How do I write this? Where does one even attempt beginning to write 8 years of her sporting life into a single blog post? It’s not a beginning or an end, just a change. Life has shown me many times that change brings unforeseen opportunity, usually far greater than we imagine. Of course change of any kind takes courage, so I’m doing my usual dance with change at the moment, embracing it while bracing myself…
I have officially traded in my days of temporary tattooing PRO on my calf for teaching First grade. Since word caught wind of my new path I’ve been called everything from a quitter to an inspiration. I prefer just a girl who follows her heart, fearlessly, because that’s what I did when I left my Third grade classroom 8 years ago after earning my PRO card and that’s what I’m continuing to do with my return to the classroom. And I’m happy. Deep down, to the core of me, as strong as the fire that burns in everything I’m passionate about-happy.
I took the job, then I took my name off the Ironman Cairns start list, the Cebu 70.3 start list, and the Dublin 70.3 start list. Just like that I changed my whole life at the same speed and with the same courage as I changed it stepping into the world of professional triathlon. While I have no regrets, I will absolutely be missing Dublin!!! I’ve been to OZ and Philippines 5x each (I know! So fortunate!), but Dublin has been a bucket list country since watching Leap Year in 2010! That movie has me convinced I should visit, and so I shall…one day…just not as a professional triathlete. That’s the beauty of it all, change doesn’t stop us from dreaming and doing, setting goals, or living life to the fullest, it’s just different.
I have one journal kept for each of my 8 years on the pro “tour”. They all hold memories, moments too unbelievable if I told you, fears (like a race result determining if you pay your bills or not), goal times, ridiculous stories of training days gone all wrong, hilarious travel stories that would make for a good comedy flick, soggy pages from crying while homesick, worries about injuries and the mood that accompanies days sidelined, tremendous homestay letters that I hope never to forget, and words jumping off a page in celebration over a victory. And yet I’m struggling just what to say…
So why this change of life direction here and now? Mostly Kainoa. He’s about to turn 10 and when I look at him I don’t see my baby anymore, he’s a boy and I know before long he will be a man. Motherhood has always been my first job and I’m finding it harder to excel at both triathlon and single mom life without one of them paying a price. And then there is this feeling deep within me that I should be doing something to make a difference in this world, for me crossing finish lines doesn’t fill that void the way it used to. At first, when Kainoa was super young and I was racing so well it was encouraging. I felt like I was part of the first generation of professional triathlete moms to show you can live a dream and keep children top of your priority list. In some tiny way it felt like I was making a difference as moms would send in notes from all over the world that they have begun exercising, or will attempt a marathon, or go for Ironman. They fueled me and I am so grateful for all those women who shared with me that somehow they were inspired.
The past two seasons I’ve been working part time and trying to race full time, the classroom really helped me to keep going a while longer in sport at this level (both financially and emotionally), but the classroom also took away from the time and energy I needed to devote to training, resting, and racing. To compete at such a high level you have to be all in. Invest every drop of yourself, time, tears, sweat, money, and motivation. There are days nobody is cheering you on or at your side for the lonely mile, everything wants to say no more, but you say give me more. It’s a really, really special moment to reach that level. I admit, it gives you that feeling of truly making the most of your abilities, talents, and your mind. Mostly your mind. I think that’s why I hung on for so long, I fear ever growing complacent or losing my ability to dream. But I finally reached a place where doing everything to my fullest potential was causing me to lose. Not just races.
I kept having the reoccuring feeling that I have to give back and give more. SO I helped some friends with their coaching gig. That was truly amazing, as one of the guys they had me coach took over 30 minutes off his marathon time and qualified for Boston. I got to coach a complete couch potato and be the annoying girl in her face to move and eat well, that was unreal! She ran a marathon! Slowly I found coaching was just not for me. And the more I was in the class the more I felt it call me home. Not just for the steady income (which I am really excited to have a regular paycheck again after 8ys of living off race earnings and bonus checks…which is scary!), and it will be nice to be at Kainoa’s school during his last year of Elementary School. But I feel so needed. Completely, selflessly, entirely, needed. You go home spent after a day in the class (I used to whine that it is more tiring than a 10 mile run), but you always leave knowing you made a difference in the life of a child (or class) even if you don’t see it. Finish lines lost that feeling over time, for me. Don’t take me wrong, or think I lost my belief in the beauty and power of a finish line, I BELIEVE! Absolutely! I am just ready to cross them differently now, not as my job, only as my passion. That said, I have (of course!) already been plotting out races for fun with dear friends that I haven’t ever “raced” with. Like run Boston with Sara. And Escape from Alcatraz swim with Wendy. Because First grade teachers can race, too!
