“I do triathlons every year, partially to be a role model for everyone else,” says Leslie Walstrom, triathlete and Head of North America Marketing at Columbia Threadneedle Investments. “And, to show that it’s not that hard.”
Some people would find Walstrom and her above statement intimidating and intense, while others, like her loved ones and co-workers, find it inspiring and motivational. No matter which camp you’re in, Walstrom is force to be reckoned with. She’s gearing up to compete in her next triathlon this summer, events in which she’s been participating on and off since 2007.
In her 50s, Walstrom wasn’t always a triathlete but found ways to stay active throughout her life whether it was with swimming, cycling or running. In fact, she has competed in the Boston Marathon a total of three times. Always looking for the next big challenge, Walstrom decided to combine all of her favorite activities by completing triathlons.
This year, Columbia Threadneedle is the title sponsor of the Boston Triathlon, a relationship Walstrom helped spearhead. She’s wasted no time recruiting employees to the cause, regardless of age or abilities.
Before race day on July 28, she sat with Exhale Lifestyle to discuss her training techniques, her motivations, and how she inspires others.
How did you start participating in triathlons 12 years ago and what did you like about it?
Leslie Walstrom:I’ve been active my whole life but have evolved over time. I was on the swim team in junior high and high school. Then I picked it back up years later. In 2007, I did my first triathlon in my hometown of Minneapolis, but before that, I never actually thought of myself as a runner until I was in my 40s. Then, I ran a bunch of marathons, including the Boston Marathon.
I really like the camaraderie that happens at these events. At my first triathlon, I was scared to death. I remember waiting for the swim event, and this woman kindly said, ‘Is this your first triathlon?’ Obviously she could tell. She showed me the ropes. In almost every race I’ve ever done, somebody is kind about helping out. I’ve done this for other people, too.
What does your triathlon training look like and how do you balance it with your day job as head of marketing at Columbia Threadneedle Investments?
It’s about always keeping up with the skills and intensifying it as you lead up to the triathlon. I incorporate swimming, biking and running to my weekly routine. Since the beginning of the year, I spent a couple days on each of those things, and as I get closer to the date, I might do them all in one day or mix it up by doing two of them in one day.
When it comes to balancing with my job and other things in life, it can definitely be challenging. I’m an early riser; I could be out running in my neighborhood at 4:30 or 5 in the morning. I also tend to multitask and run two miles to my office in the morning as a way to fit in some runs.
How do you encourage others who might not be as active or athletic to participate in a triathlon?
Most of us are pretty active. We all do something. We either go to the gym, take fitness classes, walk or bike around.
People hear ‘triathlon’ and might immediately say, ‘I absolutely cannot do that.’ So I really encourage people to start out with a relay. I tell them, find some friends and just do the biking part, or just do the run, or just the swim. Usually when they do that, next year they come back and want to do the whole thing. They get out there and are inspired.
I’m out to have fun and that’s what I try to reinforce. I just love watching people cross the finish line. It’s that certain triumph of human spirit thing that just never goes away. People are so excited when they actually accomplish something that they were nervous or scared about earlier in the day.
What do you say to people who feel like their age holds them back from staying active?
I’m almost in my mid-50s. I am always amazed when I go out to these things. There are many women in my age group who are so fast and are such amazing athletes. There are so many people out there competing who are even older than I am.
There’s a gentleman I met a couple years ago at the Boston Triathlon who is in his 80s. He says to me, ‘People might have to wait a long time for me to finish, but everyone’s so encouraging, and it’s so exciting. I just take my time and just have fun.’ And that’s what I say to people: You don’t even have to run, you can walk. Just get out there and try it.
For me, as the aging process hits, feeling like I can accomplish things gives me the confidence in all other areas of my life. I’m able to say, ‘I am strong. I am capable. And I have endurance.’ It reinforces what I should be all the time.
What does it mean for the company you work for to be the title sponsor of an event you’re passionate about?
We have over 100 people from our company out in the [triathlon] courts, volunteering and participating. It’s a big way for us to interact with the community and for people to see who our employees are.
We have Boston Medical Center as our official charity partner. They’re an amazing example of an organization that goes above and beyond in the community to take care of people. Community, charitable outreach and good exposure for us in Boston is important to us.
We’re trying to raise $125,000 of proceeds to support BMC. Last year, our fundraising goal was $100,000 and we were close to hitting the goal by raising almost $90,000.