Pro Update: Resilience in face of setbacks

by: Matt Dixon

So often we write about success, podiums and wins. It is an obvious, easy thing to do, and it's important to celebrate success. Today, it is worth highlighting an experience that didn’t go as planned, with purplepatch pro, Sarah Cameto, embarking on her first race of the season this past weekend at IRONMAN 70.3 Campeche. In a day to forget,  arrived important lessons and a platform of belief, mostly due to her resilience and willingness to stick with it, when all hope of success has been extinguished.

Sarah came to purplepatch in 2012 as a complete beginner at triathlon. Having given birth to her second child just two months earlier, Sarah was seeking a fresh, personal challenge in life. Although a novice at triathlon, Sarah had a strong athletic background both in competitive swimming, running and gymnastics as a youth.  Sarah decided to reach out for coaching help, as she was juggling the demands of being a mom of two, while enjoying progression in the amateur ranks. Her initial progression in triathlon was rapid, winning her age group and overall titles at IRONMAN 70.3 events in her first season in the sport. It was more than enough for her to become technically eligible for a professional license. It was at this time that Sarah had to take a look at herself, and what she hoped to achieve in the sport. Was she going to remain an amateur, and build a fun and successful hobby, or did she really wish to go on a quest for World Class performance? As a coach, if an athlete truly wants to develop into a successful pro, then simply qualifying for the pro card is not an automiatic decision maker to take it, and begin racing in the category. In my eyes, Sarah was a newbie with great success, but was nowhere near emotionally or physically ready to successfully compete at the top level. Rather than trying to ‘learn from within’, I asked Sarah to hold off on taking the pro card, and commit to real development, over multiple seasons. We would ‘go pro’ when she could truly be ready to compete successfully at the level required. For me, this is the path to success, but it is a tough decision for an athlete who has the shiny ‘gold star’ of the pro card dangling in front of them.  

It turned out to be another 18 months of hard work and continued amateur success before I felt she was ready to compete as a professional. The first professional season, 2015, presented both challenges and learning. The transition to the pro ranks is not an easy one: “I was pretty discouraged at the end of 2015,” said Sarah, “wondering if I was really cut out for racing professionally.”  What Sarah couldn’t see, which is natural for the athlete, is that her training displayed all the characteristics of readiness to truly compete at that level. She simply needed a few habit changes and a building of belief and confidence. She needed to see herself as the athlete she wanted to be. 

In 2016, she embarked on some significant changes, particularly around nutrition, to support her progression in the sport. She went on to earn her first IRONMAN 70.3 podium, 2nd place at IRONMAN 70.3 New Orleans, as well as several top five finishes. A successful second season, and truly being competitive at the highest level of the sport. This being her fourth year in the sport, and three long years since first qualifying to race professionally.

After a strong training block this winter, Sarah has made further progress in all sports, and was excited for the upcoming season. The first test of her fitness came this past weekend in Campeche, Mexico. “Less than 5 minutes out of T1, my front tire blew,” recounts Sarah, “after a tube change, I was back on the bike and within 2 minutes, it blew again.” Out of tubes, she spent more than an hour of the side of the road, awaiting assistance from technical support. Not exactly what you hope to happen in the first race of the year. By now, all hope of a podium was gone, and it would have been easy to pack it in and quit. Sarah didn’t. She got on her bike and raced the race. She came off the bike while her competitors were in the closing miles of the run. “It was very challenging to finish the bike and convince myself to run at that point,” she explains, “I had a lot of reasons not to finish given how far I was out of the race, but I also had one good reason to finish, because I could.”

Onto the run course, Sarah produced her best run in 3 years, in spite of the midday heat and humidity, and the other challenges of the day: “it’s given me confidence in my fitness going into my next race, and I think I also gained some mental toughness.”

And that’s the key. Early season racing is a wonderful opportunity to test the body, understand what there is to work on, and build confidence and resilience going into the next races. By sticking with it, Sarah didn’t get a podium, won’t be written about in the race articles, and will show a race that was an hour or so behind the winner. A failure right? Not at all. She didn’t quit. She produced a fine, confidence building performance in her area of weakness, and laid a platform of race experience and resilience she can utilize as she moves forward for the rest of the season.

She won’t get many ‘good jobs’ and ‘magic performance’ messages on social media, but she does have massive respect from her coach, the purplepatch community, and all those who understand the positives derived from not quitting when you are able to finish. Sarah is going to have a great season, and this weekend she laid another layer on the bedrock of her 2017 season.

Congratulations to Sarah for persevering when things out of her control turned her race plan upside down. It's great to see your grit shine through!

Matt and the purplepatch team