When I wrote To Make Riders Faster I could never have imagined how the book would touch someone’s life. Recently, a friend contacted me to ask if I would write some personalized quotes in a book she purchased for her sister-in-law, who had recently lost her husband to cancer. He was a huge Cervélo fan and owned a small fleet of Cervélo bikes. I happily complied with the request and hoped it would bring some solace. My friend said the book would make her sister-in-law smile and cry at the same time. I was deeply touched by this experience. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose and added deeper meaning to my efforts in writing the book.
Lisa Bentley brought similar purpose and meaning to her book, An Unlikely Champion. Lisa’s an 11-time IRONMAN Champion, who represented Canada at the Pan American Games and competed on multiple national teams. She was ranked in the top 5 in the world for a decade and achieved great success at the highest levels of her sport despite having cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease whose symptoms include chronic infections and limited lung capacity.
I’ve been impressed with Lisa not only because of her success but because of her attitude and approach to life as well. She was always focused on finding purpose, disciplined and applied just as much heart as mental and physical effort to her pursuits. In her book, An Unlikely Champion, she shares her advice and techniques for achieving goals and realizing dreams. I spoke with Lisa about her book.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Q. What led you to write An Unlikely Champion?
A. It’s been a work in progress over 10 years. I love writing. I always wrote throughout my career, whether it was my journal or race reports. Over the years, as I learned and grew, I realized that all my tactics that I used throughout my career could help people in their own lives. I thought about creating a resource book for sharing my tactics, but it was my speaking engagements that finally brought the idea forward. After these engagements, people in the audience asked if they could purchase my book, so that’s where it was born. I love speaking. In fact, I’ve been so blessed in that I’ve loved all my careers: racing, teaching, coaching and speaking. It’s all complimentary. It was fun to write the book. I used my stories and lessons learned to reinforce the tactics.
Q. What did you learn from the writing process?
A. I learned, like anything worthwhile, that it was difficult. The writing itself was the easy part. I loved sitting down and going through my old training logs. They reminded me of stories, the hard work and emotions that I’d forgotten. They also reminded me of all the people I’ve been blessed to know in my life. It wasn’t supposed to be a cathartic effort, but I did cry a lot. I cried every time I read my book. Creating the physical book was the difficult part for me. There were so many decisions to make: what kind of paper to use, how many pages to include, how to ship the book, what size envelope to use, what price to charge, whether to sell through Amazon or create an e-commerce site, and on and on. It gave me decision anxiety. Luckily, I had a good mentor, a self-published author, who provided me with his guidance. My husband also helped me through the decisions.
Q. You say that winning is a bonus and is an outcome from pursuing your purpose. How would you advise people to find their purpose?
A. It’s really a life journey. Sometimes you find your purpose in defeat. I went to every start line wanting to win. There was no question. That was my goal. I trained hard and worked hard. I did the mental preparation. I put myself in the position to win the race. I remember quite clearly not winning a race that I was meant to win. I was the favourite to win but I came in third. I couldn’t understand why I finished in third place. I was brought up believing that there is a reason for everything and I had to find my reason for finishing third and not first. And my reason was that people needed a third-place finisher. This was my opportunity to be a good sportsperson and demonstrate that winning sometimes means not taking the first-place trophy. It would have been easy to drop out because I wasn’t winning, but champions don’t do what’s easy. I was proud to finish in third place – it’s darn good! I decided to use this experience as a medium to let everyone know that third place is darn good! I found purpose in that third-place finish. It made me feel better about myself. I often say that you must be your own biggest fan and cheer for yourself. If everyone else thinks a third-place finish is great, then you should be able to accept it yourself as a great finish. So how do you find purpose? You search for it. And everyone can find it.
Q. You mention that belief in self is more powerful than any fact. How do athletes and others find self-belief?
A. First you must want to find self-belief. And then you need to surround yourself with caring, supportive people. If you surround yourself with people that are constantly putting you down, you won’t believe in yourself. All of us have an obligation to be kind; to show other people their good side. You can draw on self-belief from the people around you, who believe in you and support you.
Q. How do athletes and others learn to forgive themselves?
A. It’s hard. Positive self-talk helps. So does reminding yourself that you’re not perfect. You’re not a machine, so you can’t expect to be perfect all the time. Life is a constant learning process, and forgiveness comes from learning. You can say sorry forever, but until you learn and change your behaviour, you won’t be able to forgive yourself
I encourage everyone to be their own biggest fan. That means loving yourself when the going is good and loving yourself when the going is tough. And that requires forgiveness. We can forgive others. We accept apologies from others and we ignore faults in others and we should do that with ourselves first by being our OWN biggest fan. We are human. We are not machines. Love self, learn and grow and move on to be better tomorrow than today.
Q. There was a reference in your book to Brené Brown. She said that, if you’re stuck, you should put your galoshes on and muck about in the swamp until you’ve reconciled your feelings. Would you comment on this?
A. I agree. I think wallowing can be part of a process that we go through. One of my hardest years was the year when I separated from my first husband. There was a lot of sadness, incredible instability, and tears. I was crying a lot, even while running and biking. I felt like I was losing everything, but then I just said no. I wouldn’t allow myself to lose my love for my sport. I told myself that I couldn’t control being married or the separation process, but I could control my love for my sport. I still had to modify things. I used to train by myself, but I had to train with others because I needed their support. My first race after the separation brought me a few hours of happiness, and those few hours of happiness got me through an incredibly tough time. Slowly, over time and with more and more happiness during racing, I found fulfillment again.
Q. After the Subaru Ironman Canada in August 2008, you say that you were finally smart enough to realize your limitations and you would not race the Ironman World Championships as you were seeking a better life balance. Would you please expand on this - didn’t your previous wins come from not realizing your limitations?
A. In 2008, I realized that I couldn’t train like a professional athlete because of my injury and I also realized that I wasn’t feeling as fulfilled. In the past, racing brought me joy and fulfillment, but this race showed me that that wasn’t the case anymore. I was finding fulfillment in different areas. Learning is a constant process, and things change. You have to find new purpose and fulfillment as things change.
Q. One word that comes to mind when you think of triathlon?
Q. What did you learn from my book, To Make Riders Faster?
A. It reinforced that hard work and tenacity trumps all. When you want something, then there are no shortcuts. With grit, determination and forward thinking, barriers are merely speed bumps.
Q. How would you like to be remembered?
A. That is an interesting question. I recently re-read a note I wrote to myself in December 2016 about how I wanted to be remembered. This is what I wrote: “I want to be remembered as a kind person who shared her talents with others. As someone who inspired them to live full, do sport, take care of their health, be great, to accomplish the impossible, to be their best self and to love self. I want to be remembered as someone who brought hope to families and people with CF. As someone who was balanced, a good daughter, a wife, a sister and a dog mom. I want to be remembered as someone who accepted others and acted with love. “
Q. Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
A. Adversity is normal. Setbacks are normal. But both can lead to learning, growing and future fulfillment. Yes, you may have to get dirty to find your way and it will be raw and difficult. Change is always messy in the middle but beautiful at the conclusion! Live full. Live with courage. Finish what you start and do everything with heart.
What did I learn from Lisa? Purposefulness.
DREAM – BELIEVE – DO – LEARN – BE KIND – REPEAT