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Join Triathlete's Mitch Thrower for an interview with Jessi Stensland.
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An Interview with Triathlete Jessi Stensland
Mitch Thrower: Welcome back to the Open Air Studio, this is Mitch Thrower. We are here today with an amazing Triathlete, a good friend we’re here with Jessi Stensland.
Jessie welcome to the show, good to have you here.
We’re going to go and look I think at your early days and I know that you have an incredible Triathlon resume. But let’s start when you were a little kid. What sports were you involved in?
Jessi: Well from the get-go my parents put us in everything, and somehow by the age 5 or 6, my sister was for sure a dancer and I was for sure a swimmer. But I did a little dance, did a little gymnastics; swimming was at the heart of everything from age 6. So by age 8 I was here around as a swimmer.
I did pick up, I think I played softball. I even did some cheerleading. I’ve never told anyone that.
Mitch: You were a cheerleader? Jessi Stensland, Triathlete-Cheerleader that sounds outstanding.
Jessi: Catholic member school, I don’t know how it worked. Tennis in high school was a big, fun thing for me so I loved that. I haven’t played much since but I still loved it, I want to pick it up again.
We skied and played, tackle volleyball and stuff like that in the court but that’s about it.
Mitch: But your core sport was swimming growing up, always swimming.
Jessi: Never run, never rode a bike.
Mitch: So you’re a high school swimming practice days, what was you’re—what would your hard days look like? Like what would you, did you get up early? What would that look like?
Jessi: After high school, so before college, I didn’t have one of those coaches that counted us with yardage. We actually just had the one workout a day. Until towards the end of my high school, I think it was Junior or Senior year when we had a morning workout; so five to 6:30 or seven workout and then in the afternoon or evening workout from seven to nine.
We put in those 10,000 meters in a day and luckily we only had to do that a couple of times a week. Unlike some of my friends are doing multiple—
Mitch: Much, much more, much more. And that almost seemed easy compared to some of your Triathlon days I’m sure at this point.
Jessi: These days yes, except for the fact that you know, we love our three sports. So when we’re done with one, we always get to switch it up or suspending all those four hours in one sport that as much fun.
Mitch: Do you remember when you first heard the word Triathlon? Like when you first heard that there was something called a Triathlon?
Jessi: I remember what my first memories are, I don’t remember the word per se, but the two influences were of a neighbourhood friend, family friend, mentioned this crazy races out in Pennsylvania where I don’t even remember if he said, swim bike run but it was just you know, he saw us as endurance athletes as swimmers and he just want us whether be that was kayaking, biking and its running something, something where you did multi sports.
But I didn’t get him much attention because he was kind of crazy like just you know, he’s one of those dad’s that just wants to be in everything and didn’t think back again for a few years through college when I saw it on TV.
Mitch: You saw it on TV in college? You saw Ironman? You saw the Ironman Hawaii Show on television and what did you think? Did you think you’d ever be doing this sport of Triathlon while you’re watching it in college, was it appealing to you at that point?
Jessi: Should I be, I’ll be a hundred percent honest. I remember watching it and at 21 and swimming, you know you are old. You are the—your career, unless you’re going to go to any land that sort, do something else is pretty much over and there are very few people nowadays luckily with swimming you can swim a lot longer. But then you know, going back a few years. And I remember seeing them and they were older than me. They’re about 10 years older you know and to see somebody who’s in 30 years old doing that, I really looked at them and I said, if they can do that, I can do it.
Now of course I know that 30 is not old anymore, but swimming at 21, you know, they look like they are a little bit older. My mom was much older than that. So it just inspired me to say, there’s something beyond what I’m doing right now I’m sure. I didn’t put in those words right away but I just remembered finishing my college swimming career knowing that I haven’t reached my potential and I didn’t could’ve answered why until years in my Triathlon career but I did.
Mitch: When did you actually do your first race?
Jessi: I did my first race in this Spring Summer of ‘97.
Mitch: 1997, do you remember the exact experience? Where were you?
