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A Badass Army Veteran Athlete and the Ironman World Championships

The Loadout Room was fortunate enough to score an interview with Jessica Jacobs, an Ironman competitor competing in the Ironman World Championships next week. The majority of us take fitness and our health seriously, so I’m always intrigued to learn about how world-class athletes think, train and prep for events.

A little background on the Ironman – It’s a three part ass-kicking event that consists of a swim (2.4 mile open water), bike (112 mile) and a full marathon (26.2 miles). It was conceived in 1977 to basically settle a long standing argument of who was the best type of athlete – swimmers, cyclists, or runners. What better way to settle the score,  than to combine all three events into the ultimate race. One of the guys involved in getting the first Ironman started was US Navy Commander John Collins. He’s actually the one who stated “Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Iron Man,” which was a nod to a notorious local runner known for his insane workouts. Before the start of the first Ironman, each racer was given the rules for the race and on the back of the last page, handwritten, was the phrase “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life.” The first and second place finishers of that inaugural Ironman were a Navy Comms guy (first) and a Navy SEAL (second). So, the race has some serious ties to the military community.

Jessica Jacobs is a former US Army Officer, wife of a currently deployed US Army Officer, and a three time Ironman Champion. She ran her first Ironman Triathlon while on active duty and fell in love with the sport. After retiring from the Army in 2007, she became a professional triathlete.  Here are some of the highlights from my interview with Jessica.

LOR: You have had some nice wins this season leading up to Kona. How do you feel going into the IM World Championships? 

Jessica: Thank you!  I feel excited and fresh to race in Kona. This season has been a great building block coming off a very exciting and successful 2011 season. I used a little different approach this year leading into Kona.  I decided (with my coach) to do only 1 Ironman very early in the season (April) and then focused my training on 1/2 Ironman events thru August, thus working on speed and allowing my body to race and recover in a different way than in years past.  I knew my season was going to be very long and I wanted to peak for Ironman in October and November.

LOR: In addition to being one kickass triathlete, you are also a military spouse, a mother, and a former Army Officer yourself. Tell us about your military background and how that has helped you as an elite endurance athlete?

Jessica: I received  my commissioning via ROTC from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.  I was a Logistics (Transportation) Officer and found myself serving all over the world right out of the Officer Basic Course (OBC).  I served in Korea, Germany and in Ft Hood, TX.  While in the military I learned a lot about patience, perseverance and harnessing the ability to mentally shut your brain off from pain, outside influences and often times your own worst enemy, yourself! I am forever grateful for everything the military has taught me about myself and all the life lessons I learned while serving.  I carry those monumental ideals with me daily.

LOR: The Loadout Room is all about gear. Triathletes are known as gearheads. Tell us about your kit and pre-race inspections.

Jessica: Oh, goodness! You couldn’t be more correct!  Getting yourself ready for an Ironman is so similar to heading to the field for an FTX or similar.  I created a “checklist” and divided it up into four sections – swim, bike, run and miscellaneous.  It has EVERYTHING I’ll need from the moment I wake up on race morning to what I’ll need through the swim, bike and run. I pack five bags; my race morning bag, my T1 and T2 bags and two “special needs” bags that are given to athletes mid-way through the bike and run.  It is exhausting packing everything, but when you’re racing 8+ hours you do everything in your power to remember any and all requirements your body may come across on race day.  Oftentimes I don’t use most of the items I pack in my special needs bags, but that doesn’t stop me from over-packing them because YOU NEVER KNOW what your body may crave or require on race day! Better to be safe than sorry!

LOR: I’m curious to get your take about what you feel the most important part of training is, for an athlete at your level?

Jessica: I would have to say that sleep and recovery is probably one of the most important parts. I think a lot of athletes at the recreational level don’t put enough importance on this. Sleep is so important to recovery and allows me to train at the highest level day after day.  I have found that with being a geographical single mother (while my husband’s deployed to Afghanistan) in addition to all of the extreme training, that my body sometimes has a difficult time relaxing enough to get a restful night’s sleep. I have to tell you that once I started using the Mission Ready Sleep and Omega products (Mission Ready is one of my sponsors and founded by a former Navy SEAL, Pete Wikul, aka BullFrog13), I have been getting 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly. It has definitely enhanced my training and recovery. Plus it’s all natural and I get a “good” night of sleep without being groggy in the morning!

LOR: Your husband is currently on active duty with the Army?

Jessica:  Yes, my husband is an Active Duty Armor Officer in the US Army.  He’s serving on his 5th deployment (total) and this one is in the lovely mountains of Afghanistan.  This deployment is supposed to be 9 months with him returning on or around March 2013.

LOR: Obviously as a Veteran and Army Spouse, the military is very important to you. Tell us about your involvement with Team RWB, one of your sponsors?

Jessica: Team RWB (Red, White and Blue) is an amazing non-profit organization I am actively involved with and support.  Team RWB’s mission is to help integrate soldiers back from war via triathlon and endurance sports.  Our focus is on disabled vets and soldiers with PTSD.  Unfortunately after the Vietnam War many weren’t given the support and acknowledgement they deserved.  Many veterans suffered external injuries as well as PTSD, but were either ignored, or too proud to voice their pain. Team RWB wants to help any soldier they can by providing an outlet (i.e., endurance sports) or the emotional support one might need when facing reintegration.

I want to thank Jessica for taking the time to chat with us at the Loadout Room and wish her the best of luck at the World Championships on October 13th in Kona HI. You can read more about Jessica at her website JessicaJacobsIronman.com.

If you’d like to support Team RWB, you can get more information at www.TeamRWB.com.


Bill Janson is a former Recon Marine and founder of Eleven 10, a Kydex and nylon gear manufacturer specializing in self-aid/buddy-aid products for law enforcement and military. www.1110gear.com – facebook.com/1110gear

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