From our first post in this series, it’s clear that the decision to “go pro” isn’t as straight forward as one might think.
Like the ubiquitous life traveler in Robert Frost’s famous poem The Road Less Traveled, I have found myself standing at a crossroads and contemplating a major decision. “Long I [have] stood” indeed (at least 2-3 years). For me the decision comes down to a similar fork in the road (I hope you appreciated my photographic brilliance above) … precipitated by my recent graduation from medical school and the strong desire to take my racing to another level.
As I graduate from medical school, the next anticipated step for 99% of individuals is residency training … an often grueling, but equally rewarding 80+ hr (sometimes more) a week “internship” notorious for long hours on your feet, little sleep, and on-again off-again periods of nocturnal existence also known as “being on nights.” Balancing training and racing in medical school was challenging and downright impossible at certain times, but still manageable at the end of the day (or week … or clinical rotation) if you were very efficient and driven and motivated. But (in my mind at least) matching into a residency program and embracing the position of first year medical intern translates into making just about everything (with the exception of maybe God and family) a second priority. After all, you are learning how to “practice” medicine … save lives, order appropriate tests, perform procedures, give medications and other potentially life saving (or threatening) things depending on how they are wielded … So yea, I’ll be the first to admit … this awesome responsibility merits an unwavering commitment. You don’t have to take my word on it though … feel free to ask a few of the people living it right now, FFT coaches Alex and Eric.
On the other hand, the strong desire to take my racing into a higher level of competition, to hopefully race in the professional arena, is a very different road … but still another path that merits a great investment of time and energy … training 20-25 hrs a week and the necessary worries of making sure you get adequate sleep (and maybe a nap), eat well, eat enough, travel to bigger races, find time for strength training and physical therapy for injury prevention, and the stress of performance expectations in order to secure appropriate sponsorship.
Very simply, these two worlds are not simultaneously compatible for me. The attempt to do both would mean that both would suffer, and I would not be able to perform at the level I (much less anyone else) expect of myself in either discipline.
There is some irony in the change that occurs when you make the decision to take the healthy “lifestyle” of triathlon to the level of “professional triathlete.” There are things that can take on a negative connotation in the midst of all the positives that come with aspiring to be the best in your sport. For one, I am foregoing a much higher immediate earning potential if I were to continue on as a medical resident and soon to be practicing physician and the life comforts and stability that this provides. Thankfully, I have great support from family, friends, and sponsors, and I am not one to fret too much over my finances. I will be a physician one day, and I will be appropriately compensated for the time and energy and skills I have acquired.
The issue that weighs most heavily on my mind at times is the very self-serving nature of striving to be in the “best shape of my life.” I am constantly worried about … am I training hard enough, eating enough, healthy enough, sleeping enough, avoiding injury well enough, recovering from injury fast enough, etc etc … a lot of me, me, me, me, me. Having spent the past 4 years preparing for a future medical career in which I can have the skills to improve the quality of life of others, I often find myself fretting over a sense that I am not exactly contributing to the well-being or betterment of society or more importantly my community of close friends and family in any tangible way.
However …. I believe this disadvantage can and should be turned into a positive. I am constantly reminded by close friends (to whom I occasionally voice my concern about being so self-centered) that what I am aspiring to do is very inspiring to others, that it sets a good example of self-discipline and healthy living to others, and that it is just plain awesome to have the opportunity to compete at an elite level. Okay, so if I can inspire and help more people get into this world of multi-sport and the “healthy lifestyle” … then maybe I won’t have to see as many of them as patients one day with chronic medical conditions. I’ll take it.
Finally, as FFT teammate, Kristen Andrews, mentioned in the previous piece … elite/professional athletes who garner more media attention have the ability to bring positive exposure to a charity or special cause.
And with that, I’d certainly be amiss if I did not take this opportunity to talk about a few causes close to my heart …
Camp Rap-A-Hope - I have had the distinct pleasure of being a part of this camp family for almost 10 years running. One week out of every summer, hundreds of the most amazing volunteer counselors and staff congregate on Mobile, AL to provide a positive environment and as much fun, food, and festivities as you can imagine for children of the Gulf Coast area who have ever been diagnosed with cancer. Check out this video: Camp Rap-a-Hope on YouTube
Girls on the Run – Birmingham - Fall of 2011 was the first season of Girls on the Run here in Birmingham, but this incredible program for building character and confidence in young girls through a 10 week curriculum of running and teamwork has been growing nation-wide over the years. I was fortunate to help coach one of these first teams along side the person responsible for bringing GOTR to Birmingham, Catherine Gregory.
Finally, I have the honor of racing this weekend in the Boulder 70.3 on a charity slot through the Melanoma Research Foundation. I am sure many of you have, as I have, had the awful disease of cancer somehow touch your live either personally or through a close family-member or friend. As athletes who spend a great deal of time training and racing in the sun, we must all try very hard to remember that it takes vigilance and prevention now to insure the skin we live and are active in today will stay healthy enough to protect us well into the future.