Shortly after I moved to Flagstaff in October of 2006, I began refurbishing vending machines for a local beverage company. Customers would request a machine for a given location and I would select an old, beat up vendor from our warehouse of used machines. Then I’d practically disassemble it and sand, paint, reassemble, troubleshoot, repair it, and turn out something that some would describe as a work of art ;). While it was somewhat depressing going from working on F-16s in the Air Force to fixing vending machines…the job was very flexible with my class schedule at NAU, where I started in January of 2007. I typically worked 20-25hrs a week there and usually took 12-14 credit hours. The atmosphere at the job was very laid back, happy, and enjoyable. We were located near downtown, away from the east Flagstaff location of the main company operations, so we kind of flew under the radar, so to speak. It was that coupled with our manager at the time that contributed to the laid back attitude.
When I graduated in May of 2011, our department had moved in next door to the main company, and we didn’t even have a manager at the time. It was several months before an official new manager was found, so that period was even more unorganized than usual. This particular job, well, all the jobs in the department, offered no planned/structured chance for advancement (AKA dead-end job), so I always thought of it as my college job.
During the summer after graduation, I decided to see the job as just something to pay the bills while I focused on training for Ironman Arizona. I wasn’t actively looking for anything new. One new thing at a time, I suppose. The old manager who was willing to work with my class schedule was also willing to work with my training schedule. I could take a two hour lunch for a workout and that would be okay; I would just come in a little bit early and/or leave a little late. The new manager, on the other hand, was not willing to do that. He did have every right to make the schedule as rigid as he wanted to, of course, but I just didn’t see the reasoning when it worked so well before. I worked in the warehouse and basically did my job unsupervised, it literally didn’t matter when I was there. This was one small factor in a long list of reasons of why it became unbearable to work there. Different employees were treated very differently (some serious favoritism). I saw the same costly mistakes made year after year, sometimes month after month, with no attempts to correct them. Employee evaluations gradually went away and I hadn’t had a raise in four years, seven months, despite being very reliable and hard-working. I’m not going to list off everything because I want this to be more about turning the page, rather than a really long whine fest…
An idea that I had early in my undergrad, which I had discussed with my coach, Bettina Warnholtz, was to potentially start coaching athletes with Racelab. To be able to help endurance athletes attain their goals in something that I’m passionate about would be a dream come true. That dream quickly became a goal, and I attained my BS in Exercise Science as the completion of my first step. During that time, I also got involved with NAU TriJacks, the university club triathlon team. I watched the team grow from five members – and even met Janee for the first time at one of the workouts – to a club of 45 members under Janee’s leadership. We got experience recruiting athletes, organizing events and workouts, and we made a ton of friends. TriJacks were in my wedding, and many of my training partners are TriJacks.
The winter after graduation, Janee inquired whether Trijacks were looking for a coach. They certainly were, and I started coaching them during the spring 2012 semester, learning a lot along the way, all the while being completely stoked to have a side job doing something that I wanted to be doing. Also, my buddy (a TriJack!), Frank Smith, put in a good word for me when the PES department was looking for a new triathlon class instructor, and I started with that the same semester. 1) Isn’t it rad that NAU has a triathlon class!? 2) This meant I moved two more steps in the direction I wanted to go!
The next step came in July when I traveled to Salt Lake City for a USA Triathlon Level I coaching certification clinic. We got to listen to clinics from four Level III certified coaches (Bobby McGee, Bob Seebohar, Shelly O’Brien, and Ian Murray) of which there are only 19 in existence. Among other things, we learned about sport psychology, training and nutrition periodization, and metabolic efficiency.
Back on the vending job: This summer, instead of the old, “I’m just hanging onto this job while I focus on Ironman,” it became more like, “Get me the heck out of this depressing place.” It had really become bad in every aspect, and I used my lunch breaks to search for jobs because that was basically the only time I could, since training took up the vast majority of my other spare time. I quickly learned that it’s pretty hard to even get an interview around here, despite getting less and less picky about what I was applying for. I developed a huge sense of entrapment and started becoming legitimately depressed. My mood was affected inside and out of work, I became less motivated, I was always tired, and it all negatively affected my training. We then started thinking of ways to make coaching full-time a reality. It was a challenge to find time outside of the full time job to focus on planning and promoting, so we started a “quitting fund.” We’d save enough money for me to be able to go part-time and eventually quit.
A few weeks ago, I approached my boss about starting to work only Monday through Thursday, 32 hours a week. The triathlon class was about to start up on Fridays, and I figured I’d use Friday afternoons to focus on coaching duties (I worked half days last semester). My boss rejected my request, saying that he couldn’t justify me missing those extra four hours per week. I really didn’t think it would be a problem, and this meant that our original plan to gradually phase out the job wasn’t going to happen. So Janee crunched our financial numbers and we determined that I could put in my two week notice the following week. Seriously!?!? It was an incredibly exciting realization. She determined that, even if I were to make zero money over the next few months, we could make it through November. Of course, not making any money at all won’t be the case, as TriJacks are starting back up and so is the triathlon class.
I’ll be done with this job that sucks the life out of me on Wednesday, September 5th, four days before the 70.3 World Championships and five and a half weeks before the Ironman World Championships. I fully intend to take on more individual athletes (I currently coach four) as a coach for Racelab, focus on making TriJacks an even better team, and continue learning as much as possible to become the best coach that I can be.
An added perk to this situation is that I can focus on training to the best of my ability, which brings me to a side goal: to take racing triathlons to the highest level that I can. After my result at IMAZ, there were a lot of people that asked if I’m going to race professionally. There are a wide range of opinions on when one should move up to the pro ranks. Some believe that you should as soon as you meet the qualification criteria to do so. Others think it should be when you’re basically good enough to make a living from it, and there is a huge difference in those two examples. I personally think, at the very least, that I need to address my lackluster swim before making that leap. Professional racing is a different ballgame and tactics come into play. It’s important to come out of the water with the competition rather than several minutes back. The top guys work together on the bike – they don’t draft (well, most don’t), mind you, but they can get a small draft at the legal distance and they have the mental advantage of having someone there to pull them along. If you come out of the swim way back, you’re just chasing all day by yourself. I expressed this to Leanda Cave several weeks ago and her reply was, “Well you can be chasing all day as an amateur, or you can be doing the same thing as a pro.” Haha! Point taken. It was good to hear her perspective and she firmly believed that I should race professionally. Bettina and I discussed it as well and we believe I need more experience, plus I suppose we’ll see how Kona goes!
Either way, I’m ecstatic to be taking the steps to make this sport that I’m incredibly passionate about an even bigger part of my life!
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