With less than two months until Leanda Cave defends her title at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Cave and her coach, ITU world champ Siri Lindley, clearly have a lot on their mind and in their everyday schedules. Just days after moving into her new home, which is perched atop the mountains overlooking downtown Boulder, Colo., Cave showed LAVAher trademark kindness and hospitality as she invited us in to check out her new digs and listen in as she and Lindley discussed the athlete/coach relationship, the pressures of being an Ironman world champion, and how triathlon has impacted both their lives much more than just physically.
Leanda Cave: So, the athlete-coach relationship.
Siri Lindley: Let’s discuss our relationship, super-bird.
Cave: This year’s been very different because unlike last year, I spent most of this time on my own, training remotely under you. So for me, this year’s been a lot, especially the last few months since I’ve been in Boulder, really a lot more fun. I’m a lot more motivated, I’ve had the injury but I feel a lot more optimistic and I think that’s helped get over the worst part of the injury, to a point now where I’m feeling pretty confident. Just having you there and around, its so much better. I just feel like I have somewhere to be, as opposed to like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to get my training done but I don’t have anywhere to be.’ And I like that, and I think that one Wednesday when I broke down… that was a tough day, and everything you said to me that day rang true and we got back on the feet and raced in the Boulder 70.3 and had a successful race. I think that all comes down to having you around as opposed to having your remotely around. It’s been a great blessing, you moving here. I think having all the teammates here has been really fun.
Lindley: And I agree. From my side, its an absolute dream come true to have you here with me every day, because I, I mean yeah, things were great last year and we made it work awesome and it was great to have the last three weeks together in Kona, but I so always want to feel like I have my finger on your pulse, you know, so that in a certain moment, for instance in that day that was a tough day, we’re able to talk it out right then and there. For me, it makes me feel so confident and optimistic that every single day we’re doing everything exactly the way we should be, and that I can see you everyday and I can see when if pushing through a day when you should be maybe resting instead, or I can see a day where I’ll push you even harder because you look fabulous. So I mean really, moving back here has been the best thing I’ve ever done in my life because its given me the opportunity to be by your side every day, which, just like you’re saying, its motivating to have somewhere to be. I mean, for me to show up and know that I get to work with you in person every day is the greatest motivator and inspiration out there because its like, I know we can do so much apart, but together, I feel like anything’s possible. I mean, you saw it the other day—you were out on your bike for five hours, and I could have gone another five hours. Being able to be there, in the moment, while we’re working on something that we both believe in so much and that we both care about so much is heaven to me. So, it’s just been amazing and I’m just so proud of you and the strides that we’ve made—you coming off of this injury. And we can get into talking about what your off-season was like coming off of winning the world championships—both of them—but really, what I want to celebrate is where you are right now, and that race in Boulder was phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about how you looked, and how you raced, and that fire in your eyes, and that determination and just, that fire. It was so inspiring. And to witness that firsthand not only in training but to see you race, and to see you happy in this amazing place—it’s a dream come true. I just can’t wait for every day.
Cave: I agree. You say after winning both the worlds, but the only goal I had last year was to win Kona and the other one I obviously take it but in my head I’m always thinking I’ve won Kona and not both of them. But I feel, post Kona, the first time I’ve experienced it, I never anticipated how it can change everything. Not so much everything personally, but how you’re perceived, and what that means to everybody else as opposed to me personally. For me, I’m achieving a goal, and for everyone around you you’re achieving something bigger than that, and it’s made such a big deal of. It’s definitely hard to adjust to how other people see you. Or, just to respond and respect how other people see you and not be overwhelmed by you. It’s taken probably the greater half of this year to feel I’m getting a grip of it. I’m finding now I’m better able to manage things around that whole stigma of winning the Worlds. And then on top of that, I feel like I’ve been chasing my tail the whole year and I haven’t really caught it yet, with getting injured. I’ve felt for a long time that I was taking one step forward and taking two steps back. I never felt like I was getting ahead. I think Boulder 70.3 was the first sign for me that I’m actually moving forward. There’s a lot of confidence you get from racing well. I didn’t really anticipate racing well, I just wanted to finish and get through this without having this injury flare up again, and I did. So that’s given me a lot of confidence. It’s not even been a week since that race, but I feel that I’ve moved one step closer to believing that the rest of this year is going to go well. I wouldn’t say there’s a day that goes by where I’m completely pain free from the injury, but I feel like I’m just managing the pain and I’ve just got so used to it now and this is really something I’m going to have to sort out when my season is over, but I feel I’m able and capable of training through it and racing through it. I’ll get this season done and dusted and really have to focus on what the cause of it is. But I think I’m really over the hump of it. Right now, it’s exciting because I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m not thinking every day about the injury now, I’m thinking about racing well, and that, I think, is a big shift from where I was maybe even four weeks ago.
