Being a Pro: What Does It All Mean?

author : Kyle Pawlaczyk
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By Kyle Pawlaczyk 

When I first got into triathlon, I used to watch Ironman Hawaii and old ITU races and wonder what life was like for those guys. They got to race around the world, had sponsors’ logos plastered all over them, and got to use all kinds of cool, new gear. Now, I’m one of them, and I’ve learned a bit about what life is really like as a pro triathlete. This column will share a little bit of that newfound knowledge in a fun, friendly “Q&A” format.
 
Apart from your desire to sound cool when talking to your friends, what made you want to become a professional triathlete?

I hope many of you have successful, rewarding careers. If you do, you have probably had a moment (or moments) where you thought to yourself: “I was meant to do this.” When I’m swimming, cycling, and running, I get the same feeling. Competing as a professional triathlete gives me the sense that I am doing something that I am truly built for. The other stuff like the cool races, the recognition, and the prizes are a bonus.
 
How do you become a professional triathlete?

Our national governing body, USA Triathlon, sets the criteria for qualifying to race in the pro field. Under their rules, you can qualify to race as a professional in a number of different ways. If you’re curious, the different qualifying options are found on USA Triathlon’s website here.
I happened to qualify by finishing second overall in the amateur field at Ironman 70.3 Augusta in 2009.
 
Just how “professional” are most professional triathletes?

In many cases, not very. Most people define being “professional” as “deriving income from doing what you do.” Just as medical professionals earn money by delivering medical care, and legal professionals earn money by stealing it, you’d expect professional triathletes to earn their living from racing. In most cases, this is not quite true. Most pros, either out of choice or necessity, work part-time or full-time jobs. In my case, I work as a coach at Endorphin Fitness in Richmond, Virginia. We do triathlon training, coaching, and generally serve as a one-stop shop for triathlon training and racing needs. As you can imagine, it’s a nice complement to being a pro triathlete, and it allows me to work with an amazing group of athletes of all ages and ability levels.
 
What can be done to make pro triathletes more “professional?”

Honestly, I think it’ll take two things: time and initiative. At 30ish years old, triathlon is a relatively new sport in the public’s eyes. If you’ve been around the sport for a few years, you probably realize how rapidly the sport is growing. Five years ago, there were only a handful of Ironman races around the world, and the Ironman 70.3 series didn’t even exist yet. Now, in 2011, these two series account for several dozen races in all corners of the globe. The Rev3 triathlon series began as a single race in 2008 and now includes six races with significant prize purses. As triathlon’s appeal has grown, so have opportunities for pros, but this has taken time.
 
Growing the sport at the pro level has also taken initiative on the part of pros. Just last year, PROTA, an athletes’ union of professional triathletes, was founded. The formation of PROTA coincided with significant changes to the structure of pro racing and world championship qualifying on the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 series (you can read about changes to the pro qualifying and prize money structure here). Long story short, these changes were drafted based on significant input from pro athletes, marking one of the first occasions where pros had a voice during such a decision-making process. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come.
 
Are you sponsored? What do sponsors do for you?

Funny you should ask. I recently signed on with USPro Tri, a pro triathlon team, for 2011. It’s a deal that I’m very excited about. US Pro Tri is a team that I have followed since their inception, in 2008. We are supported by Geico, Jamis, Hed, Newton, Profile Design, Nathan, First Endurance, Kinetic, and Champion System. For a relatively new pro like me, getting set up on gear from great sponsors is a really important part of being able to race at a high level. Were it not for this support, I’d probably racing on my circa 1990 BMX (a la Cru Jones from my January article). Also, joining USPro Tri allows me to establish an identity as a member of a team of hard-working, successful pros who have really cool uniforms.
 
How do you decide which races to do? Do sponsors require you to do certain races or a certain number of races? Who pays for your travel?

Good question. The short answer is that this year, I’ll try to fill my schedule with as many races as possible, with the goal of being competitive in each one. My team, USPro Tri, tries to field a strong contingent of athletes at a number of major pro races, including the Rev3 series and a number of other events on the East Coast. As for a travel budget, that mostly comes from me, for now.
 
What was your most embarrassing moment as a first-year pro?

At Florida 70.3, BT’s own Sara McLarty needed only half the 1.2 mile swim course to make up the two minute head start that the male pros got over the female pro wave. As she passed, I tried to get onto her feet, which lasted for about a stroke and a half. For the record, she had the fastest swim of the day among pros, male or female, so all of us got “chicked” in the water. Pay attention to whatever she writes in her swim column, she seems to know what she’s doing.
 
Any more questions about life as a pro? I’d be happy to answer them. I’m enjoying my new “profession” tremendously, and would love to share what I’ve learned.

- Kyle Pawlaczyk

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date: February 10, 2011

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Kyle Pawlaczyk

After a collegiate distance running career, Kyle Pawlaczyk began racing triathlons in 2009. Kyle recorded two top-10 finishes in the Ironman 70.3 series in 2010, his first season as a pro. He resides in Charlottesville, VA.

This column will follow Kyle as he faces the challenges associated with becoming a viable professional in the sport of triathlon.

Author

avatarKyle Pawlaczyk

After a collegiate distance running career, Kyle Pawlaczyk began racing triathlons in 2009. Kyle recorded two top-10 finishes in the Ironman 70.3 series in 2010, his first season as a pro. He resides in Charlottesville, VA.

This column will follow Kyle as he faces the challenges associated with becoming a viable professional in the sport of triathlon.

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