You know how there’s always that one person in a crowd who has everyone laughing because she says the craziest things? There’s hardly any professional triathlete more funny than Carole Sharpless. She’s in a league of her own when it comes to well timed zingers. But there’s so much more to Carole Sharpless than great one-liners or jokes.
Carole is similar to many professional triathletes in lots of ways…she has seriously kicked ass in races (including 10 Ironman races, with a 2nd place finish at IMFL), she’d swim laps around you in a pool, she coaches lots of age-groupers, she came to triathlon with a swimming background, and she lives (like seemingly the entire triathlon universe) in Boulder, CO.
That said, Carole may be different in that doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s known to make wisecracks. She’s fiercely loyal. Inside, though, she’s a softie. She wants folks to succeed. She’s a giver. Maybe it’s her Italian ancestry, maybe it’s because her heart is bigger than most folks.
Today, you won’t find Carole out racing (two pretty horrific crashes are to thank for that), but you will find her on the sidelines of the Revolution 3 series cheering on competitors. Carole works with Trakkers GPS and Revolution 3 Triathlon, and heads up Team Trakkers.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Carole. In once sense, it was a cool turn of events, knowing that she interviewed me last year – and gave me the chance to be on Team Trakkers myself.
Without further ado….I present the inagural 2011 edition of “Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Carole Sharpless.”
TM: As a youth, you were a stud swimmer. By age 14, state & regional champion, and vying for a spot at the Olympic Trials. The arrow was pointing up, so to speak. Then your world crashed – only a freshman in high school, a big-time injury, your mother battled and lost to breast cancer. You took time off from swimming, ultimately got back in the pool in college, but only to quit swimming again. How did you process and get through all of this?
CS: Are you kidding? I’ll let you know when I have. 🙂
TM: OK. Fair enough. To what extent was triathlon a savior for you?
CS: Well, probably to a large extent it was. I was in my late 20’s when I did my first triathlon – the funny story like we all have about our first tri: it was a last minute entry; I did the race on a rusty hybrid bike with pedal brakes, etc. It would be a few years after that before I did another triathlon, but that first one really opened my eyes to how sedentary I was. Everything changed after that. That first race got me off the couch and in many ways gave me some sort of purpose again. I started doing the sport much more seriously in 2002 – and once I did, the course of my life was changed forever.
TM: You’ve had some stellar performances in your career (4th at IMLP as an amateur, 2nd at IMFL) and some equally impressive crashes. In 2007, you crashed and broke your back, ribs, both wrists. In 2010, you again crashed and broke your wrist and ribs. Bad luck, really (un)impressive skills at taking a fall, or just a part of being an athlete?
CS: *laugh* Actually, I think it’s all three of those things. Well, naaaa….I don’t think my skills were necessarily unimpressive at falling. I’ve had a number of crashes with absolutely no injuries. The two crashes I had, in particular 2007, were pretty bad. Homegirl needs to learn how to keep the rubber side DOWN.
TM: In all seriousness, how difficult is it to come back from significant crashes like that? Are you able to just get back up “on the horse”, or are you nervous now?
CS: Saying I’m nervous would be like saying the earth has a slight gravitational pull. I’m not just nervous – I am frightened to tears. I don’t know about others, but I honestly don’t know how anyone could suffer a crash like that — break their BACK and both wrists, be bedridden for weeks without use of their arms and then have to begin rehab – I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t be screwed up in the head (forever?) after that. The crash frankly happened so easily, and the injuries were so severe…I just really haven’t been able to get my head together ever since. I do not ride much – but when I do, I DEATH GRIP the brakes. I am a completely different cyclist now…much more timid, much more afraid. I think I am more dangerous in this state because I can’t seem to relax and that’s not good. I’ve had a few people try to help me but I never seem to make much progress. This past August I was out really trying to work on my bike handling and —WHAMO(!) — another crash with broken bones. I just can’t seem to get it together and obviously if I can’t, there’s no way I will ever really “race” again.
I’m trying though. I’m giving it one more shot in 2011 and if I can’t get it together, it will be time to say a loving farewell to triathlon. I haven’t raced since 2007. I showed up at a few races and completed them, but I was scared to death riding and I certainly wasn’t fit. That’s not racing. If I can’t get my head together, the end is near. I’ve made my peace with this, though. I accomplished more in this sport than I ever thought possible, and definitely much more than my talent (or lack thereof) indicated I would. At some point everything ends. I’ll know within the next few months if my time has really come. If so, I will turn in my wheels with no regrets. I’ve always done the best I could.
TM: Like many professional triathletes, you coach age-groupers. You’ve got a highly successful DNF track record. So what distinguishes you from other coaches? Your training plans, your level of engagement with the athletes?
CS: There are a lot of really great coaches out there; I’ve been fortunate to be able to learn from some of them. I’ve also been incredibly lucky over the years to have trained with some of the best athletes in our sport. I’ve learned little bits and pieces from all of these people and I think my coaching is a blend of the best things I’ve seen and learned. I try to bring my sense of humor to my coaching, but if anything separates me, it’s probably how much emphasis I place on the mental component to training and racing. There’s a lot of tough love that goes on. Some of the workouts I give my athletes aren’t necessarily challenging physically – but mentally. There’s a reason for that. Eventually at some point in a race things are no longer physical, everything becomes mental. If you cannot respond mentally – this is the moment people DNF or give up. I try to give people the tools for those moments.
