Some of you reading this may know my story of getting serious about triathlon, but I thought it would be worth sharing the FULL story according to me. Sit back and relax – this is a long one :).
In order to capture my full journey to where I am today, I’ll need to back up about 10 years – that puts me at graduating high school and starting university. I had run track and cross-country in high school and ran a marathon when I was 16, so I came out of high school with running as one of my biggest hobbies and passions. I knew how to swim from swim lessons as a child, and I always rode a bike as a kid, so the basics of triathlon were there. I even wrote a paper in high school called “Trying a Tri,” so the triathlon flame had been lit!
I care deeply about being my best at anything I do, and that was reflected in my academics. Despite graduating high school with a nearly perfect GPA, I still did not qualify for any sort of default scholarship at the school I wanted to attend the most – Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. My parents could not afford to pay for all of my schooling, and they were very clear with me that I would have to figure out a way to pay for all of my schooling and other expenses once I started graduated high school. I remember my mom telling me about some of our family members who had worked really hard and paid their way through school, and at a school like BYU, I would be able to do the same if I wanted to.
After talking with my mom, I decided on my own that I was going to work my way through school and do whatever it would take to not take on any debt. I have always enjoyed working hard and earning money, and have had a job since I was 15 years old, so it wasn’t too difficult of a transition for me.
Working two part-time jobs through school, I was accepted into one of the most competitive programs at BYU – the accounting program, with the infamous “Junior Core” that consumed any student who walked into it. Students were encouraged not to work, and to focus strictly on school, so I cut back my hours slightly at work, but still supported myself and worked throughout the program. If accepted into the master’s program after the Junior Core, students would receive undergraduate and graduate degrees with only one additional year of schooling and graduate tuition, making the whole experience five years. I did well enough to be accepted into the master’s program and chose to focus that year on tax accounting.
Graduating 100% debt free with a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree is an accomplishment I am proud of and it is something that has allowed me to do what I am doing now. The self-respect, responsibility, and time-management skills I gained during the process are part of what makes me who I am today, and I would not trade that experience for anything.
During my time at university, I became more and more passionate about running, and more concerned with getting faster. Triathlon really entered my life when a good friend became involved with the BYU triathlon club and encouraged me to get involved. In the Fall of 2009 I participated in my first reverse super-sprint triathlon wearing an old swim suit, cotton shorts, and using all borrowed bike gear. I think I made the top 5 or so, which was better than I was expecting. I loved the fun of triathlon and combining the swim, bike, and run, but there was just one problem – I didn’t have a bike, and while paying for all my own schooling, I wasn’t too keen on dropping a chunk of cash on a bike just yet.
All my hard work in school and in the accounting program at BYU started paying off (literally) when I got an internship with Ernst & Young (EY) in Salt Lake City. I interned there from January-April of 2010, and got paid “real” money. Once my internship was over, I went back to my budget spreadsheet and made some calculations to see if I could afford a bike AND pay my last year of graduate tuition. The spreadsheet never lies, so after seeing that the numbers would work, I went immediately to a local triathlon store and spent the afternoon (seriously, HOURS) there getting everything I would need for triathlon. Wetsuit, helmet, bike shoes, road bike, tri shorts, the WORKS. Walking out of the bike shop, I felt so excited about all the biking and triathlon I would now be able to freely do. I participated in 2-3 local triathlons a year from that time on, and I was always able to do pretty well considering my level of experience and no coaching whatsoever. I would swim just enough to know I would be able to finish the swim, and went heavy on all my cycling and running.
Cycling became one of my favorite things to do, along with running. There weren’t any girls who I knew at the time who could ride hard enough for my liking, so I found several guys who would invite me to ride along. Being the competitive person that I am, I would try my hardest to beat as many of them to the top of whatever canyon we were climbing that day. It guaranteed a good workout, and I loved every ride. Climbing the canyons in Utah quickly became my sanctuary – I love the feeling of being away from things and covering so much ground with my own physical power, not to mention the gorgeous scenery Utah offers in the mountains.
In April 2011, I graduated from BYU and moved up to Salt Lake City, to start my full-time career with EY. I found a house that was in an ideal location for cycling and running and was just a 10-15 minute commute to my office. I lived there with roommates for almost five years, and wouldn’t move until I got married at the end of 2015. The house was perfect for me.
After working hard to get through school, I was thrilled to be making money and NOT paying tuition. Working full-time was a nice change, but it was also extremely exhausting during the first nine months as I was also studying for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exams (four grueling exams requiring a score of 75 to pass, each requiring 60-100+ hours of studying). My life consisted almost exclusively of running, working, studying, maybe a swim or bike ride, and then more studying until I fell asleep drooling all over my text book. Then repeat. That’s all I did until all my exams were passed. My social life was non-existent, but I always had my running and exercise. Running, biking, swimming, and strength training saved my emotional well-being.
