I had the pleasure of interviewing 49-year-old professional triathlete, Dede Griesbauer. I know Dede through Rally Sport, in Boulder. I’ve had the pleasure to get to know her in the gym, watching her train, and sometimes even sharing a swim lane together! Dede grew up in Short Hills, NJ and was involved in sport at an early age. Swimming was always the primary sport, but she was involved in a handful of other athletic endeavors growing up. She attended Stanford for her undergraduate degree, and went on to receive her MBA in 1997 from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While at Stanford she was a 24-time All-American and a 3-time NCAA Champion. She was also captain of the 1992 team where they put one coach and 5 athletes on the Olympic team. Dede made her first US National Team after her Freshman year and competed for the US National Team from 1989 until her retirement from swimming in 1994. In addition, she was the Pan American Games Gold Medalist in 1991, won the Pan Pacific Games in 1989, and she swam in the Goodwill Games in 1990. To say Dede is a go-getter, an accomplished athlete doesn’t even touch the surface. In addition to being an incredible athlete, she is a warm , smart, funny, and supportive woman to her teammates and friends. She lives in Boulder, CO with her husband and her two dogs. To read the rest of the interview, click on this link to find out more about Dede.
Amanda: Tell me a bit about your involvement in sport at an early age?
Dede: I did a variety of sports, with varying degrees of success. I wasn’t much for ballet. They asked me to skip around the room. I ran. Gymnastics wasn’t really in the cards either. But I played tennis, paddle tennis, basketball, soccer, lacrosse for a season, but they made me play goalie and I hated that. I rowed crew for a season in high school as well. I started swimming with lessons at 3 or 4 and started Summer swim team at 6. So swimming was always a part of my life, it was just coupled with other sports …even through high school.
A: Share about your academic and athletic achievements and experiences. How did you balance school and training?
D: As I said, I have been a swimmer nearly all my life, but played other sports as well. When my swimming started to “take off” (a little bit) my parents wanted me to have the opportunity to be a bit more focused. In NJ, I was swimming for a team, but attending a school that didn’t have a team. I’d have to miss school for big meets, and the school kind of didn’t get it. I was spread thin with friends and commitments, so I joke that I was packed up and shipped off to boarding school. It was hard to go because I loved my coach and I loved my friends, but I was on the Choate campus all of 45 seconds and fell in love.
So I went to Choate for high school and while not a “swimming school,” my swimming did progress under the watchful eye of the school’s favorite history teacher. He was a super coach. He knew how to push but not pressure. I was really lucky to have him guide me. So many swimmers arrive at college already burned out. I was eager for more, albeit a bit “green” compared to some of my classmates at Stanford. I set some New England and National Prep School records at Choate, but nothing that would get that much attention in the broader swimming world. In fact, when I applied to Stanford, I had a call with the head coach and he said, “Well, you go to a good school and you have some good grades. Good luck.” NOT recruited. I DID get into Stanford though. I struggled with the college decision. Go to Stanford as a walk-on? Or go where I was recruited, had scholarship offers and would have been a bigger fish? I opted for Stanford because it was so clearly the best combination of academics and athletics one could find. Hands down. Why not have the best of both?
I struggled in the early months at Stanford. I’d never swum a double-session. Never been in the weight room. Never done “dryland” (running, stadiums, stretch cords, etc). I was a basket case for about 2 months, but I settled in. I had amazing teammates. I’ve always been so grateful that I got to swim at Stanford. Swimming is an individual sport, but the women I got to swim with at Stanford? I won’t say ALL of them, but so many saw the value of team in making us all, as individuals better.
I finished Stanford still in love with the sport, so I swam 2 years post-collegiately which was extremely rare at the time. There was NO support for post-graduate swimmers. So I was a bit of a trail-blazer.
I worked for a year in consulting and applied to graduate school, and was accepted to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
A: How did you get started in triathlon? If there was a moment, an experience you had, do tell.
D: My triathlon career started with an Ironman. Go big or go home, I say. (actually, I don’t really ever say that). I was at Wharton and supposed to be studying for finals, but I was burnt out. So I turned on the TV and I saw the Ironman World Championship on TV. It was the year Karen Smyers ran down a failing Paula Newby-Fraser. Karen passed Paula with about 800 meters left to go. Paula collapsed to the ground and Karen won. I was gobsmacked. It was my 2nd year and I knew I’d have 3 months off after graduation and before I had to start work. I signed up for an Ironman.
