Leap Day Sports - The Triathlife of Jesse Thomas

Heading into T2 (The Retirement Blog)

So yeah, I’m retiring from professional triathlon. I know what most of you are thinking, “Who cares?” Yep, you’re right, mostly no one. But for the DOZENS of crazy ass fans who do care and are thinking, “Wait, didn’t Jesse retire like a year ago?” You’re kinda right and kinda wrong. Here’s an explanation:

I haven’t raced a triathlon in almost two years, but I haven’t “officially” retired publicly. I feel really silly for making an “announcement” about it – particularly given all the craziness in the world right now and how incredibly unimportant it is that I’m retiring from triathlon. But, I’m doing it anyway because:

  1. I still get asked about it.
  2. I know my DOZENS of crazy ass fans demand a story of why and a cathartic wrap up.
  3. To tell you all what I’m “turning pro” in next – no, it’s not Dinosaur Suit Racing.
  4. Because I’m bored and need a break from Picky Bars work and covid news.
  5. I want to publicly thank a whole bunch of people who helped me and cry a little bit as a result.

So here we go.

Big Race, Big F Up, Big Injury, Here We Are

My last triathlon was Challenge Roth…2018. Reflecting back, I think subconsciously I felt that this might be my last big one. I was fit going into it, but my body was hanging on by a thread. I had a sciatic problem that numbed my left leg, sore feet, a seizing shoulder, and the thing that made me feel the oldest of all my injuries, a freaking hernia! 

I was incredibly lucky to have damn-near the race of my life at Roth, accomplishing all my goals – top 3 (3rd), sub 8 (7:54), and sub 2:45 marathon (2:44:52). I knew, as I wrote at the time, that it was a “career day.” But man, my body was crushed. I’ll never forget climbing Solar Hill on the first lap with Cam and Sebi – but shortly after my left leg went numb and stayed numb through the run (and for about 4 months afterwards). I was physically, emotionally and mentally burnt.

I think I’m STILL sore from 2018 Challenge Roth.

Also, it just so happened that Picky Bars was in a damn-near crisis as I crossed the finish line. In a big transition from a small manufacturer to a large one, we made about $150,000 worth of bars that for some reason had rice protein in them that tasted BAD. We couldn’t sell them. We gave them to food banks and were out of stock for 2 months. We lost a whole bunch of money. It was really really really bad. *Fun fact – about 9 hours after I crossed the finish line at Roth (1am Germany time), I was on the phone with our new contract manufacturer in Oregon trying to negotiate a faster delivery. Nutso.

Needless to say, I needed a break from triathlon, for my body, mind, business…and also for my family. Zadie (our second) was born 5 days before Kona the fall before Roth, and as anyone that has two rugrats knows, it’s a HUGE change. Our family needs combined with my desire to spend more quality time with her and Jude, pulled me further away from full time triathlon.

While I worked full time resuscitating the business, I decided to pursue a “less time intensive” athletic goal – a marathon (side note – so funny that a marathon is a “step back” in training for an ironman). Deep down, I thought I had an outside chance of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Trials (sub 2:19), which would have been on my 40th birthday and I think, a cool story – “Old triathlete guy with hernia makes Olympic Trials, AMAZING!” I was running great last March, felt like I was “on track,” and even won a super hilly half marathon in 1:08 against some legit runners, but broke my navicular (in the race), an injury that I know from experience takes about a year to heal from.

Lauren and I celebrating St. Patrick’s Day Half Marathon Wins (me with a broken foot).

So there you go – 6 month business break, 1 year literal foot break, COVID, and here we are – 21 months since I swam, bike, and ran real fast. Time flies!

Am I Sad? A Tiny Bit, but Mostly No:

So do I miss it? Yeah, a little bit, but not enough to want to switch from what I’m doing now. I’m really happy, and here’s why:

1) I spend more time with my family, and more importantly, more quality time where I’m not crazy exhausted. I always joked that I was more of a “grandpa” for Jude’s first 5 years than I was a dad (“Let’s read a book on the couch instead of go play outside, buddy”). But now we go rock climbing, kayaking, biking, or I just have energy to actually wrestle with him (“Daddy Monster”) when I get home. Zadie has a totally different relationship with me than Jude did at her age because I’ve spent more time with her – she’s really scared of Daddy Monster. Finally, it’s no secret that triathlon puts stress on your marriage as well, and there’s no question that less training and racing has had a positive impact on Lauren and I’s relationship, which has been healing for both of us.

Rock Climbing with my buddy (pre-covid).

