating aspects- politics, egos, injuries, bad races, illness, there’s lots of stuff but the inspiring moments always reignited me and it’s somehow kept me on this path for 38 years. I’m fascinated, moved, motivated and inspired by the act of athletic pursuits. Strip away all the nonsense around sport and at the heart of it is the simple goal of seeing how good you can be at something. Humans have an amazing ability to push themselves beyond what is supposed to be possible or reasonable. We are driven, sometimes for positive reasons, sometimes for not so positive reasons but non-the less, driven.
Outcome and process have become almost cliché terms these days. I blame the rise of motivational speaking for this. What is motivational speaking anyway? I’ve even done some myself, which always seemed like an odd thing to do. Sometimes I’ve felt like saying “Hey guess what, if you’re not motivated then you’re probably doing the wrong life thing or you’re just lazy so pull your head out of your ass! But at the same time I enjoy a good motivational speaker because I’m human and humans have an emotional side that is often not given enough weight in how we function. We like to hear that anything is possible and we like things like quotes and video footage with music and stories of overcoming stuff so I get it. I’m reading Theo Fleury’s book “Playing with Fire” at the moment and I love it. I find it motivating because it stirs something emotionally in me like I’m sure it does with many people. You see a guy who had some real life shit going on yet he storms out and scores goals in the biggest hockey league on the planet. It’s kind of reassuring to read about someone we would call an athletic hero and realize he was just as if not more messed up than most of us. Andre Agassi’s book was the same sort of thing. I like stories like this because I think it takes guts to put that out there.
Where was I? Oh yeah, outcome and process. I’ve always found it easy to be engaged in the process. I think part of it was almost OCD tendencies (if you truly are OCD then I apologize because I know it is a serious condition). But I really do have some odd tendencies. I have to rub my feet together in bed or I can’t fall asleep, sometimes I’ll wake up two hours later and there are the feet, still rubbing away. I used to mash down on the gums around my wisdom teeth until they bled. Once they got to a certain point I couldn’t do it anymore because it was so painful. They would heal a bit then two weeks later I’d notice that there I was again, mashing down on the gums around my wisdom teeth. I will rub my pointer finger in the crease where my thumb meets my hand and I do it to a certain rhythm. If I screw up the rhythm in my head I have to do it again and again and again until I get it right. But usually I’m off slightly so I have to keep doing it. The same thing applies to wiggling my big toe. Sometimes I strain the muscles in my foot because it takes more effort when your foot is crammed in a shoe, there’s more resistance. Sometimes I have to just yank the damn shoe off and give my big toe a little help so it will stretch to the point where I feel satisfied.
I’ve always had a strong capacity to lose myself in the process. It struck me recently when I was doing the dishes. I do the dishes most of the time at our place and sometimes I get grouchy about that but I realized I actually don’t mind it. I can lose myself entirely in the process of it and I love the end result. Over the years I’ve refined it so much I’ve developed a very tight set of parameters by which I operate. I’m incredibly efficient and follow a set of rules every time. I’m almost better at doing the dishes than I am at triathlon.
I think sport is a perfect place for this kind of personality because you have to be able to engage fully in the process and relentlessly burn movement patterns into your nervous system. I never had a problem with that. I never found it boring; I always found it incredibly engaging and satisfying. The process became something I embraced. Outcomes are infrequent and fleeting, the process is where you spend all of your time and I believe that the real value has and always will be in the process of things. Don’t get me wrong, certain outcomes can definitely be rewarding on a number of levels but you can’t tie the value of what you are doing to outcomes alone. The process is not easy and it’s not supposed to be easy. Everything I’ve done in my life that required effort, personal sacrifice and a willingness to put myself out there always resulted in some form of growth. What would you rather have, a million dollars that was generated because you worked your ass off, learned some incredible skill sets, had to struggle for….or a million dollars because of a lottery ticket? Call me crazy but the former seems more rewarding somehow.