A: When did you realize you could be good? Was it a certain race, was it a mentor who told you, you could go far in Triathlon?
D: After my first Ironman, I went to work on Wall Street which wasn’t terribly conducive to triathlon training. But years later, I decided I wanted to try another Ironman. By then I was living in Boston and had a somewhat simpler lifestyle and job. I signed up for Ironman Florida and won the amateur race, qualifying for Kona. I was terrified of competing in Kona. I’d gotten lucky in Florida. I had a pretty highly developed aerobic engine that got me through, but the ins and outs of Kona were much more intimidating. Through a Wall Street friend, I got connected to Karen Smyers who agreed to coach me. It was 2 years later she suggested I quit my job and race pro. I leapt at the opportunity and my husband fully supported it. We thought at the time, it’d only be a year or two. It’s been 16. I guess we were wrong.
A: What’s your biggest disaster racing, if there was one? What did you learn or take away from that experience?
D: Too many to count. I’ve had equipment failures, stomach issues, bonks. I was mugged 2 days before an Ironman one time. But I guess my biggest disaster was my 2011 crash in Ironman Frankfurt. I hit a roundabout at 21 miles an hour. It had been raining and as I cornered to take the roundabout at speed, I noticed the roundabout was lined with cobblestone. I looked like Bambi on ice skates. My wheels slipped right and I crashed and skidded impressively to the tune of 6 broken bones. I was airlifted to an ICU. I was alone in Germany. It was quite an episode getting out of the ICU finding my bike (3 days later), my luggage (4 days later) and flying back to Boston…all alone. I was told after getting checked out in Boston that I would never run again. I guess I learned that we are resilient. People can bounce back from most things in life.
A: What was your biggest thrill? Most memorable and why?
D: Again, too many memories. Biggest thrill? Winning Ultraman Florida (3-day, 321.6 mile Ultra-Endurance Event) and breaking the World Record by an hour and 18 minutes. But winning my first Ironman was amazing. My first top10 in Kona? Also very special. When I retire, I think the thing I will remember the most are some of the incredible people I’ve met. The times and finishes fade. But the friendships remain. At least that’s what I found with my swimming career.
A: What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
D: I’m not sure I have. I’ve never been very smart about nutrition. It’s the one thing in life I seem to be lazy about. I’m not a foodie. I eat for convenience and my metabolism is sort of funny….I don’t get hungry often. Makes me good at Ultraman (and maybe I’d be good at Survivor or something) but it’s gotten me into trouble with training the amount I do. Just when I think I have a handle on it, I get lazy and issues pop up; injuries, fatigue, etc. I struggle with it still.
A: Have you had mentors/coaches who have helped you get to where you are? What have their techniques been to help you?
D: So many great coaches; from my swim coaches to many of my triathlon coaches. All so unique in their approach, but I’ve gotten good takeaways from each of them. I’ve been fortunate to call several of my triathlon coaches good friends as well. Karen probably had the largest impact on my life because I was with her the longest and we used to train so much together for all of those years. Siri took me outside of my comfort zone in so many ways and challenged me in ways I’d never been challenged before. And I now work with Julie Dibens and I can’t say enough great things about her, but I won’t because she’ll get all embarrassed. She likes to fly below the radar.
A: How do you deal emotionally with setbacks like injuries?
D: That’s the one “good” thing that comes with being nearly 50. I’ve experienced so, SO many things. And like I said earlier….I’ve learned that there are very few things you can’t bounce back from. It’s not fun. But every once in a while, there’s a kernel of learning that goes on with setbacks. We don’t often learn from triumphs. We learn a sh**-ton from setbacks and failures.
I’ve learned it’s OK to cry, pout, get mad, etc. But only for a short time. At some point, and best sooner than later, you just have to dust yourself off and figure out a path forward. Surround yourself with people you trust more than you trust yourself and get back on track.
A: What keeps you training and motivated with such intensity to want to keep racing?
