A Candid Interview with Simon Whitfield

Simon Canadian Jacket

2013 has been an interesting year and as it comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to sit down with a friend to talk about all that has transpired. Part journalist, part lifestyle writer, all buddy, Adrien Sala is the founder of The Gentleman’s Kitchen and columnist with CBC. He asked the questions. I answered. It was fun.  

Adrien Sala: So you “retired” recently. Have you booked a cruise ship holiday yet? I hear the buffets are amazing – stay away from the shrimp cocktail though.

Simon Whitfield: No cruise ships for me, I would go stir-crazy. And you’ll never find me sitting around watching endless sitcoms and playing golf. Retiring from Olympic sport just means turning the page to the next chapter.

Kidding aside, what caused the decision to move away from competing?

It was time. My passion for racing triathlons was waning and I have too much respect for the commitment that it takes to compete at the highest level. Triathlon is all encompassing and for me it was an obsession. So I decided it was time to move on to something else, the next challenge. Now I’m focusing on building a professional business career in sport through Fantan.

How has that transition been? I’ve heard moving from a professional sports career into other areas can been tough. 

So much has changed in my life since the Olympics that moving on from my professional racing career just got pulled into the tornado. I really didn’t have the energy or the luxury to focus on it. Having a desk, office co-workers, and a list of expectations unrelated to lap times and power watts couldn’t be more different, but I’m enjoying the challenges. For some reason I enjoy being in over my head, and I’m adapting. Fantan is a great place to work. The change is amazing and I think I’m getting the hang of it.

That’s so different from what you’ve done in the past. Do you ever find yourself plotting an escape from a meeting so you can get outside and do something active? If so, any tips for the rest of us? And no, bomb threats are not an option.

All the time. I stare out the window a lot. I need to be outside working out, exploring, adventuring… I thrive on doing the work, whether it’s alone or head to head. I love to compete and drive, drive, drive, which made me a difficult guy to train with because I kept score at all times.

I really like to eat, drink and be merry through strange times in my life. What are you doing to remain sane in the face of such an interesting transition?

Indulge, eh? I’ve had to cut back. When I was training 30hrs a week I didn’t have to pay as much attention to the number of calories going in although I was always conscious of the quality. I work out about 7 hours per week, and my caloric intake reflects that. Pints of Hoyne Pilsner not included.

What has been the most surprising/challenging thing about moving into a new career?

It’s challenging to have a less structured list of expectations. Sport was simple like that: prepare, prepare, prepare. The goal was always the same—to hear the anthem—after that it was a matter of trusting coaches and getting down to the business of chopping wood, carrying water, doing work. Life at Fantan is less defined. I run the Sports Division where we develop innovative sports concepts, from ocean festivals to indoor stadium triathlons. I’m an entrepreneur involved in numerous businesses at the same time. Thankfully I work with an incredible group of “get shit done” people who are both perfectionists and very patient with me.

So I think you know that I run a website called CookingToGetLaid, which is about men putting in more effort when doing something nice for women. I’m sure you’ve got other focuses, but now that you’re not competing do you have time to get into cooking? Are you a good cook–and do you have a go-to dish?

Cooking to keep the romance in your relationship sounds interesting. I’m learning. It’s a process. I make some pretty simple mistakes cooking; I’m missing the fundamentals but the effort is there and I try to be creative. Putting strawberries on lamb shank was a disaster, but I make a mean avocado salad and have a very nice kitchen, so I’m getting there.

It’s clear that the past year and a bit have been really interesting, if not hard work. What excites you about 2014, both professionally and personally?

We’re working on some great projects at Fantan. I really do enjoy it there. We’ve got an ocean festival in the works, we run design sessions for collaborative solution-finding with clients, Friday dance parties at the office—dubstep—which I usually win, but who’s keeping score? (I am.) Beyond that I’ll be heading to some SUP (standup paddle board) races this year. I can’t get enough of that sport. Having bought a 14-foot Naish ocean racer, I’m in for some score keeping on the SUP circuit, and fully anticipating getting absolutely destroyed by the waterman.

If there has been one major takeaway from the move into retirement and onto other things, what do you think that would be? Have you got any advice for other athletes—or anyone really—about making such big lifestyle changes?

Work toward a plan. Make a plan, find collaborators, and reward their work. Think ahead, set clear goals and work toward them. Also, it’s important to find balance. I stay sane by paddle boarding and exercising and hanging out with my girls. I can’t get enough!

Speaking of retirement… I think I’ll retire to Tofino one day where my grown up little girls can come find their dad exploring, SUP surfing, fishing, still trying to learn guitar, and chasing adventures. Until then, I’m happy to be in over my head at Fantan with daily escapes to Discovery Island on my paddleboard, or to the gym with the boys for what ever pick up sport is keeping score. I’m super excited about the next year and the fun things we’ve got coming.