Jessi: Blueberry Festival Triathlon in Hamilton, New Jersey which isn’t around anymore. It was this summer before my senior year of college and the whole purpose was that I heard about this thing called triathlon and I just wanted to try it out that summer because to be inspired beyond my swimming.
Mitch: How did you do, how did you do in the race?
Jessi: I won the First Timers Division I think. All my said “You’re going to win” and I said “What do you mean? I haven’t ever, I mean I hardly had run, I mean I haven’t ridden a bike or really ran” but my fitness level quickly realized that gets your par. But I remember, this is what I remember, I remember swimming really easily. I remembered being on the bike, having people come by and practically whack me on the behind saying, “Nice swim” as they flew by me on the bike because I shifting my gears down on the—.
Mitch: On the lower part as to the 10-Speed bike yes.
Jessi: I had borrowed the bike from the same crazy— from his dad that I knew his bike and then I remember the ran, I felt really strong and I was actually going by people again on the ran—
Mitch: By your first Triathlon, you won. You actually won on the First Timers Division which really should be—there should be more First Timers Divisions in races. Like people don’t realize what a wonderful thing it is to do and complete your first Triathlon.
Jessi: It is and no matter where you’ve come from, what athletic ability, your fitness level. It’s an amazing experience, our ever first Triathlon just to do it.
Mitch: And who inspires you? Like what’s an inspirational character, you’ve been involved since 1997, what is an inspirational character in Triathlon someone who’s sort of pointed you on the right direction or inspired you or motivated you?
Jessi: There’s been so many you know, Mitch I lived out here since and thanks to you and going back to my first beginnings in sports, the Multi sports.com camp that I came up to and I was immediately around the top people in the sport.
Mitch: That’s where we met at the multi sport camp, that’s right.
Jessi: I came out here that was the spring of ’98, so not one year later from my first Triathlon. So from the beginning and that was you know, everyone from Paula Newby-Fraser to Heather Furh, and Mike Pigg back in the day to yourself.
Mitch: I seem to remember some crazy Mike Pigg dancing routines you would so at the multi sport camps, yes. I wonder if there’s video or footage of that anywhere.
Jessi: I have lots of pictures that you could flip through and make a movie.
Mitch: So you’ve had exposure to really good athletes right from the get-go and it’s funny because the sport of Triathlon coming to San Diego really kind of took you under its wing. You became very good friends with you know, John Duke, Dave Alberga from Active. John Duke from Triathlete and you know, competitor group Bob Babbet. You know basically you kind of network your way in and spend a minute for the people that are out there. You’re obviously blessed with incredibly, wonderful looks.
You’ve been in several advertisements right them in, what can be on the cover of Triathlete Magazine. I know we have some images to show the viewers of you in the various ads. This is the Under Armour advertisement. This is the Kinesys advertisements you were in, another one from Maxxis Tires, really phenomenal stuff.
But you actually commercialized them and you say that at 21 you were kind of, that’s kind of the end of the road for a swimmer. And you know for many models at 21, their careers are over 25 etcetera. What are some tips for people out there, they’re interested in making Triathlon kind of their career?
Jessi: I get this question a lot and it’s great. You know and more and more lately actually. And there’s definite business behind the whole thing and its one thing to be an athlete who’s just going to win. And that’s who sponsors you’re going to see because they’re winning. But there’s a whole, my whole inspiration has always been you know, being at the top which I pretty much always have been from the get-go.
You’re going to be able to be such an inspiration and you’re getting these resources. For example, from all over that you’re learning but you just continue. And I continue to want to pass on and lucky for me, I had worked for elite racing which is now part of the competitor group at the time. All the rock and roll marathons and just seeing those sponsorship contracts that linked this event with the sponsor who wanted to sponsor the event to reach the audience that were all those runners. I saw myself just as that event.
Meaning, you know I have these sponsors who want to reach an audience and I’m there in the middle and that sponsorship contract has a lot of things you have to fulfil on it you know and races. Its how many banners you have on the course or how many logos of your company go out on to the people in the brochures or whatever. And so I took it myself to do things like print my own promotional brochures.
