TIM REED – A Reluctant Role Model

When I asked Tim Reed if I could interview him for my column he gave a particularly surprising specification for participation. He requested that I do not portray his character sympathetically or with the generosity of admiration so often gifted to successful sportspeople. He wanted a ‘warts and all’ exposé that offers a reality check to sportspeople in the wider world.

I’ll be honest, it isn’t a typical prerequisite, but then I don’t think Tim Reed is a typical ‘alpha male’ sports star. There is a lack of ego about Tim, a strong sense of self-depreciation – a refreshing rarity amongst World Champions. Already I have gone back on my word and launched into flattery. The very aspect of Tim’s personality employed to subjugate his importance as a sports person is the very thing that makes him somewhat special. His modesty, yes, is attractive, but his perspective and intelligence offer exceptional insight to the thinking fans of the sport. Perhaps being a father to two young boys keeps Tim’s feet firmly on the ground. Perhaps being married to a doctor maintains a sense of reality unbefitting to others immersed completely in the minute introspective community that is triathlon. Whatever the reason for his embarrassed humility, his answers to my questions demonstrate that Tim is far more than a fast triathlete – he is a thinking, emotionally intelligent student of not only his trade but of life in general.

‘We sometimes get put on a pedestal for others to admire when I know that, at least in my case, I’m a person with many flaws. Ironically, these flaws, such as my anxiety, obsessive nature and selfishness (less so then it used to be to be fair on myself), can prove very useful in advancing in professional sport.

I remember when Cadel Evans won the Tour de France. Journalist Mia Freedman commented something along the lines that she appreciated that it was a great achievement but felt that it was an overreaction given so many people in the community are working tirelessly, largely for the benefit of others such as nurses and teachers for relatively rubbish pay and receive no public recognition. Freedman was harpooned by the public and the rest of the media for those comments, yet I remember very clearly agreeing with everything she said. People made out like Cadel winning Le Tour was a selfless act done for his country. While an incredible feat that I definitely admire, I believe it was far more likely a bloke with a single-minded focus doing what he loved for himself and his family.’

Tim’s views are honest but not revolutionary. A life lived in sport, amongst the very fast, can often quickly educate oneself about true values, morals and behaviour. Society can nurture a tendency to award questionable heroes by achievement and ignore their more dubious behaviour. And Tim is not blind to the honourable traits that professional sport ingrains in a character; commitment, dedication, courage, sacrifice and hardiness but those obsessions come at a cost, and that cost is easily forgotten.

 

Grit and determination: Sprint for second place at Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney, 2017.

Family first: Time to reflect with Oscar, Artie and wife Monica.

 

‘My drinking, binge eating and terrible dancing aside, my values and ethics around racing by the rules are very black and white, and I’ve seen a few things during races that have left me devoid of any respect for certain athletes who are generally quite well respected by the broader triathlon community. I’ve seen a highly celebrated champion get a penalty in a race and then draft a sponsor vehicle all the way past me and nearly back to the front group. I’ve seen champions blatantly draft and others show a lack of sportsmanship and honesty that has left me a little bewildered.’

It was my husband that implored me to interview Tim after meeting and racing against him in Vietnam. ‘He’ll give an interesting interview’ was the recommendation. And he did. Tim’s answers are far more enthralling than my linguistic padding. Tim paints his own portrait far better then I can, his personality radiates warmth; a thinking character with worries, intensity and an obsessive streak, desirable in endurance sport but which he clearly dislikes of himself.

Tim Reed began triathlon as an age grouper and quickly discovered he had a real talent for the sport. In 2010 he hedged his bets and decided to turn professional. Three years later he joined forces with Matt Dixon. It provided him with the knowledge and guidance, which kickstarted an admirable career. In 2016, Tim won his first Ironman 70.3 World Championship, the ‘cherry on top’ of a stretch of racing peppered with major podiums across the world, including titles and podiums at multiple ‘World Class’ half iron distance races.

Looking for flexibility and freedom in his program, Tim left Matt Dixon after his inaugural full distance win at Ironman Australia. A year on, he concluded that self-analysis and control was probably not the change needed in his training and he employed Alan Couzins for guidance. Early results indicate a successful pairing with a win at Ironman 70.3 Vietnam and podiums at Ironman 70.3 Daveo and the loaded Ironman 70.3 Oceanside already in 2018.

When interviewing athletes, I look for their key values, which quickly emerge. With Tim, it is very clearly family is his primary priority. Tim is now a veteran of parenthood with two young sons, Oscar and Artie, and another baby on the way. The influence of and admiration for his wife, Monica is abundantly apparent in his perspective on life. There is a level of ‘life balance’ uncommonly seen in many top professional athletes, at least in mindset if not in action. Reed not only acknowledges sportspeople’s relatively minor contribution to wider society but also condemns the idolisation of them as heroes. His stance – that running fast hardly confirms someone a respectable person. We can create role models from ropey human beings and disregard the extraordinary sacrifices of other ‘everyday’ professions; being a good parent for a start.

