TBTM #40: “Labelled Vs Tagged”

It’s cute seeing kids these days trying to model with pics on FB and IG. So full of hope and innocence.

The reality is that they have to be spotted by someone connected with influence that would hire them for jobs. They can have thousands of ‘likes’ but until someone from the industry that actually matters gets wind of them, they will be just another narcissist posting selfies.

Network is everything in this line.

I was lucky and blessed that I started my relationship with sports labels as a baby, because my dad worked for the regional distributor and my mum was in publishing. My first pair of sneakers were production samples of maroon suede & polyester mesh Nike baby road runners. This became prophetic to my eventual career in the industry.

When I got my first personal break on my own at 15, it was because I signed up for a low paid work attachment for a national expo event to get the job experience on my portfolio. I volunteered to work on the stage crew because I loved the stage and AV stuff. It just so happened that they needed an emcee to cover the filler segments and lucky draws. That was how I got my first paying hosting and stage modelling job. And started my relationship with another American sports label, because their distributor was the show’s main sponsor and the boss was an old boy of my alma mater who liked me for my personality and can do attitude. So begins years of free stuff and earning my own spending money.

So when I started racing competitively, and got hooked up with my pro team label, I wasn’t exactly new to the business. I’d been in and around it my whole life pretty much.

The opportunity came because they needed equipment testers for final run prototypes, my dad was friends with the owner of their supplier factories, I was already competing in a satellite circuit, had a diploma in Mechanical Engineering specialising in Design and familiar enough with biomechanics and ergonomics. So everything just fit.

The modelling was secondary, it was just convenient that I’d already been prepared for that growing up. I made all my own breaks building my portfolio.

During my active years I never had to take selfies because I was paid to let someone else take pictures of me, I also never carried a camera on me. I never had to talk about it because the label’s marcomms team did all that work for us, I just show up do my thing and get paid for it. I honestly didn’t care that the label owned all rights to every photo or video they took, because I got paid for it. As long as you get paid enough who cares what anyone else thinks. Let them say what they want about you, as long as that dollar goes in your pocket it doesn’t matter what the haters say or think. To me it was all just a job, I get paid to do it and that’s really the whole point of it. The best response to haters is to live well.

I find it amusing when people point to amateurs posting selfies and think that’s where the game is. The real game is in the pros when you don’t have to post jack shit about anything to get paid to do what you do.

Now when I share stories like this, it’s to help kids understand the difference between having ego driven pipe dreams and having legitimate practical professional ambition.

All this was because I got out and tried to make connections in the real world offline and made my own breaks. Posting selfies and videos will not be enough for most people to get the notice of the decision makers that matter. If posting pictures of yourself with pretentious  captions was enough to get you a career as a model or pro athlete than nobody on IG would need a day job would they?

You have to venture out and pay your dues as early as possible. Build your portfolio where it matters. Build relationships where it matters.

And if you really do want to turn pro, the only career advice from amateurs you should be listening to is advice on how to not make their mistakes and get stuck below the bar like them.

I was lucky my dad was a pro and I had other pros from different sports to take example from.

Now with the internet, kids have access to so many resources to learn from. However nothing beats going out there in the real world and connecting with industry decision makers in real life.


TBTM #39: “The Power of Letting Go Responsibly”

I’ve done my time on tour. I am retired. Now is time for my private life to be full-time. I’ve stopped doing appearances as an athlete because I don’t need that attention when I travel anymore. It was not something I wanted in the first place, but it was part of the job and so I accepted that.

The boys and girls that I am grooming for the pro tours are the ones that should be getting that attention when they make it there. And they will have to decide with their own mind how to manage that aspect of their career.

It is nice to be appreciated for your  abilities as competitor, but at some point you have to accept that such attention will intrude beyond your professional life. And you have to manage that. It is your responsibility as a professional to contain that situation so that it does not affect your home life.
For me I chose to do that by living in a country with no exposure to my sport. That allowed me to live in relative anonymity and have the private life I wanted when I’m off the clock.

Now if and when I go back on tour to compete once in awhile, it is just to promote my own label. However as soon as possible it should be other athletes on tour that would be competing in my label’s gear or teams in my stable. And then I can go invisible while the employees run the company.

The only way to get really rich is to let go.  Build a proper team of competent and committed executives with a common dream, pay them well enough for them to feel appreciated, manage their welfare and trust them to run the day to day operations of your companies.

I know that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. That’s why the failure rate is so high. That’s also why I have a responsibility to create jobs. Those of us that are able to do what we do as business people, have a responsibility to use our abilities  to create opportunities to help other people find a place in the world where they can live with peace of mind.

TBTM #38: “Formed for Function”

As an endurance athlete, I live by Wilkes ratio, my training plan revolves around it as a standard for tracking progress.

