Meet the Wurteles!

Meet the Wurteles, not your average couple!

The IRONMAN World Championships will be held in Kona on Saturday October 8. As the athletes have landed on the big island of Hawaii to prepare for the year’s greatest race, we are now getting into championship mode.

The Wurteles

Team Wurtele is composed of Heather and Trevor Wurtele. Both are among the best long-distance triathletes and are many times IRONMAN champions.

The Wurteles are a unique triathlon couple. They didn’t meet while racing triathlon, they discovered this sport together and now they do it for a living.  Most importantly, they keep their feet on the ground and that’s what we like about them.

Give yourself a few minutes to read Heather’s latest blog post. This isn’t an ordinary inspirational speech, as she describes motivation like no one else does.

Meet the Wurteles, visit their website and wish them the best of luck on their next race.

Challenge, competition, focus, belief and optimism

If you are a tad sarcastic and cynical like myself, then the words in the title of this blog may trigger a bit of an "oh puke" reaction, yet if deep down you are a bit of a softy who likes inspirational shit, then this blog post is for you!

After the 70.3 in Oceanside this year I was asked to give a talk to a group of high school girls on a pretty high level soccer team, whose coaches felt they needed a little inspiration to keep them going through the off season. High school girls scare me, as does public speaking, but I channeled my post-race energy into preparing a few things to say. Turns out these girls were super cool and engaged, and the feedback I got made me think that the points I touched on would be useful to a wider audience. Like for instance the incredible world-wide following of the Team Wurtele blog! Ha ha.

Anyway, the context is on how to stay motivated to keep working at your goals. Here's the speech:

The main thing I'd like to emphasize in all I have to say today is simply that the more you put into life, the more you get out of it, and in my experience the best way to do this is to embrace challenge, and competition, learn to focus and be optimistic, and believe in yourself.

Working hard to reach a goal is hard work. I'm sure that you sometimes feel like "Seriously? Another soccer practice? I just want to go hang out at the mall. That's way more fun". And it might be. But I guarantee that that type of fun is for a limited time only. Doing challenging things to better yourself almost always leads to the most deeply rewarding experiences in life.

So I went to school for many years getting a Masters and starting a PhD in plant physiology and molecular genetics, but after grad school I went through this phase where I was like "screw this noise. I'm so tired of always working so hard". I actually got a part-time job in the health and beauty section of Thrifty Foods - because high level graduate degrees make you qualified to sell herbal shampoo! I thought it would be awesome. Mindless work, easy interactions with people, more time to train for triathlon, but it actually just made me feel stilted and my whole world sort of contracted and I even lost motivation in training. Once I got a challenging research position, doing the science I spent so long studying, everything in my life improved.

Contrary to what we usually believe, the best moments in our lives are not the passive relaxing times (although such experiences can be enjoyable, especially if you've worked hard to attain them), the best moments usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is something we MAKE happen.

For me, winning races is such an amazing feeling because it is the culmination of so much dedication and hard work.

So basically, when we choose a goal and push our limits and invest ourselves in it, whatever we do becomes enjoyable. And once you've tasted the joy of reaching your goals, you'll double your efforts to taste it again, and voila! You grow as a person.

Heather Wurtele

So basically, when we choose a goal and push our limits and invest ourselves in it, whatever we do becomes enjoyable. And once you've tasted the joy of reaching your goals, you'll double your efforts to taste it again, and voila! you grow as a person.

Fortunately for you, on this soccer team, competitive environments are one of the best places to grow.

The roots of the word "compete" are the Latin CON PETIRE which meant "to seek together". What each person seeks is to actualize her potential and this task is made easier when others force us to do our best. So, by embracing the challenge of being on a team like this and working hard to maybe even get a soccer scholarship you will get the best out of yourself, not only in sport, but in all of life.

Of course with being competitive comes a desire to win, but this can be a tricky one. I'm sure you've had games where it seems like the harder you've tried to win the worse it has gone. It is one of those annoying things that can't be forced. Kind of like happiness, actually. You may think "I just want to be happy" but it's not an end point. It's a side effect of personal dedication to something meaningful be it sports, school, work, relationships...

But I'm getting off track. What I wanted to talk about was focus and winning. In my experience, it comes with focusing on the process and being completely in the moment, rather than worrying about the outcome. If you're thinking "shit, we're down by 1, and we really need to win this game" and are totally fixated on the result, you'll be less focused on the immediate moment in the game and more likely to miss a pass and not help yourself out at all.

In races I can't control what other people do, or the weather, or the difficulty of the course. I can only control my focus and my effort at each moment in the race.

I know that this time in your life can be super stressful, worrying about soccer, getting good grades for school, who said what on twitter, and sometimes the desire for a goal can be paralysing. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in thinking about a race that I feel like I'm going to lose my mind, but it always helps to just focus in the moment. Take on more good stroke in the pool, be immersed in that soccer drill, just crack that huge chemistry text book and take some notes, rather than freaking out about understand the whole subject. The results WILL come.

Which leads me to another important point: Belief. And to believe you need optimism.

A really interesting study was done with elite swimmers at the University of Arizona. Swimmers took a pretty involved questionnaire to determine their "self-explanatory style" - basically whether their internal dialogue was positive or negative - and from that they were categorized as optimists or pessimists. They were asked to swim their best event as a time trial, but the coach gave them times that were slower than their actual splits. Then, they were asked to re-do the time trial.

Across the board, the people who were pessimists swam slower, while the optimists rallied and swam even faster, often hitting significant personal best times!  It is pretty fascinating that their performance was so strongly determined by the style of their internal dialogue. Saying "I'm a failure" as if failure is somehow inherent to you is total bullshit and completely counter-productive. Saying "ok, I just failed, but that was just one time. I know I can do better", and giving your all when you try again leads to great things!

The same types of studies on self-explanatory style have been done for students writing entrance exams to get into college. Pessimists generally got grades below those predicted based on their exams scores, while optimists with the same entrance scores rose above and got better grades than those predicted. What you say to yourself, and how you say it, matters!

This leads to three predictions in sports: 1) with all else being equal, the individual with the more positive explanatory style will win, particularly because she tries harder after defeat or stiff challenge; 2) this also holds true for teams - especially when playing under pressure; and 3) (and most exciting) if you're already kicking ass but change your internal dialogue from pessimistic to optimistic, you can kick even more ass!

For me personally, I was always pretty good at triathlon, but I didn't start becoming a world class athlete until I started being a lot more positive, and believing in myself.

A big part of that came with body image. I am ridiculously tall and most top triathletes look nothing like me. I used to call them "ripped little mighty sprites". My internal self-talk just confirmed the standard line "oh she's too tall to run fast", and this subconsciously shaped my belief and my performances. But with time, a lot of training and hard work, a great coach and the positive attitudes of those around me I came to realize that it's not what my body looks like that matters, but what I can do with my body!

The lesson in this is to not let what others say about you, or 'girls that look like you', ever start to define what you are capable of. More importantly, don't let your own self talk limit you. Be aware about how you talk to yourself because, positive or negative, those thoughts will shape what you become. I guarantee your life is not defined by who you are in high school.

Remember that the more you put into anything in life, the more you are going to get out of it. Believe in yourself and be optimistic. Embrace challenges and competition. It will lead to some awesome experiences.

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