Canada’s Samantha McGlone experienced success across the three major distances in triathlon: she represented Canada in the 2004 Athens Olympics, she won the 2006 70.3 World Championship and then finished second to a then-unknown Chrissie Wellington at the 2007 Ironman World Championship. Two years later she nabbed her first Ironman title at Ironman Arizona.
Since that victory in Tempe, McGlone has struggled with injuries, overtraining syndrome and chronic fatigue. After a couple of attempts to return to the top of the sport, including hiring coach Matt Dixon at the end of 2010, McGlone has decided that she is done competing as a professional triathlete.
“I’m officially retired as of the end of last year,” McGlone told us.
The 33-year-old is not taking the retirement path you might expect from a professional endurance athlete. While many coach other athletes or become a part of business side of the industry, McGlone is already immersed in a second career that has very little to do with triathlon. She started medical school at the University of Arizona in the fall of 2012.
“I had always planned on going to medical school after my triathlon career was over and it seemed like a good time to make that transition,” McGlone explained. “I had been doing a little bit of studying when I was injured two years ago… Becoming a doctor is a long journey in itself. It can take eight to 10 years by the time I finish residency, so I definitely wanted to start that earlier rather than later.”
McGlone says that shifting her focus from a physically daunting sport to a rigorous field of study has gone relatively smooth.
“I thought it would be a tough transition since my brain has basically been in retirement for the last 10 years,” she explained. “They definitely want you to succeed here. The material is really hard and there’s a lot of it. I figure this is my next big project and I need to take it on in a similar way to how I approached triathlon and make my life around this thing.“
Although pursuing a doctorate in medicine, along with the studying that comes with it, is a tough challenge, McGlone was quick to point out that, unlike triathlon training, studying is an indoor task and comes with certain luxuries.
“Compared to Ironman training I think med school is easier,” she said. “You’re putting in some long days, but you’re in a nice air conditioned library with cold drinks and you can take a little break if you need to. It’s definitely not like being out on the bike for five or six hours in the Tucson heat. It’s challenging, but coming from such a tough sport and doing it for so long, I think this is pretty manageable for me.”
Despite the tough medical school schedule, McGlone was able to break away long enough to travel to the Big Island and watch the 2012 Ironman World Championship. She experienced a couple of ups (finishing 2nd in 2007 and 5th in 2009) and some downs (including a 16th place finish her final time competing in 2010) while competing in Hawaii, and she says she had mixed feelings while watching the race.
“It was bittersweet,” McGlone said. “I went out on the bike course. I was out at the Mauna Lani aid station. I handed out water bottles and saw people coming through. It was so fun to see my friends that I raced with and I had a great time. I was really glad I went, but of course watching the race was hard. There’s a big part of me that wished I was in it. I had made the decision. I knew it would be hard to move on because it was my life for so long.”
Don’t expect to see McGlone toeing the line of Hawaii, or any triathlon for that matter, as an age grouper any time soon. When we asked her about the possibility of racing the Ironman World Championship as an amateur down the road, McGlone was quick with her answer.
“I would say no,” she said. “I think I’m probably done with triathlon for a while. I will never say never, but I’m not sure if I would want to repeat that experience knowing the level I was at. I think I would find it hard to not be competing as a pro.“
For now McGlone is keeping busy with her studies, spending time on her mountain bike and running on Tucson’s trails.
“It was a great career,” she concluded. “It was more than I had ever hoped for. I’m sad that it’s over, but I’m really excited about moving on.”