Linsey Corbin – Never Give Up
Linsey Corbin has been a professional iron-distance triathlete since forever. Many of us have made a lifelong career from triathlon but few usurp Corbin’s loyalty to the long distance discipline. None her 11-year Kona finish record. In more than a decade, Corbin has only missed one Kona. She has raced through many eras of the race, starting with Natascha Badmann’s dominance, through Chrissie, Rinny, and now into the Ryf years. She has witnessed a lot of racing and many champions.
‘I think being accomplished goes far beyond results, and the women that can back it up year after year, especially at World Championship events I have so much respect for: Rinny, Heather Jackson, Rachel Joyce, just to name a few.’ Incredulous consistency and sustained dedication to Kona has rewarded her 10 top 15 World Championship finishes, the zenith, a fifth place finish in 2008. Nine years later, after finishing in 13th place, I chat to Linsey about her aspirations, her goals and thoughts about her future in the sport – a sport she has played a real part in moulding and creating.
As America’s fastest Ironman lady (8.42.42), she flies the stars and stripes high and far, racing abroad as much as possible. In a sport where it has become easy to base, train and race in the States, Linsey Corbin’s endeavour to travel helps her appeal to span continents. Corbin is special, not many in sport have the ability to coerce the world to cheer for an American.
‘The first time I ever visited Europe was when I raced (and won) IM Austria in 2012. Europe in general blew us away. Everything we saw and did was so new to us – the trip and journey was just incredible. From the pastries, to the incredible mountains, historic buildings, gelato all day everyday, the people we met along the way.’ Linsey was born a Californian, raised in Oregon, and educated in Montana. She returned to Bend (Oregan) in 2013. Each state seems to influence an aspect of her personality; the golden skin; her love of the outdoors; her ‘mountain goat’ physique – lean enough to climb, strong enough to withstand. A sports marketers dream, Linsey is the ‘All-American girl’, without the brash ego, or need for sexualisation that too often tries to draw media attention in female sports. The magnetism of Corbin’s commercial prospects were quickly recognised as soon as she began to land podiums in 2005. She was an ideal cover girl for American Triathlon and solidly the best American female in the European dominated sport. From the beginning, publicity and hype was loaded for good reason. Linsey is fast and attractive in the most demure way – fully clothed and natural. Never have cowboy boots and a stetson ever looked so effortlessly sexy.
‘The story with the hat was that when I first did triathlon I joined a local club team in Montana: Team Stampede. We were a rag-tag bunch of age groupers that would train crazy hard in crazy Montana conditions, we would drive through the night to get to races, sleep on the ground / camp, train on borrowed hand-me- down gear – and we were all pretty good. We would finish each race with a cowboy hat on. It was symbolic of having fun and finishing what you start.’ Corbin’s effortless marketability, the novelty of winning races in a cowboy hat (for all the right reasons) and the consistent improvement in her performance are a real breath of fresh air blowing over the Atlantic. Despite the props, the notoriety and the exposure, Linsey is so understated in character, mild in manner and three dimensional in conversation, Europeans almost forget she is American. She has a genuine fanbase of supporters outside of the States. Linsey Corbin’s appeal sells itself. Somewhat ironically, Linsey is married to digital marketer Chris Corbin of ‘Corbin Brands’. Through his genius, Linsey’s natural authenticity and worldly values are provided a platform to shine.
It would be outrageously disrespectful to ever describe Linsey Corbin as a ‘journeyman’ in professional sport, yet she is evidently travelling a journey; one of racing, endeavour and travel, very beautifully, documented through photographic medium. Linsey is an ideal muse for her Chris’s creative talents.
She is cast as picture perfectly as the couples beloved Golden Retriever is on their timeline. Framed through black and white filters, the couple’s narration of ‘professional sport’ may not be wholly comprehensive. Of a ‘professional in sport’, it is most definitely alluring, managing to make the process of training, travelling and racing enthralling and captivating. Linsey eloquently describes it.
