Jackie Burt, training in Gunnison with daughter Emma, 9, and son Sam, 7, is hoping to take her triathlon career to the next level. (Post / Helen H. Richardson)
Gunnison – Jackie Burt is a stay-at-home mom. Sort of.
Not long after she drops off her children at school, she can often be found at the gym grinding her way through a 90-minute cycling class. Then she might swing by the pool for an hour of swimming. Lately, her typical week has also included alpine skiing, running, weight lifting, skate skiing and even ice hockey.
It’s not that the 34-year-old Gunnison resident doesn’t enjoy a little peace and quiet, but this mom is on a mission.
She’s training like a fiend so she can earn professional status as an off-road triathlete by midsummer and have a chance to shoot for top-10 finishes at the sport’s U.S. and world championships in October.
Most of the events in the Xterra off-road triathlon circuit consist of a roughly 1-mile swim, 25 miles of mountain biking and about 6 miles of running. The pros finish in about 2 1/2 hours. Burt is a reluctant but improving swimmer, an expert mountain biker and a very good runner.
Based on her fierce determination, rapid improvement in recent years and the fact her children – 9-year-old daughter Emma and 7-year-old son Sam – are in school all day for the first time, Burt, who picked up the sport six years ago, appears poised for her best season of racing yet. She also has retained Xterra women’s world champion Melanie McQuaid to coach her this season to make sure no stone is left unturned. Burt’s first race is April 23.
"I’ve always been competitive, and it’s really nice as an old-lady mother to be able to dig that out and use that," she said. "There are challenges, but at the same time, I don’t know how I could survive the balance of motherhood without competition. It’s my very own, and it’s a great way to stay focused in life."
It certainly helps that her husband, Ashley, is a dedicated amateur Xterra triathlete and her biggest supporter, and that they’ve been able to share their love of sports and the outdoors by involving the children in their training and long race weekends. In the summer, the Burts will do running workouts while Emma and Sam ride their mountain bikes on the same trails. In the winter months, the family often goes alpine or cross country skiing together and then returns home to watch a movie on TV as Jackie and Ashley spin on indoor bike trainers.
But with the kids involved in a variety of sports ranging from triathlon to hockey to gymnastics, scheduling can sometimes be tricky. On one occasion last summer, Jackie finished a race near Bailey and then had to scurry to braid Emma’s hair and quickly drive her to Longmont for a gymnastics meet.
"It’s been a fun challenge," said Ashley Burt, 38, who is the president of the Gunnison Bank and Trust and race director for the fourth annual Crested Butte Bank Trails Triathlon on July 30. "I think, more than anything, the kids are growing up in a household where Mom and Dad are athletes who train a lot, and that seems normal to them. And when it strikes your kids as the norm, they don’t really question it, and they actually enjoy it."
Milestone in the family
Jackie and Ashley have made sports a staple of their relationship since they started dating as Western State College students. Although he’s usually faster than she is in triathlons, she often places higher in her respective age group than he does in his.
At last fall’s Xterra World Championship on Maui, Jackie was 17th among all women, fourth among amateurs and third in her age group. And in that race, she beat Ashley, who finished 159th in the men’s field and 19th in his age group, for the first time.
"She caught me in the run in the last mile and beat me by about 30 seconds," he said. "I was yelling and screaming for her when she passed me. But my goal is to not let it happen again, in a very fun and competitive way. But she’s got her sights set now, so it probably will."
Jackie Burt’s pursuit of pro status mirrors the path of Vail’s Lisa Isom, who came into her own as a triathlete two years after giving birth to her daughter, Wilder. Last season, the 33-year-old Isom completed her second year as a pro with a 10th-place finish at the Xterra World Championship.
Although there is no scientific evidence
Jackie Burt, 34, says the change in perspective gained after childbirth has given her an edge as a triathlete. She’s hoping to earn professional status by midsummer. (Post / Helen H. Richardson)
yet to support it, there is a growing belief in the endurance sports community that women have a higher VO2 max – the measurement of how efficiently the body processes oxygen – in the years after giving birth. Speculation aside, Isom and Burt agree that the biggest change is all about perspective.
"You get what I call the ‘mama-bear instinct,’ this fierce drive that I never had before I had a baby," Isom said. "All the little stuff seems to go to the back burner, and I only focus on what’s important. It used to be if I fell off my bike during a race, I’d think, ‘Oh, no, my race is over.’ Now things like that are just part of the race. In other words, a bad hair day isn’t going to ruin your race."
To earn an elite license and be classified as a pro, an athlete must finish in the top 10 and be within 10 percent of the overall winner’s time in at least three USA Triathlon-sanctioned events within a 12-month span. Burt hopes to pull that off when she returns to the Buffalo Creek Off-Road Triathlon on June 10 in Bailey.
"Going pro is for those who have pretty much reached the end of what they can do in their age group, and they know it’s time to move up," said Dave Nicholas, a Honolulu-based Xterra national race director. "It’s a brass ring, another incentive to shoot for."
Turning pro means being able to win prize money at regional, national and world championship events. But, as Nicholas points out, turning pro initially means finishing deep in the pack for most athletes.
"I can kiss the podium goodbye," Jackie Burt said. "But I’m ready for that. I’ve found myself, and I know I’m ready to compete at the next level."