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An open letter to my non-triathlete spouse

Julie Patterson

What’s it like to be the spouse of an elite triathlete? We can assume that it is not the easiest job husbands or wives have ever taken on. Julie Patterson of Maverick Multisport writes this open letter to her non-triathlete husband to share the truth about life being married to a triathlete.

Dear Love,

You may not know this, but I cringe when we’re standing together and someone asks if you are “also a triathlete”. Your response is usually the same- something along the lines of *chuckle* “No, it’s hard enough to spectate!” *chuckle* I cringe because I worry that you feel judged that you’re not out there dying on the race course like I am. I wish the world knew the full story of what it means to be married to an elite triathlete.

I wish the world knew that you don’t have to be a serious triathlete to relate to one. My strong drive to succeed in triathlon isn’t any different than your drive to excel professionally. When people say to me,  “Wow, you must be so dedicated to wake up before the sunrise,” I think of how dedicated you are, balancing two jobs, law school, trial competitions, and law review.

We both have lofty goals. We both know the sacrifices and dedication required to achieve those goals. You support my triathlon aspirations not only because you know what they mean to me but also because you can relate to my ambition. Remember that Friday night when you agreed to go to dinner at 5:30pm so that I could go to bed early?  And by “that Friday night,” I obviously mean “every Friday night.”

I wish the world knew how hard it actually is to be a triathlete Sherpa. Dedicated Sherpa-ing takes advanced preparation. Before race weekend even starts, you print course maps, estimate my times of arrival along the course, and plan the optimal cheering route. Then the real fun begins.

The pre-race hotel needs to be conducive to rest and relaxation. Remember that time we stayed in a cheap Priceline hotel that still allowed smoking, and I panicked that I wouldn’t be able to sleep because of the smell? You made an evening Walmart run for assorted air fresheners.

On the day before the race, I always discover that I forgot to pack something, and you end up fighting the crowds at the expo to purchase a replacement item. Remember that time I forgot my aero water bottle and you stood guard over the only exact replacement at the expo while I ran around unsuccessfully looking for a better deal?

In the evening before the race, your job gets even busier. There are tattoos to put on me and stickers to place on my bike, because we both know they would be crooked if I put them on myself. On race morning, you wake up at some ungodly hour of the morning to drive me to the course while I eat breakfast, carry anything and everything I may need, and solve the inevitable pre-race crisis.

Remember that time you sprinted a solid 0.5 mile each way back to the car to get my bike pump? Your Sherpa skills clearly benefit from your marathon training.  During the race, you cheer, provide race updates on social media and remind me to drink. Remember all those times I didn’t drink enough and you had to make pharmacy runs for NSAIDs to address my crushing dehydration headaches? You often say that you’re exhausted at the end of races, and it’s no mystery why.

I wish the world knew that Sherpa culture is a subset of triathlon culture. I know you are not alone out there while you cheer. I’ve seen you strategizing with other Sherpas about cheering times and locations. You’ve texted updates to other athletes’ spouses on their progress when that spouse was not able to travel to a race. You exchange battle stories with other Sherpas and cheer on their athletes alongside them. Remember that time you were watching the race with a first-time Sherpa whose athlete was brought in from the swim on a safety kayak because he “just couldn’t breathe?”  You offered him congratulations for making it to the starting line because you knew that was an achievement for him and encouragement that he would make it next time.

I am not going to lie: the lives of dual pro-triathlete couples seem pretty glamorous. I love a good Jan Frodeno + Emma Snowsill, Andrea Hewitt + Laurent Vidal, or Katie + Tommy Zaferes story as much as the next triathlon fan.  But Pat Lemieux, who does not plan on ever doing a triathlon, is an integral part of Gwen Jorgensen’s success and most definitely embraces the Sherpa life.

It’s time for non-triathlete spouses of triathletes to get more recognition. It’s time for you to formulate a better response to the question about whether you are “also a triathlete.” I think, “No, I’m too busy with marathon training and managing triathlon logistics and social media to get out there and race” is a good start. Let them ask about what all the term “triathlon logistics” entails and have your best triathlon Sherpa war stories ready. Just don’t tell them about all the times you’ve had to nurse me back from heat exhaustion. I’d rather forget those times.


Your triathlete spouse

Read more of Julie’s triathlete adventures on her blog.

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