To photograph athletes is to gain a privileged glimpse into their world. Recently, photographer Clint Thayer was engaged by SBR Coaching for a series of photo shoots to document the dynamic interaction between coach Jessica Laufenberg and triathletes in training at the center. In the process, he entered a space as rich in visual imagery as it is in friendships.
With the rigor involved in gaining strength in all three areas - swimming, cycling, and running - triathlon is an athletic discipline that requires immersion in numbers. Split times. Calories. Lap counts, lake water temperature, pedal cadence, pace per mile, minutes in transition zone. More calories, distributed ever-so-carefully between grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. A glance at triathlon magazines and forums leaves the impression that an entire season can be neatly summed up in columns of a training log, every decimal in place.
But belying this black-and-white quantitative world is a deeper truth: triathlon training, intense as it may be, is beautiful. Deeply aesthetic and infused with a meditative quality. In the quietude of an early morning open water swim session, with mind still slightly afog as it wavers between sleep and wakefulness, even the most ordinary training task elicits a feeling of reverence. Meters per minute lift away from the sterility of a spreadsheet into the slap of water on a buoy and the blush of dawn as Laufenberg slips a kayak into a lake, ready to guide and counsel her athletes. Wind sprint training on a late summer evening is an exultation of angles: the arc of lane markings on the track punctuated by muscles, sinews, and something between a smile and a grimace.
For an endurance sport that can be intensely isolating during competition, most striking is the visual impact of coach and athletes connecting with each other. Knowing that triathlons involve long miles of internal torment and physical suffering, there is a poignancy to seeing Laufenberg working intently with athletes, studying their movement and faces, listening to their breathing patterns. There is a sense that any moment in training - a quiet word, a hand on a shoulder, a refinement of swim stroke, even a grin at the sudden whimsy of one-legged plyometric exercises - might become the critical memory during a race. A moment to draw back on when it’s just the triathlete doing battle with the clock, their thoughts, and a body incredulous at the situation in which it finds itself.
We at Focal Flame Photography are honored to witness the dedication and discipline of triathletes, and wish competitors strength and safe passage as the 2010 race season enters its final phase.
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