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From Professional Basketball to Age Group Triathlon

  • Eva Kodouskova
  • March 04, 2019

Basketball and triathlon don’t seem to have much in common. One is a team sport and the other is an individual effort. Basketball is played indoors and triathlon is raced outside. Eating is not encouraged during basketball but is necessary during a triathlon race. I played basketball most of my life and when I first heard of triathlon I naturally assumed it is not a sport for me. Despite the obvious differences between the two sports, I believe I am a better triathlete thanks to my basketball background.

I grew up in the Czech Republic, in Europe. I started playing basketball and swimming around the same time—about the age of 8. Even though I liked to swim I wasn’t one of the fast kids and basketball soon became my focus. I grew a lot during my junior year at high school and eventually stopped at 6 foot 3 inches. By the end of the senior year I played on a professional women’s basketball team and was selected to the U20 Czech National team.

Most European countries don’t have established athletic programs associated with school systems (such as NCAA) and young athletes belong to different sport clubs. This can become a challenge if you’re trying to combine higher education and elite sports. I enrolled at a university in Prague to study architecture and continued my professional basketball career simultaneously. It meant fitting a lot of things in one day – morning strength training, school lectures, classes, evening practice, studying. School and sport were clashing constantly, and I couldn’t give either one 100%. After about two years of juggling school and sports, I realized basketball wasn’t as much fun anymore, not to mention, my grades at school were not glamorous. I made a difficult decision to retire early from pro basketball and shift my focus on school. It was tough and stressful period in my life, but I learned a ton about time management, flexibility, planning and prioritizing—skills that are so crucial for age group triathlon. Planning and flexibility are key to being consistent with weekly training, and with good time management, I am able to fit some high-volume training into my work week!

I got my architecture diploma and moved to the United States to continue my education. Without basketball in my life I had time to explore new passions—I took up sketching, learned to code, took yoga classes, and even pursued a short modeling career. I loved trying new things, but these activities didn’t satisfy my competitive spirit. After graduation, I started working as an architect and my life became very sedentary overnight. I missed regular movement and I started jogging on the National Mall during my lunch breaks. Soon I found out some of my coworkers raced triathlons. Craving competitiveness I signed up for a sprint race with them. I bought a used bike and my aimless jogging became more purposeful. Once again, I had an athletic goal to work on.

For the race, I borrowed a tri kit from a friend who is a foot shorter than me. I had no clip in shoes or wetsuit—that’s back in the day when I was reasonable about what triathlon gear I needed. I showed up at the starting line nervous but extremely excited about the challenge ahead of me. Once the race started, I tried to push myself because that’s the only way I knew how to compete but also enjoy the race! The result? I fell in love with triathlon. I didn’t expect I could have so much fun racing! I didn’t expect to do well in a new sport and almost missed the podium ceremony. I also didn’t expect to qualify for the Age-Group National Championship with my first race. At that point, I knew I would race again. I wanted to see how far I could go.

Basketball taught me how to manage my time and nurtured my competitiveness, but above all it taught me that it’s about the people. Basketball teammates became my best friends who stepped up when I had a bad day or would throw me the ball when I was on fire. Coaches and doctors went above and beyond to get us ready for the games. Our fans never stopped cheering for us no matter if we were up or down by twenty.

Just like in basketball, there are a lot of people working in the background to make us successful triathletes. Our family, friends, coaches and workout buddies create a team that supports us daily. The triathlon community is also incredibly friendly and supportive. Triathletes cheer each other on and race volunteers work hard so we can have the best race possible.

I will never forget a volunteer at the Waterman’s Half in Maryland, my first half distance race. She was at the last intersection of the run course where athletes either turn to run more laps or continue straight to the finish line. You could hear her cheering long before you got near the intersection. Her energy was so contagious! I owe her my biggest thanks for making me laugh during a half marathon!

I still play basketball recreationally, but triathlon has become my passion. I am grateful my friends introduced me to triathlon and happy for everyone who supports me on this new journey. I always thought of myself as a basketball player. I had no idea there could be another sport that I would enjoy so much and that I could be competitive in. I would encourage everyone to be open minded and try to get out of their comfort zone, you might discover your new self!

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