Inside the mind of professional Ironman triathlete
Photo credit: Jaclyn LaRouche
Heather Reynolds BVM Sports Contributor
CALGARY, Alberta — When it comes to mental toughness, there may be no athlete tougher than that of an Ironman triathlete. A race as grueling as they come, complete with a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and a 42.2km run, is not for the faint of heart. But Ironman triathletes are a whole other story. It is these incredible athletes, who, when faced with the desire to quit, find themselves even more inclined to persevere. Their mental strength is a force to be reckoned with. Jason Pohl, a 29-year-old professional Ironman triathlete, is just that: Mentally tough.
Pohl’s journey to becoming a professional athlete hasn’t always been smooth sailing. This triathlete from Red Deer, Alberta, has been faced with many bouts of adversity along the way, yet he admits that any challenge he has faced has always inspired him to work even harder to reach his goals.
It was 2008 when Pohl was faced with his first major bump in the road. He was 17 and playing elite hockey as a goaltender when he had to have a major lung surgery, forcing him to sit on the sidelines while he recovered for half a year.
“This always gave me the motivation to challenge myself,” Pohl remembered.
A few years later, and all healed up, Pohl found himself racing in his first triathlon.
“It was the single hardest event I had ever done, and I got hooked on it,” Pohl said. “It was a personal feat to show myself that I could do one of the most challenging sports there is with a staple in my lung and prove that I could overcome anything.”
One race was all it took. Suddenly, Pohl was diving headfirst into one of the most arduous sports in the world. In 2014, he participated in his first full Ironman and loved it.
Later that year, Pohl raced in Kona, Hawaii, as an amateur in the Ironman World Championship, but after he finished the race he collapsed, leaving those around him terrified about his well-being.
“I finished and ended up in the hospital with irregular heartbeats and very low potassium levels,” Pohl explained. “Once I recovered, I told myself I wanted to see where I could go with triathlons. It was those two events that really inspired me to get into triathlons and then see where I could go with it.”
After a lot of hard work, dedication and success, it was in 2017 that Pohl turned professional.
“I have multiple top five finishes and I am now looking for the first win once racing resumes,” Pohl said.
Now a seasoned racer with many years under his belt, Pohl is hitting his stride and truly loves what he does. He competes in Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races all around the world.
“An Ironman 70.3 is half of the distances of an Ironman. It is a global sport,” Pohl explained. “I train out of Calgary, Alberta, and Boulder, Colorado.”
Reflecting on races of the past, Pohl said one of his favourite moments was when he raced in his first professional Ironman race in 2017 at Mont Tremblant, Québec, where he finished top five.
“I was over the moon excited and a feeling I will always remember,” Pohl recalled.
Pohl’s latest race, which took place in Campeche, Mexico, back in March, was also one for the books. With COVID-19 ramping up, he knew it would probably be his last race for a while.
“When I arrived, that is when all the lockdowns started happening around the world due to COVID-19,” Pohl said. “So, I raced my heart out and went top five there.”
Pohl said they are hoping to continue racing again in the fall.
“Being a professional in this, prize money and performance bonuses are obviously put on hold, which puts a bit of a financial impact on us,” Pohl said. “But we are hopeful with the right protocols we will be back racing in the fall time.”
Racing or not, Pohl knows the importance of training and being able to work on his development. He has goals set for the future that, with continued dedication and hard work, he intends on reaching.
“I want to become an Ironman Champion and race at the Ironman World Championships as a professional,” Pohl said. “It is also a huge standard of mine to inspire and work with communities around me through this journey so they too can find their challenges that help them grow as people.”
The journey to becoming successful in this sport does not come without effort. It takes grit. It takes determination. It takes a tenacious outlook on life. It takes the ability to look adversity in the eyes and fight back full force. It takes a person like Jason Pohl.
“In each challenging moment or setback, there is always an opportunity to grow or a lesson to be learned. I have always kept that mindset with me,” Pohl said. “When you carry that mindset when you fail at something, it gives you that much more fire within you to come back stronger.”