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Finish Line: Podium: Wouldn’t it be cool…

Heather Wurtele tells us how she made the transition to training full-time for triathlon.

…if you could train and race triathlons full-time?

This was the conversation that Trevor and I had back in 2005 while I was pursuing my Ph.D. in Norway. Our escape from the frigid north to Nice for Ironman France – Trevor’s second Ironman, was the highlight of our time overseas and one of two races he did the entire year. I didn’t get to toe the line once and my passion to be a professor was getting worn away by petty faculty politics and the grind of writing research grants. We finally bailed on Norway in favor of going back home and working normal jobs so that we could train for triathlon.

Back in Canada in early 2006, with a new marriage, a new condo and solid full-time jobs, the triathlon dream was something we’d talk about wistfully after late night trainer rides and headlamp runs home at the end of the workday. How could we make it happen?

We embraced the challenge of training hard while working and it was satisfying to win some local races, but we were nagged by thoughts of what we could achieve.

“If I can do this well while working full-time, what could I do if I were to really commit and train way more?” we wondered. On top of that, we constantly asked ourselves “what about having time to recover properly? Could you imagine doing an early morning swim and then having a nap? Now that would be awesome.”

Of course, there was also the wee issue of money. Getting sponsors wasn’t easy and we did not want to start our lives as pro triathletes with debt. 2007 came and went with some decent results, but nothing that really gave us a leg to stand on as far as committing full time. We were actually still somewhat content paying into our condo and acquiring nicer stuff.

The 2008 race season started out with the AVIA Wildflower Triathlon, and I placed fifth in the long-course race. No one knew who I was, but fifth wasn’t too shabby. Maybe this ridiculously tall 6′ 2″ chick actually had some skills…

AVIA was looking for athletes to sponsor and we were working on a contract when I finished third at the inaugural Boise 70.3. My next race after that was Ironman Coeur d’Alene and my brand new AVIA race kit was shipped to my homestay the week of the race. To the surprise of all, I managed to win whole shebang.

The race winnings allowed us to pay off the last of our student loans, and gave me the confidence to see that, yeah, perhaps I could actually survive as a professional triathlete. This really was the trigger that lit the fire and put our plan into action.

“Ironman Champion” sure made my athletic resume look a whole lot better!

By mid-summer, we had our house on the market and were eying a small RV that was up for auction on Repo Depo. The plan was to sell pretty much everything, all our non-triathlon worldly possessions, and live out of an RV, while still working full-time, which we’d done by September 2008.

“Letting go isn’t a loss, it’s freedom,” became our mantra and we were amazed how good it felt to get by on so little. At times it wasn’t easy to live out of a camper, especially when our work schedules were so different. I worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and Trevor worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday. I’d get up a 5 a.m. to swim before work and he’d train in the late morning before work, coming home at midnight.

It is decidedly difficult to sneak around in a 8′ x 20′ living space with a kitchen table three feet from the bed and the front door three feet from the table, especially when you are trying to strip off soaking wet riding gear. I learned to pour his midnight  post-work cereal into a bowl so the crinkly bag wouldn’t wake me up and became a master of the silent breakfast while he slept.

Despite our cozy abode, we hardly ever saw each other. But it was an adventure, we were pursuing our dream and we were happier than ever. Only four more months, only three more months. Then it snowed. Victoria is a famously mild city, but the winter of 2008/2009 saw some of the longest cold stretches and heaviest snow falls on record. Frozen pipes in our camper, no running water and having to rely on unreliable busses for transportation started to strain the nerves. We had to ride the trainer inside the camper (it just barely fit between the table and kitchen sink) and all the dehumidifier crystals in the world weren’t helping our mold problems.

Fortunately, there was light at the end of the igloo. By early February 2009 the snow had melted, our jobs had ended and we were on our way to California.

In the year since leaving Victoria we’ve had some incredible experiences and created our identity as Team Wurtele – the husband and wife team who took their show on the road. My recent win at the inaugural Ford Ironman St. George was a great boost in confidence that we’ve chosen the right path. We can’t wait to see where the road takes us next!

Heather Wurtele is a two-time Ironman champion.