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Everyone Can be an Athlete: Insights from World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington

Jacqui Furneaux - 68  - Spending 7 years travelling the world on a motorbike!

Chrissie Wellington’s path to becoming a professional athlete was not a traditional one. Despite that fact, she became the world’s number one female Ironman triathlete, a four times World Ironman Champion, and the undefeated champion of Triathlon.

There is so much we can learn from this incredible woman who’s accomplished great feats and come out stronger than ever. Chrissie came on the Tough Girl podcast to discuss her many athletic experiences and the lessons she learned along the way.

Read on for a preview into Chrissie’s valuable insights on athleticism and life.

Make Decisions with No Regrets

In Chrissie’s early career, becoming a professional athlete wasn’t on her mind at all. She had signed a contract to become a lawyer after taking a 9-month sojourn around the world. By Chrissie’s first stop in Africa, she began to question her decision to go into law. She spent her time travelling, trying to figure out what lit her internal fire.

Eventually, Chrissie realized that she cared passionately about the world around her and wanted to do something to drive positive change. She rescinded her contract with the legal organization and extended her trip into a two-year journey. Backpacking through Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Asia, Chrissie discovered that she wanted to pursue a career in international development.

Chrissie has faced a number of forks in the road, as we all face tough decisions. She remembered worrying about what people will think, how she would support herself financially, and all the other opportunities she would have to let go. “We can either let those fears stop us or we can face them,” Chrissie said. “I follow the philosophy that I never want to look back and think of what might have been.”

You Can Do it Too

While running started out as a means for weight control, it quickly became a respite and passion for Chrissie. When she saw her friend with a heart defect run the London Marathon, she realized that she could do it too. Without a lot of training or fancy equipment, Chrissie went out to run for progressively longer amounts of time.

Running a marathon was a revelation in what Chrissie was able to achieve. By believing that she could do something like that, she set a new goal and reached it with pure determination. This achievement was the first step toward a whole new life.

See the Positive Side of Adversity

After her first marathon, Chrissie made a goal to run another in less than three hours. Unfortunately, she was hit by a car while cycling two weeks before the marathon. This was a huge disappointment for Chrissie.

While striving to move forward and retain her fitness, Chrissie decided to take up swimming. After a session of swimming one day, someone suggested she try a triathlon. Even though Chrissie had no proper biking shoes or triathlon kit, she gave it a go. “Life is about taking opportunities and challenging myself in many different ways,” Chrissie explained. “Intellectually, I was challenged through my career. The triathlon provided a new and exciting challenge that I seized with no plans to ever achieve what I have in the sport.”

Through many experiences of disappointment and unexpected trial, Chrissie has learned it is possible to find something positive amidst the pain. While particularly important for athletes who face a number of physical challenges, we can all learn to see our lives in a different way when we look for the positive side of our challenges.

Forget About the Stereotypical Path

Chrissie firmly believes that everyone can be an athlete. “You don’t have to take a stereotypical path to athletic excellence,” she shared. “People think I came from nowhere, but I was shaped by all the experiences I had before.” Even if you lack years of athletic experience, the experiences you have had will make you into an incredible athlete.

Chrissie’s life before becoming an athlete gave her the mental strength she needed to succeed. “We can all bring our life experiences to become an athlete of some caliber,” Chrissie said. “It wasn’t that I came from nowhere, where I came from just wasn’t stereotypical.”

Today, Chrissie continues to avoid the stereotypical and live life in her own way. “I don’t want my identity to be wedded to being a triathlete,” she remarked. “Ultimately, I’m someone that’s absolutely passionate about self-mastery and being the best I can be and whatever I’m doing.”

Lean On Your Support System

When Chrissie realized she had the physical and psychological strength to endure, she decided to give Ironman a try and won her age group championship. It was then that Chrissie saw her potential to succeed in something that she never imagined. Becoming a professional athlete was an opportunity that she would be remiss to not explore.

When making difficult decisions, Chrissie cites the importance of leaning on other people. “Whether it’s not to start a race, change careers, or try a new sport, I lean heavily on my friends and family to be a sounding board and voice of reason,” Chrissie noted. “The decision is mine ultimately, but I try to lean on others.”

Your support system may be a coach, team, family, friends, or newfound community. Whatever it is, when you have people encouraging you to try new things and explore your talents, you’ll discover what you’re truly capable of achieving.

Never, Ever Give Up

Chrissie’s mantra for every race was “Never, ever give up.” She wrote it on her race wristbands and water bottles so she could carry this motivational phrase with her wherever she went. Chrissie also likes to recall Rudyard Kipling’s poem entitled If. Reading this through the prism of sport inspires Chrissie to soar to new heights.

Like the title of her book, Chrissie encourages all to live their life without limits. “We’re really capable of so much more than we think,” Chrissie said.

“You never fail if you try something. You only fail if you don’t try.”


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