I was lucky enough to have parents who never dissuaded the idea that “athlete” could be a job title. They were not pushy parents, they really only cared about my happiness. Ironically I believe it was my reaction to heart-breaking events that became part of the fuel for what I was doing and contributed to some of my odd tendencies. My parents were divorced when I was 8 years old and as much as I can remember faking happy it was crushing. The next 10 years would involve some rather unpleasant family moments that gutted me. Somewhere in those years I became a little derailed emotionally but there was always sport. It became my outlet for frustration and a place where I found peace and some kind of inner strength. I discovered early on that I had a knack for suffering. I would put myself through hell before I would lose. I hated losing more than anything and when I was young I did a lot of it. I’ve had something to prove since those early years. I’m not sure if it was just wanting to be the guy who broke out of the small town mold or wanting to get my dads attention or just plain inner anguish that sparked the fire, probably a combination of things. Regardless, I was for the most part pissed off in my teen years and hell bent on being great at something. I figure there was a time somewhere in there that I sat at a crossroads. In one direction was negative self-destructive behavior and in the other was positive, goal driven (with small amounts of self destructive) behavior. I thank the energy and wisdom of my Mother for leading my brother and I down the path that allowed us to focus ourselves in a productive manner.
Triathlon was the perfect sport to put that kind of energy towards because I could focus it into something productive. Instead of kicking the crap out of my stuff I could kick the crap out of myself. I just learned to do it with a smile on my face and fake it better when I lost but I still hated losing and I would gut myself entirely to make sure it didn’t happen. And if I did lose I was usually too damn exhausted to really do much about it. The endorphins help that too, yes people it is a drug, a socially acceptable drug that doesn’t need a prescription…don’t deny it, embrace it. Everyone is as high as a kite after an Ironman. Ever notice that people chat incessantly after an Ironman- they should be exhausted but they ramble on about every aspect of their race. Why we have any family left after Ironman week has always been a mystery to me. Why do you think it’s so hard to sleep after one of those things? You’re full of endorphins and metabolic byproducts…. kind of like being strung out on drugs. What do you think the “Ironman Blues” are? They’re the crash after the high. And why do you think so many people swear in the days before that they’ll never do another one then line up the next day, drop six hundred bucks and sign up for the next year? Socially acceptable addiction, simple as that!
I wanted to be a downhill skier. I spent all of my teen years chasing that goal and not making it was one of the most devastating times in my life. I was a great skier, technically sound and a very hard worker but there were pieces of the puzzle missing. I chalk it up to my ability to handle the important moments. I was great in training, not so great when it counted. It was my first realization at how important the mental side of sport was and how wanting it too much could actually be counter productive. Sometimes when you want it too much you overthink, it’s better to react in a sport like skiing. As soon as you start thinking at 100km/hr you’re toast.
I got into many fights with my brother growing up. We could hate each other and be best friends all within the space of an hour and it all stemmed out of a fierce competitive rivalry that I thank entirely for my development of work ethic and determination. In those years there was nobody I felt closer to and loved more than my brother and at the same time nobody I hated with as much fierce intensity when we had to compete against each other. When we trained together or raced against each other we would quite literally rip each other to pieces.
At the age of 19 I was faced with the decision many young athletes reach when you realize it just isn’t going to happen. If you don’t make the National team or at least show promise that you will the financial costs are massive. But finances weren’t the main reason. I simply wasn’t good enough. There were 15 year olds who were starting to kick my ass and there were 19 year olds winning world cups. I wasn’t at that level and it crushed me. The decision to pack it in was to this day the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Why? Because you are NEVER supposed to quit! I defined myself as the guy who didn’t quit in anything. Every training session I treated as if it was the most important one of the season. It didn’t matter how tired I was or how frustrated I was, I promised myself that I would always show up and do the best job I could and for ten years that’s exactly what I did. And now I had to face the awful truth that it just wasn’t going to happen.
I remember when one of my best friends made the National Ski Team and went on to be National Downhill Champion and race on the world cup. It was such a mixture of emotions for me because it happened at the exact time I decided to move on from ski racing. We went to his house for dinner and he had just received all of his National Team gear- he had done what we set out to do from the first time we strapped on skis; he was putting on the uniform made famous by the crazy canucks and he was doing it as a downhiller, it was awesome. I was never more proud of someone and more crushed at the same time. When we left their house after dinner I broke down in tears. I felt like I had failed and at a very deep level I believed it. Very few teenagers have clear perspective on things and I was not much different. This was worse than any heartbreak or first love break up. For me not making the grade in ski racing was devastation.
