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Character Driven: American Olympian Sarah Groff

  • By Jené Shaw
  • Published Aug 23, 2013
  • Updated Sep 10, 2013 at 6:14 PM UTC
Photo: Nils Nilsen

The Four-Year Plan

With the hope of getting on the podium in Rio in 2016, Groff knows she has her work cut out for her in the next four years. For now, she’s adapting to a less-stressful post-Olympics year, taking a patient, more balanced approach to her training and personal life. Instead of spending eight months out of the country to train on Smith’s squad, she’s now working with coach Joel Filliol and mostly training in her new residence of Hanover, N.H., where she can be close to family and True, an elite American distance runner.

Last year the hope was for True to join her in London as an American team member for the 10K, but when Lyme disease struck the week before the Olympic Trials, he was unable to secure a spot. Groff recognizes that last year the focus was largely on her, and she wants to ensure that they live a pseudo-normal life for a while and give True’s career the attention it deserves so they can both get to Rio.

“I have to be patient,” Groff says of her next four years. “This is not the year to be throwing down to the best of my ability—it has to be a few years from now. I have to be OK with doing things a little more slowly than I want. The only way to get to Rio in four years is to pace the first couple years, and make every year a bit more of a build.”

Groff’s race schedule reflects her new approach: In March, she took second at the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon even though food poisoning and a self-inflicted head wound (she banged her head on a tunnel entrance) almost derailed her race; in April she won the Fearless Pro Triathlon super sprint in San Diego after finishing seventh at the ITU WTS race days before. This year she has her sights set on a few non-draft races, maybe a half-Ironman and some cyclo-cross races.

Meanwhile, the triathlon world is getting better acquainted with the real Groffy, who is following suit of another bold personality in the sport, Chris McCormack, in choosing to remain true to her authentic self in all aspects of her life.

“He gave me this whole long talk about being more professional,” she says of a recent conversation with the multiple Ironman world champ. “He said, ‘You have to be able to be OK with putting yourself out there and making yourself accessible to people, especially if you have a personality—don’t be afraid of showing it.’”

RELATED: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Sarah Groff

Super Fan

Groff loves to be a participant in her sport, but she also loves being a spectator (she says she’s the one screaming her head off over the barricades at men’s ITU races). Some of the athletes she looks up to:

“She doesn’t promote it, but Erin Densham’s heart condition almost took her out of the sport, and yet she rebuilt herself, and that’s really inspiring. [I admire] that love of what she does and the belief that she’s going to be OK.”

“Anyone who rebuilds their career how Jordan Rapp has—I mean, he was hit by a car on a bike ride and had to completely come back from scratch. Lukas [Verzbicas] is going to do the same thing.”

[Mirinda Carfrae] shows up to Kona and on a bad day she’s third. It’s amazing. She said the Olympics was never her dream, it was to win Kona. You want to be the athlete who picks certain things and can deliver on that day. “

“You look at the Brownlees and Javier Gomez and it doesn’t matter what the conditions are. They have such a broad range of abilities that they can adapt to whatever is happening. I want to get to that point.”

True Love

Groff and her boyfriend, Ben True, had both hoped to compete at the London Olympics, but when the accomplished distance runner got Lyme disease right before the trials, his dream was cut short. To ensure that they both get to Rio in 2016, Groff has decided to live, and mostly compete, in the U.S. this year for a more balanced lifestyle. True shares his thoughts on how they make the multisport/single-sport relationship work:

“The passion that we have in our individual sports carries over,” he says. “The sports are different, but the mentality and the training and the focus to compete at a high level is very similar. She comes home from a hard workout and she’s tired, she’s angry, and I understand when all she wants to do is rest and recover. We know each other well enough that we can relate to the other person. We get each other.”

RELATED: Groff Coping With “The Hardest Position”

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Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw

Jené Shaw is a senior editor at Triathlete magazine, a four-time Ironman finisher and a USAT Level 1 certified coach

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