“There’s just no substitute for working hard.”
He's one of the world’s most popular and accomplished professional triathletes. But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this week's guest — a humble athlete, proud dad, devoted husband and dedicated entrepreneur with a unique success equation: Work hard. Play harder. Love hardest.
His name is Jesse Thomas. He's rad. And this is his story.
It begins with a stand out track and field career at Stanford and the Olympic steeplechase dream cut short by a career-ending injury. While later pursuing a masters degree in mechanical engineering, he picked up a bike and progressed so rapidly he entertained a professional cycling career. But that dream too was crushed when a spill left him with a fractured C1 vertebra, nine months in a neck brace, a plate and 4 titanium screws to hold it all together.
Life as an athlete was over for Jesse. Or so he thought.
Spending the next several years as a tech entrepreneur, Jesse got itchy. He didn't like being out of shape. So he decided to do something about it.
Fast forward to 2011. The stage was Wildflower, a prestigious and formidable half-ironman distance triathlon set in the idyllic rolling hills of central California. A complete unknown amateur, Jesse nonetheless won the race outright, shocking the triathlon community by dominating an impressive professional field on a borrowed bike and a pair of $9 aviator sunglasses he bought at the drug store.
The victory was so unexpected, as Jesse crossed the finish line the race announcer had to ask, Who are you?
The story is legend. And the rest is history. Jesse went on to become the first person to win that race three years in a row. And along his circuitous path as a professional, he has graced the podium at many of the most lauded triathlons in the world, including 3rd at the coveted Challenge Roth ironman distance event last summer.
Jesse's ability to out-exercise the rest of us is impressive. But it's only a somewhat unrelatable fraction of what truly interests me about him. It's who he is that compels me most — a person successfully alchemizing an insanely demanding training and racing schedule against the more relatable pressures of being a present dad, husband, podcast host (check out Work, Play, Love) and CEO of Picky Bars — the performance nutrition company he co-founded with his wife Lauren Fleshman, herself a prolific former professional runner with the most All-American accolades in Stanford athletics history.
How does he do it all?
Today we canvass a life in motion — from the Wildflower race that changed his life to his symbiotic relationship with entrepreneurship and family that fuels his purpose.
We discuss the importance of coaches. Leaning on mentors. The challenges faced by the retiring athlete. And the conundrum of replacing sport with newfound purpose and passion.
We explore the career importance of storytelling in the era of social media. Why he decided to start a podcast. And — most importantly — how he turned a cheap pair of aviator shades into a global multi-sport fashion trend.
But more than anything, this is a conversation about balancing work, play, and family at the highest level of elite sport. It's about facing and overcoming obstacles. The mindset required for success. And the work ethic entailed to achieve your dreams.
Note: This episode was recorded in early March. At the time, Jesse was preparing to race his first true marathon. However, he subsequently suffered a stress fracture that required surgery. To give you an idea of how Jesse turns setbacks into opportunities,
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