If you want to push yourself to the maximum physical limit, try an Ironman competition. This triathlon race consists of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. Only those crazy enough for this kind of endurance are able to engage in the ultimate test of willpower and perseverance. Among those fitness junkies is Sarah Piampiano, a 34-year-old former finance executive turn pro-triathlete who has completed nine Ironman races within the last few years and is currently training for her tenth.
Although she recently fractured her leg this past May (2014), Sarah is determined to compete in the Australian Ironman coming up in November. She tells MiLLENNiAL that she’s been swimming, biking, and training on one of the coolest recovery treadmills – the Alter G. This treadmill looks and functions like any regular treadmill except your legs are in a gravity-less bubble.
As a pro-athlete, Sarah’s life revolves around training for the race. She wakes up at 4am, is in the pool by 5:30am, and trains until she’s ready for bed, which is around 8:30pm. It seems intense, but this is pretty mild compared to the life Sarah use to live.
A Complete 180
Prior to her days as a triathlete, Sarah was an investment banker in New York City. She worked for HSBC, one of the largest firms in finance, in the mergers and acquisitions department. Instead of getting up at 4am and going to bed by 8:30pm, she was in the office by 8am and sometimes wouldn’t get home until 4am.
Sarah worked a lot, causing her to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day just to take a break. She ate at restaurants every night, traveled to Asia or South America 15 to 20 days out of the month, and didn’t have much down time. Her relationships and friendships suffered, she lacked balance in her life, and her body was pushed to unhealthy extremes.
Being in finance is not easy. “It takes a certain type of personality to succeed within the banking world. You have to have a really thick skin. You have to be willing to work really long hours, and you have to be willing to make sacrifices,” Sarah explains. She compares banking with triathlon and says that while finance requires you to commit your time and intellect, triathlon takes it a step further and adds in the physical challenge.
But it wasn’t until she made a drunken bet with a friend that she was exposed to the idea of competing.
The Bet that Changed Sarah Piampiano’s Life
It was Fall of 2009 when Sarah’s friend from college told her he was competing in a triathlon. Over a few too many drinks, she bet that she could beat him without even training. Sure enough, she did and from that day forward, Sarah was hooked. In her next competition, she won the overall amateur title.
After her second triathlon win, Sarah believed she could turn pro. She had dreamed of being an Olympian as a child and this was her opportunity to see it through. She eventually asked for a reduction in hours and commitment so that she could focus on training. And while HSBC was incredibly supportive, the significant cutback wasn’t enough. Sarah’s drive to become a professional athlete grew even stronger.
In 2011, she packed her office, quit the investment banking business, and moved to Santa Monica to train full time. The transition was quite emotional for her. “It was scary,” she says, “there was a lot of anxiety on my end, but I think at the end of the day, I’m not going to take on something that I think there is 100 percent chance that I’m going to fail.” Coming down from a high powered existence has its difficulties. “I had to mostly pair down my lifestyle,” Sarah admits.
But once a successful person, always a successful person. Sarah became so good that it wasn’t long before sponsors began to take notice.
Bringing Awareness to the Sport of Triathlon
Sarah has become a recognizable figure in triathalon and is now sponsored by Saucony, Cliff Bar, Timex, and Cervelo among others. Her goal is to be the champion that brings more money to the table for fellow athletes. “I feel with my business and athletic background, I can make a difference in the sport,” she insists.
While some may argue that triathlon is seeing a decline in active participants, Boulder, Colorado is a good example of how the sport is picking up some traction. The city known for its health and recreation hosted its first Ironman this past August 3rd. The race sold out in less than a week and had more than 3,000 registered racers- 1,000 of which were first-timers.
Sarah’s intention is to use her brand to “expand the profile of the sport.” And she’s not alone! Master Chefs, Gordon Ramsey and Joe Bastianich, regularly compete in Ironman competitions which lends additional star power to the race.
Taking the risk to drastically change her life, Sarah Piampiano encourages all to do the same in whatever capacity they feel motivated. “It’s really easy for us to fall into the pattern of a job,” she says, “when sometimes there are opportunities for us to do something really different and really special.”