Today, I am so excited to speak with a woman that I honor greatly as she lives up to believing in possibility: Desirée Germann. She is one of the leading Ironwomen in Switzerland. She discovered her great passion for triathlon only at the age of 29. Today, 12 years later, she has qualified for the third time for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Because of this amazing journey, her second name has become “Crazy Daisy”. Besides this, she works as an executive assistant at Noser Group, one of the leading ICT solution providers in Switzerland, and lives together with her partner in Zurich. In this interview, she reflects with us on how she found her passion for triathlon, what makes her unshakingly believe in her possibility, how she deals with setbacks and what helps her to stay focused and open for the new at the same time.
Thanks a lot for taking time for this “Human Facts meets”, right before another highlight in your sports career: the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October 2022. First of all: Congratulations for your incredible success in qualifying for the hardest triathlon race in the world! I suppose to get there you needed a lot of dedication over your lifetime. What brought you to this passion? And what keeps you going?
Désirée: First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my dreams, insights and passion with you. I always loved sports. Actually, nobody specifically ignited or acted as a role model for me, I just felt this desire to move within me. I ran a lot as a child and teenager. I simply wanted to move, move, move. I think I discovered it as my way of expressing my life’s energy, bring it into a form, like others who play music, dance or draw. I did my first marathon at the age of 18. During a stay in Nice (France) to improve my French in 2003, I watched an Ironman race that took place while I was there. I was completely fascinated by the idea to move in different disciplines over the whole day and kind of crazed by the thought that, after 3.8km of swimming, 180km of cycling, those participants were able to run a marathon at the end. I remember I told myself: Once in my lifetime, I would love to do an Ironman. Back home, I looked for a triathlon club, started to take some swim lessons, bought a racing bike, and trained for my first half Ironman in 2010. That’s how triathlon became a passion. However, I think it’s not so much triathlon per se. It’s more that I feel a deep freedom, happiness, joy and love, in the movement when I train. Of course, I love as well to do competitions. I find it very fulfilling having a goal to achieve and trying to get better each day.
What does it mean for your daily life to cultivate such a dedication to a sport? What does a “normal” day look like for you?
Désirée: Well I guess it’s the same thing with every passion, be it triathlon, playing music or building a start-up: You need to dedicate time for it. And for that you need very good planning and organizing skills, and at the same time, to keep flexible if something doesn’t turn out in the way it was planned. Normally I train twice a day, for example I do a swim session from 6-7am or longer. Afterwards I go to work, and in the evening I do a bike or a running session. On the weekends, I do my long bike rides followed by a short run or a swim session, or I do a long jog. Overall, I train between 13-20h a week beside my 100% job.
What do you value personally as your major successes – big and small – looking back on your life’s journey?
Désirée: In general I would say that I am able to find happiness in everything I do and have a positive attitude every day and to everyone. But when it comes to sport, my major success is that whenever I participated in an Ironman race here in Europe, I qualified for a seat at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Of course, I did not go there each time as Hawaii is always a long trip and it costs a lot of money. But I participated there 3 times already, and last time in 2018 I won 6th place in my age category. This year will now be my 4th time and I’m looking very much forward to it!
Triathlon is an individual and not a team sport. Are there times you feel lonely? How do you balance it with your social life?
Désirée: Yes, that’s true, but I don’t feel lonely at all. I actually love to just be with myself during trainings. It gives me time to reflect on things that have happened, about my life in general, or simply to let feelings, ideas or insights bubble up from the inside that might not come up when I am busy. Nevertheless, I am very happy to enjoy a very rich social life. To have my partner, friends and family around me and to be able to count on our relationship is very important for me. Actually, I am very grateful that there are so many people supporting me in living my passion. For example, my coach, and my boyfriend who is a cyclist and a training partner sometimes on long bike rides. Or my friends who cheer for me and wish me good luck when I do races. Or my parents who come with me to certain races to just support me. Without people who support you and believe in you, it would not be possible to live your passion in the way I am able to do it.
Have there been setbacks or moments of doubt at some stage over the years? And if so, what did you learn from them? What helped you to continue believing in your potential?
Désirée: My biggest setbacks have been my injuries. One was in 2018 in the preparation for Hawaii and I was not able to run for a couple of weeks. At the beginning I was very concerned. What if I can’t train anymore? Maybe I can’t go at all? But then I told myself it makes no sense to worry as I can’t change the situation. And to paint the future black doesn’t help either. I have to deal with it and make the best of it. So I decided to concentrate on what is possible. Fortunately, I could cycle and swim. So I stayed in the here and now and focused on the cycle and swim training day-by-day and recovered step-by-step. Finally, everything turned out well and I was able to participate. Luckily I have not had many of such setbacks.
What I think is crucial to overcome setbacks is the emotional acceptance of the situation, to focus on the possibilities and to keep open for a positive outcome.
According to Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr in their bestselling book “The power of full engagement”, high performance is not only related to how we activate and train ourselves. It is more and more related to our ability to pause and regenerate regularly. What helps you to regenerate effectively?
Désirée: Yes indeed, regeneration is very important. And for that you need to have a good body feeling. It is important to listen to the body and what it needs, and to find out what helps you to recover properly. For example, last week I had a triple run day and the next morning my legs felt very tired. I had 2 hours of cycling on my training plan. I did the 2 hours of cycling anyway but I took it a little bit easier and didn’t push it too hard. Generally, I always try to get enough sleep, eat healthy and go to a massage regularly, not waiting until pain arises. A good work-life balance is also important, I guess. What helps me too is to cultivate a good emotional atmosphere with people around me at work and in my private life. This means to avoid and stay away from too much blaming or complaining. A positive atmosphere fuels me with energy and this helps me as well to recover easily.
