Since Wildflower is just about less than 4 weeks away, I thought I'd share how I turned pro at Wildflower since it's a very special race for me:
Wildflower is the race where I fell in love with triathlon and has been The Holy Grail throughout my journey in the sport. It is the only race that has the terrains of the hilly trails from my home town Cupertino’s Fremont Older Preserve, and an energizer bunny waiting on top of a hill to scream and cheer you on.
It is also the race where I turned professional in 2013, and have won the same age group category three times in a row!
My excitement for Wildflower began when my mentor in triathlon and coach at UCLA, Brady O’Bryan, obtained his professional license in the year 2010 at this very race, where he won the 20-24 age-group and was 2nd overall amateur in the Long Course distance. He has always been someone I’ve admired, and I’ve been chasing him throughout my college years during our grueling training sessions. I was inspired by his performance to one day also get my pro card at Wildflower. I entered the race in 2011, expecting a tough day, and boy was I right. I didn’t feel 100% on that day but I soldiered on throughout the whole thing, despite being blown sideways on the bike by cross winds and getting hammered by all the hills. In the midst of my daze, I thought about all the hard bike rides I did with my friends, and all the hard runs in the trails with my buddies back at home. There was something about the atmosphere, the trails and people by the camp sides cheering you on with cow bells that inspired me. It was one of those rare races where you get in a zone and trance; you’re in so much pain, but you’re enjoying the experience so much that you’re able to keep going. Every step felt like I was about to fall over, but I was able to hold it to the finish line. I finished 6th overall, 2 minutes away from qualifying from my pro card, but I was really proud of myself. Despite how I felt, and the tough course, I was able to suffer and go to a place where I never went before. I was inspired by the whole experience. The best part of the day was the boat ride across the lake with my Dad. It was one of those moments that I would cherish forever. Sitting on a boat, soaking in the sun, I was already planning on doing this epic race again, and what I could do better next year.
I continued pursuing my dream of becoming a professional triathlete for the next two years. 2012 was a similarly epic and tough experience that only Wildflower has but it wasn’t the best year of preparation and health. Although I won my age group again, I finished 11th overall and wasn’t able to qualify for the pro card with a top 3 finish. After learning from a lot of the mistakes I made in 2011 and 2012, I put a plan together for 2013 and was more focused than ever to try again at Wildflower. As the gun went off for the 2013 edition of Wildflower, however, I did not get off to a great start. I had my poorest swim in the three years I had done this race, and wasn’t feeling great on the bike either. Doubts crept into my head, telling me that I would never turn pro. To be honest, the fear of not being good enough has always haunted me. I have my supportive friends but the few people that say “it’s too hard, you can’t do it,” always sound louder to me. Those voices would constantly come in and out during the bike but I was able to block it out as the race still had a long way to go. Once I got off the bike, I did some calculations and I knew my projected time was probably not going to be good enough. The pessimistic little voice in my head shouting “you’ll never get your pro card” got louder and louder. I was struggling big time on the run, but a hill came up in the trail, and something inside me just said “Forget those doubters, and forget the pro card, just own this hill, own this race, at least give your absolute best and just shut up and run!” So that’s what I did. I went into a different zip code of the pain cave and I stayed there. I was so exhausted that I could barely shout “Gatorade” or “water” as I passed through aid stations. The 13.1 miles finally came to an end as I collapsed through the finish line. I had never pushed myself that hard.
To my surprise, I finished 3rd in the Open Category and I miraculously qualified for my pro card. I couldn’t believe it! Turns out, it was record hot that day with slower times than usual. As I sat on that boat ride again with my Dad, realizing that I finally accomplished my goal, I told my dad, “This is just the beginning”. And it was. Since then, I graduated from UCLA and have also completed a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford, but I’ve delayed leaping immediately into the corporate world to pursue my dream job as a professional triathlete. I’ve been racing professionally now for just over a year, and have gotten top 10 results at a number of 70.3 races, something that I never thought would be possible just three years ago. I truly believe that had I chosen a different race in 2011 other than Wildflower, I wouldn’t be the same triathlete and person that I am today. I don’t know where my triathlon journey will take me, but I’m excited for the future. One thing for sure is that I will always return to Wildflower in the first weekend of May, as the race holds a special place in my heart.
To many more epic races, Vive Le Wildflower Triathlon!