So I’m back here in Jeju for Ironman Korea, and this will be my last race as a full-fledged teamTBB athlete.
Because here’s the big exciting news: I’ve found my dream job.
Over the last month I’ve made some pretty big decisions–stepping back to evaluate where I am in my life and where I want to go from here. I was 25 years old when I got in touch with the head honchos of the then-obscure teamTBB. In an email dated May 7, 2007, a certain Brett Sutton wrote me: “I can advise you 24 becomes 27 in a flash of light, 27 becomes 30 in an even quicker motion…” Yep, in a flash of light I will be turning 30 at the end of the year.
“Wait a sec, Wongstar,” you say. “Don’t you already have your dream job? Being a full-time pro triathlete, traveling the world racing as a triathlon superstar? Aren’t you already living the dream?”
Well, no. I’ve come to realize that being a full-time professional triathlete was never my end goal. I had very modest goals back in 2007 (one of them simply to qualify for my pro card). Each and every one of them has been surpassed…and earlier than any of us ever expected. But people wonder what happened at IMTX last month. What happened? I realized I was done with “living the dream”. Because “living the dream” meant living on the edge of poverty, living out of a suitcase and choking in the swim from the sheer financial stress of it all…
If there’s one thing that I’ve had that my TBB teammates don’t (ok, besides my disarmingly good looks, witty personality, and the will to shamelessly market myself), it’s nearly $100k in student loans hanging over my head since finishing school. Did you know that Sallie Mae only allows you an “economic hardship” deferment for 3 years? Well, those 3 years are up next month. Flash of light and all. The debt was easy to ignore at the beginning but the financial strain took its toll in more recent races. I just couldn’t enjoy competing without worrying about money any more.
And funny thing with life–all kinds of opportunities began to line up and the timing presented itself perfectly.
Those of you who have followed me know that I am also a certified prosthetist-orthotist (I actually received both my certification and pro card at the same time in the summer of 2009) and put that career on hold while traveling with the team. Living out of your suitcase, couch-surfing, and changing your address every 2-3 months isn’t exactly conducive to providing long-term care for patients. Prosthetics & Orthotics is a career path I’m also very passionate about and I’ve missed working in that field.
Although I was able to help out on some medical missions during training camps in Southeast Asia, working with prosthetic patients isn’t as simple as just giving someone a leg and never seeing them again. I’d been kicking around the idea of going back to work for a while, and actually got a couple leads while I was at the Challenged Athletes run clinic earlier this month.
So…one thing lead to another, and I’ve decided to begin a brand new job as a CPO at a great P&O practice in Wilmington the following week and I could not be any more excited. Not only will I get a big-girl salary with benefits (!!!), I’ll get to work with all kinds of patients and help put on sports clinics for them. They also have a budding relationship with the University of Delaware, which has something like 7 gait analysis labs, if I want to dabble in some fun nerdy biomechanics research again. One of my dreams (I’m allowed to have many) is to go to the Paralympics as a prosthetist for Team USA some day.
Well before you think this is the end of the Wongstar, pro triathlon superstar, I’m not done yet. Our very own Rebecca Preston has taken over my coaching the last few weeks and is my new “boss” as I transition from being a full-time teamTBB athlete to one of the online-coached athletes. I still plan to race as a pro while juggling working an almost-full-time position–I’ll be working 4 full days a week as my future employer is also super supportive of that part of my life. (Dream job, right?!) I absolutely love both careers and the idea of being able to do both gets me really, really excited.
In my heart I’ve always wanted to figure out a way how to do both–work as a CPO while racing as a pro–and here I’ve found the perfect opportunity staring at me straight in the face. I’ve always seen teamTBB as a stepping stone to where I want to go, and the last 4 years training with Brett and alongside all these Ironman champions have provided me the best education possible in what it takes to succeed in triathlon. I’d always joked that it was like Sutto’s Triathlon Academy, but in the end, it’s no joke at all.
I came onto the team having never used my passport, never qualifying for Kona as an age grouper–my best time was 12:08…best IM bike was a 6:12 and my marathon was a 4:20. I ended up getting pages added to my passport and demolished all my Ironman splits. Nobody knew who I was 4 years ago and now countless random strangers yell “Wongstar” at every race I go to, write me fan letters, and jump to my defense if any internet trolls bash my swimming ability.
So thank you teamTBB–Alex and Brett–for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.
And now I’m saying good-bye to living THE dream and hello to living MY dream. The real adventure has only just begun…watch this space for more developments soon.