Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 3 - Todd Buckingham - SUPER AERO TRIATHLETE - Part 2 of 3

So, you know, some people watching will be, kind of know what it's like for undergraduate student athletes. But you know, once you move into Ph.D. research, I assume, I don't have a Ph.D., that, you know, your kind of time intensity goes up as far as studying goes.

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JESSE: So, you know, some people watching will be, kind of know what it's like for undergraduate student athletes. But you know, once you move into Ph.D. research, I assume, I don't have a Ph.D., that, you know, your kind of time intensity goes up as far as studying goes. So, I'm kind of curious, you know, what's it like to be a student athlete at that level where you're working on your Ph.D., and you're also competing at a very high level as an amateur? TODD: What's it like, very difficult. I don't have much life outside of school and training. So, as a graduate student, you have classes that you take, you have classes that you teach, and you have research that you do. So, it is so much more time intensive than an undergraduate degree that you don't really realize until you're in it. I remember in undergrad thinking that I was so busy, and then I got to grad school, and I was like, I had so much free time. And so yeah, I mean, it's tough, but I mean, you make the time for the things that are important to you. So, you know, it's just one of those things that fitness and exercise and triathlon are important to me, so I prioritize those things. And yeah, for better or worse, you know, sometimes it takes precedent over studying for an extra hour, you know. But is studying that extra hour really going to help me get 10% better on the exam or quiz? No, probably not. And in all reality, and this is one thing that I learned going from undergraduate to graduate school is that grades don't really matter. I mean, honestly, and for anybody listening, I know this is the Smart Athlete Podcast, but like, give yourself a break. I was that student in high school who like always had to get A's. Unfortunately, I was the salutatorian, I finished second it by like 600th-- JESSE: So, it still haunts you, you're still concerned with the grades, you just said they didn’t matter. TODD: Yeah. But once you get into graduate school, like other things become more important. Your research becomes more important, your teaching becomes more important. And then the grades, I mean, I couldn't even tell you what I finished with at Michigan State, what my GPA was. But I know exactly what my GPA was in high school and undergrad because those things were important to me. And what became more important was getting my dissertation done, and teaching well and preparing lectures well. And so and the grades don't really matter because like, I didn't get my job because I got a 4.0 in science class, right? I got my job because of like, the research that I had done. And honestly, like, my triathlon background helped me get my job as a sport performance. I'm the lead exercise physiologist at a local hospital and I'm starting a brand new state of the art sport performance lab. And it's not because I did really well in stats class. JESSE: Right, right. Yeah, it's that kind of overall, like, I won't say, well rounded, just because it has to be this laser focus to get a Ph.D. and compete at such a level. But it's like that, you know, the combination of the two that come together to make kind of unique, you know, individual. TODD: Yeah, and I don't think people really realize like, how difficult it is to be in school and to compete. Like, you know, we all I think that having a nine to five is difficult, and trying to get training in around then. But if you look at a graduate degree in a program, it's not nine to five, it's like, six to six or later. I had 10 o'clock classes some night, you know, class goes till 10 o'clock. And then grading and preparing lectures and things like that, like, that's a weekend thing, too. So, it's not just five days a week, it's seven days a week. And you make no money as a graduate student, let me tell you. So like-- JESSE: You mean, students are paid, you know, handsomely. I don't know what you're talking about. TODD: It's weird. So, yeah, I mean, I think that winning the national championship was cool. But I think that winning the national championship while being in my Ph.D. program, like that's even, it makes it even more special for me. Because it's not like, I could afford the best gear and, you know, I wasn't on a team. And I didn't have like, all the cool stuff and the support from anybody, really, but my family and my friends and my coach, of course. She would get mad at me if I didn't say that. But it's true, but it’s true. JESSE: Yeah, she's a taskmaster, but in a good way. TODD: So yeah, you know, I think that's probably the coolest thing about winning the national championship that year was just doing it with everything else going on. And people, I mean, you don't know what other people have going on in their lives. And I'm sure nobody knows like that I was in the midst of my Ph.D. when I won that. But, you know, it just makes it special for me and, and that's why I do it. Like I don't do it to get awards and recognition. Like I do it for the personal challenge and to really push my own limits. JESSE: I'm going to get sidetracked if we move on. One thing I want to talk about, and I think it was that year, that was the year your foot was messed up, wasn't it? TODD: Oh, yeah. JESSE: Yeah, because I remember when we were doing swim warm ups with Barb the day before the race, you're my swim partner. And you're like, all right, go ahead and whack it in the water and we'll see how it feels. So, what happened with the foot and I'll have the picture here up on the screen for anybody watching. TODD: Yeah, so -- Oh, gosh, it was probably it was, I think it was within a week of the race I was kind of doing, you know, last preparation stuff. Transition practice, coach likes to have us practice transitions, like getting in and out of the shoes, running with the bike, hopping back on. And I was literally doing my last one and I was 50 feet from my house. I could see the driveway, I was just turning the corner. So, I take my shoes, I take my feet out of my shoes, I swung my leg over top. And I had hopped off and I started running with the bike. And all of a sudden one of my shoes hit the ground, and it caused the bike to jackknife up in the air. Well, when the bike jackknifed up in the air because I was holding it by the seat, it kind of-- the front wheel went in front of my body. And I ended up just going head over heels, tumbling and because I wasn't wearing socks. I hit my foot on something. I don't know what it was. But this is probably like the most excruciating pain that I've ever felt in my life. And I honestly thought that like, my pinky toe had gotten ripped off. Like it hurt so bad. And I was literally like, I grabbed my foot in my hand and was just squeezing