Katy and Michelle Duffield
As a professional athlete, the lines are blurred between me as a person and me as a business entity.
Katy and Michelle Duffield are the first Australian twins in Ironman history to compete in a World Championship. Behind the swimming, cycling and running that comes with being a professional triathlete, there is the triathlon of business – marketing, networking, financial and sponsorship management. Both sisters have chosen to challenge themselves in one of the most demanding sports possible and have achieved what few people are able to do – become professional athletes.
Michelle - In a way, I am my business and my business is me. As a professional athlete, the lines are blurred between me as a person and me as a business entity. Essentially, my business of ‘Michelle Duffield Professional Triathlete’ began 3 years ago when I accepted my professional racing licence from Triathlon Australia. Ever since then, it all became a lot more than just simply swimming, cycling and running - the marketing, networking, financial and sponsorship management all became a big part of what I do on a daily basis.
What drove you to become a professional triathlete?
Katy - I never want to die wandering what could have been had I have taken this path. Not knowing or trying was not an option.
Throughout my career as an athlete I have experienced many highs and lows which have shaped the person I am today. It has been a challenge but exciting journey on the road less travelled. Looking back now I can’t imagine my life any other way and I’m incredibly proud of the fact that I took that leap of faith.
Michelle - I am very passionate about the sport of triathlon, and the search for reaching my full potential. When I made the cut, and was offered the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone of simply racing others in my age group and see how I compared in the ‘big leagues’ - there was no hesitation. No point in being a big fish in a little pond right?
What’s been your proudest moment?
Katy - Competing at the 70.3 Ironman World Championships (1.9km swim/ 90km bike/ 21.1km run) in Austria last year. Here I achieved a world ranking of #19, so to be inside the top twenty women in the world is something I am incredibly proud of.
Michelle - My proudest moment actually has nothing to do with me or my own performance, but rather watching my sister, Katy’s, breakthrough performance at Ironman Melbourne in 2013. That day Katy qualified for the Ironman World Championships, and was the fastest amateur athlete of the day (while beating a number of professional athletes). To this day there is nothing I have ever done myself that comes close to the pride I felt that day watching Katy come to the realisation that she was capable than far more than she ever thought possible.
What mistake have you learned most from?
Katy - Over the years I have learned to trust my instincts. I couldn’t pin point just one mistake that I have learned this from, but more the accumulation of mistakes which lead me to really trust my own instincts.
Michelle - Oh man! There are so many to choose from! A stand out for me is probably having the confidence to follow my instincts. Just because someone else has an impressive resume, talks with great confidence, or simply tells you what you want to hear - no one knows me, my business (my body, goals, strengths, weaknesses) like I do. Rather than allow myself to be distracted by the ‘noise makers’, have the faith in my own knowledge and experience to steer my own course.
What would you say is the recipe for success in your sector?
Katy - Hard work, discipline and commitment. Nine times out of ten it is not the most talented athlete who wins, but the one who works the hardest.
Michelle - Consistency is key. A little bit (or sometimes a lot) of hard work each and every day to get out of the comfort zone stretches the mind and body. Over time, this adds up. You just have to be persistent, and eventually the results will come.
What have you learned about yourself?
Katy - That I am more resilient and capable than I ever thought imaginable. I have ‘fallen’ many times on this journey and I have often questioned my ability to get back up. However, without fail each time I have managed to continue to put one foot in front of the other and come back even stronger.
Michelle - I have learnt that I get just as much satisfaction from helping others achieve their goals, as I do achieving my own. As an athlete, it is easy (and sometimes even necessary) to become very self-absorbed and to exist day in and day out with complete focus on yourself and your goals. But along the way, I have found that for me, being able to help or inspire others to live a life of passion, and to chase their own goals is just as rewarding (if not more so) as achieving my own goals.
What has been your biggest sacrifice for the business?
Katy - Probably my social life. All of my friends outside the sport have come to accept that staying out late is just not an option for me. So, most catch ups are often over a brief coffee or phone conversation as spare time is not something I have much of.
Michelle - I don’t really like to look at any declined opportunities as ‘sacrifices’, but simply a choice. I chose to walk away from a ‘safe’, ‘conventional’ job that provided me with a steady means of income and financial security. Instead, I chose to chase an opportunity to realise a dream of being a full time athlete. I chose to leave my home town of 30 years, my support network, my loved ones, and move to Thailand to train and race full-time. Choosing to leave my career path for a less conventional, reliable means of income was probably one of the more difficult choices I’ve had to make along the way, but it was definitely a choice, rather than a sacrifice.
Given what you know now, what would you do differently?
Katy - I probably would have spent less time trying to please others.
Michelle -I would have taken a longer term approach to my business. For many years, I was very short sighted - taking each race as they came along. Building up to the next race before starting to look at the next one. I think if I had have stopped 5 years ago to think about where I wanted to be now, I would have taken a far more strategic and effective path, rather than so much trial and error. Alas, we live and learn!
Who would you most like to be on your team – famous or otherwise?
Katy - Muhammad Ali
Michelle - Rather than provide a name, how about I provide a description…the kind of person I am missing on my team is someone who is really well connected in the athlete sponsorship and marketing industry.
One of my more difficult challenges is securing sponsorship support in a very small, competitive market. In the sport of triathlon, this a really tough nut to crack, so to have someone on board who was really well connected and savvy with managing such affairs would greatly enhance my business.
Best piece of advice to other business owners?
Katy - Hard work pays off. The more you put in the more you will get out. So don’t just talk about what you’re going to do just get in and do it.
Michelle - Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be firm and disciplined, but be fair and kind. We can get so caught up in the grind that sometimes you can lose perspective. Always keep tabs on beauty and magic in the world around you. Be grateful.
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