By: Jesse Thomas- Professional Triathlete & Back to Back Wildflower Champ
It’s funny to think it was only 2 years ago. Most of you are probably sick of the story (if so, skip the next paragraph), if not, here’s a quick recap:
A bright eyed, bushy haired first year pro out of Eugene drives the ManVan with his buddy Matt last minute down to the historic Wildflower Triathlon. The kid doesn’t have a clue. He uses a borrowed bike (his broke 4 days prior), a borrowed helmet (also Matt’s), a hand me down race kit & of course, $8 drug store aviators. But, he lines up, has the race of his life, and while the announcers literally don’t know his name, crosses the finish line to win.
If it isn’t obvious by the video, I was pretty dang excited. I honestly felt like my short “career” could have ended and I’d have been happy. A year later, I defended the title, and proved to myself that I wasn’t just a one hit wonder. It was one of the most important performances of my career.
Obviously, I love Wildflower. You’d think it would be an easy decision to always come back. It was my first major Olympic distance race, it’s the sight of two of the best athletic moments of my life. I’m the defending champ. There’s beer and buddies and campfires after the race.
But this winter, the notoriously hard and hilly Ironman St. George was announced as the new U.S. 70.3 / Half Ironman Championship. At first, I was psyched! But then I found out it was the same day as Wildflower. All of a sudden, I had a decision to make. And the decision was anything but easy.
You see, a lot has changed since that goofy dude with no name crossed the finish line. I’m now legitimately doing this sport as my job, and I’m the primary income earner for my soon to be growing family. My goals have changed. While I still focus on the process of developing, I do want to win. And I want to win big. Eventually, I want to win a world championship. And the main difference between then and now, is that I believe I eventually can.
So on the surface, St. George actually made more sense. It offers bigger prize money, the chance at a 70.3 US Championship title, World Championships qualifying points, and bigger bonuses from some of my sponsors. More importantly, because of these characteristics it will also have a World Championships caliber field on a course that’s suited to my strengths. Plus, I’ve already won Wildflower. What is the bigger picture career benefit of going back? On the surface, St. George seemed like the right career move. But something inside me just didn’t agree with that decision.
I look back at that video and see that kid. He wasn’t in it for the money, to win a world title, or the sponsor bonus checks. He was in it for the love of competing, pushing himself to the limit, and for most importantly, the fun of a shared experience with his buddies, his competitors, and the people at the event around him. To me, that kid represents a purer form of athletic pursuit.
As my career progresses, and the sport for me becomes more “professional” and my goals get bigger and bigger, I think it’s important for me to remember why I started competing in the first place. I need to remember that kid who crossed the finish line at Wildflower and hugged every person in sight. He was just stoked to be there with his buddies and recount drama filled race stories over beers at a camp fire afterwards, regardless of how with race went down.
And as the sport of triathlon progresses and grows, I think it’s important for all of us, pro, age groupers, sponsors, race organizers and the media, to remember that feeling. Remember where the essence of the sport comes from. Sure, it’s always been about competing your ass off, but it’s also about having as much fun as possible. It’s about sharing a remarkable experience and embracing your competitors after a job well done. Yes, you can compete with passion, but there’s no need to take yourself too seriously. Remember to enjoy it.
I am not saying that St. George doesn’t have these characteristics. The staff I’ve spoken to there are fantastic, kind, supportive people. What I’ve heard about the race and supporting community is nothing but great stuff, and the competitors I know going there are good dudes who race hard and have fun. I’m sure it will be a great event.
But to me, Wildflower is an absolutely unique event that puts “triathlon at it’s essence” on display like no other event can. There’s so much history, and the thousands of people that pile into that campground to race, cheer and beer, share a unique experience and camaraderie that simply has never been close to equaled at any event I’ve been to over the last 3 years. It’s the nature of the Woodstock-ness of it, everyone in a shared singular environment, that makes the energy unmatchable. The epic course, the thousands of cheering campers, the multitudes of incredible food truck choices, and of course, the naked beer bong aid station. You just can’t beat it.
So anyway, that’s why I’m headed back to Wildflower. While I’ll continue to progress my career and evolve my goals, I think it’s important to check back in with that crazy ass kid on YouTube every once in a while. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be back every year, or even next year, who knows how things will change by then. But for now, I can’t tell you how stoked I am to go down there again. I expect a solid race and a good field up front, but I’m just as excited to hang out with everyone and have a good time, regardless of how the race stacks up. Hope to see as many of you there as possible.
Finally – Wildflower has generously given me 2 free entries to any race (Half, Olympic, MTB, etc) to give away however I choose. So let’s do this, if you’re interested, tell me Why you want a race entry. You can Tweet me @jessemthomas, write something on my Facebook Jesse Thomas Triathlete Crazy Ass Fan Page. Keep it brief, please! Excited to hear what you guys have to say. Until then, happy training!