Triathlons are the new golf for investment bankers. Meet one financier who went pro

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If you want to network with other financiers these days, you’d better get on your bike. Cycling and triathlons have turned from relative sporting backwaters into the keep-fit pursuits of the affluent and have become important mechanisms for connecting with financial professionals.

But what if you wanted to graduate from a Mamil (middle-aged man in lycra) into something you could be genuinely good at? Meredith Kessler was working 60-hour weeks at RBC Capital Markets when she decided to step up from taking part in triathlons and Iron Man competitions in her spare time to competing professionally, based out of San Francisco.

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If you want to succeed in triathlons, you don't only need talent and commitment - you need money for the equipment, which is why so many financial professionals take part, said Kessler. She told us why she made the decision to quit banking and how she succeeded in going pro.

Can you tell us about your investment banking career? How did you break in and what were your motivations for joining the industry?

I was fortunate to start working at the Ritz Carlton; I was the third employee at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay at the ripe age of twenty-two, fresh out of college; needless to say I grew up fast in the ‘real world’. I moved to the financial world with the opportunity at RBC Capital Markets because the hotel management world is all encompassing; your life is that hotel. At RBC, the hours were long, but I could squeeze in my training and the offices were close to where I lived. The motivations to move to finance were because it was a fast-paced and interesting world, I had a tremendous boss, and it provided me more balance in my life which has become my brand.

How did you juggle the demands of the job with training?

I think with anything, you adapt to the situation. When I look back at my time working 60 hours a week at RBC Capital Markets, I do not know how I did it; balancing family, friends, work and training and then making the decision to become a pro while continuing working for RBC. However, it can be done with careful planning and by reducing your time drains.

For instance, you need to step back and figure out where you are spending the most time and reduce those to free up time for other things. With my schedule, I could not ride my bike outside with any consistency so I joined VeloSF where I could squeeze intense cycle training into my hectic day. If the individuals I managed were taking up my time dealing with computer problems, I talked to the IT guys to look for ways to improve the systems. Reducing the time drains applies to everyone because, in this day and age of technology, time has become one of the most valuable commodities.

When did you decide to become a triathlete full-time?

It took a lot of hard work to get myself to a place where I felt somewhat comfortable making the leap from getting a pay cheque every two weeks to not knowing when your next source of income was coming from. My parents, who have Midwest, hardworking values, could not understand how I could take this risky leap into the unknown, effectively giving up a steady, high paying job. I mapped out an income plan, figured out additional ways to earn cash, and created a business plan to reach my financial goals. This took almost a year of juggling working full time and racing as a pro before I made the move to full time pro in early 2010. My first two races as a pro, I DNF [Did Not Finish]. Needless to say, I was nervous about my career choice. My business plan I developed accounted for worse case scenarios so I was able to right the ship and I have never looked back.

Do you believe that triathlons and Ironman competitions have become more popular in recent years? Why is that?

They have become more popular in recent years because of the inherent challenge in trying to ‘master’ three distinct disciplines. It is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. With the healthy lifestyle push, increased need for competitive outlets for adults, and sense of community in the sport, it was only a matter of time before the triathlon caught on and it should only continue to grow.

Do you train a lot of people who work in the financial sector?

I do train a lot of people who work in the financial sector at my cycling classes at VeloSF and coaching through the purplepatch umbrella. I teach a cycling class and it is filled with financiers, CEOs. It is the new golf where people come to work out with like-minded individuals, where new relationships are forged, and individuals try hard to stay healthy.

What's the appeal of the event to people who work in this sector?

The appeal to individuals in the financial sector is competition, camaraderie, and a healthy lifestyle. Most individuals in finance have a competitive fire that makes them valuable to their company. This fire also needs to have an outlet in the form of athletic competition and there is no better way to do this than to compete in swimming, cycling, and running. Individuals love the journey to reach their athletic goals and the tough-to-obtain euphoria of completing a triathlon race. Along the way they find a sense of community that is unparalleled. Although everyone is concentrating on their own goals, they will not hesitate to lend a hand to their competitors when needed. It is also one of the only sports where the pros compete on the same course as the age groupers at the same time.

Do you need to have spending power to make a real commitment to the sport?

Unfortunately, you need a little spending power to begin the sport and to have your equipment keep up with your improvements over time. There is no hiding the fact that the average triathlete is educated and has a six-figure income. The equipment to compete is not cheap. Once you have the equipment, you still may have to hire a coach, sign up for cycling, swimming, or running classes or clinics, figure out how much it will cost to travel to races, and pay for race fees. Yes, you can do it on a minimum budget but the individuals who are drawn to this sport normally immerse themselves in doing everything they can to help achieve their goals. Type A athletes.

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