As far as funtional capacity goes, I need to have an accurate measure of power and endurance.

In a race I might be carrying between up to 30-50kg in equipment 8km-20km between checkpoints on certain legs. Or typically half my body weight for up to 80-120km per day for 2-4days without sleep.

And as a matter of practical necessity we have to be prepared to carry loads up to twice our body weights for anything from a few hundred metres to a few km, because we might need to evacuate casualties and equipment. In real world experience this meant being 63kg and cradle and fireman carrying an 80kg  casualty over 1km from point of incident to heli medivac point.

In a sport that takes place mostly in the wilderness, we have to be prepared for anything. Helicopters (a.k.a. halos) are amazingly versatile but they need viable access points. Which means almost always having to move a casualty from point of incident to a viable pickup location usually a clearing, or in the case of a cliff or rock face extraction, moving high up enough along the rock face to a point where the tether line can be lowered safety without the halo smashing against the rocks.

Sometimes when people unfamiliar with multidisciplinary race sports tell me I don’t look like an endurance athlete, because in their minds an endurance athlete is a short skinny guy that runs 42.195km in a singlet and shorts, I have to remind them that athletes are built for function. That little dude in their imagination runs for 3 plus hours and carries next to nothing in additional weight on his person.

For Adventure Racing, I’m built to carry twice my weight, and run, climb, swim, bike and paddle upwards of 240 km over 2-4 days with on average a quarter of my body weight strapped to my back or slung around my body for most of that distance.

Now what does a person that can lift twice their bodyweight look like?

Now what does a person that can lift twice their body weight for a quarter mile look like?

Firstly, the basic marathoner dude runs next to naked in terms of load carry and doesn’t use his arms as primary drivers for any part of the race. So of course he is built smaller and less developed in the upper body.

Secondly, the marathoner only runs 42.195 km, while in AR we do at least 5 times that distance and need to use our entire body during a race because we climb, swim and row as well. Hence we need higher capacity for power for efficacy and fibre strand durability. Form for function this means building more muscle mass, more balanced development globally in the upper and lower body and greater bone density. In lay person terms, we are built literally like movie soldiers or comic book super heroes.

TBTM #37: “Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me, Makes Me Wonder.”

Wow! Just realised today is exactly 3 years and a month since my official retirement from racing.

Well actually it’s more like 3 years since the date my contract ran out after deciding not to renew it.

My decision to retire was actually made months before that, when I was weighing the options between taking a long term break to heal naturally or go for knee and shoulder surgery.

Given that I was competing in only 4-8 races (i.e. 1200km-3200km) a year during my last 2 year contract extension, the ROI didn’t justify the surgery option which would buy me maybe another immediate 3-4 years at that level and then a highly likely mechanical deterioration in quality of life after that.

I want to be the active athletic dad playing with my kids and grandkids. The prospect of having anything less was unacceptable. So choosing to call it a day early was on hindsight the right thing to do healthwise.

Considering my last track mile in training a year after retiring was a clear twelve seconds ahead of the top amateur at that point (well, give the guy a break he’s eight years younger so he hadn’t peaked yet, though at his age I was seventeen seconds faster than I was on that day a year after retirement), so I’m probably going to have a pretty fun retirement once I’ve sat out the required exclusion period to be eligible to compete in the amateur races again.

Or I might just make myself available for a return to the tour once in awhile if my knee holds up to the distance without pain.

My dad is seventy and he still plays local PGA pro-ams once in awhile for kicks and runs the mile in under seven minutes. I have friends my age that nearly died running it in eight.

Genetics is genetics, some things you can’t avoid. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get some form of cancer eventually, because my dad and all of his brothers got some form of cancer. Probably Lymphoma like dad or something along those lines, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be what kills me. I’ll probably beat it and die of something else like clumsiness or choking on noodles like my grampa.

It’ll probably be the noodles I bet. So far I’ve been hit by a car, fallen twenty feet down a stairwell at a construction site, had drug induced Parkinsons from long term meds, been temporarily paralysed from the waist down due to sodium/potassium deficiency from dehydration, thrown off an army buggy while doing stunts on the back, nearly drowned God knows how many times while out fishing, stabbed in the leg, damn nearly severed a vein when my wrist got cut on a freaking wooden door and thrown off bikes down hillsides enough times to make documentaries on the art of flying off bikes down hillsides.

Dad beat the cancer but he’s always been pretty clumsy. You would think that a touring tennis pro would have cat like reflexes and agility, well you would be absolutely right, he does, but have you seen a cat fall off the tv after waking up? If it’s not part of the sport, he’s “Charlie Brown” just like the rest of us.

