The softball star pitcher is discovering a new athletic side through triathlon.
She’s the greatest player ever to step onto a softball diamond, and could throw mesmerizing pitches that left even Major League Baseball players baffled. After a gold and silver medal in two Olympics, and earning a spot in a whole lot of magazines’ and websites’ “hottest athletes” lists, Jennie Finch hung up her cleats in 2010 at age 29. But great athletes never stay still for long. In 2011, as a wife and mother living in small-town Louisiana, Finch completed the New York City Marathon just four and a half months after giving birth to her second child, Diesel. And last July, six months after the birth of her third, Paisley, Finch completed the Olympic-distance Aquaphor New York City Triathlon in 2:51:15.
Finch has a simple explanation for how she caught the triathlon bug: It was a get-fit challenge after having her third child. Plus, Finch’s running coach, Suzanne Davis, is also a triathlon coach and an Ironman finisher, and almost all of her friends in her local running club in Sulphur, La., are eager newbies. So when Aquaphor approached her to do the New York City Triathlon it sponsors, she thought, “This could be a pretty cool opportunity to get my feet wet in the sport and have help doing it,” she says. Aquaphor set up Finch with 2004 U.S. Olympic triathlon coach Gale Bernhardt. She and Finch only had about three months to work together, virtually.
“I felt kind of lame in some respects because I’m just a rookie and here I have this Olympic coach,” she says. “But she was great in just kind of simplifying everything and being a great coach for a rookie.”
Finch’s workouts included a few swims a week, two to three bike rides, with some bricks incorporated as the race neared. With Finch starting nearly from scratch—she’d never ridden a road bike before—she said that improvement came very quickly. “It was kind of a good thing I could improve so quickly,” she says.
Finch also had support from her hometown. She became friends with local Ironman athletes, the wrenches at her bike shop, and a local collegiate swimmer who shared tips. She also worked out with her running group—most of whom are now into triathlon.
To prepare for the New York City Triathlon, Finch entered a series of three local sprint triathlons in the spring. “Just to learn to feel what it’s like in transition, and getting on and off your bike, all those things,” she says of the local races.
Even though she retired three years ago, Finch still stays plenty busy with softball. She attends camps and clinics nationwide, and travels often for numerous speaking engagements and appearances. She’s also on several committees and advisory boards for professional softball, and campaigns to get her sport reinstated to the Olympics. Plus she’s a TV commentator for the PAC-12 athletic conference (she’s a legend at her alma mater, the University of Arizona) and ESPN.
So with such a hectic schedule on top of being a mom to three, Finch is a bit hesitant to announce her next triathlon. “Everyone asks me, ‘So when’s your half-Ironman?’” she says. “I think it’d be a good challenge, so we’ll see.”
From the sound of it, though, she’s definitely hooked.
“Triathlons are something you can do for the rest of your life,” she says. “It’s been a thrill experiencing it all. I’m not only learning about triathlon but about myself as an athlete, and training my body to do new, different things.”
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