barb lindquist

Darcie Murphy: What I Learned From a Road Trip with a Middle-Aged Olympian

By Darcie Murphy,
CTS Ultrarunning Senior Coach

In the early 2000s, Barb Lindquist was one of the best triathletes in the world. As a pro she won 33 of the 134 races she started (25%), was on the podium 86 times, and was the #1 ranked triathlete from 2003-2004. She finished 9th in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, and 18 years later she took a road trip with me to our kids’ cross-country State Championships meet. Throughout my coaching career I’ve spent time with current and retired elite athletes, but not as two moms driving 20+ hours together to an event neither of us were to compete in. With many similar interests and lots of available time, we talked about everything. As I reflect on our conversations through a coaching lens, here are some lessons (conveyed with Barb’s permission) we can all learn from a middle-aged Olympian.

Stay curious and continue learning

Obviously, Barb is a great athlete. It’s difficult to argue that point. But she didn’t stop achieving or evolving when she decided to retire in 2005. Barb and her husband had twin boys shortly after she finished competing at the elite level. She juggled parenting and a part-time position with USA Triathlon, and she maintains a notable fitness level even today. Barb was the mom that nursed exclusively, even squeezing in short-but-focused swim workouts while her boys napped in their respective carriers at the end of the lane. She also pulled them behind her in a dual infant Chariot as she lapped the Nordic track on skis.

After being with USA Triathlon for about a decade, she transitioned into coaching other triathletes. As her sons grew, Barb learned to golf alongside them, just one of the many hobbies they enjoy as a family. In fact, as I was using mountain ranges and rivers to orient myself during our road trip, Barb indexed our location based on where we happened to be relative to the nearest golf course (which she had either played or had plans to play). She now homeschools her boys so she can continue the opportunity for greater growth and learning in their lives.

Considering all Barb has done since completing her career as a professional triathlete, and her commitment to ongoing development, I realized that it is largely because she is curious. Often, a curious mindset is a foundation for notable accomplishments, and Barb embodies curiosity nearly constantly. She had seemingly never-ending questions for me, and we discussed everything from classical literature to what goes into a great meal, and the highs and lows of being an endurance coach. She seems to look out at the world with a passion to learn all it has to offer in any given moment. I found myself wanting to cultivate more curiosity in my own life through her enthusiasm for holding an inquisitiveness mindset.

Separate your self-image from your athletic performance

Barb shared with me that throughout her time as a high school swimmer, she strongly linked her performance to her self-worth. The better she swam, the greater her value. Then, while attending Stanford University as a student athlete on Stanford’s swim team, Barb experienced what she describes as a life-altering experience. Her spiritual community and a belief in a higher power helped her realize there was nothing she could do, athletically or otherwise, to earn her worth as a person. She simply was worthy.

That realization liberated her from tying her performance as an athlete to her value. She realized she was free to succeed, fail, or anything in between. Her value would remain unchanged. This pivotal moment was key to her success as she moved into triathlon shortly after college. Driven by self-acceptance and curiosity, she pursued her abilities without fear.

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Be your kid’s parent, not their coach

Each parent must navigate the appropriate level of involvement in their kids’ activities, both in athletics and beyond. It was interesting to witness the relatively hands-off approach Barb takes with her twin sons’ sporting endeavors. During our shared weekend, and over the course of the cross-country season, she attended most meets and ensured her boys never missed practice. However, she left the training agenda and specific workouts entirely to the high school coaches. After competing and coaching at the highest levels, she was able to hand over their running development to younger and less experienced coaches. This revealed the trust Barb holds, and gives, and it likely came from her own positive experiences as a high school athlete.

At the same time, the pre-race pep talks her sons received from their mom were incredibly compelling. She highlighted the assurance that no matter the outcome of their race, she would love and accept them completely. They, too, were free to fail or succeed and her adoration would be in no way linked to how quickly or slowly they covered the distance on a given day. She understood the mentality behind her own success and offered the same unconditional acceptance that underpinned her victories.

Barb and her sons a few years before our road trip.

Guard your successful traits

Just a few hours into our drive, it was evident that Barb thrives self-discipline and attention to detail. Although we both admitted to feeling enthusiasm about early bedtimes (and early mornings), regular mealtimes, and an equitable approach to sharing travel costs, Barb led the charge when it came time to put these into action.

With tact, she arranged to be asleep by 9 pm most of our shared evenings. Following a full night’s rest, she had planned the details for lunch. Dinner plans were discussed, if not secured, each morning before we had finished eating breakfast. Gas mileage was calculated at most refill points and all routes were planned before anyone had their shoes on. She carved out time for her workouts, and I happily shared a run with her on the last morning of our trip. I realized it’s no accident that she continues to create excellent outcomes in all that she does. Barb is methodical, goal-oriented, and guided by her values as she moves toward her goals.

Pursue excellence but not perfection

Barb’s sense of discipline, curiosity, and adherence to guiding values and excellence are real, but she also realizes she isn’t perfect. She doesn’t expect perfection from herself or others. Barb explained, in so many words, that in not insisting on perfection, she is able to grow even more, because she is allowed to come up short, return with a new strategy and continue to make the small improvements that add up to large achievements. So, although she sets standards high for herself, her boys, and her athletes, she also gives plenty of room for imperfection through compassion.

Ultimately, Barb Lindquist is a ‘normal’, authentic, curious, and very kind person. She understands that she achieved an immense amount of success athletically, while simultaneously understanding the larger picture. Her vision seems combine acceptance with continued growth and evolution over a lifetime.

Thanks, Barb, for the safe driving you did, but more so, for the terrific life lessons. It was a trip I’ll long remember!

Comments 5

  1. It’s amazing what we can learn about each other on a run or a car ride. At least with a car ride we’re less out of breath. There was a time when I was paralyzed by driving fears and I would have to rely on others to help me and my children get to various swim meets on the Eastern seaboard. I was also, the head coach of the swim team and felt so embarrassed about this perceived weakness or anxiety of mine. Having to share rides with other parents made me learn so much about them and their lives and struggles they’d been through. Of course I paid or shared gas money, but it was the questions I asked and the stories that were told the listening that was so much more enriching than if I had just driven myself. I’m happy that those fears are a thing of the past, but there’s always those silver linings, right? I made so many lifelong friends through those shared experiences. So, I really enjoyed the framework for this story. And Barbara seems like an amazing person and I’m sure you are too, because you asked a lot of questions and found value in her responses and her approach to life. As a journalist and coach, curiosity is the real driving force. Thank you for a wonderful article.

  2. Excellent story. It’s filled with wonderful messages, some right out front and some subtle, that all would enjoy reading. It’s not just about training. It’s about living.

  3. This article is outstanding! It’s an excellent setup of the conversation and it outlines topics that it often takes a person many years to realize. Just like training plans need to be personalized for athletes, articles need to be adapted to be a compelling reach into the thought-process of an elite athlete. Kudos to Darcie and Barb.

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