By Leo Martellotto (JA Americas´ President and Ironman Triathlete)

Completing my second Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay (South Africa)

Completing my second Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay (South Africa)

As Junior Achievement (JA) turns 100 years old in 2019, I’ve been thinking about the factors that have made it possible for a social impact organization to stay relevant and impactful for a century.

As a JA alumnus, I couldn’t think of a better tribute to the JA centennial than to dedicate myself to, and connect to JA through, my passion: Triathlons (and this year’s big race), a sport that I am very passionate about for what it teaches me every day.

I feel a very strong connection between what I experience when I’m training or participating in a race and my daily challenges as a JA leader. It’s impressive for me to see how some things that motivate me to reach my professional goals are extremely aligned with those that help me to complete a training or a race. As it’s been just a few days after participating in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa, it’s the perfect moment to describe these five principles that helped me to make it all the way to the World Championship, and cross the finish line:

18_m-100838739-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2249_025765-20276841 OK.jpg

Five Lessons Learned from my Triathlon (and JA) Journey

1. I realized there is no such thing as work/life balance. It just can’t happen when you want to excel as a father, husband, entrepreneur, friend, amateur triathlete, and more. In my opinion, the only thing that is constant is the tradeoff between the different spheres that are always creating friction for us or those around us. I’m learning how to manage that friction while not hurting those things we love most in life and that, down the road, we will regret having damaged: family, work, passion/sport, intellectual development, our social life. We must do the best we can to keep all the circles moving smoothly under the mind-body balance umbrella. 


2. If you don’t enjoy the journey it will never be worth it: I have competed in triathlons for the last 10 years. It took me six years of training to qualify for my first Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Canada in 2014. It took me three more years to qualify for my second World Championship in South Africa this month. It is clear to me that it has not been about qualifying for the big races, but about the daily training and sense of continuous accomplishment. There is no other way I could explain going for a 12-mile run after 30 hours on a plane and being hit by 8 hours of time zone differences. That feeling of doing something that connects your body to your soul, with no “intermediaries” is what gives me the extra boost to always keep going. 


3. Resilience is something you exercise when you stop believing what your mind is telling you: every time I get off my bike and start running, my legs tell my mind they can’t continue at the pace I want, and my mind starts trying to convince me to stop. On average, when I am pushing myself hard, I deal with at least 10 “moments of truth” when my whole body is telling me to stop and I need to negotiate with my mind to continue. I need to stop believing my mind when it’s telling me, “just don’t do it”, “you won’t make it”, and start convincing it that “yes, we can”, and “we will make it to the finish line”. Everyone must find those memories that spark self-belief and are a source of strength that will give you one mile at a time until you reach your goal. 


4. Adaptation. Just when you think you have everything down pat and you’re ready to shine, something goes wrong and you need to take a step back and recalculate to get back on track. I have trained hard for the last year to get to the World Championship in great shape. In the last month before the race, my body decided to pay me back for how I’d been treating it, and I got sinusitis and bronchitis, which could have easily turned into pneumonia (based on the doctor’s explanation) and finally, the week of the race, as a last “gift”, an intercostal neuralgia that hurts each time I breathe. This is when you learn to deal with frustration and, even more importantly, with vulnerability. You realize that the name of the race (Ironman) is not fitting at all, and that the tradeoff often comes at the expense of your body and all your race tactics go out the window. That’s when you go back to basics and enjoy the ride, forget about your running pace goal, and share the happiness of good health and being able to compete with your family, who are the ones inspiring you the most to do the best you can.

5. Overcoming. It is really amazing to reach goals: to complete a ride, achieve a personal record, qualify for a big race, etc. But just as it happens with all our life goals, there is a moment of maximum climax when we surprise ourselves and are able to overcome what we thought were our own limits. Triathlons taught me that this generates an additional motivation; it’s hard to explain but is simply “magic” that happens when you overcome a barrier that seems impossible to surpass. Just like at work, when we can put aside the conformism of "I did the best I could" and focus on improving, incredible things happen. It makes me ask, “what else could JA achieve for our youth as an organization, and what things haven’t been achieved during the last 100 years?” Classifying this race precisely in the framework of the centennial of the organization that I am a part of gave me the additional motivation necessary to overcome health obstacles and enjoy my second World Championship, despite the obstacles. Of the five principles that I’m humbly sharing today, this one represents my desire for the next 100 years of this organization that changed my life. I invite all those who make JA’s mission possible to think together how we will continue to improve on all the incredible things that our leaders have done throughout history, in order to stay relevant while enjoying our “JA journey”.

54_m-100838739-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2249_107463-20276877 OK.jpg
Gabriel Villalobo