2) I’m really proud of what I accomplished. Sure, there was/is more in the tank – I believe I could be competitive professionally for another few years if I really wanted to make sacrifices to do so. I didn’t accomplish every goal I set during my career, but I accomplished a lot I never thought I would – not just big wins, but also friendships, relationships I had professionally, some of my work with sponsors, and the writing I did for Triathlete Magazine. It’s been an amazing ride, I can’t complain.

3) I am REALLY digging working full time at Picky Bars! At this point in my career, the potential impact on my family, local community, and the world in general is much higher with Picky Bars than it is for me winning another Ironman. I love the challenges we face every day, I love building the team we have here, and creating new products and campaigns that positively impact people. I honestly look forward to Monday morning each week, it’s freaking great!

So while I do miss parts of triathlon – mostly the people, the camaraderie, and the experiences (definitely not the swimming, I haven’t swam in over a year, ha!) – it feels a little bit like when you visit high school after graduating. There’s nostalgia for sure, and part of you would like to experience some of that again, but a bigger part of you feels like you’re past that time in your life and onto the next phase, and that feels good. 

So what am I up to now? Turning Pro…Again!

So on to my next big challenge – “going pro” in business! I spent the last 9 years becoming a world-class triathlete, a pretty good husband and dad, and a part-time “amateur” CEO. I’m going to spend the next 4-5 years becoming a world class CEO, husband and dad, with some part time racing mixed in for fun, challenges, and to stay happy and balanced.

I am super psyched about the prospects for Picky Bars. We made some big gains in the last 18 months, and while it certainly isn’t just because of me, it’s encouraging to see that me working full time didn’t make the company worse! We’re navigating the craziness of a new COVID world, and are lucky to be focused on online / direct to consumer where sales are stable and we’re doing our best to give back as a result. We’re profitable, and I’m paying myself for the first time, booyah (so pro)! My vision is to build a company that positively impacts our communities through food products, content, community building, and giving back.

Like when I decided to “go all in” on turning pro, I’m going all in on Picky Bars as well, and am raising our first round of investment capital ever to help grow the business and take it to the next level. We just signed a lease on a new 4000 sqft warehouse / office space! The combo of physically moving and raising our first capital makes the transition from “part time CEO” to “World Class CEO” feel legitimate in the way “going pro” in triathlon felt. It’s a clear mental shift and environment shift, like when you go to college and the change of scenery facilitates the change of mindset as much as the transition itself does. So anyway, I’m stoked about all that.

Work from home life with Zadie is super efficient.

I will continue to race and tell stories – challenging myself is a core part of my being that I could never give up, just like I couldn’t give up business even when I was racing at a world class level. But my racing now will be a combination of chasing MTB strava segments, surfing the Deschutes River wave and competing in crazy/fun multisport events like the Pole Pedal Paddle and maybe the Tuckerman Inferno or Mt Taylor Quadrathlon. I may still do a marathon or two, trail races, and whatever other fun challenges pop up, but it’ll be secondary to my family and business goals.

So yeah, that’s what I’m doing. I’m incredibly lucky to have something like Picky Bars that I feel just as passionate as I felt about my pro racing career. I know that’s rare.

A few of my favorite memories

There are too many great memories to list them all, but I’ll leave you all with a brief list of some of my favorites.

  1. My First Wildflower Win – borrowed bike, hand-me-down-unbranded kit, gas station aviators, no one knew my name. So shocked. Still my favorite story.
  2. Winning my first Ironman in Wales two weeks after a heartbreaking 70.3 World Champs.
  3. As a joke, shaving my legs in the Wind Tunnel at Specialized, only to discover it saves me 9 watts! The story sparks a huge media blitz and a full study of shaving affects.
  4. Duct taping my jersey closed after it broke in T1 at Peru 70.3 and still finishing 2nd to Andy Potts.
  5. Winning (and beating Jan Frodeno, sorry Jan, I know it was a training day but still) at IM Lanzarote in the first ever pair of ROKA Phantom Aviators.
  6. Crowning myself the Eagleman 81.3 Champion after missing a turn on the bike and riding an extra 11 miles.
  7. Winning my 4th Wildflower after not racing or running for a year with a broken foot, and my first race as a dad. I thought my career might have been over prior to that race.
  8. Riding up Solar Hill with Cam Wurf and Sebastian Kienle, at Challenge Roth – finishing 3rd in my final race, and going sub 8 hours.
  9. My “How to talk to your family about Triathlon” article for Triathlete Magazine gets published to ESPN.com. 
  10. Wearing my jersey home on the plane after a disappointing 70.3 World Champs, just to earn a small bonus from my buddies at ROKA.

