Meet off-road triathlon pro, mother of two, and PhD: Danelle Kabush

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Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

It sounds impossible for someone to break into the triathlon world and finish 3rd in the world, among pros, in just their 2nd triathlon ever. But Canadian off-road star Danelle Kabush did just that in 2004.

Since then the former University of Washington runner has added numerous other podiums and victories to her credit as a member of the Luna Pro Team. There’s more to Danelle Kabush than just her results on the course though. She’s also now a wife, a mother of two, and a Phd in Sport Psychology. Even with lots of irons in the fire she’s still getting it done as an athlete. Under the direction of her coach Calvin Zaryski she is still racing at the top of the sport.

I had a chance to talk with Danelle recently, via email while she was in Norway working with Canadian speed skaters. She shared a little about how she balances it all.

Enjoy meeting off-road triathlon pro Danelle Kabush:

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How did you get started in triathlon?

I was a runner growing up and through my undergraduate degree at the University of Washington. I ran cross-country and track, mainly the 1500m on the track. After an injury after graduating I got into mountain bike racing and did that pretty seriously for six years while completing my PhD. At the end of my mountain season in 2004 I was starting to miss running a bit and heard about this race out in Vancouver called Xterra Canada. I borrowed a wetsuit and had a blast. I finished 2nd behind Melanie McQuaid and she encouraged me to come and race as a Pro at the World Championship Maui a month later. It was my second triathlon and I ended up third in Maui behind Jamie Whitmore and Melanie. Other than the time off I had to have my daughter, Zoé in 2007 and my son, Nico in 2010, I’ve been focused on racing Xterra triathlons ever since then.

How long have you and your husband been married and how did you meet?

My husband, J-F (Jean-Francois) and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary last fall. We met in Canada`s capital city, Ottawa, when I was starting a master’s degree in sport psychology and he was finishing one in sport administration.
The time commitment it takes to excel in triathlon is a source of stress for a lot of couples. How do the two of you deal with the time commitment and discipline it requires to compete at the pro level?

It is definitely a challenge. Honestly I’m lucky my husband doesn’t have the burning need to train for hours a day at the same time because if we were both training this much I think it would be much harder. That said, with work, travel, and kids, every week is a new scheduling challenge which keeps life interesting. We make it work with good planning. I usually have at least three weeks of detailed training plans at a time from my coach. So once I know that my husband and I communicate at least a few days in advance about the schedule. If I know I have a big day of training to do on at least one day of the weekend, we’ll figure out how my husband can get out and do something too. I have flexible childcare during the week for training and work (as a mental performance consultant) and we try to have as many evenings together as a family as we can. When I have the choice I prefer to do an early morning workout to have more family time at night. When I have to travel to race or for work, we are lucky to have my mother-in-law or my parents fly in and help out when I’m gone for longer stints, like a week or more.

How did your perspective on life and sport, in particular, change when your daughter Zoe was born in 2007?

Before having my first child, I think I would just take for granted the fact that I could just train whenever I felt like it, and race as much as I wanted. Also, since I’d been an athlete year round for at least 20 years already, I think having a child rejuvenated my motivation to train and race because of the added challenge of balancing motherhood. Being a mom always comes first and at the end of the day a race is just a race, and it’s no big deal to throw a day or two of training out now and then if needed. But I also don’t take for granted being healthy enough to do what I do and every opportunity I have to train, and push my limits in races. I maximize the time I do take to train; it is more quality over quantity. My perspective is to simply do the best I can with the time I have and am willing to put into it, while keeping my idea of a healthy overall balance with quality family time too.

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Your son Nico was born in 2010 and now you’re back racing as well as ever. What advice can you give to other mom’s who are regaining their fitness after having children?

My biggest advice would be to be patient and enjoy just getting moving again in the beginning. Focus on the process of just being active, listening to your body, and enjoying some time to yourself in the first few months without any expectations or result related goals. I learned the first fundamental of getting fit again after a baby is getting your core strong again since it’s been all stretched out after pregnancy. Some progressive core work will really help build the foundation again and help avoid injury especially if you want to get back to running. It’s important to be creative to regain your fitness. You can use a Chariot Carrier (my personal favourite investment) to walk, jog, and eventually ski and cycle with kids. I still throw my two kids in the Chariot for the occasional run together. Or get in some yoga or a quick spin on the trainer while your child naps. Find a nearby gym with childcare, or switch childcare with other moms to get workouts in. As long as you are committed and can find consistency in an ever changing schedule with the flexible mindset to workout at any time of day, you’ll succeed in getting fit again! I also wrote more about the stages of regaining fitness after children in a blog post here: http://danellekabush.com/2011/06/29/what-do-getting-back-in-shape-after-baby-and-ltad-stages-have-in-common/

How do you balance all of the demands of being a Mom along with training, racing, and other responsibilities?