‘I raced in Pucon, Chile a handful of times. One year after the race we took some time and went to Patagonia and Argentina afterwards. This was very much an adventure trip, and we loved it. We had no agenda and just went from hostel to hostel stopping and fishing rivers along the way. I’d go trail running and exploring and Chris would fish. Each night we’d dine on lamb, steak, fish and great wine. One day we fished the Chimehuin River, caught huge trout, drank a bottle of red wine and decided then and there that our next dog would be named Chimmy after the Chimehuin River.’ Aside from victory and acclaim it is clear that process and education play a huge role in her choice of career. Sport tests and develops her character, challenging and progressing her psychologically as much as physically.
‘Growing up I didn’t have a ton of confidence or self-belief. The lessons you learn at mile 20 of the Ironman marathon are what build your character and apply to life well outside of sport. It shows you what you are made of.’‘I am fascinated by this idea of failure, or things not going your way, and getting back up time and time again. I guess this is what being resilient is.’ Amongst her string of World Championship results must there be also a sense of lacking in the absence of a medal at the IM World Championships? An event she so clearly covets. Her potential to medal is clearly evident, confirmed with a Top 5 finish and the numerous Umeke bowls that line the shelves of her home, yet Linsey’s year has not yet come.
‘My feelings towards Ironman Hawaii are a bit bittersweet. I feel cautiously optimistic. Early on in my career, I was obsessed with Hawaii. I loved everything about it. The past few years I have left the island with more heart break than happiness. I think that’s what also keeps me coming back. It’s the ultimate endurance test – mental and physical – and I feel I haven’t passed that test yet. From a strategic standpoint the biggest lesson that has remained the same year after year is that you can’t give up no matter what at Ironman Hawaii. It’s such a long race that tests you to the core. People fall apart and drop out / drop off the pace dramatically in the last 10 miles of the marathon. If you can remain stubborn, smart, level-headed and just never give up, you can actually do alright.’ Linsey Corbin may be smart, she may be levelheaded, but she must be abhorrently stubborn. Every year she returns to the Big Island and every year she believes it is possible to win.
‘I think if I didn’t believe it was possible, I wouldn’t be out there trying.Realistically, I’d love to be back into the Top 10, even better the Top 5.’ In 2017, if you look closely to her left trainer you will see Linsey’s motto scrawled on her toecap ‘Keep on knocking’. One senses it is not a flippant comment, more Linsey’s being. Kona is not over for her because it has not taught her all its lessons. Triathlon is not over because its lessons also keep on coming- lessons about oneself.
Ironman Canada 2017 was Linsey’s sixth Ironman title. Each win has its own context. This win was the one which beat self doubt.
‘Ironman Canada was a very special victory for me for two reasons. The first is that I hadn’t won a race since 2014. For two years I had good training sessions come and go, but I was never able to showcase that work on a race course. With that came doubt, uncertainty, frustration, and motivation to keep working hard. To win was the stamp of personal approval I needed that I am not crazy in this pursuit that I am so passionate about.’ In 2007, talking to Slowtwitch.com, Linsey was asked where she envisaged herself to be in five years.
‘Since I am only 26, that would make me 31… Hopefully I will be doing what I am doing right now: racing triathlons. I would like to start to travel to some great places with Chris, to race such as Europe, Australia and New Zealand. I better have won an Ironman by then, too!’ Reflecting on that answer more than ten years on, she has fulfilled her goals. There may have been no trip to New Zealand but races in South Africa, Canada and Mexico more than satiated the need for far away adventure. She did win an Ironman – she won four before 2012, actually, and two more since. Nobody could ever accuse Linsey Corbin of been a dreamer. As much as she dreams, she commits. What of her aspirations now eleven years from
‘I think I have five years left of going “all-in” with my triathlon career. Five years from now I hope that I am wrapping up my accomplished triathlon career and starting to look ahead towards what’s next.’ That takes us to Kona 2023, a full seventeen years of long distance triathlon racing. Seventeen years, which could, if her body endures, include sixteen Kona World Championships.
‘I don’t take “no” for an answer very well, so every year I fall short of my goals, it fires me up even more to personally test myself in Kona.’ Whatever the next years bring to Linsey Corbin, it seems unlikely that there will be many ‘no’s’ for her to accept. Hard work is rarely a waste of time, even if it results in failure or a fall down. When you invest in sport you learn to understand that, over time, sport invests in you. It influences every sinew of your being. Good luck Linsey, your journey has been, and still is, enthralling to follow.