In the world of triathlon, where athletes push their physical and mental boundaries to achieve greatness, there’s a unique joy that comes from the journey. For Jennifer Harrison, a dedicated coach since 1999, that joy has been the driving force behind her remarkable career in triathlon coaching. Her story is a testament to the belief that success isn’t an overnight phenomenon but rather a result of consistent effort and passion. While every athlete is on their own triathlon journey, Jennifer Harrison and her story pave an inspiring path.
Diving into the World of Sports: Jennifer’s Early Athletic Journey
Jennifer, whose athletic journey began as a three sport Varsity athlete in high school, had a natural affinity for sports. She juggled track, swimming, and basketball, showcasing her versatility and dedication from an early age. It wasn’t until her cross-country coach convinced her to take up running that her path to triathlon truly started to take shape.
During her college years, Jennifer briefly stepped away from competitive running due to the demands of other sports and her sorority as well as academic commitments. However, fate had other plans for her. In 1995, while training for her first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, she met her future husband. He astutely observed that Jennifer, once a swimmer and now a runner, had the potential to excel in triathlon. He practically begged her to give triathlon a shot.
Triathlon: A Journey Begins: Rekindling the Passion
Initially hesitant about cycling, Jennifer’s interest in triathlon was piqued by her husband, who raced professionally as a duathlete, even participating in the ITU World Championships in 1995. From that moment, they rekindled their passion for swimming and cycling, embarking on their triathlon journey together.
Jennifer raced an HFP event in Ohio which marked a turning point in her triathlon journey. She performed exceptionally well, prompting her husband to say, “I told you so.” Little did she know that this race would set her on a lifelong path of coaching, connecting her with athletes she would guide and inspire for nearly 27 years.
The Turning Point: Meeting Dave Walters
Today, Jennifer Harrison is not only an accomplished coach but also a mother of 21-year-old twins. Her coaching journey was further enriched when she hired Dave Walters as her mentor and coach. Dave taught her the invaluable skill of flipping a mental switch to stay focused during races. In the unpredictable world of triathlon, having a well-defined training plan provides a sense of guidance amidst the chaos of life.
A Bold Leap of Faith: Transitioning from Corporate America
However, Jennifer’s transition into coaching was not without its challenges. Her corporate career in the 1990s, despite its financial rewards, left her unfulfilled. In 1999, with the possibility of starting a family on the horizon, Jennifer was laid off from her corporate job. This created an opportunity to venture into the fitness industry. Her family was understandably apprehensive, but her determination to follow her passion prevailed.
Becoming a Fitness Director in the Chicago area was a significant stepping stone for Jennifer. She interacted with diverse individuals and soon became a coach to many. It was during this time that she crossed paths with Dave Walters, a gym member who would play a pivotal role in her coaching journey.
Despite her success, Jennifer found herself disillusioned with her role as a fitness director, as she was tasked with training individuals who lacked the motivation to be trained. The frustration she experienced was palpable. Then, in 2001, she faced a unique set of challenges – she became pregnant, and the tragic events of 9/11 led to her layoff, along with her husband. On top of that, bed rest during her pregnancy prevented her from working. At the time working from home wasn’t an option leading to questions about the future swirling in Jennifer’s mind.
Amidst this challenging period, Adam Zucco reached out to Jennifer. Aware of her Triathlon 101 classes, Adam proposed a collaboration in his coaching business. Jennifer, feeling at a crossroads and with limited options, accepted the offer. This decision marked the beginning of a new chapter in her career.
Jennifer’s coaching style took shape under the influence of triathlon legend,Joel Friel, and his writings. She also drew inspiration from Spencer Smith, Paula Newby-Fraser, and Paula Findlay.,
Empowering Women in Endurance Sports: The Impact of Technology
Over the years, Jennifer has witnessed a significant shift in the gender balance in endurance sports, thanks in part to the technology boom. Women are now better equipped to understand the impact of fueling, menopause, RED-S, and perimenopause on their training and racing. This transformation, fueled by open conversations led by experts like Dr. Stacy Sims, has led to a more diverse coaching clientele, with 60% female athletes and 40% male athletes under Jennifer’s guidance.
Balancing Data and Intuition: Jennifer’s Coaching Philosophy
However, Jennifer believes that technology, while a valuable tool, can sometimes overshadow the importance of being in tune with one’s body and feelings. She encourages athletes to trust their instincts and not rely solely on data. The ability to balance the data and the athletes intuition is the key to training, according to Jennifer.
Starting Your Triathlon Journey: Jennifer Harrison Words of Wisdom
For those embarking on their triathlon journey, Jennifer offers a wise coach’s tip. She emphasizes the significance of celebrating every success without comparing oneself to others. Waiting for the “perfect” moment to start is a futile endeavor – the time to begin is now.
The Joy is in the Journey: Lessons from Jennifer’s Inspiring Path
Jennifer Harrison’s story is a testament to the power of following one’s passion, even when faced with uncertainty and doubt. Her journey from a corporate job to a fulfilling career in triathlon coaching serves as an inspiration to all, reminding us that the joy truly lies in the journey, not just the destination.