Heather Jackson is a professional athlete who spent the first twenty years of her life dabbling in a variety of different sports before focusing on ice hockey, playing Division 1 collegiately as well as intermittently for the United States’ Women’s National Team, ultimately trying to make the 2006 Olympic Games. Not making the team for the Torino Games, combined with the lack of options for women’s ice hockey post college, she found herself inspired by the novel physical demands of swimming, biking and running after attending a local sprint triathlon with her parents. Jackson fell in love with testing her individual limits after 20 years of team sport, and found success in triathlon, racing professionally for almost 15 years, winning some of the most prestigious events in the sport along the way. She is a 6x Ironman Champion, 16x 70.3 champion, 4x Wildflower Champion, and Escape from Alcatraz Champion. She made her biggest mark at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii where she placed in the top five four times, including a third place podium finish in 2016.
After the Ironman World Championships in 2019, she decided 2020 would be her last year on the Big Island. But then the pandemic took Kona away in 2020, and then again in 2021. While COVID paused the decade-long focus of earning a World Championship title, it also opened her world to getting off road, into nature, and exploring new, different and exciting places by gravel and foot while isolating in 2020 Southern Arizona. By the time Kona finally presented itself again, in 2022, she’d begun flirting with some other athletic pursuits tugging at her heart strings: gravel-bike racing and ultra trail running. But Kona, the goal that had shaped the last eight years, still remained. Jackson felt pulled in both directions: the familiarity and success of her triathlon career on one side, and the exhilarating challenge and fear of something new. She could hear that ancient question: do you think I could actually do that? calling to her.
While triathlon is not fully off the table, Jackson now finds herself passionately pursuing some of the biggest gravel bike races and ultra trail runs across the world. When asked about shifting away from a sport in which she had found such success, where she was so well known, the question that kept coming to her mind was, what are you waiting for?
Here was her answer:
"When I made the decision to wrap up my triathlon career at Kona after fifteen years of structured daily, weekly and yearly routine, I felt all the doubts one might experience when making a massive life change: questions and fears both real and imagined. But facing fear—fear of the unknown, fear of new challenges—can generate the most true and intense feelings of being alive. That is what these new dirt adventures were showing me: a happiness and contentment in exploring the unknown and challenging myself in ways I never had before. The things we’ve done in the past are experiences behind us, but the things we have yet to do are down the road in front of us, waiting for us—waiting to bring us to life.
What are you waiting for?
As much as triathlon has been my life, my one sole focus that I shaped every day around, I could no longer ignore the excitement and motivation flowing from thoughts of new and different challenges. I asked myself “Is there ever a good time to make a shift in life? To try something new or even deeper, to reroute your day-to-day existence?” The thought of doing something new and stepping out of a comfort zone is scary, but we only have one life. We can keep saying, “I’ll do that one day…” or we can choose to make that day TODAY, because what are we waiting for?
My hope is to inspire people to challenge themselves to get outside of their normal orbits, to try something different and new. We can let fear and self doubt creep into our heads and never go for something, or we can know we’ve already succeeded purely by facing the unknown no matter the end “result.” Life is short and tomorrow is not promised. We only get one shot at this thing called life. So here’s to stoking the hunger for new things, and seeing what new roads and trails and paths we can travel down together. That leaves me with only one question left to ask…
What is it that YOU are waiting for?"