From the books to the bike and beyond: interview with Ironman icon Chrissie Wellington

A candid, unique interview with Chrissie Wellington

By: Emerson Csorba, originally published in

Since her debut in professional triathlon, Chrissie Wellington has become not only one of the sport’s major stars, but one of the most consistent and respected figures in the vast sports world. To date, Wellington has won every grueling Ironman-distance race that she has competed in, establishing herself as one of the sport’s all-time greats. But her physical prowess is only one part of the equation; in addition to excelling on triathlon circuits in Kona, Kansas, Boulder and Germany(to name only a few locations), Wellington is a dedicated humanitarian and a compelling writer. Prior to her career in triathlon, Wellington represented the United Kingdom at a variety of international summits, and volunteered her time in countries as distant as Tibet and Nepal. She recently released her auto-biography, entitled A Life Without Limits, which is one of most engaging, honest and well-written books that I have ever read (and I read a lot!). had the opportunity to interview Wellington about her thoughts on education, volunteerism and travel, and here is what she had to say! Enjoy:

What are your thoughts on volunteering as a student? Would you recommend this to young student-athletes?

Absolutely! I spent a lot of my time volunteering for various organisations, both whilst I was a student and now as an athlete. Ever since I was young I have had a passion for international development and helping to make the world a better place. Whilst I was at university (doing my MA) I started running, and also volunteered at a homeless shelter once or twice a week, which I found to be so uplifting, empowering and enjoyable, hopefully for the homeless men/women as much as it was for me.

I made my passion for development my career becoming a policy advisor to the UK Government on international development policy, and I also took a sabbatical and worked in Nepal, managing water and sanitation projects.

Not long after I started as a professional in February 2007, I remember saying to Brett (Sutton), “I feel so selfish. All I do is swim, bike and run – and it’s all for me.” And he replied, “Chrissie, just you wait. Before long you will be able to affect change in a way you never thought possible.” His prophesy came true. Now I have the platform that I always dreamed of to combine my two passions in life – sport and development.

I believe that sport has a tremendous power – and can be a force for considerable change.  It is empowering in its own right, but can also be a vehicle for raising funds and awareness for incredibly important causes. I have an amazing opportunity to use my platform/voice to raise funds and awareness for causes that are important to me, and leave a legacy that goes beyond finish times and races won. I am a patron for organisations such as the UK based charity Janes Appeal, the Blazeman Foundation for ALS, Girls Education Nepal, and Challenged Athletes Foundation as well as helping to grow the women’s empowerment network GOTRIbal.

So yes, in short I believe that voluntary work can be an amazingly fulfilling, enriching, satisfying and empowering experience for all sides, and I would encourage all students to try to incorporate it into their hectic schedules if at all possible, even if it is just for a week during the University vacations.

Following university, you really started to travel the world. Do you have any advice for students that are looking to begin their own travels?

Go for it!!!!! Never look back and think ‘what if.’ The world is an amazing place, and there is so much to explore. We are only ever limited by our imagination. I would look at the countries/regions that interest you the most, do some research, ask people who have visited those places for advice, save up the necessary funds, make a rough (being prepared to adapt it!) plan and book a ticket. Travelling has opened my eyes to the many problems that exist, but also the opportunity that there is for positive change, it has enabled me to meet new people, see new cultures, experience amazing landscapes, challenge myself, and had helped me grow stronger and more well-rounded as a person, and as an athlete too.

How do you think student-athletes should balance training and studying with down time for themselves?

As a student, studying was always my first priority. I didn’t become a professional triathlete until I was 30, and I am so glad the I gained my academic qualifications and had a career, as it gave me the foundation I needed to build a balanced, varied and very fulfilled life.

But, University was so much more to me than a place to gain academic qualifications. The University enabled me to grow and develop in a multitude of ways. It gave me confidence, life skills, and experiences I could never otherwise have had. I forged lasting friendships, both with my peers and the staff; I challenged myself, broadened my horizons, developed a capacity for critical thinking, gained independence, and most importantly I learnt how to perfect the 100m dash to the library following lectures to be the first to grab the journals and books on the reading list! Usain Bolt had nothing on my determination to get to those academic papers before anyone else!

Balancing studies with sport and a social life required a great support team (including coaches, teachers, family and friends), time management, an ability to prioritize, but also a need to be ‘kind to myself’: realizing and ACCEPTING that I am only human, and that there are only 24 hours in a day, so I cant berate myself for what I am not doing, rather I have to celebrate what I am able to achieve with the resources at my disposal.

What does quality teaching mean to you?

Teaching doesn’t have to simply be in the academic realm –  anyone can teach another person new things if they posses patience, an ability to listen as well as to communicate, expertise in the subject matter, compassion for others, awareness and empathy, enthusiasm and an ability to inspire and encourage and ultimately create independence. Quality teaching also requires an ability to learn. That is, the teacher is also the lifelong student and willing to grow and change, and expand their own knowledge. A quality teacher is a person that you never forget, and whose help and assistance you cherish forever.


Emerson Csorba is  a 20-year-old University of Alberta student interested in how the world’s many incredible sports teach us valuable lessons about academic success. Growing up, he played travel baseball and is now a competitive ultramarathon runner, sometimes travelling 100 kilometers at a time! Being an avid athlete and sports fan, he learned that our favourite athletes and teams often lead the path to our success as students. From 2011-2012, he represented over 30,000 university students as student association Vice-President Academic, so he also learned from some outstanding peers. Take a look at this site to see how the latest stories from the world of sport can help build you into an ace student.  On top of that, you can read through some entertaining and informative interviews with top college and professional athletes from volleyball to soccer, baseball to tennis, and much more.

If you have any questions or comments, just leave a post below an article, and he’ll get back to you quickly. Until then, know that you already have everything you need in order to excel as a student!

Read more: Chrissie Wellington Interview