TM: You’ve got a reputation of being one of the funnier folks in the ranks of pro triathlon. Have you always been a jokester – the class clown, per se, or has this come on more as an adult?
CS: Oh yea, always. I actually was class clown in high school, so it’s pretty much my DNA. I am a huge fan of the “quick comeback” because I think you have to be sharp (pardon the pun) and smart to pull it off. Making people laugh is my favorite thing…. hmmmm, well – second favorite thing. (See!)
TM: Are you a practical joker, or more of a self-deprecator?
CS: Of those two choices I think more of a self deprecator, but I think my sense of humor in general is tied more towards sarcasm and deadpan responses. People think my humor is a lot like Chelsea Handler’s…which I find a supreme compliment. That bitch is hilarious.
But I’ll do practical jokes on occasion. Last winter I put a black potato in the pool during a swim I did with friends Joanna Zeiger, Brandon Del Campo and Billy Edwards. Naturally it looked like poop in the pool and everyone died laughing. Good stuff.
TM: How did you get hooked up and involved with Trakkers & Rev3?
CS: Charlie Patten, Rev3’s owner, has actually been my friend for years. When Trakkers and Rev3 came into conception, I was lucky that Charlie knew me and my work ethic, and he offered me a position. I think he was just desperate. (Ha!) My job is much more personal to me than business. I respect Charlie with his old school integrity more than, I think, anyone I’ve ever known, and I’ve grown enormously protective of him. His whole family has become like my own – I love his wife and their kids, I work with his sister, Sarah, who is awesome, and Sarah’s husband does the official timing at Rev3 races – Sam is fantastic. Charlie’s Mom, Debbie, is the toughest woman I know … but Charlie’s Dad is probably my favorite of all the Patten’s. He makes me laugh until my stomach hurts and has loyalty oozing out of his pores – much like his son. Rev3 is very much a family run business and all of the Patten’s are truly as good as it gets. I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of Rev3 and with everyone involved in the company. It’s very much a family, we’re all part of it. I am lucky to have that.
TM: As the “team mom” to Team Trakkers, you have a lot on your plate…answering tons of emails, keeping sponsors happy, going to races, mooning various team members. What’s the best thing about working with the age group team?
CS: Honestly, the best thing about this is the relationship(s) I’ve been fortunate to have with the team. Trakkers is somewhat unique in that we comprised the team considering character FIRST. Sometimes when you pick the best athletes, they are, unfortunately, not always the best people. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass how well someone finished in a race. I mean, I care because they worked hard, but that’s not why I like someone, and it certainly doesn’t make me respect them. I respect someone for who they are. With the Trakkers Team, sure, some folks are top finishers but that’s not at all what matters or why they are on the team…..every single person on our squad is utterly unique and FILLED with character. That matters. I’ve become very attached to this very special group and am definitely quite protective of them – very much a “momma bear”. I’m Italian, though. That’s how we are – we protect the people we love. But they’ve given back to me more than they could ever know. I truly appreciate how much they care about me in return. It’s done wonders for healing my heart.
TM: You’ve shared that in some races you were the “designated last place finisher”. What was this about? What kind of reception did you get from the athletes?
CS: When I lived in Atlanta there were a series of Sprint races available in Georgia. To give back to the sport, I would select 1 or 2 each season, definitely more of the beginner focused events, and be the person who would finish last. There was something very meaningful about that to me. I didn’t want someone doing their best out there, perhaps newly off the couch, new to fitness, to finish “last”. I didn’t want anyone to have that title. I was close with the area race director’s, Jim Rainey and Chuck Dunlop, having done so many of their local races, and I would offer this to help not just their events but also be a (hopeful) source of race day encouragement on the course.
It would always be a long day for me but I loved it. I would run back and forth throughout the course, sidling up to a struggling athlete and encourage him or her to keep going. I would usually run with the person for a minute or so urging them onward, then I’d wish them luck and head back in the mix to bring in someone else. I would keep doing this, back and forth sometimes for 2 hours, until the last person crossed the line – and then I would cross rather ceremoniously. Athletes would come up later thanking me, sometimes in tears, telling me how much I helped them. That right there meant everything to me. What is there in this world that’s better – TRULY – than knowing you helped someone??? I don’t care that it’s “triathlon”. That’s just a metaphor. I helped someone, in a very small way, do something they didn’t think they could. They accomplished something that to them was a huge deal. THAT is it – right there. Those types of things will always matter more to me than anything Carole Sharpless ever does for herself. What can Carole Sharpless do for someone else? That’s what I always ask myself in the mirror…..
TM: Since you’re “Momma Bear” for Team Trakkers, you get a couple of bonus questions. Here’s # 1. Any deeply guarded triathlon secrets hidden away that you’d care to share with us?
CS: What is that great line from Top Gun: “I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you” ?
TM: OK, bonus question # 2. In one of my first “Ten Questions With…” interviews, I asked Sonja Wieck who would win a sprint tri – you or her. She said you would beat her pretty handily. What say you…a little Team Trakkers versus Team Kompetitive Edge challenge at one of the Rev3 races this year?
CS: I dunno, Son is pretty tough. I’ll tell you one thing, if the bike course has any descents she will kick my ass because I’d be braking, HARD, all the way down, if not at a full stop and dismounting so I could walk down the hill with my bike. I’d rather challenge her to an “all-you-can-eat-contest”. I would most assuredly win THAT!
To learn more about Carole, check out her website, her blog, or follow her on Twitter. I’m tellin’ ya – her blog is one of the funniest things I read!