Mitch: Well I remember the card that Jessi Card and then the website.
Jessi: And it’s safe to get those logos out and to see that you’re a team and you believe certainly at the core of everything that I’ve done. I have always been friends with and believed in the things that I’ve had to talk about. And I learned that early on when I just couldn’t stop talking about things that I loved. And it was really hard to talk about the other things and that wasn’t for me. So luckily, I had some good background, sports marketing and managements.
Mitch: Sports marketing and management, who are some other sponsors that sort of came along the way, I think Active?
Jessi: Of course Active.com has been part of my family ever since then. Specialized bikes, B&L Bike Shop here in San Diego, I mean to have never have had a mechanical failure on a course because of the great bike shop. So to be friends with those guys and just, it’s a lot about being just yourself you know and being friends with all these companies. Because you know Triathlon, we are a tight nit community and endurance.
Mitch: Very tight and it’s a close family, the sport of Triathlon is a close family. Being yourself and getting out there and meeting them, people have watched your career and seeing you racing and I know you’ve taken a little bit of time off. We’ll talk about that in a minute but, what is your race resume? Take us through kind of few of the races that you’ve won maybe some of the ones you’ve enjoyed winning. Like what were some memorable moments of crossing the line first, your second or fifth or whatever it was, maybe few top inches.
Jessi: There’s a few that stand out. The, probably the earliest one of course would be that first full season as an amateur that I raised in ‘99. I went to the world championships in Montreal in ‘99 and I was still such a raw athlete then. It’s amazing just did the race kind of with your blinders on you just go. And I’ll never forget though how I felt coming down the shooters about a 2-mile long stretch along a rowing canal. That’s where the run was, so you had just you could run straight for10 minutes to the finish line and being around.
I actually have a great memory because —and I, now that she is the phenomenal athlete that she is of course and always have been. We’re running down that together and ended up getting the silver medal or championships and just having that experience with all ages of people at that sport was amazing to me now. I wasn’t just with 20-year olds, I was with 7-year olds and they were on my team.
So along with the silver medal and just the performance that I had which I still consider one of my greatest performances, even though it was pretty much you know, just without thinking kind of performance is still is my favourite.
Mitch: Favourite moment. Then you’ve won a couple of races?
Jessi: Well, I won you know around here of course —international, Carlsbad Triathlon, as second at Saint Anthony’s out before this. It was a great year you know, I did won one Half Ironman actually I have done two. My first was Half Ironman Mexico that was 2004 and I won that one. Because before it was a 70.3, it’s a great week, a great experience and I should have stopped there. I did the 70.3 in here at Ocean side, after that wasn’t I didn’t feel as easy not winning.
Mitch: The water’s a little bit different in Ocean side that Mexico right?
Jessi: Yes and I have to say the Olympic Trials of course. I mean, I’ve been in the sport, when I’ve got into this sport, it was always about to me the Olympic. What the Olympics means is kind of encapsulates just a whole lot of things in life for me and just that epitome of performance and it always drove me to be my best. So getting along that journey and making that Olympic trials in 2004 and although I didn’t make the team, I absolutely had the most, I tell you my best experiences in my—not experiences, my best performances in my entire life so that to me I consider as my Gold Medal.
It lifted me up to be the best that I can be and that’s what the Olympic trials were.
Mitch: And you’ve took a bit of a, let’s call a sabbatical right? You were so focused and you know, you’d been looking at that black lane, at the bottom of the swimming pool since you were six years old, and what year was it you just decided, you just said “I‘m going to take some time off”.
Mitch: And you said you’re taking some time. I know you’re coming back now, you’re making a big come back, but what was it that sort of snapped the “I’m going to take some time off” nerve?
Jessi: Well I’ll tell you what, it’s a really neat story and its how I’ve been always able to kind of live my life really listening to my gut and being really aware.
