Throughout life, I have come to define certain words in ways that truly resonate with me. One word that has been a necessary ingredient in every challenge I have ever taken on is courage. I define courage as follows: ‘Being scared sh*tless but doing it anyway.’
When I took on the sport of triathlon, as you all know, I had no background in the sport and didn’t even know how to swim. I was 23-years-old and I was scared sh*tless at my first race.
Oddly, once the gun went off, I transported myself into my own little world – a world where I had never ever felt so alive. I was choosing to dig deeper than I ever had before, to take on the unknown, to push until I couldn’t any longer and to test my limits and risk falling. I was choosing to liberate my spirit by removing all judgement and all analysis, and just GO! I truly had never felt so alive in my entire life.
While I was getting from start to finish, more passionate and invigorated than I had ever been before, I was oblivious to what was going on around me. That is until I went to bed that night. Suddenly as I lay in bed, and all the adrenaline had worn off, I began to replay the day in my head. People laughing at my lopsided helmet, my spandex pants, one leg down to the ankle, the other up to my thigh, a very obvious camel toe the result of my rushed wardrobe change after the swim; kids laughing at the snot flying out of my nose, and my panting and hyperventilating.
The looks of pity on people’s faces as I ran by in dead last, looking a bit like a freak.
This replay brought a flood of emotion to me; way different to the positive emotion I had been high on all day. I began sobbing uncontrollably. I went into my mum’s room and tried desperately to get words out in between sobs. She couldn’t understand me, so she quickly said:
“I know honey. It was so hard. I am so proud of you for doing a triathlon! That is a huge accomplishment. You are so good at so many other things.” What a sweetheart. God, I love her. My tears subsided, slightly, and I said: “No, Mum, you don’t understand, I want to be the best in the world in this sport!”
My adorable mum was perplexed. She couldn’t believe the words that just came out of my mouth, and to be honest, neither did I. For a kid that was always weighed down by self-doubt, riddled with insecurity, where did these confident words come from?
What I know now, is this – when you become accountable to a dream you have, by speaking it out loud, in front of someone you love and care about, it becomes real. It becomes a must.
My dream became, on that night, my mission. I was going to do whatever it took to become proficient in this sport that truly fascinated me. This sport that gave me a feeling I had never experienced before – true freedom. I was scared sh*tless – especially now that I had stated these bold words to the person I loved most in my life. The next steps became crucial in ultimately making this impossible dream, possible.
Firstly, you have to believe in your dream. There has to be something inside you, no matter how faint, that leads you to believe that this could happen. No matter how impossible it may feel when you think of it in your head. This belief is in your heart, not in your head. When you have this belief, no matter how quiet it may be, it is the catalyst towards pushing you to find the answers; to find a way. If you don’t believe in your dream, you won’t put yourself out there to find the answers. You won’t believe they are out there, so why even look?
I then decided I needed to immerse myself in all things triathlon. I read every book on the subject. I spoke to anyone and everyone who had done a triathlon or was doing one. I had to find a coach. Most importantly, I needed to learn how to swim. I bought videotapes and audiotapes on swimming. I bought a bike and proper running shoes and found a coach. This is immersion – leaving nothing to chance. Taking every opportunity to make progress in this sport that had so fully captivated me.
One of the best ways to achieve success is to find someone that has already achieved what you are dreaming of achieving and modelling their success. What kind of a person are they? What do they do with their time? What are they focusing on? What are their rituals,
their habits, etc.?
I had heard that Boulder was the mecca for the sport of triathlon in the USA. As soon as I learned this I moved from Worcester, Massachusetts to Boulder. I got a coach, Yoli Casas, who to this day is one of my greatest mentors. The single most powerful thing she taught me is this – who I am as a human being, is far more important than who I am as an athlete. Who I am as a human being speaks so much louder than any medal I could ever win. This changed my life and definitely helped nourish my already born perspective that this sport was going to
be the vehicle through which I truly found myself.
After being in Boulder for five years, surrounding myself with athletes better than me and living swim, bike and run, I discovered that the best athletes in the world seemed to come from Australia.
I wanted to be one of the best in the world so I moved to Australia. I wanted to see how they trained. Why are they the best? What are their lives like? What is the culture like? I was determined to grow as an athlete and to further expand my abilities by making the trek over there to immerse myself in that culture.
I had the absolute privilege of becoming friends with the number one athlete in the world at the time, Michellie Jones. She was kind enough to rent out a room in her house to me. I was in awe of her – she was my hero. I watched everything she did. I knew that if I modelled this great athlete, at least I would become a much greater athlete than I was at the time. I learned so much from her and it was an incredible honour to have the opportunity to learn from the very best. It truly did take me to all new levels of performance.
From there, the next step was knowing that I had to surround myself, on a daily basis with people that were much better than me. Michellie obviously was but I certainly wasn’t going to beg her to let me train with her every day. So, I studied the sport further and learned that Brett Sutton was a coach that was training multiple World Champions. He had a squad that was known to be cutthroat and super gnarly – tough as nails. Crazy amounts of training and a success rate unmatched anywhere. My goal became to convince him to coach me.
Loretta Harrop: In Siri’s words – ‘the best ever athlete triathlon has ever had’ with coach Brett Sutton.
In 2000 I succeeded in doing that. Thanks to Loretta Harrop, in my opinion, the best ever athlete triathlon has ever had. She saw how committed I was, how passionate I was, and seemed to believe that I had all the ingredients a coach like Brett looked for in an athlete.
I was over the moon when he agreed to take me on. I moved out to Switzerland immediately. I will never forget on day one everyone saying: “Just stick with this X athlete. She sucks. You will be fine.” Well, I did just that, thinking okay cool I will stay with this athlete and she can show me around and I can get a feel for the system here. Well, this athlete absolutely crushed me – I was being crushed by the worst athlete on the squad who was amazing. Again, I was scared sh*tless but I now understood the pattern of these emotions. When you are scared sh*tless that is your destiny calling you, daring you to step into the unknown, to step up. Daring you to trust in yourself and take the leap.
When we get forced into the unknown, to take that dreaded leap, we grow. We grow just in that moment of decision. Why? Because in making the decision to back yourself and to be scared but to do it anyway, your belief in yourself increases. Your adrenaline shoots up, you are committed and you must just go all in. So, getting my ass kicked every single day was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
Think about this: if you surround yourself with people every single day, who are so much better than you, they will push you to all new levels of performance. If you surround yourself with people that are not as good as you, not only will you not improve but you are more likely to drop down a few levels in performance. We must always surround ourselves with people that push us to new levels of pain and mental toughness. This is why I have a squad of athletes who are all at the highest levels. Yes, they may be training alongside their biggest racing competitors but what they realise on a daily basis is that they are all learning from one another, pushing one another and elevating one another to the highest levels of success.
This is a gift. Not a curse. This is powerful, not disempowering. Surround yourself with people that will accelerate your progress. Surround yourself with like-minded people that share your passion, your commitment and your fire! Yes, it is scary to be up against competition every single day but instead of thinking of it as scary, think about it as exciting – an incredible growth opportunity and path to self-discovery. You will find that you are so much stronger than you ever imagined and much more capable than you could have ever dreamed.
Taking on a massive goal is exciting and it is also scary. If you want those impossible dreams to come true you must take that first step and from there you must be willing to go all in; to be willing to fail. Because remember, we are either winning or learning. There is no such thing as failure. When we fall short, are disappointed or “fail” in your terms, we learn the most, we grow the most and that is what leads to making great progress.
So, embrace it all. Be courageous. Be brave and believe.
Happy training and may all your dreams come true!