I would love to inspire the U.S. to adopt more of the cycling/commuting culture that is so common in Europe. It starts with infrastructure to make cycling possible and also safer in so many of our cities and towns, but if more people could cycle to and from work each day, this would reduce the number of cars on the roads and the pollution, as well as traffic accidents/fatalities. Meanwhile, people would be more healthy and active and outside more. I think it could benefit so many people in so many ways. Some cities are better than others in the U.S. but I’m thinking big- like a national movement and shift of our entire culture.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Jackson who was born and raised in Exeter, NH in a blue-collar, hard-working family. After playing ice hockey with the boys from age six until high school, followed by four years on Princeton’s Division I women’s team, as well as many summers spent in Lake Placid, NY with the US National Team program, Heather shifted her athletic focus from ice hockey to triathlon in 2007. In her first full season as an 18–24 year old amateur triathlete, Heather qualified for and won the Ironman World Championships in Kona in her age group. She turned pro at the end of 2009 and through hard work and her aggressive racing style, Heather has progressed in the sport and is a top contender at every race she enters. She is the current American Ironman record holder and has placed 3rd, 4th and 5th at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have been an athlete my entire life. I was racing my siblings when I could only crawl:) My parents literally had me in every possible sport that you can think of from ice hockey, soccer, basketball, softball, tennis, gymnastics, etc. I learned to skate on the local pond from when I could barely walk. My biggest loves from about fourth grade and on were soccer and ice hockey and so I mainly played those through high school before heading to Princeton to play ice hockey. I didn’t get into triathlon until my Junior year of college when I was at home for the summer and my parents decided to try one of the local sprint triathlons and I went with them. I fell in love immediately! I raced as an age grouper for about three years before turning professional at the end of 2009.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you became a pro triathlete?
I can’t think of one specific interesting story but more that it’s so amazing that I get to travel to new towns and places in the world as part of my job. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many new people all over the world that are now lifelong friends because of where triathlon has taken me.
It takes a lot of dedication to be a top athlete. Can you tell us a little bit about your workout and nutrition routine?
My workout and nutrition routine are pretty basic day to day. I start with a few cups of coffee before heading to the pool for a couple of hours. When I get home, I have some eggs and half an english muffin with peanut butter and usually a salad. Then I’ll have either a bike or a run workout to do, which I will follow up with an Herbalife24 Rebuild Protein shake mixed with some greek yogurt and berries. Then I’ll usually have another training session in the afternoon that will be followed with another Herbalife 24 Rebuild shake before usually taking an epsom salt bath before dinner. Dinners are typically a large salad with some sort of grilled meat, or veggie or beet burgers, with a sweet potato.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made was in my first Ironman race ever, I didn’t know that you HAVE to run through the change tents on the way to your bike after you finish the swim. I just started sprinting straight for my bike. The announcer on the microphone started yelling that I had to go the opposite way and go through the change tent and all the way around transition (even though I didn’t need to change). So I turned around and just ran into the tent I saw and it was the men’s change tent! So then the announcer was yelling, “That’s the men’s tent! You need to come back through and go through the far one! The women’s change tent!” It was more that all of the spectators were losing it on the side and shouting and pointing at where I should be going…it was pretty hysterical. The lesson there is to know the race course, including the transition areas and have an exact race plan prior to the start of the race.
What do you think makes being an endurance athlete stand out? Can you share a story?
I think it’s the distances (endurance equals the ability to endure) of events that really make an endurance athlete stand out. Whether it’s triathlon, or long distance trail running, or cycling, the sports are about training to be able to race for long periods of time over long distances. This can be hard to comprehend for people who aren’t involved in this type of sport… “You do what!?!? You rode your bike for 7 hours…? And then ran an hour and a half?” These can be common comments, haha.
What event do you have coming up next?
My next event is the Herbalife 24 Triathlon Los Angeles, which is going to be an incredible event, as we swim at Venice Beach before biking through downtown Los Angeles and follow that with running around downtown. It’s pretty cool to get to do events like this in such iconic places where literally the streets of one of the biggest cities in the world is shut down so that we can do a race on them. There are sprint and olympic distances available for people to race, as well as an Aquabike and a 5k, so something for everyone on the weekend. All of downtown Los Angeles will be shut down so there will be so many people out and about enjoying the weekend and this new event.