So there is a day, it was in February, 2006 and the coolest thing about what really happened in that moment is something that I’ve just been able to always kind of live by which is to truly just listen to my gut and it really has had nothing to do with what the outside world might think of what I do. I’ve never been a fan of expectations or you know when I make a decision. If someone doesn’t understand it, which is what happened that day. It really—I’m still driven by what’s inside and so that day it really wasn’t even a decision to stop Triathlon. I t was just a decision to follow what I felt inside and what I was feeling and being told essentially. I was not hearing a voice but it just said you’re not getting up tomorrow and I kind of stopped there like, alright I’m not getting up tomorrow.
I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what I supposed to do and place of that. And of course, we triathletes know there’s always something to do for the first time in nearly that 30 years. I had nothing to do not even to put my foot in the pedal and know where to drive at that exact moment. Because I was leaving a track workout, I typically had to go home and stretch, nutrition, all these things. I was like 7 o’clock on a Tuesday night. I don’t know what I have to do. And so I knew—
Mitch: It must’ve been a relief of sorts, you must have felt sort of relief but also fear or I mean what happened?
Jessi: It was a lot of, to honest with you, there was a lot of nothing and I knew that I was true enough that I knew that the, I would look back in know why.
Whatever who’s going to come would tell me why I had to then essentially take that break and that’s what happened. I have a friend of mine who had lasik surgery not a month or so later and she has explained to me what the world looked like to her; colourful and always new things she was seeing and I said, Jessi was also her name, that’s exactly what it looks like to me. And not that my whole world wasn’t colourful before but oh my gosh when I was seeing and doing so many different things. I’m talking it’s what I’ve got into film. I found myself on different sets. One of which was we picked a location like skydiving location and the next day, I skydived because when typically —
Mitch: Great so basically, you snapped out of the world for a while at Triathlon and started doing production and on-camera work and getting involved in learning all different parts of life.
Jessi: It was a part of it. You know, the one thing I did say is that I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t know what I’m supposed to do but I know, here’s two things I know I bad at, relaxing and just relationships. As in sitting out of coffee just to sit and have a coffee and talk about stuff versus being en route to somewhere else.
So I said, I know that how important relaxing is and that stress level be able to do nothing when you’re supposed to do nothing. Same thing in training or in life and if it takes me two weeks, two months, two years, it’s going to help me the next 70 years of my life if I can learn that to whatever comes. And so I just did that, I chilled out and I was able to do that. I still do appearances, I still let things kind of roll with what my sponsorships were doing and being kind of out there. But I wasn’t being proactive and I just kind of sit and relax.
Mitch: What snapped you back into the sports? So you snapped out of the sport, took two years off and then suddenly something said to you, you’re going to do Triathlon again.
Jessi: Well it was funny, really all it was, was I just wanted to start working out or just doing something. I literally, I didn’t do the Triathlon workout. I was not doing anything, I mean. So this was like, I Just wanted to go to the gym and just start moving. I’m literally moving, I mean it was amazing how inefficient my body was at that point. And as soon as I did that, you the way I’ve learned to train is so efficient; speaking of the core performance program which is of course a big thing I work with.
But let’s just say, knowing if I’m going to go to the gym, I know how to train and I know when you do it so purposely, you do it the shorter amount of time than if you even don’t train right. And if I’m going to train, I’m going to train right and I’m still only 31 at the time. I’m in my prime, if I train right, I’m going to be that fast again. I just, I knew that much and from there although I didn’t get fit right away, certainly I was hard core, I still let things flow as they wanted to, that’s when still Under Armour kind of came in the picture and a couple other opportunities where I still realized I hadn’t been so received from the world as I felt.
And there was a place for me to build back up and still kind of work with us and now, a bunch of different people on a kind of different level than that, precision Triathlon and more of an endurance based inspiration.
Mitch: What are your tips for endurance athletes sort of Triathletes that are out there, maybe three tips for Triathlete age group or as Triathlete Pros from the very interesting core performance and function training that you’ve been involved with for a while. Now what are some, sort of things that they should be thinking about? Because you got a very unique, probably unique diet plan, a unique fitness plan and workout plan schedule, thought process, what are some tips?
