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Joanna Zeiger: The Champion Mindset

JZBook

Joanna Zeiger is one of the few triathletes who had great success across all distances. She surprised many when she qualified for the first Olympics in Sydney 2000, then almost medaled in fourth place. Less than five weeks later she finished fifth at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. She won two Ironman races (IM Brasil in 2005 and IM Coeur d’Alene in 2006) and was the 70.3 World Champion 2008.

Joanna is also academically accomplished, having earned a Ph.D. in Genetic Epidemiology from John Hopkins University in 2001. That’s not a field known for “touchy feely” science, so it was clear that her book “The Champions Mindset” wouldn’t focus on lighting candles, journaling, chanting or meditating. (The first three terms are not mentioned in the book at all; ‘meditation’ is referred to as ‘mindfulness’, a much more practical technique focused on the current moment.)

Joanna’s Pro racing career was cut short: She was in an life-altering accident while trying to defend her 70.3 title. In a bike aid station she was picking up a bottle but the volunteer didn’t let go, and she found herself on the ground having broken her collarbone and a couple of ribs. Her ribs never really healed, and she’s been suffering chronic pain ever since, sometimes rendering her unable to get out of bed for days. With this background you might expect another type of book, one that could be summed up with “toughen up, buttercup”. This is also NOT the book she wrote.

Instead Joanna has written a practical, readable and often personal guide on how to mentally approach your training and racing. She explores setting goals, letting others help you while keeping ownership, confidence, strategies during the race to achieve mind/body cohesion, overcoming obstacles and finding meaning. She presents the science behind the issues and discusses different strategies to deal with “roadblocks” on your way to better results. The book gives you a ton of ideas to think about. After Joanna was kind enough to send me an early copy, I’ve often referred to the book, both for myself and in chatting with some Professional athletes about the challenges they face. I’m sure that any athlete will benefit from the strategies and approaches discussed and that the book will give you pragmatic strategies to change your behavior in training and racing.

The book is available is available in paperback and eBook formats through Amazon (affiliate link) and in bookstores.

Siri Lindley’s Book: “Surfacing”

If you’ve been following triathlon for a while, you’ll have heard of Siri Lindley .. here’s an excerpt from her wikipedia entry: “Siri Lindley is an American triathlon coach and former professional triathlete. She is the 2001 ITU Triathlon World Champion as well as the winner of the 2001 and 2002 ITU Triathlon World Cup series and 2001 ITU Aquathlon World Championships. She has coached a number of Olympic and Ironman athletes and champions, including Mirinda Carfrae, Leanda Cave, Sarah True, and Susan Williams.”

SiriBook

Of course an encyclopedia article only gives you the facts and can barely scratch the surface of a person’s personality. Siri gives a much more detailed look into her mindset in her autobiography “Awakening: From the Depths of Self-Doubt to Winning Big and Living Fearlessly”, co-written with Julia Beeson Polloreno, Triathlete Magazine’s former Editor-in-Chief.

Of course Siri covers her amazing career. But while it’s interesting to get Siri’s inside perspective on her greatest races both as an athlete and as a coach, the book really shines when Siri describes the challenges in her life and how she deals with them.

The first quarter of the book describes how Siri grew up, having to deal with a stepfather she never felt comfortable with (“a dark, ominous cloud”) and the emotional turmoil he created in her life. Her mother tried to do her best to juggle the demands of her new husband with the needs of her children, but it was sports that helped Siri to find herself as a young adult – because she found coaches and friends that helped her find trust in herself.

Siri describes a number of her coaches and what they mean to her – starting with her high school lacrosse coach Renee Spellman: “I still don’t fully understand what inspired her conviction and faith in my potential. She took every opportunity to build up my confidence and develop my character. She saw a sad, scared kid and cracked me open to let out a little light.” She found more coaches and mentors once she picked up triathlon – including Brett Sutton who challenged her in a lot of ways: “Every day, Brett would give me an impossible task, and somehow I would manage to get it done. I’m starting to feel I’m capable of so much more than I ever thought.” Even if she struggled with doubts and injuries and missed reaching some important goals such as qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Games, she eventually gained the confidence in herself to go for the triathlon World Championship title – reaching her goal in 2001 and then continue to be the #1 ranked athlete for 2002.

After she ended her own athletic career, Siri started to coach, quickly finding her own inimitable style – a mixture of the  coaches she’s had but also adding her own personality and experiences to it. Finding her way as a coach involved taking a few wrong turns and also struggling to finally admit to being gay. By this point Siri has grown from being a passive “what is happening to me” person to someone who is actively shaping things: Building a training base for her “Team Sirius”, successfully coaching Ironman World Champions, but also growing the relationship with her wife, Rebekah Keat: “We had many obstacles to overcome to make our dream of being together come true.”

To me, following Siri’s growth path beyond the bare facts of results lists was fascinating and a great read. I hope it’ll encourage her readers to strive to win big and live fearlessly – and to define what that means for them personally.

“Surfacing” is available as a hardcover in US book stores and on Amazon (affiliate link). It’s also going to be available internationally (release dates for the UK and Germany are set for early November) and eBook versions are prepared as well.

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