Over the course of the next four years, my life settled into running 7 or 8 miles in the morning, working all day, and then maybe a swim or 1-2 hour bike ride in the evening. Saturdays I usually tried to run at least 10 miles or go on a longer bike ride, or both. When I say I would “swim” I mean once or twice a week and it was about 2000 yards of some workout I made up in my head. Usually a 500 yard warm up, and then 10×100 or 5×200 – the main set rarely breached 1000 yards. I wasn’t usually focused on training for a specific triathlon, but I liked swimming, and in the winter it was another form of exercise I could do inside. Thinking about it now, I realize I just exercised my way through my desk job. My main competition during those years were the other women (and of course my guy friends) on STRAVA, and the women I lined up to race half-marathons with. Cycling and running were my main focus and I got stronger each year.
Towards the end of 2014, I realized how dissatisfied I was with my work life. Life was generally good; I was dating Matt (now my husband), I had great friends and relationships, I was financially very comfortable, I was getting faster on my bike and in running, but I still did not feel like I was reaching my overall potential. While I was a high achiever at work and felt satisfaction with that, sitting at a desk and working hard for an upper level manager ahead of me in the ranks wasn’t bringing me true joy. I felt a deep sense that there were strengths within me that were not being utilized, and it was killing me mentally and emotionally. I felt as though my job was sucking the life out of me. Several months passed by and left me feeling less than jazzed about work, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I was sitting there with a master’s degree in tax accounting, 4 years of experience in public accounting, and a CPA license – certainly I couldn’t just throw all of that away, but I didn’t think changing to another tax job was going to be the fix.
The idea had popped into my head more than once in the years prior that I should get a triathlon coach. I felt like a coach would really help me perform better, especially on the swim (little did I know JUST how much a coach would help me with everything). I would watch the live stream and NBC special of the Ironman World Championship in Kona every year, and every year I had the thought that I wanted to do that, and an even deeper part of me thought I COULD do that if given the opportunity. I would also follow the top pros in the sport and would think to myself, “if they’re living their dream and doing what they love, why can’t I?”
While feeling completely lackluster about my accounting job, the thought that I should chase a dream of being a professional triathlete popped into my head (again), and it eventually became my most appealing alternative.
True to my risk-averse accountant-like nature, I was afraid of throwing away what I had worked so hard for, and was afraid of walking towards the unknown, especially the financial unknown. Going “all-in” with triathlon meant paying for a coach, buying more gear, paying for travel, paying for more races, and on top of the added expenses, I would have to cut my paycheck in half because I couldn’t do the amount of training I would want and need to, and work full-time at EY. It all seemed a little crazy, but I decided it was going to be my best shot at feeling completely satisfied with my life.
February 2015 was when I made my decision. I decided the financial consequences of going part-time were worth it, and because I had worked so hard and had no debt, I was able to securely make the change without too much immediate risk. I first told Matt and he was completely supportive, even without fully understanding exactly what it all would mean for him and for our future. The next week I walked into my boss’s office and asked to talk. The first thing he said to me was, “you’re not quitting, are you?” I responded with, “not exactly.” I told him my feelings about working at EY and explained how I felt like I had a passion in triathlon I needed to pursue, and asked if I could go on a part-time and mostly work-from-home Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA). My boss was always hugely supportive of my running and anything I wanted out of my career at EY, and he was extremely supportive of me going on an FWA in order to chase my dream. He told me he could tell I wasn’t as happy at work as I once was, and he wanted me to be happy. He’s one of the best bosses I have ever had.
My next step was finding a coach. I really didn’t know very many people in the triathlon community, but luckily for me, I had met a wonderful gal named Jen Johnson in Washington D.C. about one year before. We were both in D.C. participating in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon, and we randomly met while out shopping the day before the race. I was staying with a good friend from BYU with whom Jen went to high school, so when we ran into each other,Jen was introduced as someone who “ran a triathlon training and coaching business with her husband.” I was immediately intrigued and thought “I seriously should just get a triathlon coach” followed by the thought “no, I shouldn’t spend money on that.” We became Facebook friends after that, so I spent the next year seeing random posts about her “triathlon coaching business she ran with her husband.”
Having Jen be the only triathlon coach I had ever met, I reached out to her on Facebook. We talked on the phone the next night for an hour (probably mostly me venting about my life), and that’s when I was first REALLY introduced to Balanced Art Multisport (BAM). I told her I was ready to go part-time at work and was ready to dedicate a lot of time to triathlon. I was somewhat hesitant to come right out and say I thought I could get my pro card, but I think the message was clear that I was making big life changes and wanted to see some great results.
I started with Wes Johnson (Jen’s husband and owner of BAM) as my coach on April 1, 2015, and went officially part-time at work on May 1, 2015. I had an amazing year with Wes as my coach in 2015 and was able to qualify for my pro card by the end of 2015 (see my results here). The journey has been one of excitement, learning, and adjusting to the different challenges of heavy training and pushing mental and physical limits, but I find far greater joy in what I’m doing now than I did as a full-time CPA. I have since left EY and now work even more part-time for a small, local accounting firm, but I feel deep gratitude for the opportunities and experiences I had at EY, for the relationships I built along the way, and for the flexibility they allowed me to have as I first leaped into the world of triathlon.