Sharon Byun represents USA as an age-group World Triathlete (50-54), as well as being an obstetrician-gynecologist at the University of Florida. Sharon considers her day job to be “work triathlon”, delivering babies, operating and seeing patients in the office.
Sharon has represented Team USA at consecutive ITU World Triathlon Grand Finals in Rotterdam (2017), Gold Coast (2018), Lausanne (2019) and has qualified to compete, in the age-group division, at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, in 2020. In 2012, at 43-years of age, she competed her first triathlon. “I was 43 when I competed in my first triathlon. It was a local sprint distance race, and I had no expectations other than to have a good time. I never imagined I would come to love triathlon as much as I do.”
In 2019, at the World Championships on the Gold Coast (Australia), Byun compared representing at the ITU Grand Final to competing in the Olympic Games for an age-group athlete. “The Grand Final is as close to feeling like you are competing in the Olympic Games for Age-Groupers. I think it is pretty easy to be motivated for this event!”
Hear from Byun on what races the age-group triathlete from USA will line-up for in 2020, as well as reflecting on the triathlon lifestyle in her own way.
How has your journey with triathlon progressed since 2018 ITU Gold Coast Grand Final?
I competed in the 2019 ITU Lausanne Grand Final age group F 50-54. 2019 was particularly special because we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Team USA and of course celebrated Katie Zaferes claiming the 2019 ITU World Championship win! I also qualified for Team USA for 2020 Edmonton Grand Final by finishing 4th in my age group in the Draft Legal Championships in Tempe, AZ in November. It will be my fourth consecutive ITU Grand Final as a Team USA member and I would be honored to have the opportunity to continue to represent Team USA as long as my body allows! Other than racing at the ITU Grand Final, one of the highlights of last season was definitely competing at the iconic Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco and placing 2nd for F50-54. There is really nothing quite like jumping off a ferry into the chilly (approximately 54 F/12 C) San Francisco Bay! It truly is a one of a kind race and a bucket list for many around the world. Getting my finisher medal from Andy Potts was an added bonus. It was an unseasonably hot day (there was actually a heat advisory warning for the Bay Area) and it was so amazing to see a pro like Andy standing out in the blistering heat for more than an hour after he finished racing to congratulate the age groupers as we crossed the line. The pros are such great ambassadors for our sport.
What are some of the key lessons you have learnt through the sport?
Perhaps most importantly, I have learned to share in the joy of training and racing with so many inspiring and positive people in the triathlon community.
As someone who has been through my fair share of injuries, mostly running related (but also have had to overcome some other health obstacles) I have learned to be grateful for every day that I am able to engage in some level of physical activity. The best part of triathlon is that you can usually train in at least one discipline regardless of what life decides to throw at you. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned to share in the joy of training and racing with so many inspiring and positive people in the triathlon community. Triathlon is as much a team effort as it is an individual sport. I cannot tell you how many times that the only reason I have dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn is because I know there will be a group of people waiting for me to train. Lastly, I have definitely learned that the most rewarding part of the sport is not the achievements but embracing a lifestyle that has completely changed my outlook on life. I feel so fortunate that I have had some success as an age-grouper but at the end of the day, it’s all about having fun. Without that, to me there is no point in training or competing.
What’s it’s like to represent in Team USA?
Having the opportunity to represent our country in international competition creates an immediate bond. I’m sure this is something that is not unique for US for age-groupers but for athletes all over the world. When I competed in my first ITU in 2017 in Rotterdam, I was so grateful to have veteran teammate Celia Dubey guide me through the process and connect me to other Team USA members. The following year in Gold Coast, I shared an apartment with 4 other Team USA friends - Michelle Lingenfelser, Heather Hudson-Knapp, Jen Kryzanowski, and Martha Brennan. Even though we live apart, we keep in touch and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Racing at national qualifying events and of course at ITU Grand Finals is always such a fun and much anticipated reunion. In my hometown of Gainesville, Florida, we have had a number of locals compete at ITU - Mark Szymanski, Karen Harbaugh, Tim Donovan, Alicia Fabiani, Eric Castaldo, Bill Ryals and Tom Lowery - so it has been fun to travel and share in the experience with them as well. USA Triathlon is an incredible organization - they really make their age-groupers feel like elites and make sure we are well-prepared to compete at the ITU Grand Final every year. I have to give special acknowledgement to USA Triathlon COO Tim Yount who is such a force of positive energy. His passion for the sport is contagious.
Having had the opportunity to compete at ITU Grand Finals for a few years now, I think I am most proud and excited to share in the experience with first-timers. You cannot help but feel an immense sense of patriotism when you put on your Team USA uniform and walk in the Parade of Nations and attend opening and closing ceremonies and of course compete! All of the athletes serve as ambassadors for our respective countries. In a world that feels highly politicized and divisive at times, it is incredible to feel unified in the spirit of competition. One of my favorite quotes when I visited the Olympic Museum in Lausanne was “United in our diversity, we are stronger than all of the forces that try to divide us.”
Photo: Finish chute 2019 ITU Lausanne Grand Final, credit: Jen Kryzanowski
What are your personal triathlon goals for 2020 and how do you hope to achieve them?
This year I am venturing into long course racing and will be competing in my first 70.3. The bike is my weakest link of the 3, so I have been spending a lot more time in the saddle! I will definitely continue to race short course and draft legal and hope to qualify again for Team USA for the 2021 ITU Grand Final in Bermuda. I absolutely could not achieve my goals without my coach Karyn Austin who has been coaching me since 2014. But honestly and truly none of my success in triathlon would be possible first and foremost without the support of my husband Louis and my son Thomas. They have been my biggest cheerleaders from the start.
How do you balance family, work and triathlon?
I am an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Florida. I joke around that my job is my work triathlon - delivering babies, performing surgery and seeing patients in the office. I am married to a urologist, and we have an amazing 12-year old son. My husband and I both teach at the university and help train residents in addition to maintaining our own medical practices. There was a point in time when 3 of our surviving parents were also all living with us, so believe me when I say that there was no balance! In all seriousness, I think people get too fixated on the concept of “balance” when we really just need to focus on how to shift priorities depending on what is going on in your life. I do think your personal outlook on life will certainly determine how you view the world. I start to get overwhelmed when I think too far ahead into the future. As for fitting in training, other than my long bike rides which I do on either Saturday or Sunday, most of my workouts during the week take about an hour and I can get them done before or after work. I will say that I don’t really watch TV! For me, the best strategy is just managing one day at a time. Yes I have short and long term goals, but I definitely feel like I have more control over my life when I can say to myself, “What do I need to accomplish today?”
“The more I participate and compete in triathlon, the more my love for the sport grows.”
Photo: USA Triathlon magazine cover celebrating 30 years of Team USA, credit: Wagner Araujo
The calendar and entry paths are now confirmed for the world’s AG athletes to compete at no fewer than ten different men’s and women’s Age-Group World Championships in 2020. Read on.
Follow the athletes and races in 2020 at TriathlonLIVE.tv