Kristen Wade won’t hesitate to run into a burning building. But for years, she was terrified of her mountain bike.
“I was petrified of mountain biking,” said Wade, a firefighter and Captain with the Sugar Grove Fire Protection District in the far west suburbs of Chicago. “Even after I did an Ironman, mountain biking was a whole’ nother monster.”
Despite growing up in Colorado, Wade never mountain biked until she moved to the flat plains near Chicago. So, her husband Al Wade – also an excellent XTERRA athlete - kept encouraging her and taking her out on the trails.
“Al took me to some pretty crazy places,” admits Wade (pictured above second from left). “I spent a lot of time walking my bike and crying. And swearing. I kept asking myself, how does anyone do this? You want so bad to be good. But you are just bad.”
Wade persisted because she knew that conquering the mountain bike would give her the biggest gains in an XTERRA race, although her first one at Indiana’s XTERRA Scales Lake in 2012, was pretty tough.
The former college soccer star said, “I was OK on the swim, terrible on the bike, and then had to run my ass off.”
Still, despite her lack of experience, Wade was the first overall female in the race, which made her curious about what she might be able to do on the dirt, despite her lack of confidence.
“I put my bike away a lot. Sometimes I hated it. Sometimes I hated Al and told him it was all his fault. It took a lot of coddling and talking me into it and a lot of try, try, try on my part.”
Within a year, her hard work paid off. Al took her to Saw Wee Kee Park in Oswego, Illinois. This technical course full of roots and rocks had long been Wade’s nemesis.
“No one should ever take a beginner to that place,” she said of her early days riding there. “But then one day Al took me, and I had fun. And I thought, ‘What is this feeling? It’s not normal.’ When I realized I could tackle that place, I knew I could get better. That’s when I really got into XTERRA.”
Wade did four more XTERRA races that year and went to both the XTERRA National and World Championships in 2012.
Yet, despite her gains, the XTERRA National Championship was another suffer fest. “The water was freezing cold and the altitude messed with me. There are no hills in Chicago, I didn’t train for them, and I’m not a climber. I crossed the finish line and just cried.”
Most people might wonder why Wade kept putting herself through this kind of misery. Sometimes she didn’t even know.
“I think it’s about wanting redemption,” she said. “For some people, XTERRA comes really easy. Others have to put the time in. I don’t feel like it’s come easy for me. I’ve worked hard at it. Sometimes I think I should be further along but I’m not. Maybe it’s just not my time yet, and that’s what drives me to keep going.”
Wade went to Maui again in 2013, which was the year she was coached by Lesley Paterson of Braveheart Coaching. She finished 10th in the 30-34 age group. The following year, Lesley asked Kristen and Al Wade to join her team of Braveheart coaches.
“We were super flattered,” said Wade. “And I was really excited to coach. I didn’t have anyone to show me the ropes when I was learning. Like I kind of knew that jumping into an Ironman was a dumb idea when I had only been competing for three months, and I could have benefited from someone telling me to train for a year first. I was excited to be a guide for people so they could enjoy the sport more than I did at the start.”
Today, the Wades coach between eight and ten athletes. Al writes the plans and Kristen dubs herself the “athlete handler.”
“I do the billing, answer questions, handle the scheduling, try to motivate our athletes, and combat the freak-outs.”
She has also written a book for Endurance Planet about how to be a triathlon spectator. The book is on Amazon and entitled, Endurance Planet’s Guide to Triathlon Spectating: Everything You and Your Loved Ones Need to Know About Maximizing Your Triathlon Viewing Experience.
“It’s not like I’ve made millions on it,” said Wade. “In fact, I can’t even remember the title right now, but it’s a reference book for how to be a good spectator. You know, like things you shouldn’t ask the athlete, where to watch the course, what the heck happens in transition.”
This year, Wade is intent on going back to Maui. She and Melanie Willard – another Braveheart athlete coached by Paterson - are going to meet up in Costa Rica, rent a house, and compete in XTERRA Costa Rica.
“I am hoping to qualify for Worlds early and then relax and do some local races,” said Wade.
This year, Wade is also heading back to Utah to tackle the cold water, altitude, and hills, because she will never give up. And of course, she will spend many hours at the fire station, where she will continue to manage the station and save lives. A true XTERRA athlete, she approaches each day with an open mind and the brave heart of a leader. She says that some of what she loves about being a firefighter is also what she loves about XTERRA.
“If you train day in and day out, your craft shouldn’t be as scary,” she said of having to run into burning buildings (or jump on a mountain bike). “And I’m part of a team, which I love. You never know what the day is going to bring, but when you are with your team, you are never a lone wolf out there.”