Maintaining Control

Lisa Bentley’s life is a study in overcoming adversity. An 11-time Ironman champion, along with multiple wins in other distances, she made it look easy. But there was one triathlon in Australia where everything went wrong, and she had to remind herself that these were the moments that defined a champion.

Just before she got to the start line, she stepped on a tack and ripped her racing suit. Five minutes into the race, she was elbowed in the face and got a black eye. Her goggles were dislodged and she lost valuable time getting them back on. So far, the race was not going according to plan.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to turn this around. I can’t go through nine hours of thinking what if,’” she says. “And so I reframed the perspective and thought to myself, ‘Today’s going to be the day where you really have to prove you’re a champion.’”

Rather than complain or stress about winning, Lisa set about solving one problem at a time. When she lost her carefully blended electrolyte drink during a bumpy bike ride, she kept going. When she couldn’t find her nutrition bag at an aid station, she got resourceful with what was available. In short, she didn’t wallow in defeat.

“A champion is someone who turns the negative into a positive, who finds a way when there is no way,” she says. “I wasn’t going to give up control to anything. And I ended up being able to win the race.”

Part of Lisa’s success seems to lie in focusing on the present moment and not getting overwhelmed by the greater challenge. She recalls being once asked what she thinks about during a 112-mile bike ride.

“And I was almost shocked because I’ve never thought about it as 112 miles on the bike,” she says. “It’s always been eight miles to that corner, or four miles to the top of that hill. It’s always been broken down into manageable chunks for me.”

Overcoming adversity is a familiar lesson for Lisa. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 20, just as she was launching her career as a professional triathlete. A debilitating lung infection forced her to drop from the Pan American games when she couldn’t even run a single track lap.

Nevertheless, Lisa persisted in hiding her genetic condition. She didn’t want to be recognized for that. Instead, she wanted to earn the accolades of an athlete on merit alone. Eventually, however, she realized that her story could serve as inspiration for others who suffered from the disease.

Lisa started talking with families and children with life-threatening cases, people who had never imagined a life beyond medication. She led by example and encouraged them to live an active lifestyle, not only to clear airways in the lungs but to gain empowerment and self-esteem.

“Now I had a reason to be doing this crazy sport that I ended up really loving,” she says. “That was a big turning point. When you have purpose, what you’re doing becomes really easy and it becomes way more fulfilling.

Around 2005, Lisa started speaking professionally, using her experiences with adversity to remind corporate leaders that they are not defined by conditions but rather their decisions about those conditions. She encourages them to write down an asset list to remind them of all the positives in their lives, no matter how minute.

“Sometimes when we get defeated, we think, ‘Oh, I can’t,’” she says. “You’ll end up going through this whole list and realize that you’ve got a lot going for you, and you can feel empowered by that.”

Now retired from racing, Lisa’s experience with corporate speaking encouraged to write “An Unlikely Champion” in 2020. Rather than a memoir of her life, Lisa wrote it to be a resource for successful living. In it, she talks about the power of visualization and how that would help her prepare for potential challenges during races.

“There’s no question that I was seeing myself as executing perfectly,” she says. “But I also visualized some of the curve balls that could happen, so that I could almost problem-solve them in the comfort of my home at a 50 resting heart rate versus the stress of a race course at 160 beats per minute.”

Lisa recently became a BellSant client to learn how to track and optimize her health.

“I support the model of being proactive with your health care, not just waiting for something to go wrong,” she says. “We’re all responsible for our health. It is not the responsibility of a doctor.”

Today, Lisa’s motivation to eat healthy, get good sleep, and stay active is more about being able to walk when she’s 80 and keep her brain stimulated. She points out that when we’re younger, people tend to be focused on acquiring material things.

“But when you’re unhealthy, you only want one thing; you want your health,” she says. “So I just really encourage people to take control of that. One thing that you can do is to age well and be healthy as you age, for your mind and for your body.”

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