Graydon and I have remained great friends since our teenage years. Sadly Graydon would only race on the team for a couple of years before an accident at the National Championships would end his career. In my opinion it was one of the greatest losses for Canadian ski racing. Graydon had a feel for the snow that was unmatched- the guy just knew how to generate speed. I can’t imagine the loss for him but like so many driven athletes he has gone on to great success beyond sport.
It didn’t take me long to put my energy into something else. I had absolutely no aspirations of pursuing anything but sport. University seemed too easy, I figured that would happen at some point and I was terrified of going down a “normal” path. For whatever reason I had defined what “normal” was and in my mind it was the worst possible outcome for a life. Looking back I think about how vain that was but pretty typical of a teenagers brain. I realize now how extraordinary everyone is. And often the people who are “normal” are actually operating at a very high level of awareness and are extremely happy and the people we call “extraordinary” are sometimes completely F-d up or total assholes.
I have never felt limited by what people were supposed to be able to do so I figured I could make it as a professional tennis player. In hindsight it seems ridiculous to even say that at age 19 but I had a skill set and work ethic and figured why not. I moved to Toronto in 1992 and lived with a family so I could train at one of the best clubs in Canada. I commuted two hours in each direction every day and basically lived on the tennis court. I would take the Go train and subway home at night, often in bare feet because the blisters were so bad from practice that shoes were too painful and the cold pavement felt good on my feet. Post workout nutrition in those days was a bottle of Snapple and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. I would eat on the train while filling out my logbook and reading John Grisham novels. I spent a lot of time alone on trains that year; I read every book he wrote.
The Tennis program at ORC had some great coaches. We trained hard and I spent most days on the court. It was my first year out of high school and most of the guys I was training with were still in high school so I would hang out at the club looking for anybody to play with until practice. In any type of physical testing we did in that program and in the skiing programs I was off the charts. During regular fitness tests I would do traditional sit-ups on the tennis court for upwards of an hour until my entire back was covered in blood and the coaches would just stop me and say, “ok, I think you passed that test”. I thrived in situations like that because of what it represented to me. I was hell bent on being the hardest working, toughest bastard and could muster my inner “pissed off at life” demons like nobody else. I was happy go lucky on the outside but an emotional mess on the inside. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun and I loved being on the court more than anywhere else but my motivation was almost entirely based on past failings, or what I thought at the time were failings. My self worth was still wrapped up in whether I succeeded or failed. I’d moved to Toronto to become a professional tennis player at age 19 and I wasn’t coming back unless mission accomplished.
I was good at tennis but a bit delusional. Delusion can be a good thing if it keeps you pursuing something. After a year in Toronto I landed a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, an NCAA division 1 school in the USA. I knew before leaving that the direction of my life was turning again, this time towards triathlon but thought in the big picture of life I would be a fool to turn down such an opportunity. I also had to have something to show for the bold claim that I was going to make it as a tennis player. I think I was the only one that didn’t think I was crazy. My realization that tennis just wasn’t going to happen came when I played a guy ranked 750th in the world and barely took a set off him. I wasn’t stupid, delusional yes but not stupid. I figured he would barely take a game off a top 100 guy and a top 100 guy would barely take a game off a top 10 guy and at the time a top 10 guy, if he was lucky, would barely take a set off someone like Agassi or Lendl. Even though the term WTF didn’t exist back then I still thought WTF. The funny thing is I wasn’t a bad player. Good enough to play division one tennis, maybe not win NCAA’s but good enough to get there. So WTF! Tennis was a deep sport to put it mildly.
The decision to go anyway was one of the best I’ve ever made. It ended up being one of the best years of my life and is a large reason I was able to turn a corner in my ability to handle the critical moments in sport.
