Sara Gross is a two-time Ironman winner, a former North American Ironman Champion and European Long Course Triathlon Champion. Sara?s triathlon career spanned 12 years (and counting!) and in that time she competed for Canada and Great Britain, finished 30 Ironman races – twenty times in the top five. Sara also raced as a professional at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii six times.
Sara holds a PhD in World Religions from The University of Edinburgh and a BA and MA from Queens University in Canada. For her doctorate, Sara compared three first-century communities and analyzed to what extent religious beliefs effected the everyday lives and freedoms of women within those communities.
In 2007 Sara co-founded a coaching company Mercury Rising Triathlon, which offers triathlon coaching to athletes in Canada and world-wide.
In 2015 Sara and twelve others founded a not-for-profit called TriEqual with the goal of increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups in the sport of triathlon. Sara is currently the President of that organization.
Recently, Sara has been working as a freelance journalist and a producer and presenter for WISP Sports. She also works with a group in Bahrain helping promote sport and health in the Middle East and improve the intercultural East/West dialogue through Triathlon. Sara lives in Victoria, BC and has one daughter, Rosalee.
Margot Wheeler asked Sara a few questions about her career…
Triathles are known for their time management skills because they have to train in the 3 disciplines. You still race professional, coach and you are also a mom to your young daughter Rosalee. How do you do it?
I think the secret to time management is to acknowledge that we each get 24 hours in a day and that we get to choose how we use those hours. It is the same for everyone. People often look around and marvel at what others accomplish but really its up to us how we use the hours that we have.
For me, I knew when I had my daughter that I did not want to be a stay-at-home mom. While I fully respect anyone who chooses that option, its not for me. From the start I knew I would need help and was willing to leave my daughter with other family members, at daycare, with friends etc. Anyone who would take her! I use my time while she is away as efficiently as possible. I often don’t accomplish everything on my list but when I don’t, I move on quickly. Its important not to dwell on the things I don’t finish in a day and just move on to the next day.
Sara you have a very strong academic background but you have chosen a career in coaching. How did you come to that decision?
I took up triathlon while I was studying for my PhD and eventually finished that degree on a part-time basis when I started racing pro. I began coaching a couple years into my professional triathlon career because I started to feel detached and insular with the constant focus on training and racing. Being a professional triathlete often feels very “selfish.” Coaching allowed me to get outside of that selfish space and focus on helping others. It is my way of sharing what I am learning as a professional athlete.
You are currently the President of TriEqual, which you help found. As previously mentioned the goal is to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups in the sport of triathlon. You have been lobbying to have 50 pro ironman spots allocated to women, please give us a quick update on how you are proceeding?
One of the main goals for TriEqual has been advocating for equal spots for the professional women at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. We believe that women deserve equal representation at a World Championship event. We have exchanged multiple private emails with the owners of the World Triathlon Corporation and have had plenty of media coverage and public support on the issue, but still no change. We also have support from many triathlon companies so we are creating partnerships and making it known that the triathlon community is, for the most part, behind us. We will continue to build bridges within the triathlon community. I’m sure Ironman will come to their senses sooner or later
At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Simon Whitfield won the very first gold medal in triathlon. Simon crashed with 14 other riders in the bike portion in the race and worked his way back into the lead group and with the final kick he won gold. How did this race affect you?
In 2000, I was working on my PhD in Scotland and was in my first season as an amateur triathlete. I remember vividly watching Simon run through everyone for that gold medal! Since I was in the UK, I was well aware that Brit Simon Lessing was one of the favourites and that Whitfield seemingly came out of nowhere for the win.
With less than 100 days left to the games besides triathlon, which other sports will you be watching?
This year I have been working with wispsports.com as a writer and presenter. This has given me the opportunity to learn about and interview women from all kinds of sports. I have learned about sports that I knew next to nothing about like rugby and heptathlon. I love doing the research for the shows and learning about the athletes and the history of sport. So basically, I will be watching EVERYTHING at the Games this summer.
What is your experience like working in Bahrain and what are the barriers they face and if there are many female coaches out there?
While I was in Bahrain in March, I had a chance to meet a lot of pioneering Bahraini women and they are amazing!
The position of women in Bahrain is complex and multifaceted. Bahrain is the most open of the GCC countries and as a result you see a wide range of participation levels in public life among women. Women in Bahrain are educated, well-represented across most professions and have the right to vote.
That said, there are some women in Bahrain who could be perceived as ?restricted? by Western standards. These restrictions are mostly due to family values, culture, religion and socio-economic class. Tradition plays the greatest role in the gendered division of labour.
With the right combination of familial support, opportunity and personal desire, a Bahraini woman can take part in any sport she should desire. It is often just about finding the right clothing, time and money like her western counterparts.
There are female coaches in Bahrain but many of them are ex-pats from the US, Britain or Australia. I can’t speak to every sport, but knowing Bahraini women, there will be some who coach, of that I have no doubt!
Author: Margot Wheeler is a self-proclaimed sports junky. Loves everything about sport, has played, coached and refereed many sports in particular basketball. She is a graduate from York University in Toronto and played varsity basketball while attending. She is currently working for the Raptors-905 D-league basketball team. Last summer Toronto hosted the Pan Am games and she volunteered as the television graphics person. 2016 Rio count down is on and Margot will be glued to her social media following all stories