“I don’t want the journey to be easy, I only want it to be worth it.”
When is the right time to walk away from something you love?
After 15 years of racing triathlons as a professional, something happened. I can recall the precise moment. I was at Coeur d’Alene 70.3, June of 2016. I saw a friend and fellow pro in transition prior to race start, and she told me how nervous she was. I looked around at my surroundings, natural beauty packed with bike racks and anxious racers; and I thought to myself, “I’m not. In fact, I’m really relaxed and at ease. Why am I not more nervous?”
And then it hit me. I was seeing it all through a different lens. What once was race morning anxiety and nerves had become something that felt mastered and commonplace. Mind you, I do not mean ‘mastered’ in the sense of always winning. I felt mastery in the sense of competency. I knew how to do this, I knew what to expect. I had accomplished great things over the years, and I felt a lack of challenge that I believe is vital to retain with our passion in life. Having toed countless start lines over 15+ years, something was lacking that I feel is critical in maintaining enthusiasm for what one is doing.
Of course, this was June of 2016 – seems quite a long time ago, yet I was torn between still finding every day joy in the challenges that this life provided me, and that nagging feeling I came upon in Coeur d’Alene. I’ve never been one to quit, but moreso – the tougher things get, the more I seem to dig in and work harder. So, as I waded through an injury in 2016, I came out healthy and pushed forward into another season of opportunity. I guess you could say I wasn’t going to walk away that easily.
I was 100% healthy in 2017, racing a full schedule including 4 full Ironmans. I was focused in my training, committed when I stepped on start lines, and I left everything I had out there. Did I finish “on top”? No, I did not. And while that would have been sweet; another Ironman win, a few more podium finishes; I realize those pieces are not what matter most. What matters is that from start to finish, we put our heart into it. I raced with honesty, integrity, passion and resiliency. I viewed the highs as the rewards we work so hard for, yet the lows as learning experiences. I struggled to find my form the past couple of years. But, I could accept that as life. It isn’t easy, nothing will be handed to you, and you have to learn to accept defeat and use it to make you a better person. And at the end of the day, the gratitude for the ability to be able to do this physical activity as a livelihood is something I’ll always appreciate and never take for granted.
I wanted to share some of the intangibles that I feel this sport, and sport in general, has taught me; maybe there is a nugget or two in here that can help someone reading.
- The longer the road, the sweeter the success. I’ve seen so many people who want to see results immediately. While talent can carry you so far, it can’t carry you forever. I feel like I’m made of 25% talent and 75% work ethic. The first 8 years of racing, minus a few bright glimpses of hope, results were mediocre. I kept plugging away because I enjoyed it. When it tipped, that feeling of accomplishment and the next few years were amazing. To have known I “had that in me” and then see it come to fruition; I wouldn’t take back all those years leading up to it for anything. I love the process; that’s what makes the journey, it’s what creates the foundation for memories.
- It isn’t supposed to be easy. Embrace challenge. I’ve long said one of the wonderful aspects of triathlon is with three disciplines, there is always something to work on. Accept, embrace and attack your weakness; that is a window towards improvement. While it is natural to at times get frustrated, it’s about what you do with that frustration, how you channel it, and what decisions you make to get where you want to be. Do not wish for an easy road; wish to have the strength to endure the path you’re on.
- Find the positive. I don’t feel we do this enough in society. We live in a world that holds perfection on a pedestal. At our fingertips lies the ability to see photos and stories of seemingly “perfect lives”, yet we all know the reality is rarely what it appears. Being critical of oneself is good if it helps move you towards improvement but be careful of living a life of comparison only to let it chip away at your confidence. Take the positive; acknowledge when you do good, and be proud of it. I found out that in 2017, at age 39 and in my final year of racing, I posted the fastest professional woman run split in an Ironman, with a 2:56 at Ironman Texas. This was also the 2nd fastest I ran in my personal career. Despite what I consider mediocre season results, I’m damn proud of this and it is something that means a lot to me. Recognize your success’; be proud of them, and use them to keep driving you to greater things.
- The accomplishments are only possible with the failures. I even hesitate to use the word failure, because I strongly believe that true failure only comes when you fail to learn from experiences. But the obstacles in life and in sport, the ability to be honest and exposed; only through this can we see growth and progress of oneself. One of my favorites is “Never let a win go to your head or a loss to your heart.” You are not defined by any one moment, any one mistake or failure; you are defined by your actions. Do your best, be willing to accept criticism; learn from the past, but keep moving forward.
- Never lose your joy. I try to live my life by the simple statement “Be true to yourself.” While we will have moments in our lives we feel defined direction, purpose and fulfillment; we also have times we feel a bit lost, unsure, confused. This is okay. Sometimes change is uncomfortable; we have to dip our toe into new territory and see if it is for us. But at the end of each day, ask yourself, “Did I find joy today? Am I living a life that fulfills me?”. It doesn’t have to be every moment; and your job may not be your sole passion. But find something, in your life, you can pursue, that brings you joy. For me, that has always been being active. I love nature, I love challenging myself, I love moving; I love showing others how this can bring them happiness; and through these moments I find clarity. What is this for you? Ask yourself this; be honest with the answer; and seek out your joy.
I’ve come to the realization that life moves pretty fast. I’ve put many years into a singular focus. It’s been rewarding and thrilling; it has in large part made me who I am today. And while I don’t have a specific path as to what is next, what I do know is I need to wander a bit and figure it out. Change is always a bit unsettling, but change is what keeps us alive and growing. No matter where my feet land, I intend on carrying the passion and commitment that sport has taught me into the next facet of my life. Triathlon- the races, the people, the experiences, the memories; it has been more than I could have ever asked for. Thanks for the ride, it’s been a damn good time. But it’s time for Kelly Williamson Version 2.0. Away we go.