Jessi: So for talking physical and the body you know, at the very core of what I learned about performance, is our own machine. So a lot of times, we know more about our bicycles and whether the tires are pumped or whether the brakes are rubbing, then we pay attention to or even know about our own body and things little bit tight or dealing with that.
So really, my whole focus has been on creating a body and I just really encourage people to get to know their body in the way of balance, symmetry. Of course we’ve heard all these things, but to really take it to heart and make—pay attention and to implement things to give you that awareness.
What’s really made a difference for me, since towards the later part of my career is this idea, functional training and core performance program which was a big influence on my life. At the centre of that is the body and the machine that we’re using to get from our start line to the finish line. And so many things are involved in that working together; I know you mentioned nutrition of course it matters so we put in our body. And of course it matters how much sleep we’ve got that night and we think about our cardio capacity a lot.
A lot of times we don’t think about our posture.
Mitch: You have wonderful posture.
Jessi: I hope you did see that anti-social but you know what the point is like, I was sitting and teaching a Triathlon kind of endurance clinic the other day with some newbies. And we had a lot of seats set out like that, this is just an example, and everyone, whether it be in the beginning of the meeting or towards the end was sitting like this or like this and the whole idea is as especially as any Triathlon, a little with Ironman’s becomes so important and you see, you know you want to run to end of that finish line with the ability to keep this maintained strong. And to make it as practical as that, if within five minutes in a meeting, you can’t sit with your back straight, how are you going to get from the start to the finish line with 5K, 10K or marathon.
So at the centre of all of these is truly and we talk about the core and I don’t like to overuse that word because it’s a lot more than that. The idea of the shoulder stability down to our hip stability and to get most of our power through this is where you should be getting most of your power. As the muscles get further away from your centre, they are less powerful.
So if you think, you are actually swimming just with your arms and biking just with your quads and your hamstrings, really going to have to shift back because you’re probably not utilizing so much of like we talked about the gluts are so much closer to our centre and they are so much more powerful and things like that, we’re going to be thinking of in the swim and the bike and the run.
Mitch: So the machine, you really want to focus on the fact that you know, your body, like your bike is a machine.
Jessi: It’s a machine, it’s got parts. It needs to be attended to. It needs to be all those things. And like I said at the centres is your posture and there’s ways to do that. It’s the balance, balance and symmetry and whether you’re in a strength routine. But incorporating all that is not just about strength, you want to move to that strength and then have power to that strength and you’ll only get as much strength as you can have through your hip if you’ve got the balance where you can connect your ankle, knee and hip. Where you can stand on one leg and move through that leg.
Mitch: Jessi you’ve been one of the more electronic, digitally savvy athletes and that’s probably helped quite a bit with your sponsors because you do have you know, a website. What is their website? Its gojessi.com and you do some other things. What else do you do online?
Jessi: It’s been really fun to be online in these new things like Facebook of course and Twitter for those who don’t know Twitter, Twitter.com out there as well and it’s just really fun. I think yes it helped sponsors as you mentioned and I mean, you’re getting out there but at the same time, what really drive the sponsors these days are authenticity and just the idea of being transparent. We’re all just people. We all have the same kind of goals. We all have the same questions and it’s just really great to be able to interact so, somewhat intimately you know and with people, in that medium. So Facebook and Twitter and I recommend that if you haven’t stopped by, I try to keep up my blogs on gojessi.com.
Mitch: Excellent and if they want to follow you on Twitter, what is your Twitter address?
Jessi: Twitter is just Jessi Stensland all one word. Twitter.com\JessiStensland, yes.
Mitch: So we can follow you online?
Jessi: Yes, please do.
My number 1 piece of advice to people when they are starting the sport or whether they have been experienced and have yet to do something like this is to get your body from head to toe. Analyze, evaluate it as far as your symmetry and your body awareness and your ability to balance or not.
