After absolutely destroying her age group competition at the IRONMAN World Championships the past two years, Air Force graduate Samantha Morrison has stepped up to the professional ranks in 2015. We had a nice chat as she drove through Middle of Nowhere USA, en route to Colorado following a month-long training block in the Arizona sun. Thanks for the time, Samantha, and best of luck this season!
What was your motivation to hang up your age group status and go pro?
I first qualified for my pro card in college, almost 5 years ago. I re-qualified a few times, but never thought I was ready. When I won my age group at Kona in 2013 I thought “ok, maybe I’ll go pro someday.” I won my AG at Kona again in 2014 after starting with a new coach (Hillary Biscay), and she encouraged me to take this step.
My motivation was obviously not money, as being a pro triathlete isn’t a very lucrative occupation for most. Luckily I have a job in the Air Force, and they’ve been very supportive of my training and racing. I just want to see how good I can get, and am excited to be going against the best… I love chasing people! Whether I get last or somehow place someday, I’m putting myself in a situation where I’ll be challenged the most I can be.
I’m the oldest of 7, and my siblings think I’m some kind of rock star. It’s so cool to me because in my mind I’m not at all! They’re also changing in a positive way as I grow in the sport, and that’s motivation to me to keep working hard.
My parents hopped on board from the start. They’re skeptical about relying 100% on prize money, but luckily I’m in a very fortunate situation right now with my job, so I don’t have that financial stress. The Air Force has been so supportive… I couldn’t ask for more.
What is it you do in the Air Force, and how has your military experience helped you as an athlete?
I’m a Public Affairs Officer. Essentially I work directly for the commanders, write speeches, and make sure they have what they need when going in the public eye. It’s a pretty fun job and I get to work with cool people.
I grew up in Virginia near the Naval Academy, and I always thought it was super cool. I just decided one day as a freshman in high school that I wanted to go to a military institution, and I never changed my mind. I was recruited to run cross country at the Air Force Academy, which was a bonus, but I would’ve gone either way.
Throughout college I was forced to make the most of free time, as I didn’t have much. For example I would study while on the treadmill, and thought that was perfectly normal. When I got out of college I was really good with time management. Waking up early isn’t a big deal, and in general the Air Force built a lot of mental toughness. Mentally, nothing will ever seem worse than getting screamed at by some big scary guy at boot camp… so I can do this!
What’s your mindset right now… are you feeling nerves yet or just excited?
Well I was just training for a month with my coach in Tucson, and things were going really well. A few days ago Hillary said “I want you to race now. Ironman Taiwan is in 3 weeks, I want you to race that.” All along I’m thinking I’m not ready, not at all prepared for this, and yet I fly to Hong Kong in 2 weeks! I’m definitely nervous now, but the good thing is I don’t have much time to be nervous. As we speak I’m driving back to CO to get my passport and a bike box. I’ve never left the US, so this will be a really big life experience.
Did your success at Kona, crushing your age group like you did, surprise you or was it what you envisioned?
I dunno, I think my biggest flaw is I’m never really happy with what I do. I didn’t know I had beat my AG like that (1st by 22 min in ’13 & 46 min in ’14) until the next day. Instead I was thinking “man I need to get my run down!” I like comparing myself to the overall standing, not just focusing on my AG.
The Top 10 Female 18-24 in the world last October…Samantha delivered a swift butt kicking
What are your race plans and goals for 2015?
All that is locked down as of now is Taiwan (April 12) and a couple of military races: National Champs in June and World Games in Korea in October. Otherwise we’re still picking and choosing Ironmans. That’s the distance that I love, but I’m sure I’ll dabble in a few 70.3s as well.
As far as goals, as long as I know that I gave 100% every day and tried my best, I’ll be happy with that. I really have nothing to lose, as I never thought I’d be in this situation. I love working hard and we’ll see how it pans out.
First of all my coach Hillary. She’s crazy; I never knew what I was getting myself into! I don’t complain anymore… being around her, you can’t complain. I look up to her a lot. It’s easy to work hard for her, but really hard to impress her! I admire Tim O’Donnell who as a Naval Academy graduate took a similar route as I am on, and hopefully I can have a similar trajectory in the sport!
Also obviously the now-retired Chrissie Wellington, who is seemingly always happy, and from what I know was such a hard worker. I like when people can smile while they’re racing.
What pros will you be most intimidated to line up against?
All of them honestly. I’m terrified to line up on the pro start line! I’m honestly terrified. They’re all fast, they’re all fit, and they all work hard. I don’t know what it’s gonna be like lining up next to them because I don’t quite feel like I’m a part of it yet. So hopefully I can get over that next month.
What are your strengths and weaknesses vs. other pros?
I’m very happy with where my swim and bike are at, but I think it will take a couple years to get my run where it needs to be.
One nice perk of being a pro triathlete, I gather, is seeing the world. Where are you most excited to visit?
I don’t know, I’m a big homebody and I like having people I know around me. Traveling has never really been an aspiration for me. It actually makes me quite anxious, so it’s good that I’ll be forced into exploring a little bit. Triathlon will give me a lot of opportunities and I’ll take them as they come. But I probably won’t do too many “destination races.” Travel costs are also a part of that. If it were up to me I’d live at home in Virginia and race from there!
What’s your sponsor situation like… will you continue with the Snapple Tri Team?
I’m sponsored by a non-profit organization called US Military Endurance Sports (USMES)… I’m on the elite team, which Snapple sponsors, so I continue to be affiliated with them. Other sponsors include Boeing, Scott, Rudy Project, and several others. The support USMES has shown for me is unreal… I’m really lucky.
Oh my gosh the peach tea! And I’ve always worn the Wingspan, but just got a 57 for this season. Excited!
I know you come from a family of fish. Have any secret swim tips to share or is it all about repetition?
It takes a lot of time for marginal gains, but one thing we do is a lot of band work (band tied around ankles). Hillary is a big advocate of that, as it creates great core strength for open water.
What’s your favorite post-race treat?
Probably a beer and a hamburger, but usually I feel too sick shortly after. The next morning is when I like to indulge with the biggest breakfast ever. Eggs, bacon, sausage, you name it. I’m not as queasy in the morning and usually starving. That’s my favorite.
What did you watch over the winter while training indoors?
A lot of TV shows, such as House of Cards and Scandal. I binge watch on the trainer… I think it’s necessary!
Anything else to add?
Not really, I’d just like to thank my supporters and mentors from USMES. I would definitely be lost without them! Jim Weinstein, Chuck Kyle, Brad Williams, and George Ganoung have had faith in me from the beginning, even when I raced in running shorts and a t-shirt.
Also, thanks to my family for all their support!!
About Triple Threat Triathlon
TripleThreatTriathlon.com is a rapidly growing triathlon site centered around a US national team. Age group triathletes are selected as representatives of their individual states and local ambassadors of the sport, while contributing to the team’s collective, national goals. Learn more at: www.triplethreattriathlon.com