By Corrie Seabrook
TAMPA, Fla. – At 9 on a Friday morning, Michael Poole jogs a lap around the trails by the University of South Florida’s tennis courts. His new orange Saucony shoes leave imprints in the dirt. The warm up barely makes him sweat, but his hair is wet from the swimming workout just before. His lean body stands at 6-foot-1-inches and his skin is tan from being in the sun for years.
This morning his training is light because the next day he will be racing in Barbados. There he races what he says was the best race of his life.
At 21, this New Zealand native spends 30 to 35 hours per week training for triathlons, while balancing a 15-hour course load for chemical engineering.
Poole discovered his passion for triathlons at age 16, when he joined his high school team. He met the challenge of coming into the sport late in adolescence. “I ran growing up, but didn’t start swimming until age 16,” Poole says. “That is something I have had to work very hard to catch up on.”
At 18 he began to excel and win race after race in Auckland. At that point in time he made the choice to go pro. In 2012 he was ranked seventh in the U.S.
Poole made decisions that many young people cannot imagine. Realizing that his best shot at making a living as a professional triathlete was in the United States, he decided to move to Florida, specifically the Tampa Bay area.
His area of study, chemical engineering, serves as his plan B.
“This is more like a backup plan,” Poole says. “Some guys get to 35 and they have to retire from triathlons, and they have nothing. I don’t want to be like that.”
So he researched what college he wanted to study at with the help of Google. He weighed the qualities of all the universities in the state, the locations and the fees. He decided that University of South Florida was the best place for him.
Before Poole moved, he endured a horrific bicycle accident when a car knocked him off of his bike, smashing his face. The driver drove off after the accident. The friend he had been training with called Poole’s mom to rush him to the hospital.
“At that moment I really realized I needed to go to college; it could’ve been worse,” he said.
Although he now has a fear of cars and sustaining another injury, Poole hasn’t allowed the incident to prevent him from racing.
In January of 2010 Poole competed in New Zealand’s Half Ironman Championships and met the professional triathlete standards. “It’s not complicated to stay a pro, I just need to be consistently getting top placings in races,” he says.
Another hurdle Poole had to jump was getting sponsors to invest in him. “Many triathlon related companies are willing to give me products,” he says. “But it is very hard to get a company to invest cash, which is important for me to be able to make a living and pay tuition.”
He is sponsored by New Zealand businesses like the bike company, Orbea. He receives two bikes and triathlon clothing throughout the year. His sponsors pay for 50 percent of each race’s fees, and Poole must come up with the rest. He manages to use the money he wins to finance his future races. For some of the races he stays in hotels when the race organizers pay for his stay. Otherwise he finds someone to stay with for that weekend.
“I have found Americans to be amazingly generous at inviting me into their homes,” Poole says.
Poole lives at an apartment alone near the USF campus. He trains by himself. No trainer or nutritionist guides his training. He starts his school days with 5 a.m. workouts and begins exercising later on his free days. He spends five hours every day training.
Poole suits up in his Lycra and takes his bike to a park called Flat Woods Park. There he rides a seven-mile long course for three hours. Next he runs in circles around the neighborhoods by his apartment for an hour. Finally, he swims freestyle for an hour and a half at USF’s indoor recreational pool.
“In a week I do 250 miles cycling, 60 miles running and 20 miles swimming,” says Poole, who has been away from New Zealand for more than a year.
He keeps in touch with his father, Alwyn, who acts as Poole’s agent and coach. Poole misses many things from home like the culture but most importantly his wife who works in Australia.
Every other weekend Poole travels to races. He takes a shuttle or catches the bus to the airport. So he doesn’t miss any classes because he usually flies early Saturday mornings and comes back to Tampa on Sunday evenings.
This year alone he has competed in 20 to 25 races. His dedication to this career has led him to travel to 20 different states for this sport. Poole doesn’t focus on Ironman races anymore, but instead concentrates on the Olympic distance races.
“I no longer do Ironmans as it takes me too long to recover from them so I would rather race Olympic distance races every weekend,” Poole says.
His favorite race by far has been the Escape from Alcatraz in San Francisco. The athletes zip up their wetsuits and swim from the former prison through 1.5 miles of freezing waters to the St. Francis Yacht Club. They then bike up hilly terrain for 18 miles and finish by running eight miles along the ocean side.
When Poole is not training he is taking five classes two days a week. His favorite thing to eat is Snicker’s ice cream and Asian cuisine. He gets through each race by picturing a bowl of ice cream at the end of it.
A sophomore, Poole has two more years to go in school before he can graduate. On average, he wins about $1,000 a race. He pays for most of his living expenses, but he hopes to attract more sponsors so he can provide more financial support for his wife.
His most recent race took place in Barbados, which was an International Triathlon Union Continental Cup. He placed second.
“Must have been a combination of shaved legs and the short run on Friday,” he laughs.
Poole hopes to continue to advance in this sport.
“In five years time if I am not the best, I am not stuck,” Poole says. “I can do something else with my life.”
View Michael Poole’s fan Facebook page HERE.