If you made it this far, you truly are a CRAZY ASS FAN! Thank you! As I said, I’ll still keep competing and doing random, funny stuff (like Dinosuit racing) so you can keep following me on Instagram where I’m most active, Strava, Twitter, and Facebook. I’d also encourage you to sign up for the Picky Bars email newsletter as I often write there, as well as our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. 

Best of luck to you all. Thank you so much. Stay safe and healthy out there!

Jesse

I promise to continue to produce high quality content like this if you follow me.

THANK YOUS – Now time for me to cry. Thank you all so much.

I’ve said many times before that becoming a professional athlete was a lifelong dream of mine. I never could have guessed when I was a kid, or even in my late 20s that I would finally achieve that goal in my 30s and have the experiences I had. It was so fun. What a freaking ride. There is absolutely no way I could have done any of it without the help from the people below.

I wish I could thank you all in person, but no one wants to see a crying Jesse so maybe for that reason, social distancing is good for now! I spent hours on this and I’m sure there are still people who made a meaningful impact that were mistakenly left off, in that case I’m sorry! Here are my thank yous:

My wife Lauren, thank you for your incredible support. I know you’re as proud of me as anyone, but also that this was hard on us and that you struggled sometimes with the support you gave me and the needs you had unfulfilled as a result. I am truly sorry it was as hard as it was, and I truly appreciate you giving me this opportunity to have a phase of my life like this. I am a lucky guy to have you as a partner.

My kids – Jude most importantly, I’m sorry I wasn’t there more buddy when you were really young, but I hope that if you ever look back on this you know that I loved you and did the best that I could, and I promise to continue to be a more present dad as we go forward. Zadie, thank you for being the beginning of the end of triathlon for me. I love you and your existence paved the way for me onto the next phase. 

Without these guys, none of it is possible. www.kaoriphoto.com

My family – mom (Carol), dad (Gary), step parents Janna & Jeff, brothers, Joel, Waylon, Darren, sisters and mother in law, Lis, Lindsey and Joyce. All of you made sacrifices for my various athletic careers over the last 40 years. I really really appreciate it, honestly, truthfully. I could not have done any of it without you all. I hope to spend the next 10 years being a more present son and brother. 

My coach – Matt Dixon and his wife Kelli McMaster – you all played an enormous role in not just my development as an athlete, but my development as a human. The coaching for sport, business, sponsorship, family, I’ve learned so much and gained some of the most important people in my life as a result. Thank you.

My employees – Current and former employees who supported me while I was really in the throws of racing – Sarah, Kelli, Nadine, Ben, Matt, Patrick, Mike, Mel, Collier, Angela, Anna, Jac, Liz, Braden, Bernadette, Steve, Noah, Erik, Julia, Jared, Trevor, Kaitlin, Abbey, Betsy and Jen. Man, you guys are awesome for keeping Picky Bars afloat and cranking while I was out training and racing. I know that wasn’t always easy – in fact, mostly really hard – and I appreciate it so much. Whatever success we have I owe to you.

Triathlete Magazine – Julia, Jene, Erin, and Matt. Thank you for creating and supporting my “Triathlife” Column, which ended up having a profound effect on my career. I felt like I found my voice through that column and became who I was both in the sport and in life in general. Such an enjoyable and important part of my career. Thank you so much.

Terry, Colleen, Dixie and the family at Wildflower – Thank you for the opportunity to be forever linked with your special event. Some of my best memories, obviously. I am so honored to have a place in its history. I sincerely hope we can find a way to bring it back to glory, I’m willing to help in any way I can.

My best friend in the sport – Matt Lieto. My primary buddy-advisor, co creator of the Man Van, and so many fun, tiring, amazing memories. There’s no way you read this, but thanks man, you honestly made a huge difference. 

My best friend in life – James. Dude, thank you for all those times you played training buddy over the years, thanks for coming to so many of my races and ALWAYS thinking I was going to win. Elia, thank you for letting (and encouraging) him to do all that.

