When I first turned professional in triathlon in 2006, I had been accepted to the National Resident Team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I was also still in the Army, but as a new member of a small unit called the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which was for soldiers who had Olympic potential. Prior to my admittance in these programs, I was a “full time” soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I held positions as Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Battalion Assistant S-3 (Operations). This included a 14 month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq from Jan 2004 to Feb 2005. From the time I graduated West Point in 2000, to when I actually turned pro; I had qualified for my pro card every year in-between. But I always held back from taking the leap because in my mind that wasn’t what a pro looked like—having a real job living in the middle of nowhere, Texas. My Army time didn’t afford a lot extra time to train, and most of my jobs required me to be on my feet long hours, often in the heat. But when you get right down to it, all of these reasons for not going pro are excuses. The truth is the real reason I never took the plunge was I was afraid to. Professional triathletes weren’t Army Officers working long hours at Fort Hood, Texas. They lived in Colorado Springs or Boulder or San Diego and had the best facilities at their fingertips and oodles of time at their disposal. How was I going to compete with that?
So it seemed like destiny when I was finally in Colorado Springs. This was the life as a pro triathlete I had always dreamed about. There were very little distractions there. Food was prepared every meal at the training center cafeteria. I was surrounded by Olympians, often in a zombie-like state from the intense training at 6000 feet, and the best facilities in the world. While I was still in the Army, my official job for the Army was to train. It was surreal. And also…mundane.
Towards the end of 2006 I discovered I was pregnant, with twins. Needless to say this was a shocker. With a lot of thought we decided to exit the Army and raise the twins as civilians. This also meant giving up our spots at the Training Center and WCAP. I wasn’t sure if I would race professionally again. My number one priority was raising the twins, but again in the back of my mind I thought pro triathletes weren’t moms, and certainly not to twins. Also, we found out we were moving to Tulsa, OK. What pro lives and trains in Tulsa? Again, it went against everything I thought a pro should look like. How would I ever make it? How could I compete since I know what the “real pros” do? Further, it didn’t help that I definitely had some naysayers when I learned about pregnancy. The hard truth is these programs let me go when I realized I was pregnant. And I took this to heart. I could never be any good because they didn’t believe in me enough to keep me around. It was a huge blow to my confidence and I struggled with it for years.
Luckily I also had my supporters, my biggest being my family. And sometimes this came in the form of tough love. I remembered back when I was in Iraq and complaining about how terrible it was, and how if I made it back I’d be too out of shape to ever be a pro, my brother Jeremy wrote me something that slapped me in the face and I have carried ever since. He said, “Jessica, it’s too early to throw a pity party.” He was right. And he still is. Yes, I don’t have 6000 feet of altitude, or the world’s best facilities, or someone cooking me every meal, or the latest USA gear. But you know what I do have? Hard work, resilience, humility, tenacity and good old fashioned hard headedness. Yes, in 2007 I was 30lbs heavier, had little sleep and was pretty much in the worst shape I had ever been in in my life. But I had the biggest tool any athlete has in their arsenal of weapons, believe in myself. No pity party here!
This past week I just returned from Kona to watch the Ironman World Champs. I have come so far since 2007. I would have been intimidated by the other pro women, or more so by their situation versus mine. Perhaps with my age comes a little (oh so little) wisdom. It doesn’t matter where you are, it matters who you are. That’s what a pro looks like. The ability to take a good or bad situation and to grow. Today I believe I have the best training partners in the world…for me. And I believe I have the best roads to ride on…for me. I probably measure success completely differently than most pros. I have been injured this year, and I returned to a 4th place finish in a tough field last month in Rev3 (half iron distance) Branson. I’ve won on this course. And I believe I can again one day. But the best part of that trip was having my son, who is struggling with reading, make huge breakthrough in his progression. My life as a pro does look completely different than what I thought it would. But what I have found is this is what works…for me! At whatever level you are in triathlon, or any sport for that matter, don’t put yourself in a box. Seek other opportunities when it feels like doors have been shut in your face. The fact is with the right attitude and a little faith, you’ll land right where you are supposed to.