From fat kid to ferocious pro. Why I started and why I am still doing it 10 years later.

Justin MetzlerUncategorized

I am 23 years old and I have been racing for 10 years. I never planned on being a professional triathlete. In fact, I didn’t have a plan at all. But somehow I ended up here and with my 10 year race anniversary having come and gone, I wanted to tell the story. The story of how I went from an overweight 13 year old to a 7x podium finisher at some of the most competitive triathlons on the planet.



PHASE #1: Identity crisis 

My pre-teen years are the most cringeworthy of them all. I had always identified myself as an athlete but was not very good. 6th man on the basketball court and top notch bench warmer on the baseball team. I made my way to high school and didn’t even try out simply due to my overbearing insecurities. I wandered for about a year mostly doing nothing and gaining weight. My dad had started training for a triathlon to lose weight himself and invited me to join one of the weekly training clas
ses with him. Before I knew it, I was the 13 year old kid swimming masters sessions with my dad’s 40 year old buddies. And these people became my friends. And my dad became my best friend. I had something to call my own and had something special, albeit challenging, to bond with my dad over. I signed up for my first race that January, trained with the group throughout the winter and signed up for four more races before even competing in the first. I was hooked.

PHASE #2: Challenging myself 

Dad and I continued on doing 5 mile “long runs” with fuel belts at 11:00 min/mi pace but for me those quickly whittled down to 10:00 pace, and 9:00 pace, and 8:00 pace. The 40-year old ex-linebacker didn’t have quite the same progression so although I loved training side by side with Dad, he had to let me go. I started writing my own training plans, I joined the cross country running team and started hitting up all of the local triathlon races.  I grew about 6 inches over the course of a year and lost 20 pounds. I became tall, skinny and confident. All I wanted to do was better myself. I never cared about the result. I would push every training session and every race as hard as possible simply to see how far I could go and how fit I could get. Every day was a challenge for me to set a new “PR” and I loved it. I learned a lot about myself over this time and found some inner drive that I never previously knew existed. Phase #2 ends with me getting a proper coach, buying a TT bike and diving into real training and racing.

PHASE #3: I’m actually OK at this

So I got myself a coach. At this point I was a 14 year old kid racing Olympic distance triathlons in 3 hours. Over the course of one year I got my Olympic distance time down to 2:15 and was placing top-10 in local races. I did as many as I could get my hands on and was still going faster every single time. I continued to push every training session to the absolute max but under some restriction of my coach at the time. We quickly found out that I am a huge diesel engine. Essentially a work horse that can take a beating in training and come back for more. I never got injured. I just trained harder and got faster. Before I knew it, I was on the cusp of breaking 2 hours for an Olympic distance race- a fairly elusive barrier in amateur triathlon. By this time I was 100% obsessed with triathlon. It ruled my life. Nothing else mattered. I had this dream to one day turn “professional.” And I was training like one to get there. My final years of high school I was training before, after and during school. My first year at college I was a full time athlete and part time student. At 18 years old I was starting to see the podium at some races. By 19 years old I was winning overall amateur titles and beating the field by 30 minutes. Over the course of 18 months I went from having a dream of being a professional triathlete to being a professional triathlete.

PHASE #4: The “kid” pro 

Triathlon had now completely consumed my everyday existence and admittedly, I was borderline insane around this time. I was still in college but doing the absolute minimum to get by. To make a long story short, I ended up quitting school. I moved back in with my parents, signed up for online community college and trained my ass off. I had a really good 1st season and even won USA Triathlon Rookie of the year in 2014. But you can’t pay bills by coming 4th place at 70.3 Steelhead. And the risk of injury and heck, at this point burn out, were too high for me to put all my chips in the triathlon basket. I ended up transferring those community college credits back to my 4-year university. I finished up my final year and graduated in 2015 with a degree in Human Physiology. I’m still not sure how I pulled that one off. And with a degree in hand, I was absolutely DONE with school. Peace out. I signed on with a new coach and took an entirely different approach to my lifestyle and my training. I first moved down to Clermont, then onto Boulder. I met my girlfriend and I gained *some balance. This is my 5th phase…

It’s been quite the journey but every bump along the way has shaped the person that I am today. I have some regrets but the majority of the decisions I would do over again. My irrational obsession with the sport has faded and now I am a true professional. I absolutely love what I do but there are some days that I have to look at it from a real professional perspective and do what needs to be done over what I want to do. Yet at the end of the day, my goal is still the same as the day I started. I got hooked by the sport because if forced me to challenge myself. And I’m still in it because I wake up every morning and do something that is hard. But the hard is what makes it great. And that’s why I am still here.




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