Sponsoring athletes is more than just marketing
Before Josh Henrie embarked on his first-ever Ironman last month, he got a call from fellow triathlete Mo Trainor. She offered him advice and health tips to keep in mind during the 140.3-mile race around Grand Coulee, Wash.
“It helped me calm down,” Henrie said.
After battling headwinds and 90-degree weather for several exhausting hours, Henrie crossed the finish line first in his category with a smile on his face and a Train-Or-Tri logo on his back.
Henrie is just one of three local triathletes that Trainor sponsors through her specialty sports shop Train-Or-Tri. From the time she first opened the shop in June 2005, sponsorships were one of the main things that Trainor set out to do.
“It has always been a goal of mine to sponsor athletes,” she said.
For Trainor, who has competed in triathlons for more than 10 years and has qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii next year, sponsoring local athletes is more than just a marketing deal — it’s a relationship.
“I feel like I have a really cool experience with this sport and I get to guide people through their own challenge,” she said.
Who to sponsor?
Being the only sports store in town that focuses specifically on triathlons, Trainor gets a lot of sponsorship requests. Some athletes come with accolades, others with enthusiasm.
But Trainor can’t sponsor all of them, so she is very specific about who she picks.
“I’m interested in helping out athletes who may have a bit more to overcome,” she said.
Trainor herself has overcome a lot in her racing career.
Prior to launching her sports store, Trainor spent several months in the hospital with heart problems and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The doctors gave her a 4 percent to 6 percent chance of survival. She survived, but keeping her health has been a challenge ever since.
“I still have some heart-related problems, but I’m alive,” she said.
With daily reminders of her own physical battle, Trainor said she seeks out athletes who have also overcome a health-related challenge in their athletic career. For them the triathlon is more than a race, it is a lifestyle, a choice to be healthy.
“Not a lot of people in the multisport arena come from a background with health issues because you have to be healthy to compete,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see that unless you’re an amputee and have a prosthetic. You wouldn’t know these people have these internal challenges.”
‘Just to get there is winning’
All three of the athletes that bear the Train-Or-Tri logo have overcome health issues to become exceptional racers. Henrie, for example, never developed a thyroid, the gland that controls how quickly the body burns energy.
For an athlete who is pushing his or her body’s limit, having an unregulated metabolism can be dangerous.
“Even in short races I have to deal with cramps,” Henrie said. “And no matter how good I feel I have to carry more food and water than most people. I can’t travel as light. I have to make sure I drink a lot because I sweat it all out so quickly.”
Henrie usually doesn’t tell people about his thyroid issues because he doesn’t want it to be viewed as a handicap. Rather it is just a challenge that he faces — and every athlete has challenges.
“You never know what other people have to deal with just to show up,” he said.
Having the determination to face those challenges is one key factor that joins all the athletes Trainor sponsors.
“When I got out of the hospital, my cardiologist asked that I stop racing,” Trainor said. “But when someone tells me that I can’t do something, it makes me try that much harder to prove them wrong. I see the same thing in [my sponsored athletes].
“All of these athletes have overcome health issues just to show up to a triathlon. Just to get there is winning.”
One of the reasons Trainor said she chose to sponsor Henrie is because he is new to the sport. At 31, Henrie just started competing in triathlons this year — and in the toughest age group.
When he arrived at Train-Or-Tri, he had impressive athletic awards in pole- vaulting and cycling, but none in triathlons.
“He would have a harder time going to a large company and asking for a sponsorship,” Trainor said. “It’s hard to walk into a store and say ‘Hi, will you sponsor me?’ It not an easy job to ask for money.”
As part of his sponsorship, Henrie receives $500 of in-store credit each year to spend on whatever he needs for the 20 events he attends. And there is a lot to choose from: wetsuits, running shoes, bike parts, energy food. He also gets 10 percent off of any purchase beyond the stipend.
Plus, being sponsored by Trainor is almost like having a coach.
“I can always get what I need at her store and I can always go back to her for advice,” Henrie said.
For Trainor, the total cost of the sponsorships amounts to less than the price of a full set of triathlon gear. And in return, she gets to advertise directly to her target audience: the people chasing after athletes like Henrie.
“Sponsoring athletes is the best marketing and advertising you can have for a store like this. They are moving billboards for your store,” she said. “And especially if someone does well, people are curious about what that logo represents.”
Finishing is just as hard as showing up. Triathlete Judy Pratt, who is also sponsored by Train-Or-Tri, learned that last month at the National Championship Triathlon in Portland, Ore.
Though Pratt has chronic asthma, her health was not what held her back — it was her equipment.
“I didn’t do well. I came in dead last in my division,” Pratt said. “Not the result I wanted.”
Just three miles from completing the bike section, Pratt was unable to repair a flat tire. This basically put her out of the competition for a top placement, but she decided to walk the remaining distance.
“I’ve never had a DNF (did not finish) before and I knew Mo was going to be there at the finish line waiting for me,” Pratt said, describing what kept her going.
Pratt and Trainor have known each other for a long time and Pratt said she always gets encouragement from Trainor, no matter how she finishes a race. So it feels good to promote a friend who has supported her over the years, Pratt said.
“I’m proud to wear the Train-Or-Tri logo,” Pratt said.
And it is that same logo that gives Henrie a little extra push when struggling on mile 127.5.
“It pushes me a little harder,” he said. “I know I have [Trainor’s] business on my back and I want to race well and represent the shop well.”
Spotlight: Train-Or-Tri athletes
- Josh Henrie: Competes in the 30- to 34-year-old division. First place in Clydesdale division at 2008 Grand Columbian Ironman. “I was a pole-vaulter until I was 26, when I unfortunately hurt myself and had to stop. That is when I picked up a road bike and found a new passion. After two years I tried my first triathlon, the Lake Padden Sprint Triathlon, and got hooked.”
- Judy Pratt: Competes in the 50- to 54-year-old division. First place in division at 2006 Grand Columbian Triathlon. Registered nurse. Has chronic asthma. “Exercising and staying healthy contribute to my success with controlling my asthma and being able to swim, bike and run.”
- Cathy Renaud: Competes in the 60- to 64-year-old division. Member of Team USA. Registered nurse for 37 years. Stroke survivor. “Four years ago, my orthopedic physician gave me bad news: My left knee was severely arthritic, and I could no longer run daily. I was devastated. ‘Get a bike and start riding’ he advised, so I went right out and bought a mountain bike.”