it, holding it. So that, like, my pinky toe wouldn’t fall off. And so and I'm like, my neighbors are really close. Like, my parents weren't home. It was at my parents house, and they weren't home and so they couldn't help, like my neighbors. I had just seen one of my neighbors, and I like started yelling forum and I whistle like I can whistle really loud. And I was whistling and like nobody was coming to help. Like, there's nobody around. And so finally I was like, okay, well, I guess I got to get up and try to get home. And like I said, luckily it was like 50 feet away. So, I basically dragged myself and my bike to the door. I went to the neighbor's house and knocked on the door and then just kind of like laid down on their porch. And my neighbor, he's he's such a fun guy. Like he's a middle school teacher, and we goof around all the time. We kind of like play jokes on each other as a family. And so he answered the door, and he opened the door and he goes, “Hey, Todd, what's up? What are you doing? Like, haha, like, funny, joke.” JESSE: Yeah, you're messing with me. TODD: And then he saw the blood and he's like, “Oh, this is serious.” And he was like, “We got to go to the hospital right now.” And I was like, “No, no, it's fine. It's fine.” He's like, “No, we're going.” And so like, he got me in the car and we went to the hospital. And luckily, nothing was broken or too terribly damaged. And they would have put stitches in it but I told them that I was racing in like, less than a week and so they were like, “Well, okay. Good luck.” JESSE: They wouldn't glue it or anything? TODD: They didn't glue it. JESSE: Was a too deep because I know -- I remember you talking about it being pretty deep. TODD: Yeah, it was really deep. And what happened was like, if you look at and you can see the picture. But yeah, like it split the webbing between my toes. And, gosh, it was so painful. But yeah, they just kind of bandaged me up and sent me home. It was really, I'll say, cool. My parents dog, when I got home, my feet were like, up on the couch or the stool and he came and he was like sniffing and he started like licking my foot. Like he knew that it was hurt. And he tried to like, help me back and heal me. So, that's probably my best memory from getting hurt. Just knowing that he cares about me. JESSE: Yeah, I know. I remember kind of going into the race. I made a joke to you about, you're going to have to just Prefontaine it up and then of course you did and you won. But you know, you didn't really seem too daunted by it. I mean, how do you keep your head in the game when your foot is cut up and you know, fairly painful? TODD: Yeah. How do I keep my head in the game when my foot is definitely not? Yeah, you know, it's-- and I didn't run for a few days after that happened. I think that was on Tuesday, and the race was on Saturday. And so I didn't run Wednesday, or Thursday, and I gingerly ran on Friday. So for me, it was more just like, getting my foot healthy and knowing that all the training that I put in, in the days, weeks months leading up to the race, that I was ready. And I don't usually get nervous before races, especially big races like that and it's kind of different. I know a lot of people put a lot of pressure on like National Championships or World Championships. But I just try to treat it like any other race. I mean because it is, right. Why would you do something different for a National Championship that you didn't do all year, and you had success all year? So, for me, it's just about doing what I always did, and going through the motions. And, you know, luckily, my foot didn't hurt too bad on race day. I think because like everything else was hurting, you know, your legs are burning, your lungs are burning-- JESSE: Yeah, your brain can only handle so much pain. It’s whatever that hurts the most. TODD: Yeah. And I couldn't really focus on it because what I was focusing on was like the race. I came off the bike three minutes down to the leader. And I was like, doing the math in my head and was like, oh, my gosh, I have to run 30 seconds per mile. JESSE: 30 seconds faster, right. TODD: And at the halfway point, so that year in Omaha, we ran through the baseball field, which is really cool. As a former baseball player, I loved that, loved running on -- I know, a lot of people didn't like it. But like, that was the highlight to me. And it was just an out and back and so those are the courses that I love because it gives me a good barometer of where I'm at and how far down I am. And when I got to the halfway point and I asked somebody, I was like, how far ahead is the leader. And at this point, I was in third place. And the leader was a minute and a half ahead of me. And so I had exactly cut, you know, half the time... And I was like, oh my gosh, this is going to hurt so bad. So like, I wasn't thinking about my foot because I was just like, I need to go faster. And I caught him with less than a quarter mile to go and I passed him. But I had given so much in those six miles, that that last quarter mile, and not the last quarter, about the last 10th of a mile I started fading. And he was coming back on me. And I talked to him after the race and he said, “Yeah, you know, I thought you were just like letting up and kind of like celebrating too early.” And I was like, “No, I just I didn't have anything left. You know, I ended up beating them by three seconds. And it's probably like the closest National Championship in their history, which I mean, it was really cool. Like, I love races where it's actually a race. It's not just an individual time trial because -- JESSE: And that adds the excitement to it. TODD: Yeah, exactly. And for the most part with triathlons, the non-drafting style that we do, it's just an individual time trial. Which is why like, I've done a few draft legal races. I love those because it's tactical-- JESSE: It’s super fun. TODD: Yeah. And so you actually like you get to race like you're with people the entire time. And so that was a lot of fun. And yeah, I crossed the finish line and then my foot really started hurting. I was like, “Oh, get me off my feet like I can't even walk right now.” And so that was really cool. And and I had my dad out on the course and like he was - at me and then he came and found me at the finish line. And that was a really special moment that we had. So, that’s cool. JESSE: Yeah, I mean, the whole thing is definitely like, I feel like it's kind of an untold story. Like, I know that your foot was messed up, but you know, how many other people really get to know that you're running on that and just the whole thing coming together so that you know, on top of everything and you know, I want to make sure everybody understood, you know, the kind of personal challenges that you were facing. It wasn't just like, oh, I'm an awesome athlete, and I came out and just beat everybody. And you know it is tough for you just as it's tough for everybody else like everybody hurts. Go to Part 1 Go to Part 3

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