Why Go Pro?

Why go pro? A good question, particularly at a time when there seems to be dwindling support of professionals in the sport by one of the largest and arguably most influential brands in triathlon, Ironman. While the announcement of professional prize purses at Challenge races brightened my day, I am not in it for the money (or the fame). Of course I would love to earn a paycheck by doing what I love-one of the reasons I am going into medicine-but I know as a professional triathlete you don’t just get a paycheck by showing up to work. With the restructuring of prize money and some companies pulling back on their financial support of professional athletes, cash is going to be a lot harder to come by, especially as a first year pro.

So if not for the fortune or fame, why am I making the jump up to the professional ranks? The short of the long of it: it is my dream to be a professional triathlete and I have earned the chance to make my dream a reality; an opportunity I am not going to pass up even though it means taking a detour in my medical training by putting intern year on hold for a year, or maybe more. To some this is a risky move, as delaying residency could make me a less competitive applicant and decrease my chances of matching into more prestigious programs. But for me, not chasing my dreams carries a much greater risk of regret that may haunt me for the rest of my life.

My participation in the sport started out as a hobby, it was my outlet in order for me to keep my sanity during medical school. But being the inherently competitive person that I am, I set out to win races and that is what I did. After my first overall win in 2013, a spark was ignited and I started setting my sights on going pro.

I began researching what it would take to qualify for my elite license and scanning race results to see how I would stack-up against a talented pro field; I kept thinking to myself, “I can do this!” In my search, I came across a blog entry by Kelly O’ Mara entitled “Why More Triathletes Should Take their ‘Pro’ License,” that further fueled the fire and solidified my “can-do” mentality. She really hits the nail on the head and a couple of her points in particular truly resonated with me and now exemplify why I am choosing to turn pro. 

If you keep winning your age group and overall amateur titles and qualify repeatedly for your elite license, you have hit the ceiling in age group competition…you should not be happy continuing to beat on people that you’ve already beaten on.
— Kelly O'Mara

While I haven't necessarily hit the ceiling, I have come close. I qualified for my elite licence just one time, so it is time to step up. 

Didn’t you, really, get into this sport to see what you could do? Wasn’t that the whole point in the first place? It wasn’t to qualify for such-and-such a race or have people think you’re hot shit or earn sponsorships or get to stand on the top of a podium. It was to see how well you could do. So? Do that. There’s no reason that changes just because of this line that is being drawn. Step over that line and keep going.
— Kelly O'Mara

Yes, exactly and more on my take of this point later. 

 So, before the start of the 2014 season, I wrote down a list of goals, one of which was to qualify for my pro card at Eagleman 70.3 by placing among the top 3 amateur women. This satisfies Category F for the USAT Elite Qualification Criteria.

Eagleman 70.3 was an Elite Qualifying Race.

Eagleman 70.3 was an Elite Qualifying Race.

 I finished as the second overall amateur and qualified for my pro card and continued my successful 2014 season campaign that concluded with a podium finish at Kona.

Never being complacent, what I have accomplished in the sport of triathlon thus far has fueled my desire to realize my athletic potential. While I could certainly continue to improve in leaps and bounds as an age grouper, I feel the surest way to fully tap my potential is to race against the most talented athletes in the world, and hopefully become one myself. It a little bit scary, and I will have to measure success a little bit differently, but I am eager to have a “P” tri-tatted on my calf in my next race.

I have made a slight change of plans in the last month, and instead of taking the spring semester off in order to train and race fulltime, I am going to finish up my last four rotations and graduate from medical school on May 28, 2015. My family, after much convincing, was supportive of my decision to take time off from school; they are now ecstatic that I am powering through and earning my MD. I gave my grandparents an invitation to my commencement ceremony for Christmas and I even saw tears in my Grandad’s eyes when he came to the realization that I would be finishing in May. He has been looking forward to my graduating from his alma mater ever since I was a first year student at Jefferson and I am happy to make him feel proud.  

Upon finishing medical school, I will shift my full focus to triathlon and be a fulltime professional for a period of time before I enter residency to complete my medical training and begin my career as a physician. I do not have a concrete plan of when I’ll return to medicine, but likely I will apply for residency within one to three years. There are many other unknowns as well, the most glaring being how I am going to support myself financially once I am no longer eligible for student loans; this a challenge that a majority of professional triathletes, who are not winning world championships or have another source of income outside of the sport, face. I am not going to lie, it is a significant source of anxiety, but my eagerness to chase my dream and the anticipation of my debut professional season outshines my stress.

Thank you for following me as I swim, bike, and run down my dreams. I also need to thank some of those who helped guide me to this decision. First I must thank my coach Brian, while this was always in the plans, I am thankful you are up to the challenge of helping to make my rookie season a success no matter what the circumstances and no matter how many times I change my mind about something. Another medical student turned pro triathlete, Hallie Blunck, provided a great deal of guidance and support, as well as inspiration. Two former professionals who are now physicians and triathlon coaches, Eric Bean and Alex McDonald also shared their experiences and gave me great advice. Alyssa Godesky, a professional triathlete who finished who rookie season with a big win at Beach2Battleship has also shared her words of wisdom on how to survive your first year as a pro.