Achieving Personal Best: Kristin Villopoto
“I have never had raw talent. On the track team in school, I was the one who stayed the summer and kept training because it took so much for me to be even close to the level of my teammates. I know how to work hard towards a goal, and what makes me want it is to save face with the ones who can train only a bit then blow everyone away in the race.”
I met Kristin Villopoto September ’12 in France at The Duathlon World Championships. She was dressed in shorts and had KT tape all over her legs. Between her cheering for the athletes racing that day, we talked a little about our upcoming race the next day. She was doubtful, but hopefully optimistic that she would be able to participate as she was in a lot of pain and had not been able to run on her injured leg for a while. Villopoto is a 12-time member of Team USA at The World Championships, and in addition to being a multiple World Champion she has twice been USAT ‘Athlete of the Year’. The Team is like a second family for her, and she decided that whatever happened the next day, she was happy to immerse herself in the atmosphere.
The morning of the race I was thrilled and surprised to see Kristin at breakfast dressed to race. Remarkably, she felt better and was ready to put it out there. She rode her bike from the hotel to the start line and as fate would have it, rode over broken glass. She rides tubulars and no one was able to lend her a tire before the race. By the time I started my race, I assumed that Kristin was out (there were different start times based on age). I learned later that the bike mechanics from Jack and Adam’s bike shop got there minutes before her race and not only was she able to race, but she won gold in her age group. I had already known her dominant history on the race course but was even more impressed with her champion’s mentality that morning—to have every indication that the race would not go well, and to recalibrate and focus the mind to perform beyond the body’s supposed limits.
Though many of us only know Kristin, the decorated athlete, she readily acknowledges that it hasn’t always been easy. When asked, if she knows failure Villopoto responds, “Don’t we all? Coming in 8th out of 8 in the finals of the 800m at NCAA Nationals years ago did a number on me…in a positive way. I found out that I could get better, and that was just one day, one year. “
As an All-American collegiate runner, Kristin ran the 400 and 800m. She attributes her success in racing as 10% talent, 90% hard work. “I have never had raw talent. On the track team in school, I was the one who stayed the summer and kept training because it took so much for me to be even close to the level of my teammates. I know how to work hard towards a goal, and what makes me want it is to save face with the ones who can train only a bit then blow everyone away in the race.”
Surprisingly, Kristin didn’t seriously compete in duathlons until she was 39 (she dabbled for a year when she was 27). About 5 years into it, she was excelling—setting course records and PRs as well as beating some pros. In one race, she came in on the heels of a US Olympic triathlete. Kristin speaks with joy, not about her accomplishments but about “working through adversity to success, the joy of expression through training and performing.”
But it can’t just be about hard work. What allows an athlete to toe the line against all odds and still come out victorious? Kristin sums it up:
“Confidence in my abilities and experience in this sport. I have been in a lot of gnarly race conditions, and most of the time, I come out of it pretty well. That experience really helps get me through races (like this last one), where I wasn’t physically ready to compete at that high a level, but my mind knew I could (as long as my body would hold up, that is).”
Her advice to those trying to achieve personal best:
"Expect the best out of yourself. You have been given a talent and a passion. Do not waste it nor hold it lightly. Do not hide your light but shine it brightly for all to see their own way to excellence. For only shooting for the best, even if you fall short, gives you the utmost satisfaction."