The value proposition of professional triathletes has been under fire lately—and as depressing as it is for me to admit this… maybe it’s for a good reason.
Hold on… WHAT?
I’m not saying this applies to all professionals across the board but I will say that there are times when I scratch my head at the uninspired press-release-like sponsorship mentions, announcements and posts (or lack thereof) from certain athletes and the type of value they are providing to their sponsors.
A few weeks ago, Greg Bennett at the TBI conference asked professionals to gauge their sponsorship efforts, asking pros to consider, “Did I entertain? Did I educate? Did I inspire?”
In my mind, athletes can do this through a few routes:
- Winning Kona. Um, give me a few more years.
- Coaching. I’ve had a handful of people ask me about coaching. While I would love to mentor athletes and have more than two decades of experience as to what makes a good/terrible coach, I can’t see myself going down the coaching route yet. For starters, I have my full-time job and, secondly, I’m resisting the stereotype as much as possible ;)
- Personality. Whether a Callum (hilarious) or a Starky (controversial)
- Nearly Dying. Well, I did this a few years ago, I guess.
- Being Instagram-famous. As much as I love sharing photos of my gear and the amazing places I train, I'm hesitant to waste too much precious training time fiddling with a GoPro or recruiting an Instagram husband. Plus, there's no way I could look that good during/post workout.
- Sharing your experience. Whether engaging with other athletes (and not just professional athletes, y'all) or blogging, it's all about a sneak peek into your world.
What do you think professional athletes can/should bring to the table?
As for myself, I suffer from a little bit of imposter syndrome whereby the thought process goes, “I’m not fast enough to reach out to Company X… maybe once I get my first pro podium, I’ll be an athlete “worthy” enough for sponsorship… etc etc.” And yet as I think this to myself, I absolutely know that sponsorship goes way beyond just winning (see bullets 2-6 above)
I try to go above and beyond for current sponsors, whether via social media or in person (like coming back to cheer for several hours at a sponsor's tent after finishing Ironman Chattanooga). I even promoted potential sponsors, even when ultimately nothing came out of our talks (proof: lots of people still think I'm sponsored by Blue and I’ve had no fewer than six people tell me they bought a Blue specifically on my recommendation!)
But we can always do better. As a result, I've started asking myself, "what does it mean to you to be a professional?" I never got into the sport to "turn pro" or make money, it was always about challenging myself at the highest level possible and sharing the passion I have for the sport with others.
At the same time that Bennett asks his three questions, he considers “there are maybe 10 to 12 ‘elite’ athletes that I would consider to be ‘professionals’ right now” in the world. I choose to disagree.
At the end of the day, I think back to the girls who inspired me to continue racing and it wasn’t necessarily the Mirinda Carfraes or Chrissie Wellingtons of the world. It was the newer pros and top age groupers who set the example for me in a relatable and accessible way—these were real people juggling hectic lifestyles and if they could do it, well maybe I could too! These women made me excited to see what I could achieve in the sport of triathlon.
Maybe they are not earning the big bucks or making a living (yet) in their calling of choice doesn't necessarily mean they are not conducting themselves in a "professional" manner. Just because I was barely making a living in my first job out of college, does mean that I was not a professional? Everybody has to start somewhere.
Now as a small-potatoes pro heading into my second season, it’s my turn to ask whether I provide any sort of value, “Do I entertain? Do I educate? Do I inspire?”
Frankly, I see the second two as true areas of improvement for the majority of pros on social media, myself included. Historically, I've liked to keep my training cards pretty tight to my chest and frankyl I’m on the last legs of any laurels I might have earned through Norseman, Kona or any of my age group wins.
But I know I have a lot more wisdom and experience to share, particularly given my unique position in that I still hold down a full-time consulting job on top of enough weekly training to qualify as a part-time job.
The work/life/train balance has been a juggling act for me (and a continuous work in progress) but something I think a lot of others could appreciate and learn from. So for the next few months I’m taking on a number of experiments to figure out how to better manage the struggle and hopefully pass on those insights to you. I hope you join along and share any feedback as to what you think might be helpful to hear, whether you're new to triathlon and sit in a cubicle 8-5 or whether you are an aspiring pro deciding whether or not to make the jump.
(Seriously, if you have ever messaged me on Twitter, Facebook or via email, you know I love to chat extensively—please reach out, I never turn down a good excuse to procrastinate!)
I also hope that, a few years from now, some of you reading this will share a similar sentiment as I do today for those who paved the way: "thanks for showing that it's possible." In less than the five years I have been racing, I have gone from the silly girl day-dreaming at her desk about triathlon aspirations to someone who doesn't think that dream is so wild anymore. I hope some of you can too.