 

Good times: Back from a ride with Artie.

Get Down low and let’s go: Ironman Australia, 2017.

 

‘My wife is the top of my hero list, and I’m only partly saying this to increase my chance of getting some action, an ever-declining affair the more sleep interrupting offspring you bring into the world. I admire Monica because unlike myself she copes with any situation, no problem is too big, and her life is dedicated to others – primarily, to our boys and me. But also, as a Doctor, she’s not really financially motivated at all, spending much of her working time working in Aboriginal health care for much less money than she could make in the private sector. I’m a big fan. I guess that’s why I married her. Why she married me, no one will ever know.

‘I think that when you bring these needy, eating, sleeping, screaming gremlins into the world, you don’t give a second thought to the changes and adjustments you have to make because you love them so damn much. Far more than your career ambitions.’

‘When I was looking after Oscar while Monica worked, we built an incredibly strong bond. In contrast by 2015, we had a nanny or daycare to look after Artie, while I trained through the day on the days Monica worked. There is no doubt in my mind that my bond with Artie is not the same as Oscar, which makes me quite sad. I’m a distant second preference to Mum because of the time I spent away, training and racing, and because of nanny time. The triathlon results have been very pleasing over those years, but it certainly doesn’t come without a cost for both Monica and the kids.’

Tim’s reflective angles on many subjects are remarkable, his emotional intelligence is apparent. As a reluctant sports hero himself, with children immersed in his career and racing, what is his stance on his own kin’s involvement in sport? How does he encourage and support, without pushing and glamorising a life in sport?

‘Monica and I are very cognisant that my life in high-performance sport could lead to Oscar, in particular, who is very competitive (Artie not so much) thinking that winning is everything. We’re big on drilling in that what makes us proud is not the outcome but his effort. I also make sure that any inter-father/son contests we have, I never let him taste the sweet nectar of victory. He is getting quite used to losing thanks to me, which will prepare him well for the cruel world beyond our backyard.’

I like ‘thinkers’ in sport and many, particularly in endurance sport, are highly intelligent, rare is it for a ‘jock’ to win at Ironman. With the ability to think, comes a tendency to over-complicate the simple act of physicality that sport is. For Tim, a self-confessed ‘overthinker’, it is a case of monitoring his analysis and practising it in training and minor racing so that major races become rudimentary simple, and easier to execute without distraction.

 

Enjoying the ride: Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Chattanooga, 2017.

Fun time: It’s not all about endless laps in the pool. Tim enjoying time in the pool with Oscar.

Keeping it real: A few hours in the saddle and, ‘Oh , yes, I’ll grab a pineapple on the way back.’

 

‘Like most things, I’ve ‘overthought’ about this a lot. I think you tend to find ‘over thinkers’ and ‘under thinkers’ at the top of the sport, and not much in between. Both need a very healthy dose of talent, however, I think ‘over thinkers’ tend to find their way to the top of the sport over a more gradual and undulating progression of learning from what doesn’t work and making changes over time. While ‘under thinkers’ typically need very strong guidance and can become prominent much more quickly but also often not stay there as long.’

Tim’s current results indicate longevity within Ironman triathlon. He is currently trying to become better at handling the hot and humid race conditions that have hampered better results at the full distance, especially in Kona. He is a student of triathlon, coaching and learning through racing.

Heroes are not only created from admiration and inspiration but also by their relevance to our situation. For fans immersed in the world of performance and training, professional triathletes will always hold some esteem. Sport is difficult and unpredictable, even sometimes painful – just like life – there becomes some association between winning at sport and winning at life.

It’s attractive.

Amazing sports people can be d*&ks. But as Tim pleads his case of humility and irrelevance, he ironically reiterates the fact that he is most definitely not one of them. He is, in fact, a great (reluctant) role model.

I asked Tim where he sees himself in 10 years time? His answer makes me laugh:

‘Probably patiently waiting for every Thursday to roll around so I can post a ‘Throwback Thursday’ on Instagram of my old racing days in an effort to stay relevant, unable to put behind me the narcissistic behaviour now expected of professional athletes on social media.’

I doubt it Tim, I doubt it.

 

Images: Korupt Images

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jodie Swallow

Jodie Swallow is a world champion, Ironman champion and Olympian. Not one to shy away from an uncomfortable but necessary conversation, Jodie Swallow is guaranteed to keep you thinking.
Follow Jodie at www.ifollowtheswallow.co.uk
Twitter: @jodieswallow
Instagram: @jodiestar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for the mailing list

Enter your details below to stay up to date with whats going on.