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Leah Sherriff: Earning Your Place

Leah Sherriff will make her pro debut at Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant this weekend.

This weekend I will compete as a professional athlete for the first time… but it almost never happened. Getting to the line has proven to be harder than I ever would have expected when I started this blog in April. In fact, two weeks ago I pulled out of the race. Not because I was injured and not because I was nervous- I just I didn’t feel worthy.

I told my coach Greg Kealey that I had too much respect for the sport and for the other pros to show up without having done everything I possibly could to prepare for the race. If I raced poorly at IM Mont-Tremblant wouldn’t that demonstrate that I didn’t appreciate what it takes to succeed in long distance triathlon?

Greg pushed back: “You work hard” he said. “You race hard. You race clean. Not much more I can think of that shows respect to yourself, your teammates, coach, competitors and to the sport.” He reminded me that all I could do was race my best for the fitness I had on race day. The rest was beyond my control.

To my surprise, it was the bit about “you race clean” that really stuck with me. Whether it’s doping, bike doping or course cutting, there is no end to the news coverage about athletes cheating to get on the podium.

While, I’ve never contemplated cheating, like the athletes from these headlines, I wanted to drop out because I forgot something monumentally important: triathlon is an individual sport. At the end of the day, the most we can expect of ourselves is to give everything we have.

That’s the true beauty of triathlon isn’t it? The fact that everyone, from beginners to professionals, can achieve the very same thing, on the very same day, on the very same course: their personal best.

I had met the standards set by Triathlon Canada and the governing bodies. Greg reminded me that I had earned the right to race just as much as any other women on the start list, even if winning was an unrealistic goal.

We’ve heard conversations lately about standards and meeting them. In the past few weeks, the running community has been debating the fact that Lanni Marchant, perhaps the greatest long distance runner in Canadian history, has met the Canadian and Olympic Standard in both the 10,000 m and Marathon, and for reasons that remain unclear, Athletics Canada may prevent her from racing both in Rio. The only plausible explanation for this travesty is that the powers that be don’t believe she can be successful in the Marathon after racing on the track. (Check out the story: Lanni Marchant not likely to be allowed to run marathon in 2016 Rio Olympics).

In my opinion, it’s exactly that kind of position that drives athletes to pump their bodies with steroids, cut courses, and hide electric motors in their water bottles (Cycling’s Eddy Merckx calls for lifetime ban on mechanical doping).  The attitude that if you are not racing to win, what’s the point?

This month I got swallowed up in thinking I needed to be a contender in order to deserve to compete. I forgot that I race because I love this sport and I love the feeling I get when I know I’m pushing myself to be the very best I can be. Having remembered that (and after successfully begging the race directors to let me back in) I could not be more excited to run into the water this Sunday and leave every piece of me out on that beautiful course. I hope to see many of you along the way.

Happy Racing,