“I wanted my racing to be about something deeper.”
In 2015, Shannon Coates was forced to step back and evaluate her dedication to triathlon training. The finisher of 13 Ironmans, including two World Championships at Kona, had been placing a tremendous amount of pressure on her own shoulders and focusing heavily on the results. Was it worth it to squeeze the training in before and after her full-time job? To feel tired all the time? Shannon reflected on the moments that brought her great joy and decided to return her focus to the journey, rather than the results. But the key component that drives Shannon’s commitment to the sport was instilled in her a long time ago by her parents. All she has to do to keep pushing forward is look at her 73-year-old father who battles Parkinson’s disease and still runs every day
Gary Coates was diagnosed with early-stage Parkinson’s disease seven years ago. Gary and his wife, Robin, raised their three children to all be healthy and active runners, and to this day Gary is leading by example. “He inspires me because he just doesn’t quit,” Shannon commented before going on to add, “he will go down kicking.” But so far her father has been able to largely hold the disease at bay through his active lifestyle. Shannon lives and trains in Portland, Oregon but her parents, older brother, and sister are all settled in their home state of Florida. Separated by this distance, she explained that she does not see the more subtle effects that this neurodegenerative disorder has on her father, and only witnesses very light tremors in his arm when they are able to spend time together.
The youngest of two siblings, Shannon ran track and cross country at Florida State University before throwing herself into Ironman Florida meer months after graduating in 2009. She describes the ensuing triathlon career as an “epic journey.” From Ironman Florida, Shannon immediately qualified for the World Championships and went on to finish fourth in her age group in Kona. Finding herself on the podium in the World Championships her first year in the sport brought on great excitement and curiosity about her potential for the years ahead. It also attracted the attention of the Timex Multisport Team, the longest-running team in triathlon, of which Shannon has held a coveted spot since 2010. The team provides crucial gear from both Timex and partner brands, but the 45 team members, from all walks of life, are spread out around the country and span a variety of fitness levels. Hence, Shannon finds herself training solo for the bulk of her workouts.
In 2012, Shannon and her boyfriend, Josh Stout, moved out to Oregon in search of a cooler training ground and better social fit. A big smile lights up her entire face when she describes training in Oregon. Long rides allow Shannon to wind along the historic Columbia River Gorge Highway, past Multnomah Falls, and as far east as the Bridge of the Gods. She delights in running through the light rainfall of the long winters in Forest Park and being able to recruit Josh, who is now her fiance, to join her for easier days when they can chat and enjoy each other’s company. Shannon’s two coaches, Eric Neilsen for swimming/swim-specific dryland training and Kelly Fillnow for cycling and running, are located in Colorado and North Carolina respectively. A self-described slave to the schedules they feed her online, Shannon has not been able to fit her training regularly with any local groups or individuals. However, she sees her solo efforts as better preparation for the mental hurdles that inevitably arise during the long Ironman competitions.
Two years ago, Shannon realized that she needed to improve her swimming skills and she reached out to Vasa Trainer to propose a partnership. Although they initially responded with a polite letter explaining their current limitations, six months later they reached out again and proposed a different deal: Shannon would receive a Vasa Trainer Swim Erg and personal coaching from Neilsen in exchange for running the company’s social media accounts. Shannon jumped on the opportunity and has been thrilled with the improvements she has seen in her upper body strength and swim times. The Swim Erg allows her to train with metrics, such as stroke power, similar to what power meters on the bike produce but impossible to obtain in the pool. But even though Shannon is excited to have this deal with Vasa Trainer, it does add one more task to her already jam-packed schedule. And she isn’t done just yet.
Shortly after learning about her father’s diagnosis, Shannon began to look at Team Fox, the grassroots community fundraising program at the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Team Fox offers a platform for individuals to transform their interests into opportunities to raise funds and awareness for Parkinson’s research. Team members have access to personal fundraising pages, media resources, branded materials, and support. However, the individuals often still have to dedicate a significant chunk of time to a fundraiser in order to make it successful. Time is not currently on Shannon’s side. Enter the Red Truck partnership. Through Shannon’s Athlete Garage on RedTruck.com, she is able to sell older gear that still has plenty of life left in it and direct the proceeds to the Michael J Fox Foundation. Additionally, she can encourage others to sell their high-quality gear through Red Truck and do the same with the proceeds. The gear ends up being used instead of collecting dust, the money is put to good use in Parkinson’s disease research, and Shannon is able to dedicate herself to work, triathlon training, and picking out a wedding dress.
This past weekend Shannon broke the Olympic distance course record at the Oregon Dunes Triathlon in Florence, Oregon. However, her focus for 2018 is to compete in Ironman Lake Placid on July 22 and earn her third trip to the World Championship in Kona. Follow along on her journey through Instagram or her personal website. And if you have gear that you would like to sell to benefit the Michael J Fox foundation, simply select that option in the gear upload page. Together we can follow in Shannon’s footsteps and make our celebration of sport about something deeper.