May 21, 2016

Sarah Piampiano, 35, met her perfect match one night in a New York City bar.

No, she didn’t fall head over heels for some charming suit-wearing man. Instead, her world expanded when she was introduced to triathlons.

At the time, the vice president of mergers and acquisitions for HSBC’s consumer brands group was working 18-hour days and traveling internationally. She was a smoker just because stepping outside allowed her a moment to herself.

After making a bar bet with a friend in 2009, telling him that she could beat him in his upcoming triathlon, she grabbed hold of the sport and never let go.

In fact, she quit her high-paying job, sold her newly renovated New York City apartment, and moved to California to pursue a career as a pro triathlete.

You never know where a bet will take you. For Piampiano, it was the on-ramp to becoming one of the top triathletes in the world today.

“Life took a turn in a different direction than I ever expected,” Piampiano said.

She had to take the risk, however, and dive into the deep unknown.

“I think I would have always looked back and said, ‘What if?’” she said. “I would have been disappointed in myself if I didn’t go for it.”

Once an Athlete, Always an Athlete

Born in Maine, Piampiano and her two older brothers were fully engaged in sports. She participated in the usual suspects — basketball, soccer, and baseball. She excelled in cross country running and downhill skiing, too.

Competing in the Olympics was always a goal for her.

At 8 years old, she qualified for the U.S. Track and Field National Championship in cross country. From then until she was 16, she took running very seriously until burnout got the best of her.

In the winters, she hit the slopes and even went to ski academy with the hopes of trying to make the U.S. Ski Team.

During her sophomore year at Colby College, Piampiano got back into running. As she majored in biology and economics, she captained the cross country team.

Then, she threw herself full force into the “real world.” She moved to New York City in 2005, where her days were revolving doors of work, obligations, and no time for self-care. Long gone were the carefree New England days of her youth.

After two years of big city living, she was engaged to be married, but she had her doubts about the timing.

“I loved the man I was about to marry, but just didn’t feel like I was ready,” Piampiano said. “So, I ended up calling it off three weeks before our set wedding date.”

Shortly after that, she reconnected with an old college friend who was training for an Olympic distance triathlon. She didn’t own a bike, and any extra time she had outside of work was spent socializing with friends, but she was convinced that she could beat him.

The loser of the bet had to buy the winner dinner.

Finding a Passion

Piampiano went on to beat her friend. Beyond that, she got inspired to quit smoking and sign up for more races.

“Once I did that first triathlon, I suddenly made it a priority to make sure I had time to train, and make sure I got out of the office,” she said. “My work load was still the same, but my efficiency increased because now I had a motivation to do something for myself outside of work.”

At times, she would get home from work at 1:00 a.m. and hop on her bike trainer for a session. Other times, she would get her training in before work and arrive at the office a little bit later. On rare occasions, she would sneak in an afternoon training session before returning to her desk.

“The culture of investment banking is ‘First in, last out.’ I was at a point where I was inspired enough by what I was doing, I just took control of doing something for myself,” Piampiano said. “It was hard. I was always afraid of being perceived as not working hard enough, but I got the work done. My fear was that they would see that I was out of the office doing these things, and they would give me more work.”

In her second triathlon, she won her age group. That same friend she made the bet with told her, “You could start racing professionally.”

As soon as he said that, a light bulb went off.

“At that point, I made a shift in my head from being more of a participant to being more of a competitor and trying to see how hard I could push myself, and if I could qualify for my professional license,” she said.

She earned her pro card in 2010, and decided to “really go for it.” As her training surged, so did her preparation related to make it a full-time job.

“I started asking questions and tried to prepare myself for if and when I made the transition so I’d be as set up as possible,” she said. “I researched who the top coaches in the world were. I started tracking every single expense, and figuring out what it would cost for me to live; trying to understand the cost basis behind it. I started working on a website, and researching what kind of money could be made from prize purses and sponsors.”

She ended up hiring Matt Dixon of Purple Patch Fitness, a former professional triathlete and one of the sport’s elite coaches. Then, she quit her job at the end of 2011.

“When you’re still sitting with a full-time job, and have the comforts and luxuries with that such as health insurance and a constant source of income, it all seems possible,” Piampiano said. “Once I left my job and it suddenly was reality, that’s when the fear set in. I never doubted it, but I do remember going home after my last day on the job and saying, ‘Okay, it’s all up to you now. It’s 100% on you to make it happen.’”

Getting There

On January 1, 2012, she moved to Santa Monica, California and got to work in the water and on the pavement. When she was done training for the day, she worked some more on approaching potential sponsors.

“I sent them an electronic copy of an athlete profile as well as a cover letter I had written,” Piampiano said.”For each sponsor, I would personalize a cover letter and talk to them specifically about what it was about their company and their product, and what I was attracted to and what I loved about them. I also sent hard copies with the athlete profile on glossy paper, and the cover letter on resume paper.

She gave herself two years to “make it.” By the end of the second year, she had the results, sponsors, and a growing brand that put her initial worries at ease. Then heading into her third year, a stress fracture turned into a full blown broken leg after an Ironman event.

“That was the point in my career where I had the most doubt whether I was going to make it through,” she said. “I had no idea whether or not I was going to be able to come back from that injury and compete at the top level.”

Her first race back from injury was in Miami in 2014. She wasn’t remotely close to being competitive.

“That made me fearful because I didn’t feel like I had the capacity to spend another two years building back to the place I had been, and then to exceed that point to do even better,” she said.

She was at a critical juncture and had to determine what she was willing to struggle for. That’s when she buckled down and found a new kind of work ethic; one that rivaled the one she cultivated in New York, only in a healthier way.

At the 2015 Ironman 70.3 Monterrey in Mexico, she was the second female to cross the finish line. That win netted her $12,000.

“It was the first paycheck I had made in 18 months, and I was just glowing because I knew in that moment that I was going to be okay,” she said.

Making It

A month after Mexico, she won the New Orleans half Ironman. Then she took seventh overall at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, and capped off the year by winning her first full Ironman in Australia in December.

“For anyone who is wanting to chase their dreams, I think it’s a really important thing to do it, but I think it’s also important to be very thoughtful about your approach,” Piampiano said. “If I thought that I had a 100% chance of failure, I never would have done it. I thought that there was a 90% chance of failure, but for me, I was willing to take that risk and work for it. I felt like if I was going to succeed, then it would be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. If you don’t allow yourself the potential to fail, you’re never going to allow yourself the opportunity to really succeed either. ”

Piampiano has nine half and full Ironmans on her schedule in 2016. As busy as she is, she’s also working on a venture called The Habit Project, which will offer resources and support to others as they break bad health-related habits and replace them with good ones.

“Because I came from the corporate world and made a massive 180-degree change in my life, I feel like a lot of people in one way or another can relate to that,” Piampiano said.

So, between racing and The Habit Project, Piampiano has injected more passion and meaning into her life. It didn’t happen perfectly, nor did it happen in a “New York minute.”

What she found was that if you’re willing to take a risk and accept that struggle is a necessary step to success, then you’re in good shape.

Ironman shape, in fact.

Source: http://purpose2play.com/sarah-piampiano

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