After falling into triathlon by accident, Colleen went on to become a trailblazer in the sport, winning a world championship in 1984 and national championships in 1988 and 1990. She took first place in more than 100 races throughout her triathlon career in the 80s and 90s.
Today, she has a spot in not one, but two sports halls of fame—in Jackson County, Alabama and here in Boulder, Colorado.
Since retiring from triathlon, Colleen has poured her energy into Women’s Quest adventure retreats. She founded the organization with a clear vision—to give women outdoor experiences where they can connect with themselves, their bodies, each other, and nature—and in that process, uncover their true hearts’ desires.
Through her years as an athlete and an entrepreneur, Colleen has worked closely with international companies including Nike, Adidas, Athleta, Specialized, New Balance, Fila, Saucony, Subaru, Reebok, Smartwool, Hind, Barbara’s Bakery, Odwalla, Pioneer Electronics, and Oakley.
In this episode, we talk about…
- How Colleen’s childhood love of horses turned out to be the foundation for her career as a top triathlete
- Her college coaches’ emphasis on weight (and what empowered her to reject that mentality)
- How Colleen stumbled upon her first triathlon—and her unconventional fueling plan, why she strapped a pillow to her bike, and how she ended up wearing khaki shorts
- Why she passed on an offer for a free bike from Specialized after finishing second at her first triathlon
- How she got into the mental wellness aspect of athletic performance, learning from teachers like Deepak Chopra and Louise Hay WAY before most of her peers were exploring that realm
- Why early 1980s heart rate monitors got you stopped by airport security
- The myth that fit = healthy—and why health is so much more complex than being fast, strong, and lean
- Why Colleen says it’s good thing to have some extra flesh around your waistline
- How to approach therapy as an adventure
- How Colleen copes with depression
- The one menopause treatment that was actually helpful (Hint: you cannot get it at Whole Foods)
- How to “energize your food” and why you should
- How Colleen started Women’s Quest—and why she never doubted herself in the process
- The daily affirmation practice Colleen swears by
Weight was really who you are and your worth. If you were skinny, you were going to be a great athlete. And if you were chubby, you were not.
I was not a lean, small runner. I always had my little Winnie the Pooh belly … When I left Auburn, I still had the school record for like probably 15 years after that in the half mile, at the chubby weight.
I had this idea that the bigger and stronger I was, the faster that I would be. That always stayed with me. I never got rid of that.
It’s much more important that you feel good. I think that’s the most important thing, because then you’re radiating more of that positive energy and then you can go out and train.
Nike just happened to be there and they were talking to me and I had to go back to college so I was like, well, okay, you guys have a nice life. And that’s when I said, I’m never doing this again. Don’t ever call me. I don’t like this. I would never do this for fun. This is not fun. I mean, I’m dying here.
[Being a pro triathlete] was really an amazing adventure and I got to travel all around the world and see different places.
It was a great vehicle to learn all about the body and how it works. And the mind—nobody was doing this mind work. Nobody was talking about the mental [aspects of performance] at all. Nobody.
The first year [I practiced meditation] I think I slept the whole time … But after a while, it did kick in. And the whole idea was, I could train more because I could rest better.
It’s more important to be healthy than to be fit—and healthy with the mind, body, and spirit.
Jim Fixx, he was running 10 miles a day, or even more, really fast. And he died of a heart attack back in the early 80s.
Healthy is balancing this—eat your fats, you need good fats. Meditation, affirmations, visualizations, and also the right training, which was more aerobic.
At one point when I was like, “I need to do my stomach crunches,” and they were like, “No, no, no, no, no, it’s not gonna help you.” And actually it’s going to hinder you … You want a little bit of water and moisture around your organs, or like a little bit of chubbiness around them for protection.
I have always seen my belly as my lunchbox or my power pack.
And that belly center is your power center.
I don’t really care what I weigh. I care how I feel.
I did a lot of therapy and the way that I went through therapy was more of an adventure. And the more that I would go through and open up these little hidden doorways or things that were holding me back, my VO2 max or my energy would increase.
So the more that I was able to breathe and allow emotions to come through my body and not keep things stuck inside me, I was more light. So I wasn’t afraid of the dark side.
I hit a big wall in menopause. I got slammed. Nobody told me it was coming. I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready for not sleeping. And so I went into some high anxiety and depression. I thought I was losing my mind.
What helped [with menopause] was bioidentical hormones … For me at that time in my life, it was do that or get put in jail because I thought I was either going to kill myself or someone around me.
I’ve used the dark moments and this darkness to actually propel me through it more. And I also spend a lot of time in nature, which I feel just has this balancing effect, and the horses have a balancing effect. And I think also when you meditate, things don’t bother you as much. You get tapped into this huge potential field where it’s just very exciting. And every day I look forward to like, wow, what is going to open up today? I wonder what it is going to be. I ride a wave of wonder instead of that half glass empty.
Your running can also be your meditation.
The gold is inside you. Something that you’ve been searching for is actually inside you.
Once a female or a woman is healthy, it’s her natural state to create.
Even when I won the world championships, I still felt like I wasn’t enough.
As I’ve gotten older, I noticed that you’re never going to get it done. You’re never going to be enough. Just enjoy it
There’s always going to be another pile or a hundred phone calls to make. So just go out and ride your horse.
I’m kind of aging and saging at the same time.
It doesn’t really matter if you’ve never surfed. If you’ve never been on a bike, if you’ve always wanted to climb over a mountain—it doesn’t matter your age.
When you give gratitude, the grace comes back.
When you offer out this energy, it comes back to you and it opens up. It gets easier and easier and easier. It doesn’t get harder to meditate or harder to tap into your joy.
I think success just means being okay with yourself. … I’m okay. I don’t have to prove it. I don’t have to do it or have to be it. It’s just being okay.
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