Lindley: And that’s awesome. And the other great thing about being here is finding the support that you need to keep the pain at a minimum and to keep it from getting bad and to get it healing while you’re progressing and getting stronger and fitter and faster. That’s what my hope is: not just to have you train through this injury and grin and bear it, but I really believe with all my heart that we can work at healing it while we’re progressing forward by doing all the right things. I know that you’re so good at covering all the bases and leaving no stone unturned and therefore I feel really confident that you’re not going to just have to grin and bear it and get through the pain and deal with it later. I feel that we can accomplish that, while also working so hard at just achieving our goal and our dream.
Cave: Yeah, and I think that’s it. It’s not having to stop, and I think some athletes see people who say, ‘Well, you have to take x number of weeks off’ or whatever to heal. [But] I feel I’m actually healing while being able to train. And not just train and do everything easy—no I’m giving it everything right now because I’m training for the biggest race of the year. I feel that’s the most important thing: to be able to get all the treatment I need and manage an injury while training full-steam. And as you know, I don’t know what it is but there are a lot of athletes who don’t admit to being injured—not personally or to their coach or anything—but I feel they’re quite happy to say they’re all in great shape but if you’re injured, you’re injured and its not something you should feel you need to keep a secret from your competition. Because then you’re going to come out after you have your competition and say, ‘Oh, I was injured for the last six months’ and then find you have this excuse. For me, I’m like, ‘Well yeah, I’ve been injured,’ but I don’t feel its an excuse or a reason I won’t race well because I feel I’ve done everything else that’s got me to the start line in 100 percent shape.
Lindley: Exactly, and you’re the type of person that never has any excuses and I love that about you. Just to step back a little bit to about after winning the World Championships and how that was for you, I know what a whirlwind that was for you. And I think you see in so many sports, how people win the Superbowl or whatever the biggest event is in whatever sport and that can really change them. I think that the most beautiful thing to come out of you winning last year is that I feel that not only has it made you, if its even possible, a better person, but its made you a better athlete. I think a lot of times, people can go the wrong way after winning something massive, but you took it all in stride and I know it was so hard for you, dealing with the attention that you weren’t really used to, but you handled it so beautifully and with a raw honesty about saying, ‘Woah, I’m not really used to this kind of attention.’ But it’s only made you, in my opinion, more generous, more giving, more supportive of all the people around you. I think that you’re just the ultimate class act, and you’ve handled that success so beautifully. It wasn’t easy, but everything that you’ve gone through, including the injury, has only made you stronger, and oddly, has only made you hungrier than ever before. Even in my own experience, you kind of achieve something that you think is the ultimate and sometimes you can kind of lose your passion for it. But I feel that you’re more passionate than you’ve ever been before, not in what you say about your training and your racing, but just from what I see. When you’re training, when you’re racing, there’s a fire like I’ve never seen before, and I think that’s just so rare and its just awesome to see. So really, it may not have been an easy adjustment, but it’s only made you better, and I love that.
Cave: Thank you. I feel like I’ve managed to maintain what I value, my core values. I also feel that being in a position like I’m in, I get to see a lot of things from the other side and how hard it is. I mean, I’ve been doing this for so long and I’ve had such a great journey and I still want to go on, but I know the struggles that athletes have had coming from nothing to get where they want to be. And some don’t make it, and I don’t think that ever goes away—when you know how hard its been and where you are now. I don’t take any of it for granted. It’s definitely not easy getting to this level. There are definitely more sacrifices that you make along the way than I think a lot of athletes from other sports have to make. They’re not nurtured into the environment—you’re pretty much on your own. You got to do it on your own. You might have people who want to throw a bit of money in here and there like family members or friends or whatever, but essentially, the work is on your own and its not a rich sport as we know. So there are a lot of things where I feel I’ve seen both sides. Its great to be in this position now but I really feel like I owe it to people who are trying to be in this position to give back to them and to help them. I’m not at the end of my career—its coming in four or five years—
Lindley: C’mon, 10-15 years!