As I mentioned above I think one of the biggest aspects is good planning and communication with your significant other and even with the kids as they get older. I’m lucky and I feel it is really important to have a good support system that I trust in between grandparents, babysitters or other forms of childcare. Some weeks are crazier than others when work and/or training demands are high. I try to have regularly scheduled recovery days and down time to look forward to with the kids, like a lazy day together or fun activities to do with the kids like skiing or swimming. I’ve learned and am continuing to learn how to be more and more efficient with the time I have for everything that a typical day can throw at you. Taking it moment by moment is really important too, to keep the balance. Good planning also frees me up to enjoy the practice of being in the here and now with whatever I`m doing, whether that be training, working with an athlete, or spending time with my husband and/or children.

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You have a doctorate in Sport Psychology. How do you coach athletes on the mental aspects of competition?

My work involves attending training sessions and competitions, meeting with coaches and athletes individually as well as team sessions. A big part of my philosophy is helping the athletes develop a higher self-awareness of what helps them perform and focus their best. Just like every athlete has physical strengths and weaknesses, the same applies to the mental side of sport. It is important to use your strengths, understand and tap into what drives and motivates you, and seek to improve upon or learn to work through any weaknesses.

You had a tough race in Maui this year, but wrote with such a positive attitude about it. What was the key to “moving on”? And what are your racing goals for 2013?

It’s doesn’t take long to move on when you have two small smiling faces waiting to hug you at the end of a race or once you get back home! I’ve always been a pretty low-key and content person, but having kids really puts high and low races into perspective. All the research shows we have a basic baseline of happiness that we return too despite life`s circumstances, so whether you have the most amazing race of your career or the most disappointing one, I feel having kids just ups my day to day baseline level of happiness with all the joy they bring. For 2013, my goal is to get back on the podium at World Championships and do the same at all the Xterra races series before that.

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Melanie McQuad has been racing road triathlon more often in recent years. Have you ever considered moving over the road triathlon scene?

I’ve done about 5 half-ironman distance triathlons on the road now. They are great training for Xterra but I’m not sure I’d ever make the complete switch, as I just don’t find them as fun as anything involving a mountain bike. When I’m not racing Xterras I still really love entering any mountain bike race that fits in my schedule since the technical riding is amazing near where I live. That said I’d still like to try the challenge of training for and competing in an Ironman one day but I’m sure that won’t be for a least a few more years from now! My brother Geoff (a Pro Mountain bike racer) and I plan on having show down in an Ironman one day and my biggest advantage over him right now would be the swim!

Living in Calgary, where I assume you have a long winter, how do you prepare for the upcoming racing season?

Calgary winters work out pretty well for getting a great variety of training in over the off-season. Of course I do the usual trainer/roller rides indoors as well as swimming. But we also have an amazing indoor track around the speed skating oval that is awesome for indoor winter speed sessions. And my coach, Calvin Zaryski puts on epic 3-5hour brick sessions (a combo of riding, run, core, and stairs sets) over the winter. To get outside, we have some great cross-country skiing in the city or out in the gorgeous Rocky Mountains, which are just an hour drive away. We also do some amazing vertical snowshoeing days out in the mountains too. Calgary also has a huge network of bike paths that are great for running in the winter or even riding on the occasional warmer days if you are hardcore enough.

What do you want your children to take away from their mom’s career as a professional athlete?

Good question. I wouldn’t still be doing what I do at this stage of my life if I didn’t really enjoy it so I try to impart that to them as much as I can, how much fun I have (the majority of the timeJ) training and racing. And just to be a role model to them for all the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle. They are just getting to the age that we can start to enjoy physical activities together so it is really fun. Some of the best memories I have growing up with my own parents, are also the fun times and bonding we did through running, skiing, cycling etc together as a family so I look forward to more of that with my kids in the near future!

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Long runs: music or no music?

I’ve never run with music. I guess I like to be aware of my surroundings, and just listen to the birds while I run. I definitely ride indoors with music but never run with it. Maybe I should try it, ha!

Favorite musical artists?

I rarely have the time to even check out the latest music by right now I really dig the Lumineers.

Three people other than family and friends that you’d like to hang out with for a day?

Hmmm, these kind of questions kill me! I`m not really into any big celebrities so this is a tough one to answer and would likely change if you ask me again tomorrow. Maybe I would pick Jim Carrey because of his humour (a fellow Canadian too), following a day in the life of wisdom spewing Oprah could be fun, and spending a day with my paternal Grandmother back in time when she was growing up in Norway (where I am as I write this) – does that count?

Final word of advice for parents who are trying to juggle careers, marriages, parenting, and multisport?

Having training and racing goals are important and a great reason to participate in and get motivated for all the great multisport events out there. But the great part about being a parent while juggling it all, is that you can bring even more purpose to your training and see it as important self-care, and `me¨ time to not only stay fit and healthy but relieve stress as well as ultimately give you more energy for everything else and to your children as better parent. If you start to resent it or if it brings more negative than positive energy to your life then maybe it is worth changing up some priorities and finding a balance that fits your values better. When juggling it all, it often feels like something always has to give, but doing it well means overall you can put most of your energy into what matters most to you!

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You can keep up with Danelle on her website and blog: Danellekabush.com

On twitter @danellekabush

I love you,

– Daddy