Siri Lindley winning a world championship race in 2001
(Photo: Courtesy Siri Lindley)
The Daily Rally

Siri Lindley Believes in Herself, Even When No One Else Does

She knew she was going to be the best triathlete in the world one day. But first she had to learn to swim.

Siri Lindley winning a world championship race in 2001
Courtesy Siri Lindley

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Siri Lindley told her story to producer Caro Rolando for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.

The gun goes off, and I am just being dunked under the water, kicked in the face, yelled and screamed at. Everybody was so angry that this girl that doesn’t know how to swim is in the fastest lane.

I am in Santa Ynez, California. I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut.

I am a high performance coach, a keynote speaker for Tony Robbins around the world for his Unleashed Power Within and Date with Destiny events. I also speak around the country for Kepler Speakers. I’m an author and I am co-founder of two nonprofits rescuing horses from slaughter.

When I was 23 years old, I had just come out to my dad as gay. He was horrified and basically cut me out of his life, and it was devastating. He was my best friend. He was my greatest source of love.

I had graduated a couple years earlier from Brown University. I was a field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse player. I was just devastated, and I felt so desperate to prove to myself that even though I was gay, that I could achieve something that I think is special. That I can make a difference in the world, that I could be loved. And most importantly, find a love and worthiness from within, somehow, some way. And that’s when I discovered triathlon.

Watching this race, I was just in awe of all the different types of people that were out there, different ages, sizes, abilities.  I was so inspired, and it became so clear that this was going to be the vehicle through which I could find myself and find a respect for myself, a love for myself. But the only problem was, I didn’t know how to swim.

My friend had decided that she would try and help me. When she took me to the pool for the first time, she said, “Oh, Siri, I had no idea. You really didn’t know how to swim.” So she taught me the basics, and I went out to Colorado a couple months later.

I was living in Massachusetts at the time. I went out to Colorado where my mom lived, and decided to do my first race. It was the sprint distance, and I had no idea. At the registration line they’re saying, “What’s your hundred meter time?” And I’m thinking, A hundred? I’ve never swam a hundred.

I have no idea, and I’m so nervous. She listed 1:15, 1:20, 1:25. I said 1:15, 1:15. So I get in the 1:15 per hundred lane, and the gun goes off.

The gun goes off, and I am just being dunked under the water, kicked in the face, yelled and screamed at. Everybody was so angry that this girl that doesn’t know how to swim is in the fastest lane.

So the good news was, after a hundred meters, I had the whole lane to myself.

I got out on the bike, and it felt like the Swiss Alps. It was so hard, and I’m grinding away. And I got off the bike, and I was so excited to run that I forgot to take my helmet off. And I’m running, and I’m doing what I did on the field. I’d sprint for 25 meters as hard as I could, and then I’d stop and bend over and gag and try and get my breath back. I ran the whole 5K like that.

I finished the race in dead last. But I had never felt so alive in my entire life.

That night, however, as I lay in bed, I remembered. The looks on everyone’s faces. The kids laughing at me. “Oh, she’s running with her helmet on. What an idiot.” The people that were yelling at me in the swim lane. And I started to cry. I started seeing everything that I was oblivious to when I was racing. And I went into my mom’s bedroom and she looked at me and she said, “Honey, you did it. I’m so proud of you. Now you can go do something that you’re good at.”

And I cried even harder. I said, “No, you don’t get it. I’m gonna be the best in the world one day in this sport.”

I decided in that moment that I had to set a goal, something like this, to set myself up for at least going somewhere in my life. My dad was telling me with his rejection that because I’m gay, I’m unlovable, I’ll never be worth anything. And I wasn’t willing to live that story.

I could have said, OK, I just came in dead last, I don’t know how to swim. I’ve gone to an Ivy League school. I can’t throw that away to go do a sport that I suck at. I could have told myself the story that no matter how much you love this sport, Siri, you can’t do it. It’s not for you. Can’t swim, too old. All the reasons. But instead, I told myself a different story. Look, I’ve got a great work ethic. I know how to commit. I know how to dig deep. I’m willing to fail. I’m willing to learn. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’m passionate. There’s a deep emotional reason why I have to do this for me.

And in telling myself that story, then it became about, OK future me the best in the world. What would she do? What decisions would she make? What would she know? She would know that if she just showed up, leaned in every single day, that that progress ultimately one day will lead to her at least becoming pretty good. So I had to condition that story so that I could become that person that one day could be a great triathlete.

I failed so many times. I humiliated myself so many times. But I had redefined success as progress. If I make any progress, any form of progress, physical, mental, emotional, I’m being successful.

I went all in. And thank God I did.

Exactly eight years after setting this goal, I became the world champion. The number one triathlete in the world.

One of my mantras that I use almost every day is: Every day in every way, I’m getting stronger and stronger. Every day, in every way, I’m getting stronger and stronger. Every day in every way, I’m getting stronger and stronger.

The number one thing is to stay out of your head and just come from your heart like you’ve chosen to do this for a reason. Just be present and take it all in.

In 2000, Siri Lindley won her first World Cup race. The following year, she became the number one triathlete in the world, and won six consecutive World Cup races. She is now a high performance coach, author, and the co-founder of two nonprofits. You can learn more about her on Instagram @sirilindley.

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