Cave: I feel like I’m finding that place where I want to put my energy after the sport and that’s really great. Getting injured definitely makes you recognize where you are in the whole scheme of things. For me, still fighting to come back makes me realize that I’m not ready. Because if I’d got injured and I wasn’t really up for going for another season of racing, then I’d be like, ‘Alright, I’ll just let it go. I’ll stay injured and not do anything about it, I won’t do the training.’ But I feel like I’ve still been motivated and driven enough to do everything I can, despite being injured, to be the best I can be and that to me means I’m not ready to give it up. I know athletes who have decided at the height of their career to call it a day, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I can see being in this position now why it was probably a decision that was right for Chrissy, because its tough being in constant limelight and having constant attention. I don’t know if that was something Chrissy liked or not, that’s not something I’ve spoken to her about, but for me, that’s not something I want. I’m happy that I have it for now, but its not something that I want constantly in my life. And then there’s all the athletes who just wake up one the morning when they’re meant to be at a 5:30 swim workout and they’re like, ‘Nope. I’m done.’ You know? One day they’re training, the next day they’re not. So I just feel like it’s not a physical thing that will stop me in my career, it will be probably the mental thing. There are definitely way more things in life that I want to do and achieve, and life is such a journey. Triathlon is not my life—it’s my job. It’s something I really love doing, and right now I’m doing it well, I’m good at it, I’m enjoying every moment of it. It’s always going to be part of my life. Moving on from being a professional athlete I’m sure I’m going to be in some way, shape, or form involved with the sport. But as an athlete, you’re so restricted by what you can do outside of the sport while you’re racing, and there were so many things I wanted to be before being an athlete, and I feel there’s a point where I’m going to get so anxious to do all that before I have to go and have babies and do all that.
Lindley: One question for you, because I know in hindsight when I look back at my time in the sport, and I can remember saying the same kind of stuff you’re saying, like, ‘Yeah I’m just going to be an athlete and then there will be a time when I’ll have so many other things that I want to do.’ But when I look back at my time in the sport, I really feel like triathlon was the vehicle through which I found myself. Do you agree with that? Do you feel that you have found yourself through this process?
Cave: It’s funny, I was talking to Jenny [Fletcher] about that yesterday. There’s definitely things, like socially, like I was very shy growing up, and its been brought to my attention here. But so very shy in general communication with people and when I’m ordering at a counter for instance, and I didn’t really understand, and Jenny said yesterday, ‘Well you were shy growing up, I mean you probably had your head down like this and you didn’t want to look anyone in the eye and you just ordered,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I actually did used to do that and I was that shy person,’ and I was so insecure about myself and I didn’t have a lot of friends. So there are so many things that this sport has enabled me to grow. It’s kind of forced me. I kind of got thrown in the deep end with doing this sport to become more social, to become more confident. I feel like I’m still learning. I’m even learning things in triathlon that I feel like I should know at my level but I don’t. As an individual, yeah, it’s totally enabled me to grow and I feel this person has always been inside but now it’s coming out, the person I kind of wanted to be. I saw it in athletes and I saw it in friends, and I kind of wanted to be that person and I never had the confidence to be that person. But being in a position, especially like I’m in now, I’m forced to be that person. And it’s nice, it’s kind of liberating, to actually feel you can just be you and not have to try and hide in the shadows.
Lindley: Totally, and you have so much to give. So I mean, where I’m kind of getting at with this is, you hear athletes talk about how selfish this sport is, but really, the more you find yourself through this sport, the more you’re able to give, and you give so much. So it really isn’t a selfish sport, because as you’re finding yourself, you’re giving so much more. I just find that’s one of the things that I’m so grateful for about my own career and watching it happen with you guys. One of the greatest things about being blessed with the ability to be your coach for so long is that I see all this happening and it’s awesome. It’s really cool.
Cave: I agree, and it’s great hearing it too. This sport has a lot to give, and you have to be willing to receive it. Sometimes you need a push and shove to be able to be in that position, and I kind of feel like that was me.