Runner's Web
Lynne Bermel
Lynne Bermel's Column

Contact Lynne via email @ lbermel@runnersweb.com

Life as a Pro

Sometime ago, I was asked if Iíd write about my experiences as a professional triathlete. Having only just dipped a toe or two in the waters of "pro Ironman life" (mine was a short-lived three-year career), I canít say Iím any expert on the subject. Nonetheless, I can offer some of my observations of a time spent traipsing around the globe; visiting ports of call, eating lavish meals, basking on the beachÖ. Sorry, I just got carried away. Iím dreaming again.

Of course, you must understand that everything looks rosy in retrospect. Itís the old "grass is always greener" scenario. Now that Iím spending a good part of my day in front of my computer, answering phones, writing reports, and working through the bureaucratic maze, I must admit, there are days when I long for six hour bike rides in the hot sun.

I have come to the conclusion that as in life, there are ups and downs about being a professional Ironman triathlete. It really depends on your perspective. So, Iíve come up with what I found to be the yin and yangs of being a pro.

One of the best things about being a professional triathlete is that you get to travel to some pretty nice places. I think back to the places I trained and raced in Ė Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, and California, Arizona. Its not hard to see that itís an enviable life.

On the other side of the coin, I must admit that outside of the training areas and racecourses, I got a very narrow view of any of these locales. Sure, I spent a couple of months a year training in Australia and New Zealand, but I really couldnít tell you what Ayers Rock (a popular tourist spot in Australia) looks like, nor could I show you pictures of a visit to the South Island in New Zealand. Most of my time in Japan was in the Lake Biwa area. I couldnít even begin to tell you what Osaka or Tokyo looked like. All of this to say is that as a pro, I was more concerned with training and preparing for racing- as well as sticking to the budget - than I was in playing tourist.

Which brings us to the subject of money. The beauty about being a professional triathlete is that you get paid to do what you love to do. How bad is that? If you place high enough at an Ironman (say top 3 to 5) you can get invited to other races, often with flight, accommodations and other expenses covered. Thereís also the sponsor component. Once you get to a certain level, you can get a lot of your clothing and equipment provided for. And itís often some very exclusive stuff.

The downside, of course, is that unless you are at the very top in the sport (and there are only a handful of them) you are unlikely to get rich from being a professional Ironman triathlete. Itís not like tennis or golf or football or hockey where the prize purses are in the stratosphere and the regular salaries in the millions. Iím guessing here but in my day, a top 10-ranked pro would be lucky to make $40K.

On the upside, the beauty about being a pro athlete is that you donít have to "work" in the sense that most of us think of as work. While you have your own set of responsibilities, you donít necessarily have the pressures of a full-time job. You have certain independence. You can plan your day as youíd like to see it, rather than having a potentially demanding boss dictate your every move.

As a professional, your body is livelihood and youíve got to treat it with the utmost respect. You canít afford to get sick or injured and you certainly canít burn the candle at both ends.

The North American work ethic is such that we live to work rather than the other way around. Iíve got to say, being a full-time athlete here in Canada was harder to justify than training in San Diego or Australiaís Gold Coast. Everyone was a full-time triathlete there, it seemed. People in suits were oddities.

Every year, Iíd spend three or four months training in Australia, San Diego or Tucson. Unless youíre into skiing, theyíre great places to be in our Canadian winter.

Now that Iím on a roll, I have much more to say but Iíll save that for another column. Iíll end with my final observation. One of the best things about being a professional triathlete Ė or an amateur triathlete for that matter Ė is that because the sport is so small and accessible, you have the opportunity to meet and learn from those at the very top. In my day, I could go to San Diego and run with the whoís who of triathlon including Paula Newby Fraser, Scott TInley, Jurgen Zack, Greg Welch, - and more. Our idols are so much more accessible in triathlon than they are in any other professional sport I can think of.

Iíve gotta run now. Iím at work trying to finish off this column. The phone is ringing and I can hear my boss calling me from two cubicles away. Iíve got a pile of paperwork to finish and Iíve barely made a dent in any of it. Ah..For the days of basking in the Australian sunÖ

Contact Lynne via email @ lbermel@runnersweb.com

For more on Lynne's background read this interview with Wayne Scanlan which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen.

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