For me, I’m Charlie Brown at damn near anything that doesn’t involve running or cycling a hundred and fifty miles in the woods. Outside of my sport my clumsy genes are out it full glory.

So yep, I pretty sure it’s gonna be noodles that kill me.

Hmm I wonder if William Hill would take that bet? “Will be killed by noodles, after surviving both cancer and being hit by a Subaru”. What are the odds?

TBTM #36: “How To Be A Legit Sponsored Pro Athlete”

One of the questions I get asked regularly by younger athletes and parents of kids in my classes is “can anyone really make a living as a sportsman?”.

This question is still being asked despite the fact that professional athletes have been doing it for ages, literally ages, since even before Rome was an empire.

Of course what they’re really saying is “Can I / my kid make it as a pro athlete?”.

There are two ways to answer this, the technical way and the keeping it real way.

The technical answer is “Yes, technically anyone could be a pro athlete if they put in enough work, stick to the programme and did everything it took to get there and stay there.”.

The brutally honest truth keeping it real is “Out of every thousand athletes, maybe 1 would actually be good enough (i.e. have the talent or skill level) to turn pro. Of that maybe 1 in ten would would probably have the discipline to work to compete at a professional level. So the chances are something like 0.001% that anyone can turn pro.”

That doesn’t actually mean that chances are slim for everyone.

If you have the right genetics and/or nurturing there is a better chance of you making it.

If you’re truly serious about having a career as a professional athlete, then you’ll need to be prepared to accept the truth that you will need both enough talent and enough hard work to make it happen.

My organisation’s purpose of existence is to give athletes the platform to turn pro. I personally don’t believe in grooming anyone for the purpose of becoming just national athletes, because most of national athletes are just amateurs. To turn pro you definitely have to be better than any amateur athlete in your sport, that’s a given. Records mean nothing if they don’t feed your family. Turning pro means you are actually able to make a living just from the sport alone, anything outside of that is a bonus.

Okay, so now here comes the boom, what you need to know about turning pro successfully in 5 points.

How to be a legit sponsored pro athlete?

1) You must be one of the best at what you do at the global level.

2) You must be a professional, in terms of your training discipline and competition performance management. This is what it means by “Train to kill, not train to fight.”.

3) You must be a comedian but not a joker/clown. If you do not understand the difference between the two, you are not a pro athlete yet. You have to be able to entertain with humour relevant to the community and fans in your sport.

4) You must sign a contract that pays you enough to not need a day job. However if you want to keep a day job, that’s all about good schedule management.

5) You must be willing to take public criticism. To be honest, this should be the easiest part because the only members of the public that matter are your fans and the people that buy the products you endorse, treat them right because their purchases pay for your contracts and royalties. Anyone else can say what they want, but they are irrelevant because they don’t help you pay your bills or feed your family.

Reflections: “Soldier Boy’s Reality #9 –

[Originally written on 11th May 2012, but left in my drafts folder till now. The title is left intentionally unfinished because I wanted to pay tribute to the brothers and sisters that keep our world safe from evil. The job doesn’t end when we retire, it’s a fight we face every day for the rest of our lives.]

Mentally we are there,
we are always there,
in The Zone.

Whether we like it or not,
we can never leave it.

That is the way we are born,
what separates us from ordinary men.

We are not normal.
We are the makers of peace.
We pull the trigger that makes it possible
for women and children,
and country men
to sleep restfully at night.

We live with the knowledge that when we do,
our intent is to end the lives of men
before they can end the lives of innocents.

That is the price we pay,
for peace of mind.
We make that sacrifice,
our lives spent focused and distracted,
all at the same time.

Solace comes from the knowledge
that when we are able to serve,
those we protect are safe.
That gives us peace of mind.

Security comes from the knowledge
that men we serve with,
want the same.
That gives us peace of mind.

We do not expect anyone to understand,
because they are not us.
They do not stare death in the face
and chase it down.

We know that we cannot lead normal lives.
We accept that this is what we are born to do,
intrinsic gifts to do what needs to be done,
when it needs to be done,
and who is to be done-in.

TBTM #35: “Context Creates Winners”

I always knew my place as a role player in the teams to make up the points across the finish line.

I was never the fastest or the strongest at any particular specialisation, but usually near effortlessly above average at anything I did. I always knew my place as the specialist of the team at being a generalist. The utility player that can fit in anywhere without changing the team chemistry.

Eventually when I found my place in Adventure Racing where for the first time I learnt that I had an untapped specialisation not really noticed in my past sporting endeavours, “Endurance”.

I was never the fastest in the 400m, 4.8km, or 42.195km, but then I became the fastest at the 400km.

See there how context creates value. You need to find your context. Without context, there is no place.

And being a team sport, being a natural generalist made the transition to Adventure Racing a natural fit.