Through triathlon I have been given so, so much. Strangers have become friends from all over the world, I have seen the world! I accomplished more in those 8 years because I dared to leave my classroom than I would have if I stayed. With tears of gratitude for my sport, I lived out a real life bucket list. 3 passports full of places I experienced outside of a book, a phone filled with photos of people of every religion, culture, language difference, who are now some of my best friends. Perhaps that is the most special part for me, especially with the condition of our world now, the people from everywhere all coming together as athletes without judgement. Love. And the coaches! I have been overwhelmed by those that took the time to help me, guide me, teach me, lead me. Everyone needs someone to believe in them when everything is on the table and I call myself blessed for having more than one. But I have one who changed it all for me.
Not Coach Bo from my Junior year of HS when I tried out for track and he said I was too slow because I couldn’t break a 6 minute mile, well buddy, I went on to break a 5 minute mile! He was my second favorite because that day he put me on hurdles (as the shortest girl and only for 5 meets before I was kicked off the team for surfing too much). The thing is, he introduced me to hurdles, the very real fact that the rest of my life I would be running hurdles and I had better go over every single one of them if I want to make anything of my life. No going around, no going under them, over every single time, even if you are short. Thank you Coach Bo, you are right, life is a series of hurdles…
Coach Steve. He has a list of accolades longer than this LONG BLOG POST. The swim coach for Kona Aquatics if you aren’t familiar. I showed up to practice in a two piece Billabong bikini from the surf shop, ill never forget the day! Lane 5. The middle of the pool, not slow but not fast. I used to watch Sheri Lehmer and Mike McCary underwater (Lane 1-ers) and dream of being over there. Coach must have believed in me long before I ever believed in myself (or even thought about triathlon). One day after practice he was helping me with my stroke and when I got out he told me I swim all heart. That statement stayed with me every single start line. I didn’t have the good stroke or the body of an Elite athlete, but I was all heart. He has had his laughs over my technique, not sure he wants to claim that he’s my swim coach it’s that bad, but he did get me to lane 1. And he sat me down the day before my first Ironman and told me, “Bree, put yourself in a cocoon. You can see out at everything going on but nobody can see in”. I had tears, because that’s exactly how I felt. Intimidated, scared, and I didn’t want anyone to see me for fear of judgement. But I wanted to race, with all my heart I wanted to race in my backyard. The World Championships! I had no experience at any big race, I was a big fish in a small pond. But there we were. He told me to line up on the very front right, nearest to the pier, my home spot, my ocean. He told me I could swim a :57 for my first Ironman if I keep to myself. And I did, 57! I got out 6th girl overall, even the pros, as a rookie surfer girl and went on to finish the race as 13th girl overall and fall into a pro card. That’s how my story happened. Nearly by accident, because one coach told me I am all heart…
As for support and sponsorships, I was fortunate the first couple seasons to be on salary. The salary from REV3 made it possible with having just gone through divorce and leaving my classroom to race as a professional. Despite the rumors, I was never given a single penny of child support, I was not that mom living off her ex to fly around the world. Me and Kainoa made it just fine those early years. My first pro race (Ironman Japan) I was 2nd and the bonus money kept the dream going…it just kept going. Then a string of bad races I lost all my sponsors but gained some new ones.
K*Swiss was a huge part of sport around that time and they took good care of me, my racing was going well, too. I admit to them being my favorite sporty clothing, I loved my run gear and the fun sporty dresses! But another low and more loss. That’s the reality of sport, you jump the hurdles as Coach Bo would say. Me and Kainoa learned to live a very simple life and appreciate everything. We also had great seasons where he was out of country with me! In many ways I felt I was giving him a good life, he had more experiences than “things”. 2014 was my best season. I raced 6 Ironmans that year (along with shorter races!) One of them I won, the rest were all top 5’s, and I qualified and raced Kona, having a great day after having literally raced every month of my life and an Ironman every other. I finished that year with my PR over in OZ…my 9:08 which I was happy with despite being on the side of the road for 8 minutes. Thought for sure I’d break a 9hr mark. That season was made possible because of Kona community, yes I was winning good money, but it was more so the town backing me. Bike Works, The Club, Bioastin, my brother n’ law (now running Velofix Hawaii) taking care of my bike, my sister helping with Kainoa after school, and a few others giving me flight miles and some financial help so I could teach less. It was pretty amazing, as they say, it takes a community! That said, there is another huge reason I feel like my time has come to go back to the class, I want to give back to the community that has given so much to me.
I owe sincere “thank you” to so many people all over the world for being in my corner. It would take a day to list all the help given to me and I want to post this before another person asks me “When’s your next race?”. I’ll share my massive mahalos soon. Till then, thank you…all over the world. PS… Shared a few memories below…
The first training partners I ever had. Kawika and Lopaka. We were team “Oreo” and they took me on my first runs and rides all over the island.