You can still sign up for the race and you can go to the website here for more info: https://www.herbalife24tri.la
Are you working on any new projects?
My husband and I own an apparel company called Wattie Ink. We make triathlon gear, as well as running tights/shirts, bathing suits, outerwear and lots of fun, casual wear. So I am helping him try to grow the brand every day while also racing professionally. We are constantly working on product development, or new ideas that could help triathletes in their training and racing.
What advice would you give to other female athletes or leaders to help their team to thrive?
I think the biggest advice I have for leaders is to set clear goals. What are you working towards or what are you trying to accomplish? Know what you are trying to accomplish as a team daily, weekly, monthly, and even beyond and then delegate (if needed) to get those goals accomplished. The first thing I do every morning is write down my daily goals and the key things that need to happen for the day, as well as their order of importance.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say first and foremost, I am so grateful to my parents for the opportunities they provided me with athletics. I don’t know how many times they remortgage our house to pay for all of my athletic endeavors, on top of carting me around to soccer and ice hockey practices. But in regards to triathlon, I would not be where I am without the support of my husband. He has been my number one supporter since I met him in 2008 and is the one who convinced me to quit my job as a teacher and give racing professionally a go. Since then, he has managed my career in terms of my training and which races to go to, acquiring sponsorship and all of the day to day relationships with my sponsors, media, as well as taking care of my bike- building/packing it for races, traveling with me, cooking for me, training with me- he does all of my bike rides and then rides his bike on my runs to carry water, and more. He literally does all of that for me while also running Wattie Ink. It is absolutely incredible and I’m so grateful for him every day of my life.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I don’t know if I’ve brought goodness to the world, but I hope so! 🙂 I hope that I’ve inspired others to get out the door or to work on their health and fitness through sharing my own journey. Even if it gets someone out the door for their first jog to be a little bit healthier, then I hope I’ve helped in some way.
Can you walk us through a day in your life? What time do you get up and what do you typically do throughout the day?
When I am in a big training block for a full distance Ironman, then days can be pretty long because I have a lot to fit in. I will wake up around 5am and have coffee before heading to the pool for a 5:30–7am swim. I will come home and eat before heading out on the bike for upwards of 6 hours (if it’s my long ride day). If it is a shorter ride, then it could be anywhere from 2–4 hours with hard interval training efforts. So that training could be anywhere from 9am-2pm ish before having a run workout right off the bike of up to an hour. Sometimes I have to follow that with a strength session in the gym before having dinner around 6pm-7pm, unwinding with my husband and then we are usually in bed by 8pm, falling asleep by 9pm.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Because I live in an “endurance bubble”, this idea is very much within that realm… haha. But, I would love to inspire the U.S. to adopt more of the cycling/commuting culture that is so common in Europe. It starts with infrastructure to make cycling possible and also safer in so many of our cities and towns, but if more people could cycle to and from work each day, this would reduce the number of cars on the roads and the pollution, as well as traffic accidents/fatalities. Meanwhile, people would be more healthy and active and outside more. I think it could benefit so many people in so many ways. Some cities are better than others in the U.S. but I’m thinking big- like a national movement and shift of our entire culture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I come from an ice hockey background so this quote started very literally for me but I’m going with the classic from Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” For me, it’s always about having that open attitude to try new things and to just go for something. My husband and I both jumped off a ledge when I quit teaching to try and make it as a professional triathlete, and he quit a job where he was making six figures to get his own apparel company started. We both could have failed miserably but we would have never known unless we tried. I guess my overall view on life is that we have one life to live, so we better make the most of it. Something might be scary, or out of your comfort zone, but it could also be the best thing you ever do in your life but you won’t know unless you try.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oh wow! That’s pretty cool. There are so many… I guess I have to go with Wayne Gretzky because I never met him all of the years I was playing ice hockey and he’s one of the greatest that ever played, and I used his quote in this. I also just love Pink. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her and just fights for what she believes in and is just 100% authentically herself all the time. I believe she’s done a few triathlons in LA or Malibu as well:)
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