Taylormade Timber has been the official sponsor of British triathlete Jessica Learmonth since 2014.
Jess is a rising talent in Team GB and is currently ranked fifth in the World Triathlon Series after achieving outstanding results in elite races over the last two years. Last year, she scooped an impressive two silver medals (individual and relay) at her Commonwealth Games debut in Australia’s Gold Coast.
Other recent highlights have included a gold medal at the 2017 Kitzbühel ETU Triathlon European Championships, a silver at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Stockholm and a bronze at the 2017 Rotterdam World Triathlon Series Grand Final.
We caught up with Jess, who is based in Leeds, as she was recovering at home after breaking several ribs in a fall from her bike just four days into training in South Africa.
Q: How are you feeling?
A: I’m OK, it’s been two weeks since the accident and I’m just starting to get back into training. My first race this year is at the beginning of March and I’d like to do it if possible.
This year is a big one because it’s Olympic selection and if we hit the podium in two races then we get automatic selection. It’s hard because there are so many strong GB girls in the triathlon and just three Olympic spots.
We’re quite competitive but at the same time we are all happy for each other’s successes. I train with a few of them throughout the year and we all race in the World Series.
Q: When did your triathlon career begin and how has it developed?
A: I’m a bit different to a lot of other triathletes because I got into triathlon really late, at the age of 23. I swam from an early age and my dad did triathlon in the 1980s – he set up the first tri club in Yorkshire. I used to watch him when I was little. I’d also dabbled in a bit of football and golf, but I gave up swimming when I was 16 and literally did nothing after that. To be honest, I think I’d had enough of sport.
I finished school, then college and went travelling for a year with my partner before coming back and working full time as a fitness instructor in a gym. It was a normal life.
But then at the age of 22 I did a half marathon and a local village boot camp and I ruptured my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in my knee so I had to have an operation. The rehab for that was cycling. And then I did a triathlon and kind of did all right. So I decided to a do a bit of training and try to improve. I was better at it than I expected and I just got the bug for it.
I met my coach Ray Butters, who is from Ripon, through my dad, and he’s been with me since the early days. He puts up with a lot and I can’t thank him enough really.
Q: How did the sponsorship with Taylormade Timber come about?
A: Ray knows Taylormade Timber’s chairman Doug Wentworth, who kindly said they’d help if I wanted to go full time and really give it a go.
The company’s logo is on my kit but they’ve never asked me to promote them especially, they are just genuinely happy to help out.
It’s been unbelievable and I owe them a lot. I wish I could try promote them more and give something back as they have literally changed my life!
Q: What does sponsorship mean to you as an elite athlete?
A: It’s impossible to progress as a professional triathlete without sponsorship. You wouldn’t be able to get to world or even European standard without it. Being a triathlete at this level is really expensive, you have to buy your swim stuff, bike, running gear, and half the events are abroad. Just the training in itself is equivalent to a full time job.
Most triathletes start off as juniors and go through the rankings, so they get funded through the youth development for Team GB. But if, like me, you’re not involved in that, you have no sponsorship.
When I started competing against full-time athletes, I was working full time and not earning very much. The sponsorship from Taylormade Timber enabled me to give up work and start triathlon full time. I’m not over-exaggerating when I say it really did change my life. From there it went mad, I then got on the GB team and that gave me access to funding, physio, and strength and conditioning support. I started doing better and better.
I got silver in last year’s Commonwealth Games in both the individual and the relay. It was unbelievable to think that four years before that, I’d been a spectator at the games in Glasgow (which was in fact hotter than the race in Australia!).
I’m now travelling the world, training every day, doing something I love and experiencing completely different things – all because of the sponsorship. For me to be able to have an opportunity to focus on something I’m good at has been unbelievable. I’ve always been sporty but I was never very self-confident and don’t have great self-belief, but being a pro triathlete has helped me grow in confidence.
In triathlon, there are so many injuries, you’re one step away from being out for the season. It’s the worst thing being injured, but having some sponsorship behind you makes it less stressful. It gives you freedom to just go and do things out of your comfort zone.
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t have any plans beyond the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. That’s the furthest I can focus on right now. I’m 30 now and triathletes usually compete until they’re about 35, so Tokyo has been my main aim since I started.