Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ironmanlife: Tyler Stewart's Meteoric Rise

By: Kevin Mackinnon

How'd you like to have friends like Tyler Stewart's? Knowing full well that she couldn�t swim, one "supposed" friend dared her to do a triathlon. Turns out this wasn�t a sprint event, either. Nope, an Ironman 70.3 distance event called the Big Kahuna.

Stewart managed to dog-paddle and breast stroke her way through that first event in Santa Cruz. That was September, 2003. That same "friend," seeing that she hadn�t killed the rookie in her first attempt, convinced Stewart to join her at Ironman 70.3 St. Croix.

Fast forward eight months or so. Guess who’s up on the podium as the age group winner in St. Croix? “Do you want the slot for Hawaii?” they ask Stewart as she walked up to claim her prize. She had no idea what they meant. Convinced to take her spot, five months later Stewart was in Kona, where she finished sixth.

It’s funny, this competitive attitude that suddenly appeared in Stewart’s demeanor. Going into college, she was so afraid that she wouldn’t make the mark that she shied away from the sports she had participated in during her high school years in Connecticut – horse riding, lacrosse and field hockey. “To be honest, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be as good in comparison to the other girls. Instead of facing that fear, I just veered away from sports.”

There has been no “veering” when it has come to her triathlon career. That sixth place finish – one spot off the podium – got her mad enough to work even harder. “That started the competitive drive that made me want to do more and do better.” The next year she won her category and finished as the first age group woman in Kona. She repeated all of that again the following year, 2006.

Last year Stewart made the jump to the professional ranks. She finished second at Ford Ironman USA Lake Placid, third at Ford Ironman Florida and won the Ironman 70.3 Cancun event. USA Triathlon named her their “Rookie of the Year” earlier this week.

She has achieved those impressive results despite a training schedule that’s about half as much as most other pros. Stewart and her “super-supportive” husband Johnny Eason quit their technology jobs a few years ago to start up a pet business in San Francisco. The two have figured out ways to tag-team through the day – she takes the early shift walking and washing the pooches and heads off to train in the evenings, Eason starts a bit later so he can close things up at the end of the day. Despite Eason’s support, there isn’t a lot of time for training, so she focuses on shorter, intense workouts. Most of her bike training comes while leading three CompuTrainer classes a week.

Those must be tough classes. Stewart set a bike course record in Florida last November – her 4:47 is the fastest Ironman bike split ever recorded by a woman. A solid runner, the only thing that’s been holding Stewart back is her swimming, which should be improving soon – this week Eason has been busy installing an Endless Pool at their house. Now, instead of having to commute 45 minutes each way to get a swim, Stewart will only have to roll out of bed to get herself wet. Based on the way she’s excelled from her stationary cycling, one would think some monstrous swimming improvements are on the way, too!

Stewart wouldn't change anything in her crazy lifestyle. She brings a refreshing perspective to the sport - she obviously wants to be a great athlete and works hard to do just that, but she won't sacrifice her other life-responsibilities to get there. She's living proof that sometimes a balanced approach to this crazy sport we do really is the best way to get results.

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