I was a bag of nerves heading into my first match at UWGB and got a sound ass whooping as a result. You only get your team jacket when you win your first match at UWGB and I wondered if I would ever get it after such a poor start. But something inside changed in the early weeks. I think most notable the notion that you can care deeply about winning but don’t have to let that turn into performance anxiety. The other guys on the team were on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from me. They were not hard workers, had incredibly bad habits and weren’t afraid to stay up all night drinking before a big match. Ironically our number one player was not only the biggest boozehound but also the one with the best record. On one occasion he spent all night drinking with some of the local ladies in the hot tub. At 5am he was still there partly drunk and partly hung over. Our first round of matches started at 7am. He showed up still smelling of alcohol and barely awake. As soon as he walked on court he snapped into focus and proceeded to win 6-0, 6-1 and then won his doubles match as easily later in the day. This strategy flew in the face of my notion of high performance sport yet there was something to his ability to play completely relaxed and in focus when it mattered. Maybe it was time to loosen up! I proceeded to go on that year and lost only 3 matches. I got my team jacket the second match I played and never looked back. I still busted my ass and worked hard but I also didn’t take shit so seriously. I learned that you could actually enjoy yourself and still perform well. In fact, I often performed much better. My time in Wisconsin quite literally transformed me from someone who could never perform to someone who always performed well when it counted.
But my intention at UWGB was no longer directed at Tennis. Before I left I was moving onto triathlon. The tennis coach hated me because he would always bust me for extra training that really had nothing to do with tennis and in hindsight I would say his anger was justified. Of all the coaches I’ve had over the years I can say without hesitation that he was the worst. I’m glad I had one like him to make me realize how lucky I was with the rest of them. I befriended everyone I could who was involved in an endurance sport at UWGB. My best friends were runners, swimmers and cross-country skiers and I would inundate them with question after question on how to get faster. I moved back home at the end of that year having spent the large majority of it preparing for my career as a triathlete.
I’ve had my fare share of internal struggles and some of them continue today. I think it’s natural to attach your identity to the pursuit of such things. Sport can suck you into that trap. If you win the external rewards are plenty and the ego can become seduced by all the attention. If you lose, it can feel so shitty that you want to bury your head in the sand and kick in the door of the team van or smash your foot through a kitchen cupboard, which I did on many occasions growing up. I hated losing more than anything because I attached so much of my self worth to it. I lost a lot when I was growing up- I didn’t win that many ski races so I spent the majority of my time feeling like a loser and breaking shit. I must have almost driven my Mom to complete madness. I remember her threatening to take me off the court at the under 14 BC tennis championships because I was being such an ass. But I get it now- kids have limited perspective on such things- when you’re a kid you are usually all in emotionally and all in means a limited if any ability to control your emotions. It’s partly why kids are so awesome and partly why they can drive you nuts sometimes. I think it’s important not to lose too much of that as you grow older. Yes you have to learn to control yourself but that emotion can be an incredibly powerful driving force and with work you can use it to your advantage.
My view on losing has changed over the years. It is no longer attached so deeply to my identity (I would be lying if I said it was completely gone- humans are always a work in progress). The fact is we lose more races than we win. Doesn’t matter who you are, you will probably not be first more times than you are first. That is the nature of sport and the nature of competition. It’s because we may lose that we keep fighting hard to try and win and I like that aspect of losing. But it’s also the possibility of winning that motivates us so deeply at a professional level. They are both motivating forces and I don’t know if one is better than the other. Kids have reminded me that losing is absolutely essential for growth. If you always win you don’t necessarily develop all the important aspects of being a winner. Aspects like hard work, commitment, focus, figuring out your weaknesses, exploiting your strengths and oh yes, humility. Kids relentlessly fail at every stage of their development. And they keep failing until they are successful. They are not afraid of it because they don’t see it as a good or a bad thing yet. Adults will inevitably ingrain in their children that failure is bad and success is good, which is the worst possible thing we do and part of the reason kids “grow up”. The problem is that the message they receive too often becomes one of fear of failure instead of failure being an important part of the process to success. Think of how many times your kid falls down trying to walk and guess what, eventually they walk and falling becomes the rarity. We accept this as a natural part of learning to walk yet as we get older we forget how important those failures are to any success. The single most important reason for this is that failure means you are pushing the envelope of what you are capable of. In sport the ability to continuously push the envelope is absolutely crucial. You have to routinely over-ride your adult brain that says “stop you can’t do that”.