My sponsors (and friends) current and former:

  • Rob, Kurt, Ryan, Nils, Tbone, Nina and many others at ROKA. Holy shit we made racing in aviators a thing! What a trip! I’m so proud of this company and the relationship I have with you all. From crazy wetsuit prototypes to winning IM Lanzarote in the first pair Phantom Aviators, some insane memories. Thanks so much.
  • Johnny, Catherine, and Nicole at Descente – Thank you so much for extending my career into the Ironman phase. Your support made it possible for me to put everything I could into those last few years and create some of my best memories. Thanks so much.
  • Ashley, Aaron, Josh and many others at Red Bull – I got to be a fucking Red Bull Athlete for 6 years! Nothing legitimized my career to the average person more than having that honor. It’s something I’ll always be proud of. I promise to only sometimes wear my Red Bull helmet on my ebike with two kids in tow. Thank you so much for all the support.
  • Geoff, Kody and many others at Pearl Izumi – I was so freaking pumped when I signed that first sponsorship deal with you all, it was the first time I felt like a legit pro athlete. You guys were so much fun to work with, so many great memories, thank you.
  • Mallory, Mark, Chris, Bobby, JB, Gavin at Specialized – I’ll never forget when I got my first couple of bikes from you guys, I lost my shit and road around town on a different bike every hour just to show off! So much fun, and so legitimizing as well. And the “Win tunnel” shave legs story will go down as one of my favorite stories of my career. Thank you so much. 
  • Jeff, Jason, Craig, Judd, Renee and many more at Jaybird. I’ll never forget those freaking huge pictures of my face on the side of giant booths at CES and Outdoor Retailer, and racing Judd at a press event. Thanks so much for all the support!
  • TJ and whole team at Dimond – It was so much fun racing for another startup owned by another pro triathlete. I really appreciate you making me part of your team and the amazing products you delivered along the way. Thanks for the support during the final stage of my career.
  • Maurice, Mark and the team at Refuel/Digipower. Going to CES with you all and seeing my mug on the big screen was a crazy highlight. Thank you all for the support and generosity.
  • Brian at Sony / AMG – One of my first real sponsorship deals that gave me some life to get through my first season. Thank you so much for investing in me.
  • Daniel, Jim, Scott, Bev at Knight Wheels – I loved repping a Bend company with an awesome product. Thank you so much for the support.
  • Brian and the team at Rolf Prima – My first sponsor. Another awesome story of getting interest after the owner seeing me at a local TT! You guys got me started in the sport with support. I really appreciate it.
  • Powertap / Saris – another long time partner, thank you for all the amazing equipment from power meters to trainers to bike racks. You guys are awesome!
  • Robert at First Endurance – another one of my first sponsors, thank you for the support!
  • Strava – I had (and will continue to have) so much fun on your platform, thank you!

My advisors:

  • Jordan Rapp for all the candid advice and friendship, if I ever had a question about what was the fastest thing to do technically, you always let me know regardless of being a competitor. Just a good buddy. Thanks man.
  • Craig Alexander, Tim Deboom, Chris Legh, Chris Lieto, Bevan Docherty, Rasmus Henning, Cam Brown, Michael Lovato, Simon Whitfield  – guys I looked up to in the early years of my career who generously gave me time and advice along the way. Thank you for showing me you could be super fast AND nice.
  • Gerry Rodrigues at Tower 26 – you helped get my swimming from very shitty to slightly tolerable, which was no small feat. I really appreciate it.
  • Paul Buik with purplepatch – you helped make my bike a weapon, which helped me win races. Thanks for all the time and energy, man.

My competitors, friends, and teammates in the sport:

  • My purplepatch teammates – so much fun at camps and training and racing with you all. So many memories – Thank you Linsey Corbin, Sarah Piampiano, Meredith Kessler, Laura Siddal, Kevin Collington, Drew Scott, Sam Appleton, Tim Reed, David Kahn, Sami Inkinen, Luke Bell, Brian Weaver, Pat Romano, Kevin Young, Randy Becker.
  • My competitors and friends along the way. It’s impossible to name everyone. I loved that about this sport, basically everyone got along and supported each other. But some of my best memories are competing, traveling, and racing alongside – Heather Jackson, Ben Hoffman, Andy Starykowicz, Heather and Trevor Wurtele, Sebastian Keinle, Terenzo Bozzone, Andy Potts, Jan Frodeno, Ronnie Schildknecht, Cam Wurf, Leon Griffin, Richie Cunningham, Joe Gambles, Cameron Dye, Graham OGrady, Javier Gomez, Lionel Sanders, Cody Beals, Paul Matthews, Luke and Beth McKenzie, Leanda Cave, Lucy Charles, Angela Naeth, Matty Reed, Chris Bagg, Matt Russell, Tim and Rinny, Joe Skipper. I wish I could name everyone.
  • There are so many more training partners, friends, and people who I lived and loved the sport with. The swim groups at Juniper, Dan and the team in Springfield, so many people who joined me for workouts along the way. Thank you all!
  • All of my medical, massage, and PT providers – Ellie, Jay, Dr. Saxena, Chance, Renee at Recharge, Justine, Paraic McGlynn, and many many more.