When I got to know you – I think it was 10 years ago? – you worked for one of my clients and you had to organize a 200-person senior management meeting in Malta that I had the pleasure to facilitate. I remember that at some stage you had to rebook all flights of all participants joining from every corner of the world. I was completely impressed how easy going, professional and speedy you just did this task without any complaints, no blaming or mourning – is that a side effect of your training or do you train your mental and emotional strength specifically? What helps you to stay centered and grounded?
Désirée: Well, I guess it’s certainly as well part of my nature. I am endowed with a cheerful nature, I am very optimistic, and have a strong will. Living up to my sport passion, I definitely use this mental strength continuously. And I guess by that I build it up and strengthen it as well. For example, during a particular hard training, I learned to empower myself by visualizing how I reach my goal to perform in Hawaii and enjoy being on the island. What helps me stay grounded generally, is to be on the lookout for the possibilities in life, not the deficit. No matter what’s happening. It’s not about painting everything rosy. But it’s about accepting things you can’t change, but seeing as well things you can change and to go about changing them. And not waiting for others to do it for you. Actually sports is a great feedback giver: If it does not work as you like, it’s only myself who can do something about it. I cannot blame others. So, I think it taught me quite naturally to take responsibility and to make myself and my life as happy as possible, and not wait for others to make me happy. That’s why my motto in life is:
"Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be who you want to be, because you only have one life and one chance to do the things you want to do."
Overall, how do you think your sports journey has grown not only your physical muscles but as well your personal skills and competences? In which way?
Désirée: Well, my sport helps me a lot to stay focused. It’s about setting a goal, getting used to certain routines and then launching yourself completely into doing everything to reach the goal. If you work 100% and train 10-20 hours a week, you have to learn to be totally present – not only during the races. Whether it’s a training or work - wherever you are, you need to be fully present, putting your full heart into it and always striving to progress. You also learn to be patient, believe in the small steps, because when you prepare for a big competition you need to plan this 1-2 years ahead. And of course you also learn how to deal with nervousness. I think the sport helped me indeed to become a stronger person: somebody who never lets the goal get out of sight, doesn’t get distracted too easily, but is able to adapt very quickly and flexibly if the way or the routines might get interrupted.
For managers – but actually for all of us - one most important challenge today is indeed how to stay focused and yet open to any changes or shifts that require one to rethink and adapt quickly. What can we learn from you? What helps you to stay focused and still open?
Désirée: For me, focus means to put all my energy towards my goals in life. So I think a clarity and dedication about your goal or purpose helps to stay focused. Then you have to make a plan with the important things you have to get done for the week and then stick to it with no excuses. If changes in certain circumstances appear, it’s important not to let the outside distract you from your overall goal too easily. Analyze the situation anew with an open and flexible mind - maybe you have to change your little targets, but you have to keep the big picture overhead and stick to it. For example, in 2018 I was injured and couldn’t run. But it gave me the opportunity to do more swimming, and by that I was finally able to improve my swimming technic, which always was my weakest point. So, I think a positive attitude towards those changes helps - you simply find easier and faster the good things in changing situations. So, don’t forget to smile once in a while.
And finally, do you have plans for the future when you will not be any more actively participating in races? What is it that you would like to inspire in others by the way you live your life?
Désirée: For me, my sport is a lifetime thing and it belongs to me like the air I breathe. It’s not only an activity, it’s an attitude. That is ageless. It’s about finding a channel to let your energy be in flow and move in some kind. I like to inspire people that anything becomes possible when you believe in yourself. With an open mindset you always can find possibilities and happiness in what you do. And with this attitude I try to inspire other people around me to go on their path, to put their energies in motion and feel the same way. And of course, I hope I will be able to do sports or triathlon my whole life. And hopefully I am able to participate in many races until an old age. My dream is actually to become the oldest woman to finish the Ironman World Championship in Kona, hopefully inspiring many others to believe in their dreams and possibilities.
Human Facts collects from every interview partner questions that had the power to change lives or our thinking. Do you remember a question that changed your life or how you think?
What makes you happy and what keeps you happy?
And finally, is there anything left you would have loved I ask you – or that you would like to share with us?
Désirée: Just always try to be yourself without trying to be someone else. Treat everyone – including yourself - with respect. Try to see the bright side of life, search in every situation where the possibility or potential lies. If sometimes something bad happens, it mostly only seems bad at first sight until you find in it the seed for something good. When you are unhappy, have the courage to change things in your life, be it a job or relationships. Learn to love everything you do and do everything you love in your life.
Thank you so much for your time and your generous sharing of your very personal experiences, insights, and dreams, Désirée! I wish you all the very best for continuously stepping into your flow of possibility!
*) I met Désirée almost 10 years ago working for one of Human Facts’ clients I was engaged with. Throughout the whole project we had great fun working together. She is a great role model in self-leadership and dedication, yet spreading a juicy kind and humorous partnering and centered down-to-earth energy. I did this Interview before her big race in Hawai. In the meantime, it is with great pleasure and utmost respect that we can congratulate her on her renewed success at the Ironman in Hawaii, which she successfully contested as the second best Swiss woman in her category. Congratulations dear Désirée!! To those who’d like to know more about Désirée’s triathlon journey and her endeavor in Hawaii, have a look on her website, or follow and fan her over on Instagram.