D: I love what I do. I think I love it more now than I did when I first started because I know it won’t last forever. I’ve had a corporate job and a “regular life” and this is WAY better. I’m so, so lucky to get to do this.
A: Tell me about your training group/JD Coaching? What do you love about it?
D: The group evolves and changes as people leave or retire and new people come in. When I first joined, it was a very “seasoned” squad; athletes that had been around for a while had been quite successful at the highest levels of the sport. Yet there are really no egos. The egos don’t last. Julie won’t stand for it. Julie treats World Champions the same as she treats people who haven’t won their first Ironman yet. The maturity of the athletes when I joined the squad was so appealing. There was a mutual respect for each other and for the coach. While that core group has entirely turned over, and we have a lot of younger athletes now, there is still a group seasoned athletes she coaches. We smack the younger ones around and don’t let egos be a part of our training. You want to have an ego out on a race course? Great. Go for it. But there is little tolerance for it in training. Respect the squad. Respect the coach. Respect the process. There’s not a lot of BS, and I like that.
We don’t do all sessions together. It’s a good mix of big group sessions, smaller group sessions and solo training.
Julie coaches a lot of athletes all over the world. Sometimes we have a big group in Boulder, sometimes it’s just the small core of Boulder athletes. I like when the group is smaller. We all know each other pretty well. The bigger group is fun too because it’s a new energy, so the mix is nice throughout the year.
A: What is a typical training and workday look like for you? I know you announce/cover races live and now virtually. Tell me more about that?
D: It’s BUSY! When I first left my job to become a pro, they actually offered me “part time” so I could do both. I actually considered it for a while because I thought “How much can I really train in a day?” Well, I can train a lot! I have 2-4 sessions a day of training. They can last anywhere in duration from 90 minutes a day on an easy day to 7 or 8 hours on a big day. Typically, training takes on average 25-35 hours depending on proximity to a race and the time of year.
Then on top of that, I do commentary for Ironman. Ironman broadcasts races live on Facebook Watch on the Ironman Now channel. I love doing the commentary. We have a fantastic team, not only in the booth, but supporting us. The production crew is amazing. They are like family now. I am amazed by what they do. When we are in non-COVID life, I might commentate 1 or 2 races a month. With COVID, though, we are “virtual racing” and I’ve been calling a race nearly every weekend. It’s busy because we have the shows, the pre-meetings, the pro briefing and all the studying and prep that goes along with it. It’s a labor of love though. I enjoy getting to know the athletes better, I love the team I work with and I’m such a fan of the sport, I appreciate getting to promote it.
A: What does a pre-race day preparation look like for you?
D: It depends a little on the length of the race…but typically, I’ll do some light training in each sport, swim, bike and run. I like to get a big breakfast in, because I’ll often have a smaller dinner the night before a race. I’ll check all my equipment over to make sure everything is ship shape. And I like to save a little time to unwind and unplug; watch some Netflix or a movie or something to chill out.
A: How has COVID affected your training, motivation, and emotions?
D: It has been very up and down. I love what I do so going out to swim, bike and run each day is more play than work. Sometimes it’s hard to take yourself to a place of hurt when you don’t really know what your goals are…or at least when you’ll get to put the work to use. My goals are still intact, but the timing has changed.
At the onset, we weren’t allowed to swim which was really hard for me. The water is truly my happy place, so I am happy that at least for now, we have (restricted) access.
We were fortunate to be able to bike and run and be outside. I missed our squad, but I did pretty well on my own. Now we are back to small group training with our immediate squad we know have been home and responsible during all this.
It’s a little more challenging not knowing when we’ll be back on a race course, but I just try to remember my goals and know that the work doesn’t go away. It all serves to make me better for when the races do happen.
A: Looking way into the future, what would you say to a young girl who likes to swim, bike, or run – who may have aspirations to be on the podium some day in sport…what would you tell her? What do you want her to know?
D: Be patient. The pathway to success is not linear and your definition of success will change over time. Find joy in the journey because otherwise, you may well never make it. Surround yourself with good, smart people that you respect and trust. Be kind to yourself. Just because you don’t progress at a rate you think you should, there is no pre-programmed pathway to success. Stay on YOUR path and love the opportunity you have to do what you love.