All In with Competitive Spirit

By John ONeill | Feb. 27, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

johnMy first year ever running in high school, I remember finishing a race after the first-place finisher was done, had put on his sweats and was on his cool down. I was over 6-feet-tall with the coordination of a newborn giraffe – in other words, I wasn’t a very good runner. In truth, I got into running because my mom told me I wasn’t very good at soccer and should start putting my eggs into a different basket. Despite struggling in the beginning, I fell in love with running because I saw it as something that gave back exactly what you put in. So, I started putting it all in.

By the end of my high school career, I had built myself up to one of the best in the state and earned a roster spot at Colorado State University. In college I trained with a great group of people – we ran some fast times and beat some stiff competition. But I never forget my first running race. Beyond that, I never forget the drive, determination and competitive spirit that lifted me from a gangly jogger to a serious athlete.

It seems that I’ve been surrounded by competition and success for my entire life. My older sister was a standout soccer player – brought home forever more wins than losses in the game. My mother ran her first marathon on her 51st  birthday. My father recently retired after spending 30+ years with a business he helped build. After a few weeks of stir-crazy retirement, he had remodeled the back patio, took on a volunteer job and went back to work for another small company. 

After college, I knew I wasn’t done with competition and that I wouldn’t let a college degree get in the way of pursuing athletics beyond scholastic life. I decided to try my hand at the triathlon after a slew of running injuries made 80-mile weeks less appetizing. My training began casually – a couple of swims here, some running there and spinning whenever I could fit it in at the gym. Naturally, that casual attitude didn’t last long after I got a taste of hard training. I started doubling my swims, bought a road bike and read some articles on how to properly train for the sport.

johnI had a mountain of work in front of me on the swim and bike but I knew that I could handle myself on the run. Each day I chipped away at the challenge, pleasing myself with the accomplishment of many small goals. In a very short but incredibly determined period of time I would hit the benchmark swim test to become a Collegiate Recruit with USA Triathlon. I was then offered residency at the Olympic Training Center where I currently reside and train. 

Here, once again, I find myself surrounded by success stories. There are paraswimmers, cyclists, weightlifters, wrestlers, boxers and other triathletes. There are athletes who pushed themselves to a gold medal in their sport, to world records and enough blue ribbons to cover the buildings they live in. Despite the success of these athletes, they continue to push on, to be the best at each competition. Athletes like Hunter Kemper who is pushing for his fifth Olympic Games, or Jessica Long who has won 12 gold medals in Paralympic swimming. Every morning these athletes wake up to achieve something new, to continue to push forward, get better and become the best. This is an attitude that I identify with.

When I think back about how I couldn’t help but dive into the triathlon with all my effort and determination, I think about my family and how I was raised to always work for more, to be the best, to offer the highest level of commitment. I think this drive is what got me to the Olympic Training Center, but I am by no means satisfied with this accomplishment. I’m so inspired by athletes like Kemper and Long – and so many others that train here at the OTC – that I get up for every practice determined to give all that I have in order to see a sampling of the success they’ve felt. This will be my first fully competitive season of triathlon. With races just around the corner in Clermont and Sarasota, I realize my goals are big, but embrace them with the fully competitive spirit, unwavering nature and tenacious attitude I’ve always been surrounded by.

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