Industry People

  • I wouldn’t have been able to make a living in the sport without the support of these people. You made it possible, I really appreciate it!
  • Bob Babbit, Sean Watkins, Dan Empfield, Herbert Krabel, Paul Thomas, Paul Phillips, James Mitchell, Jay Prasuhn, Felix and the Challenge Roth team, Belinda Granger, Charlie, Eric, Krista, and the Rev3 team, Paula, Andrew, Roch and everyone at Ironman, the team at Ironman Lanzarote and at Ironman Wales. There are so many others, I appreciate you all!

My Business Advisors / Mentors / Friends

  • You all helped me navigate Picky Bars on 10-20 hours a week. The business is still alive and strong (shocking!), which I owe partly to you! Looking forward to the next phase.
  • Kevin Rutherford, Scott Allan, Al Cochrane, Sally Bergesen, Bob and Sarah Lesko, Dan Klock, Mike Moritz, Rich Viola, Sami Inkinen

That’s it! If you made it this far, you truly made it to the end. Which means you’re probably one of my DOZENS of crazy ass fans. Thank you all so much for the fun and wild ride. I’m proud of what we accomplished and I’m looking forward to the next phase.

Thanks again everyone, best of luck and stay safe/healthy!

Jesse

10 comments to Heading into T2 (The Retirement Blog)

  • Angelie

    I made it! I’m a crazy add fan! You are missed Jesse. Thanks for all the fun memories – I have a video of you running down the wildflower chute on your 3rd win I think, it was it 4th? Can’t remember but it was 2014! I became a fan then and will always be. Best of luck to you, we know you’ll keep doing great things! More Dino suit racing videos please :).

  • William Thomas

    Enjoy the new challenge! Congrats on retirement!

  • Dawn

    Wow! You were my favorite male triathlete by far to follow, and the best blog writer by far also. From the first time I stumbled on to your post-win Wildflower interview with that lady,I was hooked. My other favorite was yout Poconos blog post where you had to fly back across the country same day for your anniversary dinner. Best of luck and thanks for the laughs. Your family is adorable!

  • Jake Ortman

    While I will admit I am sad to not see any more hilarious race recaps, I am glad things are well and that you are doing what is right for you and your family. All the best to you, your family, and the Picky Bars folks.

  • Brad

    While it’s been obvious for a while this was coming, especially through off-hand comments you’ve made on the wplpod, you sell yourself short about your impact. While I totally get that it’s time to move on, I’ll miss you at the races. Your race reports and interviews have always been fun to follow because you keep it real. That’s true of both you and Lauren. You’re just regular folks who happen to do extraordinary things and that makes you relatable to the rest of us. I certainly hope you keep sharing – as much as is comfortable for you, of course – so some of us crazy ass fans can keep following along with your new adventures. Be well!

  • Lee E Harkleroad

    damn – didnt get a mention in the blog but thats OK – i was lucky to finish Lanzarote and then get to meet you and your dad in the airport and get my picture with you in my finisher jacket – has always been a highlight of my Tri life – Im the same guy that pointed you to the bike storage in the Madrid so that you didnt have to haul it to the hotel — my 15 minutes of fame
    has always been fun following you – good luck

  • Javier Romero

    Jesse, you are and always will be an example of an athlete, a business man and a dad. I bet very few people in the world can even try to combine those three categories. Keep inspiring people wherever you are. At the end you will only have all those shared smiles. God bless you, Lauren and the kids.

  • Mel Saltiel

    Enjoy Jesse, love what you and your family bring to the world. Fortunate to have met you in Wanaka NZ and then again in Roth. Keep your inst stories, keep life real. An absolute please to meet you follow your journey. Mel

  • Roo

    My favorite memory of you was when I personally saw you finish EFA triathlon as an amateur! Finishing top AG’er and beating a handful of pros. Wow, that’s when I first became one of your DOZENS of crazy ass fans! The rest is history. Such an inspiration and truly entertaining to read all your race blogs and articles. Thanks for giving us great stories and sharing life with of us. Enjoy T2!

  • Yeah. that’s what I was exploring for.. thanks. Florri Desmond Rosenstein

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