But losing is still crappy no matter how you cut it. When you compete as a professional the goal is to win the race and it’s fun to get that outcome. If you can separate your sense of self worth from that outcome you can be pissed off about losing for the simple reason that that is part of the spirit of competitive sport and I think that is ok.
People will often talk about how positively motivated they are, I call bullshit on 90% of those comments. I think that’s just what we are programmed to say and hear because nobody wants to be a downer. I would argue that a great deal of the most remarkable feats have been fueled by inner human madness or the desire to prove something to someone- destructive energy that’s just channeled into something positive. The ego can be as productive as it is dangerous…at least for things like sport. The ego’s roll in stifling human growth is another matter. Growing beyond that, I believe, should be the ultimate goal. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don’t. I used to think there was such thing as being constantly enlightened and at peace with things but I think the true nature of being human doesn’t really allow that. It doesn’t mean you can’t be there most of the time but being human means it’s a constant work in progress. Like anything worthwhile you have to work at it. It’s taken some courage to look at what has truly motivated me and how I’ve truly felt about things, sometimes it hasn’t been pretty but it’s helped me understand how to grow beyond it.
Endurance sports were where I probably should have been from the beginning- I had a stubborn ability to suffer and could always bring out something bigger when it counted. Triathlon was a natural fit. My oldest ski coach and mentor Jeff Thompson trained us hard in our teen years and was a great triathlete himself. He would run and bike us hard as part of the physical preparation for skiing and I always thrived when we were doing things to test our aerobic ability. I developed a certain amount of pride in my ability to do this well and eventually started to treat our running sessions with as much importance as the ski races. I probably should have gone straight into triathlon as a teenager but even if someone had given me millions of dollars to do it I wouldn’t have- after all, I was going to be the Olympic and world Champion in skiing and that was that.
The universe is a funny place. I’ve read many books on the idea of intention and allowing the universe to provide you with what you need. I’m not sure I completely agree with the passive notions that if you really want something you just sit back and the universe delivers. However I do believe when your intentions are clear and you are of a positive mind you will start making clearer choices to reflect that intention and start seeing things around you that will support it. I consider my enrollment to the University of Guelph as one of those examples. I was actually enrolled at McMaster University six months earlier but on a last minute gut decision decided not to go- something about the school and the environment just wasn’t sitting right with me. Who would have predicted that ending up in Guelph would provide me with arguably the most supportive, productive and motivating environment to become a triathlete. The swim and run coaches both opened the doors widely for me, something many other varsity coaches would not have done. I thrived in that environment. It was like a yearlong training camp with all the facilities, support, training partners and prepared food you could ask for. University was about athletic pursuits for me, I don’t really remember much about the degree I received. Don’t get me wrong, I worked incredibly hard to get that degree but I was always most interested in the athletic part of the situation. I would schedule classes around swim and run practice and if any academics even remotely took away from training I dropped them without hesitation. University was for me the ultimate training ground.
As luck would have it the University of Guelph running team lead by head coach Dave Scott Thomas would go on to become one of the most dominant running schools in CIAU history. To this day they still contend at the CIAU championships every year and win most years. Speed River Track and Field club was born out of Dave Scott Thomas’s vision and out of that program has come no shortage of running talent. Reid Coolsaet is now Canada’s fastest marathon runner along with Eric Gillis, Taylor Milne, Hilary Stellingwerf, Taylor Murphy, Steve Bendo and many others. We all thrived under a simple no frills hard work environment that took unassuming high school runners and turned them into national level competitors. It has been great fun watching the Speed River track and field club grow and thrive over the last 12 years.
