December 9, 2011

Tommy's Story: How I Got To Where I Am

There is a large number of Professional Triathletes in the world, who all train very hard, and who all race extremely well. They all come from different backgrounds, different locations, and each one has a different story about how they got to where they are today. Here is my story…

Athletically, I grew up in Santa Cruz as an “S Dude” - Skateboarding, Surfing, and Swimming.
I stopped skateboarding and surfing when I started getting serious about my swimming career and I got a chance to see the benefits of that at the Jr National Championships in 2004 when I won 3 events and qualified for the Olympic Trials. After that meet I decided I wanted to really focus on swimming and see where it could take me. In 2006 my 200m fly was ranked 4th in the USA, 39th in the world, and I was one of only 5 Americans to break 2:00 in that event (the top ranked swimmer was… what’s his name?? Oh yeah, Michael Phelps). 2006 was also the year I took a job working at Safeway, so I was balancing training full time and working random produce shifts, including a solid block of midnight to 9am shifts. After 2 hard years of dedicated training with the focus of my athletic life being on the 2008 Olympic trials it came to a screeching halt. A few weeks out from the Olympic trials I got a gnarly form of sinusitis that blocked my sinuses so bad I couldn’t put my head under water. It completely screwed up the 3 weeks of training leading up to the trials, and not to mention while I was there trying to race I still couldn’t put my head under water without feeling like my head was going to explode. I couldn’t take any medication for it because everything is illegal on the Anti Doping list – I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

That concluded my career as a swimmer and I officially retired from USA swimming. The end of that was the beginning of my coaching career. I decided to continue my job at Safeway and coach for the Cabrillo Threshers, the same team I grew up swimming on. I didn’t do any training for a month after my retirement and finally decided to buy a bike (the first bike I’ve ever bought) so I could ride to work, stay fit, and possibly do a triathlon. There was a local Olympic distance race that I decided to make my first attempt at a triathlon. I hadn’t done any training, I just bought a bike the week before the race, and my mom bought me my first pair of running shoes I have ever owned 2 days before the race. I did the swim in the 55 degree pacific ocean without a wetsuit and had no clue what I was doing. I ended up finishing 10th overall out of 1,000+ competitors and thought, “hey that was fun, see you all next year”. 

So from there I went on to just riding my bike everywhere. No formal training, just riding about 15-20 miles a day, never swimming, and running like two times a week. I signed up for two local sprint races the next year and ended up getting second in one and winning the other (although I ended up getting disqualified for going off course in the second race because I still had no clue how triathlons worked). A month later I was back at the race where my tri career had begun, but after the disqualification mishap I had done some research and got more psyched on triathlon then I had been previously. I ended up getting an article written about me and how I had a chance to win this race and decided to take it a little bit more seriously. I borrowed a wetsuit, bought a tri bike, and ran and swam a few more times than normal.

Race day came and I ended up leading the swim out and was 2 min ahead of the next competitor. I was the only person out on the bike course and I was following the lead vehicle (which happened to be a van with no windows) and a cop thought that the vehicle was a pedestrian van and he stepped out into the middle of the street to stop it. I couldn’t see this happening, so I was just head down charging. I looked up and the van was coming to a screeching halt! I didn’t have time to do anything except swerve. I ended up crashing into the back of the van going about 29mph and that ended my day but simultaneously started a new career path for me.

After my crash I called the one person who I knew would know what to do - triathlon Olympian from Santa Cruz, Victor Plata. Victor and I had gone out to lunch after my first triathlon which was exactly a year before my accident. He told me that I had the potential to be a highly ranked professional triathlete and wanted to coach me. I told him “Thanks but no thanks” I didn’t want to get back into an athletic career after I had just spent 16 years of my life dedicated to sport. He told me “ok, but whenever you change your mind let me know!” After the accident, I decided to change my mind.

I started a partnership with Victor at the end of 2009 in hopes of making a name for myself in the triathlon world. Around the same time I got hooked up with a man named Brent Allen who knows the inside and out of the triathlon business world, and who has an incredible heart for helping people. After we had a meeting, I decided to call it quits at Safeway and focus on working with Victor to make this new career choice a reality.

I trained for 5 months (from November 2009 to March of 2010) and then competed in my fourth race ever, an Elite Development Race in Clermont, Florida. It was an Elite license qualifier where pros get to race with amateurs and the top two amateurs get their pro cards. I ended up finishing as the second amateur and earned my elite license – surprisingly, my career was starting smoothly… or so I thought.

Fast forward to December, 2011 where I’ve experienced basically every race scenario possible: Food poisoning, crashes, bike being totaled by the airlines, doing an extra lap on the bike, small concussion from getting kicked in the swim, bogus penalties, disqualification, bike mechanicals, and the list goes on, but despite all those things, I still got to experience victory by winning The San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz and the Triathlon at Pacific Grove!
So after all these things, my career is finally starting to pan out and run its own course; largely in part to a huge opportunity I have been lucky enough to be a part of. This opportunity comes in the form of a famous Kiwi, two time Olympic triathlon medalist Bevan Docherty, who moved to Santa Cruz to live and train. Out of all the sports I could have chosen, and out of all the places the world’s top triathlete could have moved, I chose triathlon and he moved 10 minutes away from me. Since May I have been training with Bevan and this has taken my career to the next level in a very short amount of time. The skills and strength I am acquiring from just being in this environment are astounding! I’m excited to move forward into 2012 with this amazing training partner and see what is in store for my future.

So now you have a quick recap of the last few years, and hopefully you will continue to follow me and my “choose your own adventure” life.

No comments:

Post a Comment