The successful triathlete- body and soul

Published On June 25, 2014 | By Paula Maloney

The viewing of a triathlon is a fantastic stage  for a menagerie of athletes who showcase biological diversity. Athletes who are being pulled to the ragged edge of their abilities is enticing to behold. It begs the question: Do some athletes have a natural advantage, a stroke of genetic luck ? Or does this success come from a deep rooted place of motivation?

I started to ponder this question of genetic endowment versus incentive as  I watched my nephew recently win a triathlon competition.He has successfully integrated his Division I collegiate swimming career into a highly optimistic start as a triathlete. Such a strong start, in fact, that he has been recruited by Team U.S.A. Granted, he is a natural athlete but what separates him and other elite athletes from the general population is his standard for  success.

“Obviously, there is something different that makes us able to push our physical boundaries in a way that other people can’t,” says  Jenna Parker,  a highly regarded professional triathlete on the women’s circuit. That ” difference” comes down to which athlete gives up  ‘when the going gets too tough,’ while others persevere.

One school of thought is that premier athletes have a deep rooted sense of motivation. Jim Taylor, PhD. is the author of “The Power of  the Prime,  which highlights the foundation of accomplishment and efforts among athletes.

Taylor  states  that “motivation in sports is so important because you must be willing to work hard in the face of fatigue ,boredom, and pain.” Motivation is the one constant in our athletic lives that one can control, direct, and embrace. Physical and mental conditioning all come back to perhaps the greatest tool an athlete can have in his or her arsenal: motivation.

Motivation is the great equalizer whether at the helm of a  boardroom or crossing the finish line with a superior win.  The feeling of racing, surpassing your lactate threshold, and the euphoric high of success are a few motivational aspects of ” Les Trios Des Sports.” Like the distant constellations in the night sky, brain and body chemistry need to be aligned.

Dr. Taylor tries to demystify  the “3 D’s” that are inherent aspects of motivation: Direction, decision, and dedication. Direction is in a forward momentum to attain a singular decision of greatness and to dedicate oneself to the end result.

“What can I do to push myself even further today?” ” Did I push myself to and through new limits?”

Motivation has a hand in controlling one’s overall sports performance. Does effort equivocate into attaining one’s goals? Absolutely.

As human beings we are are born with natural abilities. One’s individual code of genes known as DNA. is a complex pathway which leads to a genetic predisposition of  an athlete. Specific variant of genes or alleles tend to be found in higher performing athletes that can execute power and endurance.

For example,  in 2003 a group of scientists from Australia demonstrated that ACTN-3 gene is closely related to athletic performance.  This gene is responsible for generating force that is important for power sports. The range of genes that are complex yet necessary for endurance and power has yet to be fully appreciated . ACE is another gene widely followed as it controls and regulates the flow between blood vessels which helps sustain blood pressure and aids in the formation of energy.

The Monday morning water cooler talk of the role of genetics versus motivation will continue to divide athletes.

“You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a week or you can quit and your mind will hurt for a lifetime, ” is an inspirational quote uttered by 6 Time Iron Man Champ Mark Allen.

When you think your athletic journey is complete -think again. That is the meaning of true motivation.

Carpe Diem.






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About The Author

I grew up outside of Boston with three brothers and immersed in sports early on. I studied at Boston University School of Education and spent summers as a lifeguard in Nantucket where I fell in love with the island and currently reside there. I work in real estate and as a broadcaster for Channel 99 covering the local sports scene on the island. I am an avid athlete but my passion is surfing. I have run three Boston Marathons and one New York Marathon which was truly a runner's high.I am the proud mother of Bizzy, in her second year of law school and Molly, a junior in college majoring in communications.