I knew I was in for a treat when I sat down to interview Temple Hayles, a swimmer from my Masters squad who I had yet to officially meet, but who I easily recognized from her Super Girl bikini, loudly covered in stars and stripes and lightning bolts. Hayles, a 34-year-old age group athlete from Longmont, Colo. gearing up for her second Ironman World Championship, did not disappoint. Her peppy positive nature and inexhaustible enthusiasm – softened by the native Alabamian’s lilting Southern accent – made it immediately obvious why Hayles found her professional calling as a 2nd grade teacher at Longmont’s Blue Mountain Elementary. We spoke about how triathlon impacts her teaching and the excitement the sport engenders amongst Hayles’ beloved six and seven-year-old students.
Triathlete.com: Tell me about how you share your sport with your students?
TH: It’s important to me that my kids see me as a whole person. The education you get in the classroom is certainly valuable but I also believe it goes much deeper than that. The more the kids can connect with me on a personal level, the more they’re going to want to learn and be better. So the first thing we always do is talk about an Ironman and the three disciplines that it involves. Most of the time, to begin with they don’t grasp the concept of how long it is. They’re like, “Oh, I could do that. 2.4 miles in the water? I could do that. Bike 112 miles? Yeah, I could do that.” And then when we really start to talk about the time I tell them, “You’re going to be doing it longer than you sleep.” They say, “Ooohhhh!” And you can tell they start to see the whole conception of time and how long things really take.
Then we go into geography. Since the race where I qualified was Ironman Canada we talked about how it’s a different country and about the borders. We looked at where Canada is on the map, north of Vancouver, so they had some sort of relation to it. Then I always send a link home to their parents on email, saying feel free to track me online, what time the race starts and my estimated times, give or take a little. I encourage the parents to make math equations out of the race. For instance, if you know that Miss Hayles is going 20 mph, and you know that she was at 56 miles at this time, how much longer do you think it’s going to take her to get to the next timing mat if she goes the same speed? The kids that are really good with math grasp it and go with it. And some kids are like, “Well I don’t know. She’ll get there tomorrow!” When I get back we talk about how we can make math problems out of the swimming and the running, based on the times and distances.
So they get really excited to see that their teacher is more than just a body that lives and eats and breathes school. I’ve seen so many kids that have done the Ironkids race in Boulder, and there are groups that get together and do the Bolder Boulder 10k. They all come back and bring me their bibs and tell me their times. Seeing how excited they get, maybe because of something I introduced them to or maybe because of something they connected with me to begin with, is pretty cool!
Triathlete.com: Did they understand what it meant when you qualified for Kona?
TH: I think they know that it was pretty big, because they asked me if I was going to the Olympics. I wanted to be like, “Well yeah, actually I am!” But I said, “Well, not exactly, but it’s kind of like the Olympics of the triathlon world when you’re an age-grouper.” I think what was more impressive to them was how well I had done overall. I was the 2nd amateur woman and then I was 7th overall – pros included. So when they saw that I was in the top 10 women of the race they were like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool! Our teacher did that!” Not only did I surprise myself, I surprised them too! I do talk about Kona and how big it is, but I think they see it more as another race that happens to be in Hawaii.
Triathlete.com: What sorts of things do they do that inspire you?
TH: They’re amazing kids, especially with the compassion that they have for one another. I have 31 kids in my class so I have my hands full. And I have a very diverse group of kids. I have six or seven kids that are new to my classroom that have moved here, some from the Philippines and some from Japan. So I have several different languages that are spoken at home vs. inside the classroom. The compassion that they have for each other and the diversity that’s within the classroom and how quickly it’s accepted and appreciated and valued is totally inspiring! When you see how kind and caring they are to one another at six and seven years old, it restores your faith in the world. I’m around kids in the 2nd grade classroom that constantly believe in each other. They believe in what they’re doing and they believe in what they’re learning. They’re invincible, you know?