My first Ironman win. Louisville and Kainoa and my mom were at the finish line.
Jumping from a plane the morning after Ironman New Zealand, a break through race for me and Dan Halksworth signed us up for this! haha.
Crossing the finish line with Kainoa after my first Ironman. I was in shock and cameras and reporters were everywhere. They told me I broke the amateur course record and that I can go on to be the first professional female from Hawaii if I choose. I didn’t believe it, I just wanted a cheese burger. I also got a penalty that day. 4 minutes for passing a group of men on the right side (not the left like I should have) going up Scenic hill. I clearly knew nothing about the rules and didn’t pay any attention in the prerace meeting. In my 8yr career I passed every single drug test and never got a single drafting penalty on the bike. To the girls coming into triathlon, this is a wonderful sport, keep it clean. Protect it.
Cutting coco after Ironman Mexico. One of my favorite races in the world!
Ironman South Africa. Seriously, one of the best breaths ive ever taken!
The Hawaii Ironman moms. Rachel Ross and Ingrid Rolls, they were the women in sport that I looked up to most when I first began triathlon. They won every race and it always became Oahu VS Big Island, they made me so much better.
Tim Marr, he was the men’s Hawaii pro. For all my career it was him and I (but he lives on oahu) giving this triathlon a crack at putting athletes from the island on the map. He recently retired and just raced Hawaii 70.3 as 35-39 age grouper…see ya there, Timmy boy! To the up and coming triathletes of Hawaii, yes we live in the middle of the Pacific away from the races we should be at, where its expensive to travel from, and where marketing us is harder making sponsorship difficult, but you can…we did.
My first Ironman and my second favorite bike I ever had. I love the Ceepo most, not just because I still ride for them, but the company is brilliant, too! The Scott is second. As for shoes, personally I think NB is best, and that’s after having run in A LOT of shoes over the years.
The race I went the hardest at. Ironman Canada 2008. I was punched in the face in the swim, flat tire on the bike, mechanical up a hill, then bees in my helmet. I went from 2nd to 8th after the flat. So I rode as hard as I could, throwing up every where to come back into 2nd where I couldn’t even move. I lost all my calories and blew up so bad that I fell over into an aid station and was taken away in the ambulance. I went on to win Ironman Canada in 2014, more patient. Came of the bike in 3rd, 8 minutes down, but ran smart and patient and won the race by 5 minutes. I heard Coach Steve in my head, all heart…
Wenders, she is the first person I told when I began to entertain my desire to go back to full time teaching, she understood. She is probably the friend that has been most supportive outside of my family for all these years in sport. She made me keep it fun, reminded me to not be a princess or B-word, never take it for granted, and that at the end of every day to be myself. She has also willing saved me from a shark.
These guys, the Nelsons! My sister and brother n law have been amazing throughout all of it, they feed me, let me shower at their house, and have done my laundry (when I purposely leave the stinky run outfit there). Mostly helping with Kainoa, but always helping me. Thank you for being my biggest help. Love you.
Jill Savege! She was the very first female triathlete I ever met, the Canadian Olympian was on island racing our Lavaman and won the thing. I have never been so inspired in my life and I promised I’d return the following year to race it as my first Olympic Distance. She went on to become a mom, I went on to follow in her footsteps. One of my best races was taking down her course record at Lavaman, it took all I had and felt like if anyone was going to take it from her I wanted it to be me. It’s still standing over the years and feels like my thank you gift to her for winning the day I met her and encouraging the surfer girl that I could do the same.
These moments. The feeling of everything you worked so hard for coming together. Never a doubt in my mind that I gave the past 8 years all my heart. To my future First graders, be ready, I’m coming for you whole heartedly and you will all be super readers and life learners and goal getters!
Splish. Like I said, I’ll do a more full length mahalo later, but Splish has to go now. My first ever sponsor. Recently I received my 100th suit from them, the most trusted and fun suits I’ve been fortunate to race in. And each and every suit of mine were then handed down to the Kealakehe High School swim team. That’s how long they last! I felt as if everything given to me should be given to the next girl in line, that was another special thing about all the free gear, giving it all away!
My Kainoa. He literally went across the finish line of my first race, was at the finish line of both my Ironman wins (along with my mom, thank you mom!), and was the reason I stayed in sport for this long, he was my courage. I wanted to show him to believe in the beauty of a dream and to work through the roller coasters that they are. We certainly shared this dream and through triathlon he also racked up passport stamps and good memories.
With all my heart, thank You God, for all you showed me, gave me, taught me, and the ways you used me during my days as a professional triathlete. I truly learned what it means to “count it all joy”…