Interview With 4x World Ironman Champion, Chrissie Wellington

Got your copy yet? GOTRIbal ambassador and four-time World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington shares her life story thus far in her new autobiography, “A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey.” As you may already know she’s taking the year off from competition to promote her book and focus on causes close to her heart, including expanding the message about GOTRIbal. In fact, she’ll be chatting live with GOTRIbal members on Facebook, May 12 at 2:00 PDT. Excited? Can’t wait? Me neither. So I asked her a few questions in anticipation of the live chat.

Kara: How. Do. You. Do. It?

Chrissie: Physical talent is nothing without a willingness to practice and I believe that professional triathlon is a 24/7 job. When in full-time training/racing mode, I devote my life to it. It is not just about when you are in the pool, on the bike or running. You need to have all your ducks in a row, taking into account rest and recovery, nutrition, hydration, massage, physical therapy, sleep and so forth. And, of course, getting the body in shape is only half the battle – all the physical strength in the world won’t help you if your mind is not prepared. This is such an important part of training; the part that people don’t put in their log books; the part that all the monitors and gadgets in the world can’t help you out with. I believe I was born with a high level of self-motivation, drive and stubbornness – but these traits and characteristics can also be honed and developed. Mental preparation is one of the main keys to success, and I invest a lot of time in strengthening my brain, as well as my body.

Kara:You have come closer to competing head to head with the men than any other women in triathlon, even setting an example for sport as a whole for the potential to break gender barriers. What does that mean to you?

Chrissie: While it is true that my performances have narrowed the gap between men and women, it would be extremely disrespectful to my competitors to take full credit for this. The women’s field is so incredibly strong and deep – now more than ever before. Mirinda, Julie, Catriona, Leanda, Rachel, Caroline, Mary Beth and many others are taking Ironman distance racing to a new level. Natasha Badmann is still winning Ironman races at age 45. Truly inspirational! That’s what sport is all about. Like a snowball, success breeds improvement in all those prepared to rise to the challenge. And I love that. The deeper the field, and the stronger the competition, the harder we are forced to work, the better we have to get and the deeper we have to dig, in training and racing. For example, knowing that Rinny had already run a 2.53 marathon at Kona definitely put a huge firework up my backside and I don’t think I could have secured my fourth crown without her breathing down my neck, coupled with the desire to overtake the great athletes up ahead.

So yes, I think many of the pro girls are breaking down barriers and showing what is truly possible. Hopefully we are a shining light that every single woman around the world (and men!) can look to for inspiration – demonstrating what strength, power, confidence and femininity really mean, and showing that gender is no barrier when it comes to taking up, and being competitive in, endurance sports.

Kara: You speak candidly of battling eating disorders as a teen and in college. Will this now become part of your platform and mission, or do you simply want to serve as an example for other women who are working to overcoming their own issues?

Chrissie: You’re right – the relationship I have had with my body has changed over time, and hasn’t always been an easy one. For some of my young adult years I disliked many aspects of my external body. I compared myself, self depreciatively, to others. I would stand in front of the mirror, my mind full of criticism at the image that stared back at me. I ignored the fact that I had a body that enabled me to achieve the highest academic grades, to play sport, to climb mountains and to live my life to the full. I took control of my body and punished it for what I thought it lacked – suffering from bulimia and anorexia. That was around 12 years ago. Today, I have a very different relationship with my body. I try not to judge my body on its external appearance, but for what it does for me, day in day out. Further, I see my body as a unique combination of my mother and father, and those two people are my shining light – to criticize my body is to criticize them – and that is something I could never do.

Like I said above, my autobiography was the place where I really publicized my problems and how I managed to overcome them. In terms of whether this will now become part of my platform and mission, or whether I want to serve as an example, I don’t necessarily see the two as being separate. My objective, or mission, has always been to try and inspire and encourage people to achieve their goals and overcome their fears and personal hurdles. In publicizing my battles with eating I hoped to hold out a light to other sufferers around the world, so that they know that they are not alone and give them confidence that this illness can be overcome. I also hoped that the relatives and friends of those suffering from eating disorders/disordered eating could also draw on my words to better understand the illness and how they may be able to help their loved ones. Hence, the book (and subsequent, follow-up articles like this!) are hopefully serving as a platform through which I can continue to convey these really really important messages.

Kara: You have said, “…with my four World Championship victories I have the platform I dreamed of to combine sport and development work and bring about positive change.” In what capacity do you plan to get back to development work?

Chrissie: I have always been passionate about development issues, even when I was a child. I think I drove my parents mad trying to organize trash collections and yard sales! Of course I made that interest and passion my career when I became a civil servant, working for the UK Government and also took the sabbatical in Nepal. Not long after I started as a professional in February 2007, I remember saying to Brett (Sutton), “I feel so selfish. All I do is swim, bike and run – and it’s all for me.” And he replied, “Chrissie, just you wait. Before long you will be able to affect change in a way you never thought possible.” His wise words have come true – I have the platform that I always dreamed of to combine my two passions in life – sport and development.  Sport has a tremendous power – and can be a force for considerable change.  It is empowering in its own right, but can also be a vehicle for raising funds and awareness for incredibly important causes.

My desire to work a lot more actively with all of my chosen charities was a key reason for my decision to step back from full-time training and racing for a little while. I have an amazing opportunity to use my platform to raise funds and awareness for causes that are important to me, and simply felt that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to do whilst also trying to be the best athlete I could be. The charitable work will focus on those that I am already actively supporting, such as the Blazeman Foundation for ALS, Girls Education Nepal, Janes Appeal, Challenged Athletes Foundation and well as helping to grow GOTRIbal.

I haven’t made any firm plans as to what this work might be yet, but includes participating in charity Challenges, such as the 1000km ride I just completed for Janes Appeal; organizing specific events (such as ‘Runs with Chrissie’ in the UK) promoting these organizations in the media; attending clinics, events, races and so forth; auctioning items of memorabilia, as well, as working directly with some of the beneficiaries of these charities, as I did with the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego after Kona, and more recently in March this year. I am also fortunate to be able to use other projects (such as the recently launched coaching and motivational downloads I made with Audiofuel) as a vehicle to support worthwhile causes. The world truly is our oyster, and I really look forward to being able to see what is possible.

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