Sarah: The Tough Girl Podcast, all about motivating and inspiring you.
Hello, and welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast. I'm absolutely delighted to be here with Jessi Stensland, who is an elite multi-sport athlete, video journalist, and movement specialist.
Jessi, I know you've had an incredibly distinguished career over the past 20 years, with highlights from winning the Half Ironman in Mexico in 2004 to the US Olympic triathlon trials. I was hoping that you could just introduce yourself and tell everybody a little bit more about what you're about.
Jessi: Sure, Sarah. Hello. Thank you very much. Yes, I was into sport from an early age, and that really became swimming. I think my parents put me into quite a few activities. My sister, as well. It turns out that by the age of 6 or 7, she really was en route to be a dancer, and I was the opposite of that. I was en route to be a swimmer. It naturally occurred that, yes, we were put into quite a few things, but, basically, naturally, I was this type of athlete. Only many years later did I realize why and it suited my personality. Ultimately, I was given the chance to figure out what that was, and it happened without too much of a thought.
That lead to me being a swimmer quite seriously, though I did play tennis, and I did play other sports. By the time I finished through high school, I was interested in swimming further in college. I knew that I had more to experience of myself, so I became a swimmer in college, university. Towards the end of that, interestingly enough, swimming just was, I capped myself out, which was ... I knew inherently that I had something more to find out about myself. I didn't see that in many of my other swim teammates. They were pretty burnt out after 20 years of swimming.
What was interesting was, yeah, I continued ... I can't tell you why, but I knew that I had something more to find out about myself. That's when triathlon came in. A random person had suggested it. I don't like to think of it as too random. These people who are in my lives that gave me these nuggets, surrounded by people who were positive, that's an absolute huge, huge thing. I can maybe mention that more later if we have time, but how important these people have been that weren't insignificant, put it that way, where he mentioned this multi-sport event.
I looked into it, and I did my first one just to see what it was all about, knowing that only I could know whether it was something I wanted to do. I absolutely loved it, and I was pretty good at it. Swimming gave me quite a good fitness level. Although I wasn't the best at the bike and the run, I had quite a good fitness level, and I did quite well. The people were awesome. They were motivating. They were fit, and they were happy.
Triathlon immediately just grabbed me, and that changed the course of my life to be able to focus in on that, do a little research as to what was available for me just to say, "What do you do in this sport? How can I do it? Who can tell me how to do this thing? I want to get smarter." That's when I found a triathlon camp out in San Diego in 1998. There were not many triathlon camps or places to go. San Diego was the place that was across the country from where I lived. When I did enough research and was as passionate as I felt, my parents saw that, and they gave it to me as a birthday gift to go to this camp.
By 20 years old, 20, 21, I got to go cross country, super support, and see what it was all about. Within a day of being cross country, it was awesome people, good energy. I simply said, "I want to be here." In this sport, it was motivating enough to know about myself I guess a bit more, not knowing what it would bring. While the rest of my friends hung up their swimsuits, it was obviously just something that was super exciting for me.
Within the year, I moved out and went and ventured on my way. I think that was the first biggest step, the support I had and the vision I had to be better, to learn more, and to put myself in a place, I have to say, that if I'm going to do this next thing ...
One of the biggest things I was thinking about was that in swimming, I had to fall into who was around me. I wasn't good enough as a swimmer to choose my coach, to choose ... I just happened to have these coaches and these people around. They were good, and I took responsibility for what I did and got the most out of it, but I said, "You know what? If I'm going to do this again, I want to have all the responsibility on my shoulders, meaning I want to put myself in the absolute best surroundings I can so that in the end, I know that it was all on me, and I have no question when I decide I'm good and I'm done and I've done my best. There's nowhere else to look, because I've done it, and it was on my shoulders." I wanted that, and that's what I gave myself in triathlon. That's what kicked that off.
Sarah: That's absolutely fantastic.
Jessi: To get to that sport, yeah.
Sarah: I was just going to say, I always want to take you right back. I think it's interesting when you said about your parents getting you into swimming, and it was you and your sister. She was obviously very naturally headed towards the dance, and it was you for swimming. Sometimes it's about trying out these different sports and almost seeing what fits and what doesn't. It's great that you started that at such a young age.
Jessi: 100 percent right. They were young parents. It was a long time ago, almost 40 years ago. These weren't parents who were like, "We got to get our kids in everything." It's most like they just kept their kids active. Truly, they didn't sit me down and say, "You have to pick one, because we can't fit it all in." It was just a very chill, try different things.
Gymnastics was another. I think the environment was a huge deal, and getting that choice from the early age. I guess let's go back to the idea that kids are very malleable but smart, and they know what they want, if given the opportunities. I wasn't given 100 opportunities, but I was given a good amount. I think that was extremely important.
Sarah: You obviously made the most of them, as well. When you're 21 years old, traveling across the other side of the country to go and to learn more about triathlon, this triathlon camp, how was that? You obviously had a lot of support with your parents, which is fantastic. Making your way at that age, how did you find it?
Jessi: Right. I think this is a big deal. I've heard it across many ages and many generations, even, when they take big moves. Some people, they find friends immediately, and fit right in, and have a home. Some people say, "Man, it took me 3 years." Some people say, "I never could, and so I had to move after so long." What this big move was, and people have used the word brave and a lot of terms. I don't feel like it was brave, when one prepares themself and ultimately follows what they love, which means it becomes less brave and more logical and more fun.
As far as getting over there, I absolutely went to a place where ... I could have decided I didn't like it, but I went to a place wit