Running to the Next Hurdle, with Olympic Medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton
Brianne Theisen-Eaton is the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and Canadian record holder in the women’s heptathlon, a grueling combination event involving 100-metre hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-metre run, long jump, javelin throw and 800-metre run over the course of two days. Recently retired from competition, she spoke with us about what she’s learned and what’s next.
Parvati Magazine: What’s the one thing most people don’t realize about an Olympic heptathlon?
Brianne Theisen-Eaton: You get next to no sleep between the two days of competitions, maybe four hours if you’re lucky. So when you see all of us out there competing the second day, we haven’t really slept all that much. On the first day, we run our last event around 10:30 p.m. By the time we get through media, cool down, get massages, get back the village, eat, shower, and get to sleep it’s like 1am. We start competing the next morning around 9am but we have to be up around 4:30 a.m. to have time to do a bit of a shake out, eat, get ready, get to the stadium, warm up, and get ourselves in the call room.
PMAG: What’s the most transformative moment you’ve ever experienced as an athlete?
BTE: It was after the London 2012 Olympic Games. I had placed 9th and was super disappointed with my performance. I remember being frustrated with myself and knew that I needed to make some changes and become more serious about track if I wanted to be one of the best in the world.
In September 2012, the start of the 2013 season, I walked into my coach’s office and told him, “I want to be the best in the world. I want to contend for medals, not just be a participant. If you don’t think I can do that, if you don’t think I have the potential, I want to quit right now.”
Thankfully he laughed, asked me to sit down, and told me I did have the potential to be the best in the world. From that point forward, everything I did, every decision I made, was for the betterment of my performance as an athlete.
PMAG: You’re running the Chicago Marathon. Why now, why Chicago, and how are you liking the long runs?
BTE: When I decided to retire from track and field at the beginning of the year, I found myself in a pretty overwhelming place. Not only was I unsure what I wanted to do with my life in terms of work, but I also knew I’d have to develop a whole new workout routine, as physical activity plays a huge role in my life. As I went to fitness classes, I didn’t feel like I had a goal I was working towards. So when a friend of mine asked me to run the Chicago Marathon, I figured it’d be the perfect time to do it. It’d give me the routine I needed while working toward something.
The long runs are okay. I’m surviving. But I’m definitely a sprinter at heart. I will be happy to have a break from them once the marathon is over.
PMAG: You’re making your website into a great nutrition resource. What motivated this and what’s the long term goal?
BTE: About a week after announcing my retirement, I began to think about what I’d want to do next. Both Ashton [Brianne’s husband Ashton Eaton, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in decathlon] and I were so fortunate to be able to do something we loved for so long, and now know life is too short to do something you hate. I love to cook healthy food and I love sharing my knowledge of it with other people. I think we over-complicate diet, and I see so many people struggling with how to eat so they can be their best self. I wanted to help.
My plan is to just mess around with this for a year and see where it takes me. I have an idea for a health app that I may also start pursuing soon. We’ll see!
PMAG: What’s the one thing you have learned from heptathlon that you couldn’t have learned any other way?
BTE: I think the biggest thing the heptathlon taught me, especially as a young high school and college kid, was how to work my butt off and deal with the emotional consequences of dedicating your life to something without knowing if it’s going to work out or not. This definitely requires you to mature quickly, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I now know the value of hard work, dedication, and where they can get you.
For the last 10 years, Brianne Theisen-Eaton dedicated her life to winning an Olympic medal. After graduating from the University of Oregon, she got an agent, went pro, signed a contract with Nike and set off to make her dreams come true. In 2016, she won an Olympic bronze medal in the heptathlon. Find out more at weareeaton.com.