Meet one of our newest coaches: Coach Patricia Brownell. She brings a unique set of skills and knowledge to our coaching group in addition to her positive attitude and amazing racing experience as an athlete.
1. Where did you grow up?
Spooner, WI, a tiny town in the sticks with a population of about 2000. I am a dedicated Green Bay Packer fan and during football season, you will find me parading around town here in Boston proudly wearing a hunk of cheese on my head. And no, I’m not joking.
2. What sports did you play as a kid?
I was an aspiring gymnast in elementary school until our gymnastics instructor quit teaching to have children of her own. No one stepped up to the plate to replace her (that’s what happens when you live in a small town) so that was where my gymnastics career ended. To fill the void I took up basketball throughout middle school and high school and took up karate, earning my purple belt in taekwondo.
3. You have type 1 diabetes. How has living with that affected your life in general?
I have had the disease for nearly 25 years now, for as long as I can remember. I can’t really say how it as affected me as compared to what life was like before I was diabetic since I don’t remember life without it. I know that there is not a day in my life that has gone by for the past 25 years that I haven’t thought about diabetes (more like an hour in my life). It is possible to live a healthy, normal life with the disease but it takes a lot of work to do so! But beyond that, I have met SO many awesome people in my life and have been given so many opportunities that I would not have had without being affected by the disease so in a lot of ways, it has affected me positively.
4. How does having Type 1 diabetes affect your training?
I have to be constantly aware of my energy levels because what feels like “bonking” (running out of fuel to propel oneself forward) to someone without diabetes could actually mean death for me. Racing stress and nerves can also have negative effects on my blood sugar levels which will lead to bad race performance. It is a constant juggling act between insulin and fueling. It takes a lot of experience to get it right.
5. You have celiac disease as well. What is that?
Celiac disease is an auto-immune disorder in which the body is unable to digest the proteins found in wheat. Treatment for it is complete avoidance of wheat gluten, which is sometimes easier said than done as it is found in everything, from pasta to bread to spices to makeup to shampoo to toothpaste. Even trace amounts of it (a crumb falling into my food) will wreak havoc on my body. If I accidentally ingest the protein, I become sluggish, weak and have stomach issues – definitely not what you want when training and racing! It has taken a good amount of time to learn what foods to avoid, which training fuels are best for me and where to look for hidden sources of the protein.
6. What other injuries have affected your training?
I think a better question would be what injuries have you not had. I’ve had countless stress fractures, from lower legs to in my femurs. I’ve also bad bilateral hip surgeries for labral tear debridement and CAM impingement (both with a partial psoas release), which is where a femur bone deformity causes a lot of damage in your hip joints. As a result, both prior to and post-surgery, I’ve had a lot of lower leg compensatory injuries and have spent what seems like half of my life in rehab coming back from said surgeries and issues.
7. What have you learned from all these challenges?
I’ve learned what hard work is and I’ve learned how to never, ever give up. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but there have been SO many times in my life that I was told to stop, that what I was trying to do wasn’t possible because of my various limitations. And when I would finally prove all the naysayers wrong, something else would pop up and I would go through it all again. But guess what? I’ve won races overall, I’ve been at Nationals the last three years, I’ve run marathons, I’ve done an Ironman – and not one of my so-called limitations has stopped me from moving forward and accomplishing these goals. It takes a special mindset to keep on going in the face of adversity, especially when you have a lot of people telling calling you crazy and telling you that you should stop along the way. I have learned to stay positive because sometimes that’s all you’ve got!
8. Was there a turning point from constantly injured to getting healthy?
There were a few of them, actually. The first was being diagnosed with celiac disease. I went undiagnosed for a decade or so. When you can’t digest the food you are eating you don’t get proper recovery which leads to all kinds of issues. The second came about two years after hip surgery. I jumped back into full time training way too quickly (sometimes my zeal and “you can’t stop me” attitude gets me into trouble) so although my race results were pretty decent, my body was not in decent shape! I struggled a lot with constant niggles. It wasn’t until I took the time during off-season to fully dedicate myself to further rehab that I turned the corner. I surrounded myself with a team of knowledgeable professionals, including my massage therapist, my ART chiropractor, my coach, my PT, my doctor and others and worked at it until things improved. It was hard, frustrating work as my body is sometimes a bit of a puzzle given my history, and it was a long road, but with continuous effort I am finally training pain free.
9. What made you decide to become a full-time triathlon and running coach?
I spent 15 years in corporate America in the legal field as a systems analyst. Although I enjoyed my co-workers and the work (to a certain degree), it was “just a job” to me. Towards the end of last year, Coach Jorge gave me the opportunity to be an associate coach with E3 so I adopted a part-time schedule at the law firm, became USAT and E3 certified and took on a few clients. I fell in love with the coaching process immediately and after having worked with clients on a part-time basis, I felt that doing what I loved was something I NEEDED to do and that I could do it that much better if I did it full time. I am fortunate to have a very supportive husband who encouraged me to take up coaching full time. How many people get the opportunity later in life to do what they love to do for a living? It was an opportunity I could not resist, especially being in the position to have an experienced mentor like Jorge to guide me along the way.
10. How has your perspective on coaching been affected by your own experiences with injury and auto-immune disorders?
I am hyper-vigilant when it comes adequate recovery, strength training and proper fueling because I know, first-hand, what happens when you neglect these items. Also, being a part of Team Type 1, where I have the opportunity to discuss training and all things sport with some of the best athletes in the country, is something I am so very fortunate to have in my toolbox. My teammates are some of the most knowledgeable people I know!
11. Has your health presented any struggles with coaching?
Nope, the opposite in fact. I think the knowledge that I’ve sustained because of my struggles has given me a bit of an advantage. And I may have some disorders but I’m as healthy as an ox (are oxen healthy? I never really understood that saying).
12. What are your goals for your life, coaching, and training in the future?
I want to be happy and healthy, I want to help other people be happy and healthy, I want to help people reach their goals, I don’t ever want to stop learning and growing as a coach and I want to keep improving in the sport of triathlon. I haven’t exactly nailed down my personal racing goals as I have to see what I can do after having some time to train while off the “injured” list but I forsee another Ironman in my future soon. Perhaps 2013? We shall see!
13. What’s your favorite food?
1) Not-celiac friendly so I can no longer eat it, so it’s my “I wish I still could eat it” favorite food: Everything bagel with jalepeno cream cheese from Bixby’s bagels in Minneapolis. Very specific, I know!
2) My favorite food that I can actually eat? Fish tacos and anything with sriracha sauce on it.
14. What are your favorite races?
I’m a sucker for a small, local race. My favorite is the Dover-Sherborn sprint because it’s on my turf. Rev 3 – Anderson in South Carolina was my favorite last year and I’ll be doing the half Ironman there again this year. And I loved Ironman Wisconsin. Put hills on a course and I love it (Rev 3 Quassy is another personal favorite of mine).
15. If you can only give one advice to any of your athletes, what would it be?
Training for a race is a journey. Like any journey, there will be good days and bad days along the way. Cherish the good days, learn from the bad days, do the work and always stay positive. Because in the end, life is what you make of it and so is racing!