The swim coach offered an equally supportive environment. I was not much of a swimmer and really had no right to be there but I remember Alan Fairweather saying to me “what am I going to do, tell a guy who wants to show up and work hard to go home?” Swim meets were a whole new ball game for me. I had no clue what I was doing and really the primary objective was to dive in without my goggles falling off. In the longer events like the 800 the smaller meets didn’t want to run more than one heat for men and women so I would usually race in the women’s heats. My goal was simply not to come last and on the rare occasion I would come second last. I took a severe ass kicking in the pool for three years racing for the University of Guelph and I loved every single minute of it. One of my proudest sporting moments came during the division championships between Laurier and Waterloo. We had won our division many years in a row and although we were not super competitive at a National level (except for a few superstars on our team) we were proud of the string of division wins we had had. In 2000 the last event to go was the 800 free and for some nerve wracking reason the meet was going to be decided on the points earned in the 800 free. Alan had figured out that all I had to do was NOT come last in the heat and we would win. I had to beat one guy. At the 400m mark I was 25m behind and in last place but I put in what might go down as the hardest 400m I’ve ever swam and out-touched him. It was the only time I ever received swimmer of the meet from the team and the swim cap I got for that is still in my underwear drawer.
Ten years ago I made a full time move to Victoria when my Mother moved out here. I’m a self proclaimed “momma’s boy” and I’m proud of it. Canada is too big a country to be on opposite ends from family. My brother moved out as well so after about 20 years we were all back in the west.
It’s cliché to say it but it’s gone so incredibly fast. When you’re in it sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s moving quickly but when you look back events that took place ten years ago can seem like yesterday. There are too many great experiences to count and maybe the near future is a good time to start re-hashing those stories. Triathlon has offered me the chance to see the world and now with some coaching opportunities I’m able to visit places I never thought I would go to. I’ve had my fare share of shitty races and a good number of ones where the outcome was pretty sweet. Winning an Ironman was as good as I hoped it would be and to do it at Ironman Canada was the cherry on top. I committed myself to that race more than any other race. The energy agreed with me in Penticton, being born just down the road in Kelowna might have had something to do with that.
There were a few goals that eluded me. Making an Olympic team was one of them. I put my eggs in that basket in 2000 and 2004 but could never seal the deal. It hasn’t been easy to accept that at times but I’m at peace with it now. It really is the ultimate sporting stage in my opinion and I admire the tenacity of those who have experienced it.
Hawaii Ironman was a race I never quite nailed. I went in several times poised to do well but for whatever reason I didn’t execute on the day. I failed on several occasions to obey the rule of process over outcome and would go into the race with very high expectations. So much can happen in that race but I would inevitably get impatient when I would see how far back I was at the turn around in Hawi. On two occasions I blew the race in those moments, went too hard and would be completely done in by the end of the bike. Easy to identify upon reflection and part of me wouldn’t do it any differently if I could go back. I made decisions on those days that I wanted to contend and be a presence and the big island would always teach me a lesson- one I hope I’ve learned. I have a ton of respect for the athletes that do well in Hawaii. In Ironman you can win everything else and still not do well in Hawaii. It takes a special athlete and meticulous preparation and the ones who win are truly great champions.
Like every athlete I’ve had my share of setbacks. The last few years have been the toughest health wise. My body seems to have rebelled against the big training weeks. I’ve had a host of health problems including mono, shingles, chronic fatigue and even mild depression. The added stress of supporting a family and coaching commitments that involve extensive travel really pushed me to the tipping point. From 2008 onward there were times where I was hanging on by a thread to pull it all together. I was rarely showing up for races feeling ready. I would feel about 90% prepared and about 50% recovered, which is not a good combination if you want to win. Heading into Ironman Canada 2011 I knew something had to change. I was doing a fairly decent job at everything but not a really great job at any one. The birth of our first kid in 2008 marked a massive shift in my life. For the first time there was something higher on my priority list than sport, the decision was easy. We decided last summer that Ironman Canada would be my last Ironman. I wanted to go out on my own terms, do one more race and do it well. I felt like I did that last year and it felt good to go out like that.
As I get older I’m realizing the real goal in this life thing is human growth. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you grow as a person. I’m not even sure what that means other than the idea of gaining some wisdom and perspective on everything. Kids have been a catalyst for that. I look at my kids differently than any other human being. I think it’s the way you’re supposed to look at the world. It’s like being liberated from selfishness and it forces you to follow the idea of serving others. You will never serve anyone more than you serve your kids and I think this is the way it’s supposed to be. I love being a Dad more than anything. I’m not a God fearing man but I finally understand the allure and need to believe in something like heaven- if it meant I’d get to hang out with my kids on a big fluffy cloud eating marshmallows I could get into that.
