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Zachary Britton { April 2011}

My name is Zachary Britton and I was part of the New Triathlete Program in 2007. This year I will collect points to be in a position to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. This is the backstory to how I got to where I am today.

After college I started swimming with a masters swim team and met some members of the DC Triathlon Club. I went to several happy hours and learned about the New Triathlete Program. It sounded like fun, so I decided to sign up. I did several of the training clinics, met a bunch of people, and completed the New Jersey triathlon—my first race. Before the race I bought some spandex shorts and asked my father if I could borrow his rusted-out 1980’s road bike. It was the first time I rode 40 kilometers. I got third in my age group—god knows how—and I was hooked.

I was also working for a law firm at this time. I had done well on the LSAT and wanted to go to law school. I felt certain I would get into Georgetown, Northwestern, and Cornell, but did not want to commit to school full-time. I was scared to commit to something I might truly dislike. Thus, I applied to Georgetown’s part-time program to provide balance. At the time I was secretary of Habitat for Humanity’s family selection committee and found the work refreshing. My intention was to work part-time for Habitat for Humanity. In retrospect, it was merely dumb luck that I applied to the part-time program.

Applying to the part-time program gave me certainty. I knew could count on Georgetown as soon as I submitted my application and thus was able to increase my training. I had an entire year to explore the sport of triathlon. I quickly met the area’s triathletes who, in turn, introduced me to the area’s runners, cyclists and swimmers. I started training with them all. There wasn’t much thought regarding my training at this time. I did it because I enjoyed it. But the races in the spring and summer of 2008 indicated that I had talent. I had caught most of my training partners and could see myself nipping at the heels of the top amateurs in the country.

Sport was never a focus of mine. I was always a gifted endurance athlete, but never gave it the time of day. I took after my parents, I think. Both were academically driven and considered sports to be extracurricular. They were both collegiate athletes—my mom a tennis player and my dad a downhill skier—but viewed themselves as naturals who enjoyed playing sports, not athletes per se. In the spring of 2008, however, I met a co-worker who had been an All-American runner in college. She opened my eyes to the legitimacy of sport. Without blinking she would tell me that sport had always been her focus.

Her enthusiasm gave me confidence. Backed by her support, I took the results from the previous season and committed to Georgetown, sheepishly switching from working for Habitat for Humanity while studying law to being a “professional” triathlete while studying law. I wasn’t entirely confident in my decision. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it a shot. When I told people about my decision, however, the response I got was almost universally negative. I was told to be a full-time student by almost everyone.

In part, their sentiments proved true. During my first year I struggled with racing and school. My results in triathlon were mediocre. And my grades were middle of the pack, which was unacceptable (to me). Nevertheless, school forced me to rethink my training. It made me realize that I needed a coach. Most politely turned me down, due to the fact that I was in law school. A coach named Siri Lindley saw things differently. She thought law school would force me to be more efficient. Her style reminded me of my own.

I trained with Siri during the summer of 2009 and had a great deal of success. Buoyed by my results, I took the fall semester off from law school to try to win the amateur division of the US Open. The experience of training full-time made me realize that excelling at both triathlon and law school meant focusing on one at a time. Further, it allowed me to get a sense of the depth of my talent. In the spring and summer of 2010 I began hitting markers to be competitive on the World Cup circuit. It became apparent that I should be strategic about taking time off from school, making sure my training corresponded with certain races. A plan was set in 2010, but injury forced me to place triathlon on the backburner until this spring.

More to come, next month!


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