It takes a simple—there are professionals out there who do it. Whether they’d be in performance or in—there’s popping up postural centres all over the place. Just highly recommend it a lot of times, we don’t even know that when we go down to touch our toes, we jet off to one side or that we can’t stand on one foot or do it in a way that’s efficient. One shoulders up or one shoulders down, and key is that beyond that evaluation, seeking someone out who can do that to you and point that out is the idea that you can change. Know that you can change your body.
We have simply—unless you have a bony deformity, a lot of times which is just something you can’t do about. We just have bones sitting in soft tissue and we have control over that if we just start using in a ways that we need to use them. A lot of people have said to me you know, I just thought that’s just how I was. The one foot just always went out to the side. The one foot was always straight. So that’s how I do my squats, that’s how I run and thinking that’s always how it was.
I guarantee you and I’ve changed it a lot. My feet and my—like seven out like this and so I’ve got them to be straight with some simple, corrective exercises and just to take that time is huge.
Mitch: You’re really focusing on that specific knowledge that you can change your body.
Jessi: You can change your body; yes. And the idea being is this is less about you know, there’s two elements to doing something like this. It’s for your best performance ever but it’s also about and number 1, it’s about injury prevention because you’ll never get to the start line without being 100% you or certainly with that insurance. These days you know in our sport to be able to do some set exercises that are not only going to keep you injury free but also give you the best performances which by the way, it makes things a lot more fun when the movements are just easier because your body is better. But also we’re having this sign up for races, as popular as our sports gotten so far in advance and certainly the Ironman that to do that a year out and not—I consider this insurance and something you can’t do without to make sure you’re going to get to the start line of those races you’ve committed.
Mitch: And does injury free as possible. You know many triathletes train through injuries don’t focus on healing. It’s really, really important. So now, let’s have you reach through the camera and actually tell your family, you have a sister and a brother and your parents. What would you tell them because they’ve been very supportive of you as a triathlete and your career as a triathlete. What message would you give to them of thanks or letting them know why you choose a course in the sport of triathlon?
Jessi: My family has been of course an amazing supporter and inspiration to why I’m even here today. My mom, my dad, Brandon and Keith, my sister and brother, Kelly and Brett, we are all really close, always have been. I’m always been the type to—we don’t live near each other because we followed our dreams. My sister being a dancer was in New York City. My brother a rock climber and just a mountain guy is out in Boulder and I’m out here in California.
My parents gave me my senior year of college the gift to come out to the multisports.com camp. That was my birthday present in 1997.
Mitch: And that’s interesting. You received a multi sport camp participation as a birthday gift. That’s great.
Jessi: I have looked into it and it was a big deal, the time I mean it costs you know a lot more now, I’m sure. But at the time it was a lot for me who didn’t have that money as a college student.
Mitch: It worth that having been in the multi sport camp.
Jessi: Well worth it.
Mitch: Four or five times.
Jessi: The card simply said it was a little girl in the front of the card that she had aviator glasses, little kind of baby. And inside my mom just wrote in her own script California or bust.
Mitch: That’s great. That’s really great.
Jessi: And it kind of still race tears to my eyes sometimes but you know my mom at the hardest time me leaving of course. I left home and came out here to follow this dream and yet, I found that card years later and I said, they give this to me and if it wasn’t for that I’d never have known what San Diego was like and all that stuff.
So as hard as it was for them, that’s just the inner nature and they’ve given me that nature as well and I fully believed that the life that I’ve been able to lead and kind of the risks that I’ve taken. You know I’ve never had a stable income just to be able to follow the passion and that gut instinct like you heard on that day on February. Simply because I always knew I had a place to go.
Jessi: If everything went wrong. So I always thought of that but 30 years later, you know they’ve really did that for me and I just believe that that couldn’t be any more important for people out there who also have kids or just friends to be that kind of support that if all else goes wrong and you do that truly following your passion that they’re there for you. So that what’s they did for me and I want to thank you guys, hu7ndred percent.
Mitch: Well, Jessi it’s so great to have in the show. Yo9u know the sport of triathlon really does admire and follow the career of Jessi Stensland and now we’re looking forward to9 seeing you out there this year in some races. So thanks for being on the show.