There are too many people to say thanks to and I’m probably going to forget a bunch of them. I’ve worked with many different coaches and can honestly say that I have learned something from each of them and am grateful for that. Jeff Thompson was my first coach, mentor and inevitably great friend who taught me that what we were doing 15 years ago, meat and potatoes hard work, focused uncompromised training was pretty much bang on and I would always come full circle back and have success with his basic philosophy. My years at Guelph with Dave Scott-Thomas, Alan Fairweather and Don Burton will always be cherished. Working with Lance Watson and Joel Filliol, two amazing coaches who would go on to great Olympic success was a privilege. They are both pioneers in Canadian Triathlon coaching and really set a standard for success in the coaching arena. Houshang Amiri and Steve Lund- two guys who opened the door to triathletes in a sport that can be hard to crack. Houshang and Steve are two of the best cycling coaches in Canada and bring a humbleness and integrity to their jobs. Neill Harvey who continues to be an incredibly committed individual both to triathlon and swimming. Trevor Millar and Cliff Kennel who were always there for strength training and continue to be great friends. Clint Lien who really went to bat for a few of us long distance guys in the last couple of years, basically stood on deck for us for two years without getting paid and never brought anything but the best attitude. Barrie Shepley who might be the longest running coach in triathlon history certainly contributed in a big way to mine and many others careers. He was always the voice of “un-reason” the one guy you could count on to make you believe anything was possible. We need guys like that in the sport. Working with Andrew MacNaughton was probably the catalyst that helped me actually win and contend in Ironman events. Andrew is a throw back to the sports beginnings and his philosophy on training and winning came exactly at the right time in my career. Without Andrew I would not have won an Ironman, simple as that. Like so many of the people I’ve met in this sport Andrew continues to be a great friend and mentor.
We have been lucky to have incredible builders in our sport. Graham Fraser comes to mind, a guy who literally built the event side of triathlon and Ironman in North America to the massive appeal it now has. Many people weren’t around when Graham was getting started but those of us who were remember a guy who was hammering in fencing, doing registration, cleaning up gel packs and cups and handing out plaques at the awards. He worked his tail off to build triathlon in North America and the sport would be different without him.
Half of the last seventeen years have been spent in Victoria and I’m incredibly grateful for the support in that community. I’ve had so much support from the gang at Pro City bikes, Pacific Sport, the Canadian sport center pacific and countless individuals who donate time and energy to help athletes do the best job they can.
I’ve had so many amazing training partners and colleagues that have pushed me to bigger and better things, friendships made that will last a lifetime and I’m perhaps most grateful for that. Were do you start and end with that category? Too many to count!
I’ve had so much support from random people over the years it’s overwhelming. Mark “the kwaz” Kajiwara who should be either knighted or sainted. John Munro and The Knaijew family and John Brennan who really helped out financially in the early years have inspired a pay it forward attitude that I intend to make good on.
I’ve had incredible sponsors, some of which are staying on board for the next chapter which is just plain awesome.
I haven’t mentioned my family yet- they’re in a different category and it’s hard to put that into words.
And of course I owe an incredible amount to the sport itself. I wasn’t really good enough to compete at any one event but string them together and make it super long and slow and I managed to actually have a career as an athlete. The sport has grown so much since I started and for the most part I think it’s for the better. I’m a huge fan of ITU racing- strip away the politics and grumbling about drafting and you’ve got some incredible athletes and a great sport to watch. Similarly, Ironman requires a unique mixture of athleticism and incredible mental fortitude and it’s caught fire as the way to showcase that never quit attitude. I’m always amazed at how many highly motivated successful individuals gravitate towards the sport.
If I could pass on anything to the next generation it’s this:
No matter how good you get or how good you think you are, remember that you are never entitled to anything and the sport owes you nothing. You need to approach it as if you owe the sport everything. Never underestimate how much work you will do and how much you will have to give of yourself to get good. If you want to win you have to earn that rite every single year, every single month, every single week, every single day, every single workout. But don’t look at it as a sacrifice; consider it a gift that you have the opportunity to go down that road.
Win or lose, it’s an awesome road to be on!