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This puppeteer triathlete has life on a string

By Erin Udell | Dec. 13, 2021, 11:32 a.m. (ET)

woman stands next to a large-scale dinosaur puppet

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of USA Triathlon Magazine

Walking into the spare-room-turned-studio in her Los Angeles home late last month, Brittaney Talbot opened the closet door to reveal a tiny world of puppets.

While the professional puppeteer’s studio walls are strewn with inconspicuous shadow puppets — small black cutouts of things like a saber-toothed cat and a couple in a hot air balloon — the closet is where Talbot’s more distinct puppets live.

There’s the miniature Czech-style marionette of a robot she bought in Prague and the head of a serpent she fabricated for a school production. And you can’t miss Coach Mo, a bushy-browed football coach puppet of Talbot’s creation who appears to have barreled right out of a televised Muppets special.  

Talbot, who races triathlons under her married name of Wyszynski, has been a puppeteer ever since joining the University of Connecticut’s puppetry arts program around 2005. 

Since then, she’s worked with everything from a 7-inch shadow puppet to a 6-foot-tall, 140-pound full-suit troodon puppet — a dinosaur featured in one of Talbot’s latest jobs with the nationally touring show “Jurassic World Live.”

Talbot can act, fabricate puppets, manually control them, do animatronic work and more. 

“Puppeteers kind of have their fingers — no pun intended — in everything,” she explained. 

Talbot may have a few more balls in the air than most, though. Between her puppetry jobs, the 33-year-old is often training at a level that makes her a top age-group triathlete. 

And while puppetry and triathlon may seem like two totally separate aspects of Talbot’s life, she’ll be the first to tell you they’re inextricably linked.  

After graduating from Connecticut in 2009, Talbot moved to California where she pursued professional puppetry and found a community in triathlon, a sport she discovered near the end of her college career.  

When a job as a full-suit puppeteer opened in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s performing arts department, Talbot was a perfect fit since the role required endurance and strength to maneuver the museum’s human-sized prehistoric puppets.

“I was able to marry these aspects of myself — the fitness and athleticism —  with being a puppeteer. It was such a great fit,” Talbot said. “And it just cascaded from there.”

Before long, Talbot was doing commercial full-suit puppetry for Spike TV and Sports Center. In 2018, she was brought on to help develop puppets for the “Jurassic World Live” tour, which has been on hiatus due to the pandemic.

When the show started rehearsals in Florida in 2019, Talbot lived out of a hotel room for three months, preparing for the show in the midst of triathlon training. That year, she competed at the Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships and the ITU World Championships.

When “Jurassic World Live” began touring, Talbot would find gyms, pools and trails in each city to ensure she could continue training.  

“It truly is like a sport in and of itself… balancing all of that,” said Kori Kirschner, the tour’s former head athletic trainer.

While maintaining her triathlon training during the tour was, in Kirschner’s words, “a massive feat,” Talbot saw the effort pay off.

“You fill yourself up before you can serve others. Triathlon fills me in that way so that when I go [work] I’m drawing on this sport that I love a lot,” Talbot said. “I don’t think I would be as strong of a full-suit puppeteer if I wasn’t a triathlete.”

smiling woman crossing the finish line at the legacy triathlon in long beach california

Talbot estimates she’s competed in almost 100 triathlons. She’s qualified for Team USA every year since 2016 and most recently took third in her age group at this summer’s Toyota USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships and 12th in her age group at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in September.

This fall, she’s coaching the club triathlon team at UCLA. In her sparse spare time, she teaches fitness classes at a local gym. 

As performing arts productions remain in pandemic-related limbo across the country, Talbot said she’s been lucky to have triathlon as an outlet. With one major part of her life on hold, she was able to throw herself into the other.

And whenever large-scale live puppetry is ready for its return, Talbot will be, too — happy to have the world back at her fingertips.

The Unique Jobs of Triathletes

Jacalyn Johnson-Alviza
Age group:
40-44 
Lives in: Pearland, Texas
Job: Reconstructive plastic surgery physician assistant

In both the operating room and clinic, Johnson-Alviza works hand in hand with surgeons to reconstruct patients’ surgical defects following cancer treatment. Ranging from breast to head and neck to pelvic and limb reconstruction, her work is extremely specialized. Johnson-Alviza’s team specializes in free flap reconstruction, which consists of transferring tissue from one part of the body to another through specialized surgical procedures using microscopes to suture blood vessels. The work “makes me truly appreciate my own healthy body and what it does for me on a daily basis and in sport,” she said. 

Bill Dusting
Age group:
60-64 
Lives in: Los Osos, California
Job: Mail carrier (retired) 

Dusting’s backstory begins with gate-crashing a birthday party in Australia, where the birthday girl encouraged him to quit his banking job and move to San Diego where he could work as a mailman and enjoy being outside in the best climate in the world. He moved, swapped smoking with running and eventually added swimming and biking. USPS officials soon noticed Dusting was quick on his feet, so they continued to give him walking routes. He estimates walking 13 miles a day on the job at its peak and says the work is what led to a hip replacement. After retiring and moving away from the birthplace of triathlon, Dusting spends his time biking, kayaking and hiking. He still races and finished second in his age group at the 2021 USA Triathlon Aquathlon National Championships.     

Maria Marrone
Age group
: 65-69 
Lives in: Pacific Palisades, California
Job: Teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing 

In her role, Marrone assists all grade levels from preschool to high school, visiting the students at school and setting up their amplification plus microphones for teachers. The setup feeds the sound right into the students’ hearing aids or cochlear implants so that kids can hear the teacher over classroom noise. Students may have language deficits due to hearing loss, so she often helps with instruction, especially vocabulary, comprehension checks, repeat/rephrase written and/or verbal information. Marrone also gives sign language lessons to her non-verbal students. “When I get exhausted during a workout, I remember the determination and perseverance of my student working through their disabilities.”