Before Ironman Canada they gave me a bandana. They all signed it and they wanted me to tie it on my transition bag so that it would be with me during the race. The day that they gave it to me, one of the little boys came up to me and said, “Miss Hayles, I really think that you’re going to do well.” And I said, “Well you know what, I’m going to try my best.” “Well,” he said, “I hope you win.” I said, “I appreciate your confidence in me! I’m probably not going to win, but I will do my best. I always do my best, just like I encourage y’all to do.” And he said, “No Miss Hayles, I think you’re going to win.” And then he just walked off so sure of himself. I was telling that to my boyfriend Ryan when I got home and he said, “Temple, you should have the confidence that they have in you. You should have that in yourself. Because it speaks volumes of the image and the precedent that you set for them.”
Triathlete.com: Do you think about your students when you’re out on the racecourse?
TH: I definitely do. You know how people dedicate a mile to somebody in their life or something special? I always try to think about them – especially in Canada when I didn’t have any family there supporting me. I was kind of depending on each of the timing mats as a way of saying, “OK 2nd grade, here you go! I’m doing this for y’all. Miss Hayles is crossing the mat!” It almost became a race of the mats, because I knew they would be sitting at their computers with their parents, waiting and watching the times come across. I didn’t want to let them down. My room mom – she’s pretty spectacular – she stayed up and videotaped the live finish and brought it into class the day that I came back. The kids were all wearing my race number, #2218, and they said, “Miss Hayles, we want to watch you finish all together!” A lot of them hadn’t seen it because they were already in bed, so we all watched it together. I was just a crying mess! Looking around at how excited they were, to them it was like I had just won everything and the world was wonderful and Miss Hayles was going to the Olympics!
When I went to Kona in 2010, my kids that year made a big banner. It was kind of like Flat Stanley – I took pictures of me with the banner in different places in Hawaii and then emailed them back so that my substitute could show the kids where I was. I have kids from that class that come back and say, “Miss Hayles, I just did my first triathlon!” They want me to know. That feels pretty incredible, so I hope that as they get older they still come back to see me – even if it’s not about triathlon, just to come back and see me. Because you make those connections and they just become a special place in your heart. Each one does. They carve their way in there!
Triathlete.com: In terms of training, obviously you have the summers off. But how has it been trying to get the final miles in for Kona with school back in session?
TH: It’s been a balancing act! I would get up at 5:30 and do a 12-mile run before school. I’d need to have my run done, be showered and be to school by eight ‘o clock. By the time that I got all of my loose ends tied up at the end of the day, I’d leave school most of the time by 4:45 or 5:00. Then I’d either rush to the gym to get in some sort of workout or I’d be at home on the trainer.
What’s kind of hard is that all summer long Ironman Canada was my A race. I poured my heart and soul into it, and everything I did – every race prior to that – I saw as a stepping-stone to Canada. I was hoping I would do well but I really didn’t know, so I had August 26th in my mind as the end of my season. But then I totally shocked myself – and I think the world around me – and I thought: OK, I have this opportunity to go to Kona. Do I go, or do I not go? You have to wrap your brain back around the concept that not only are you going to be training, you’re going to do what you just did again in six weeks. But of course I jumped on the bandwagon. This is the experience of a lifetime. I’m one of the fortunate people that gets to go and I recognize that it came with a lot of hard work and dedication, and also I just had a good day. It was one of those days where everything came together. So I’m hoping that Kona will be fun and I’m going to my best, but I don’t have any pressure on myself. I had the race of my life in Canada. If I never have another race that is as good as that was, so what?
Triathlete.com: I have to ask about the Super Girl swimsuit…
TH: It’s totally for fun! I live very loud and large and my kids love it. Shoes are always a lot of fun for example. I like to wear crazy shoes and my kids love the loudness and the details. I’m an elementary school teacher to the core. My boyfriend Ryan has gotten into the fun swimsuits now, too. He has the Keystone Cop suit. We have fun with it. Of the three disciplines, swimming is my least favorite and the one I struggle with the most, so I feel like I need to make it as much fun as possible. And if that means wearing a silly swimsuit that makes me giggle, that’s what I’ll do!