Rise And Grind With Brittany Warly
by Brittany Warly
I am a 20 year-old triplet, triathlete, and mechanical engineering/engineering management student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I did not grow up with a background in any of the three disciplines of triathlon; I grew up playing tennis. I moved away from home at the age of thirteen to live in Palm Springs, California to be a part of a prestigious tennis academy run by Spanish tennis player, Jose Higueras. He was the former sixth ranked player in the world and French Open semifinalist in 1982 and 1983. This was the beginning of my journey to pursue the sport of tennis at a higher level.
After six months at the academy, I was approached by the Hungarian federation national coach, Nandor Veres. I was asked to move to Florida to train with him full-time. It was an opportunity I did not want to give up. Every day in Florida was about surviving the rigorous program. I have never worked so hard in my life. Waking up with full body cramps, was a dim memory I have of my experience there, remembering how hard I was pushed. As a classic Eastern European coach, with his idea that in order to be the best, you had to be broken down and rebuilt, I was submitted to that training both mentally and physically every day. Although I was close with Nandor and his family, I was a child surrounded by adults, and this was the hardest time for me during this process.
Over time, I learned that my body is an incredible mechanism, having the ability to withstand tremendous physical and mental hardship. It is in my nature to make sacrifices for success, hence, I learned to push through the mental barrier we call “pain” every single day. But each day was a routine to wake up, eat, run, tennis, swim, run, eat, tennis, strength conditioning, eat, school, then bed. I experienced this cyclic lifestyle until I was 15-years-old. I think this is what has made me so routine-oriented in my life to this day.
As I grew older, I started to question what my real motivations were, and I began to feel the desire of living a normal teenage life. Mainly, I just missed my parents and my sisters (as they are my best friends). I returned to Colorado to complete my last few years of high school at Cherry Creek High School. High school was a struggle, due to me having to miss so many days of class since mostly every tournament was out of state. I often traveled around the country to tournaments, and I definitely missed out on all the social events my sisters and friends took part in. Instead, I was winning state championships and national titles, but those last few years I began to feel something critical was missing in my life, yet I couldn’t quite pin point that very thing. My junior year of high school, which is prime-time for collegiate recruitment, I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. With all of the training and traveling, over exhausting myself every day, I became very ill for six months. I remember at times I could barely stand on the court for more than 30 minutes without feeling like I was going to pass out. My coach and I mutually agreed that it would be best to take a break from playing until I was recovered. During this time, I switched to part-time schooling, and felt alone once again in my life.
It was during this time that a good friend of mine, Jevgenij Cariov, who was also a former tennis professional, introduced me to the sport of triathlon. It became an outlet from tennis, a way to distract my mind and I immediately fell in love with the sport. Once I started triathlon, things sort of fell into place in other aspects of my life. I began to feel a sense of fulfillment in my life, and this gave me great happiness.
I was recruited to play division one tennis at Santa Clara University and although great news, it was a struggle for me because I continued to question my interest for tennis, as training for triathlons was something I wanted to pursue. I realized I was no longer playing tennis for me; I had no idea who or what I was playing for. I joined the track team in the springtime and the coaches believed I had the potential to be a successful collegiate runner. It became clear to me, that as my interest in tennis began to wane, my fire for triathlon only grew stronger.
I had some brief email exchanges with a developmental triathlon coach from Colorado Springs by the name of Ken Axford, as USA Triathlon had connected me with him when I reached out to them. I am a “go-getter” for sure. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I definitely go after the things I want. Coincidentally, Ken was visiting the area while on vacation in San Jose. I remember meeting him at the bleachers on the tennis courts at Santa Clara University. We spoke for hours, and I shared with him my interest in becoming a triathlete. I told him I was considering moving back to Colorado so I could train full-time. I remember that moment perfectly, staring out at the tennis courts feeling so empty, yet listening to such an inspired, passionate person talking about something he truly loves. I realized this was the kind of coach I wanted to work with; this was the kind of person I wanted to grow up to be like. I wanted Ken Axford to be my coach. I knew he was the coach who could channel my fire, yet help me reach my potential. I do not know why I decided to trust a complete stranger, but a little voice told me to trust him. I decided to follow that voice, and never turned back.
I knew it was going to be a hard decision for me to quit tennis, but it was the right thing to do. In a way, I believe I quit the sport to protect my love of the sport; after all, it was my first love, and I didn’t want to lose that.
After one year at Santa Clara University, I transferred to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I could be part of what is considered to be the strongest collegiate triathlon team in the United States, coached under Mike Ricci.
My first summer and fall season of triathlon was full of injuries and disappointment, but I kept fighting and moving forward. Last summer I had my first bike crash in which I sustained a concussion, fractured my tailbone, and destroyed my bike. I didn’t think this could happen to me, and it did bring me down emotionally, more so than dealing with my physical pain. This experience gave me much anxiety, and I was scared to return to biking again; however, I knew it in my heart that it was not a reason to quit in the middle of my season. It took some time, but with patience, determination, and the help of my coach, I managed to get back on track after a hard month of struggling. I certainly gained more respect for the sport, which made me appreciate triathlon even more. This experience was a reminder to believe in myself, and to remain focused on my goals and whatever task I have at hand. It is important to be in the moment; I remind myself of this every day. Sometimes things happen for a reason, and this was a rude awakening for me. All of those years I was submitted to strict discipline and hard work, certainly played a role during my recovery. I surprisingly came back to finish 2nd women overall at a race only one month after my accident.
I have learned a lot during my first full year in the sport and I have met such incredible people along the way who have inspired me tremendously. I am grateful to have won numerous races this past summer, finishing top 10 in my age group at the International Triathlon Union Worlds Championship in London, and having won both of my fall collegiate races. My goal is to compete as a professional triathlete when I graduate from college.
I maybe didn’t have a normal life during my childhood. Those years growing up and sacrificing my childhood to the sport of tennis, I missed out on a lot; but I have absolutely no regrets. These experiences shaped me into the person and athlete I am today. If I didn’t play tennis, I would have most likely never have found the sport of triathlon. For that I am grateful and the support that my family has shown me has been unforgettable.
“The Sport of Triathlon gave me that fulfillment and joy I was looking for”
My experiences have taught me that I must be patient, to “rise and grind” each day, as my Coach Ken continues to remind me. Good outcomes come to those who wait, and those who never give up on a dream. Through my racing, training, and interacting with others, I hope to inspire people to follow their hearts, and to find a balance in their own lives. It is important to trust oneself, to have that inner fire that drives you, to love those around you, to live with a purpose, and to have a deep passion for the things you invest your time into doing. I have found these things in the sport of triathlon, and I want to serve as a role model, hoping to inspire others to reach their own potential. Don’t be scared of failures, follow your heart, live with passion, and most of all enjoy the ride!
For more information about my journey visit my blog at brittanywarly.blogspot.com.