Six Business Lessons Rescued from the Ironman Swim

Mortgage and Lending with Guaranteed Rate, Marin County, CA NMLS: 22343

Six Business Lessons Rescued from the Ironman Swim


Imagine yourself  standing on a beach at 6:55am.  The cool dawn envelopes your senses and the damp sand to which your toes clutch feels like your only shelter.  You are wearing a wetsuit, goggles and a swim cap, and though you are sharing your experience with about 2000 others, little comfort is to be found in their camaraderie.  Over the next 5 minutes your heart will settle higher and more squarely in the back of your throat until a cannon blast will signal the start of your journey, a "race" beginning with a swim of 2.4 miles, followed by a bike ride of 112 miles and a 26.2 mile run. 


Welcome to the swim portion of the Ironman triathlon (IM).  Between 2001 and 2012, I raced 14 of these events, becoming accomplished enough in that time to qualify for and compete on three occasions in the world championship event held in Kona, Hawaii, each October --- the one you see on TV with all the inspiring human interest stories.  While I lived the life of an amateur triathlete, I began to recognize that the swim portion of the event, which strikes fear equally in the hearts of the seasoned, the noobasaurs and those aspiring souls considering a dive into the sport, lent its lessons well to my growing career as a mortgage loan officer.  Here are six concepts I encountered in the water:


  1. Don't panic.  If you don't read any of the other five points, just read this one over and over.  Implement it as a mantra once you start whatever it is you're doing. Yes, you're going to get socked in the face --- repeatedly.  You're also going to have your goggles kicked off.  Swallowing seawater is to be expected, as is having your head pushed under just as you're about to breath.  Heck, you may even feel like your wetsuit is in on the conspiracy and trying to strangle you.  It's not personal, so get over it.  But whatever you do, don't panic.
  3. Rely on your training.  Chances are if you thought it was a brilliant idea to sign up for an Ironman, you probably also thought it might be wise to train regularly in the months leading up to your race.  For me, Ironman was a 20- to 25-hour per week commitment.  So just as in our business lives, don't forget that by the time we toe the line, we have done the day-in-and-day-out work to be in our place.  We have EARNED it.  When the gun goes off, start demonstrating the skills you have learned and earned.  Oh, and if you don't want to or haven't trained?  Well, get off the course ASAP.  You're a liability to yourself and others.
  5. Don't let their chaos be your chaos.  How many times in our business week do we deal with someone's "freak out?"  Maybe a colleague, a service provider or even an unreasonable client.  But their lack of control does not have to elicit an equally unhinged response from us.  In fact, in a chaotic environment, keeping our cool is everything.  See the big picture, focus on what's important and maintain forward momentum.  Do not get in someone else's hurry or panic.  It won't help you.
  7. Be consistent.  The Ironman swim start is a physics-defying experiment that you can't win.  Picture hundreds of people standing in a rectangular area.  Now ask them all to lay down in that same space.  What?  You mean they don't fit?  Competitors must jockey for position and the only variable that changes initially is the size of the box as the churning mass of humanity lurches forward.  This is your time to be calm, consistent and work your plan.  Eventually, as swimming ability thins the crowd, you'll find YOUR open water and things will get easier.  Churchill's quote is apropos:  "If you're going through hell, keep going."
  9. You can't win the race in the swim, but you can lose it.  Ironman attracts Olympic-level athletes to its folds and some have swimming backgrounds.  But even with world-class talent, getting a few minutes on the rest of the field rarely pays off for the rabbits.  If the energy expended to gain that initial time creates a deficit that cannot be restored over the balance of the day, which is by far when the bulk of the battle is fought, all is for naught.  So when we look at our business plan, we need to make sure it's sustainable over the long haul.  Producing in a stellar fashion for one month, followed by burnout and a dismal slump for two months is not a recipe for lasting success.
  11. If all else fails, slow down, look around and change your plan.  One of my first races took place at Camp Pendleton.  I got disoriented early in the swim and was quickly out of breath.  My grand plan was unraveling at the same time the surf was raging and for a second, I thought I was lost in the ocean.  I was so focused on staying with "the pack" that I swam outside of my ability and was now starting to panic.  At a certain point, I just had to stop swimming.  I popped my head up, took a few deep breaths, cleared my fogging goggles, and slowed everything way down.  Ah, I could now clearly see the beach, the safety kayaks and the turn buoys.  Everything was still in order and I was not going to swim off the edge of the earth after all.  Yes, I lost a couple of minutes, but I regained my composure and got on with the day.  In the end, I realized that sometimes it's OK, maybe even essential, to hit "pause."


Back in "the day," all Ironman races had mass starts.  That meant everyone; pros, amateurs, men and women, crashed forward together at the sound of the gun.  Over time, race directors have migrated towards wave and rolling starts to lessen anxiety and congestion, and to limit physical contact and risk of panic attacks and water rescues.  I don't have a problem with their logic but I am grateful that I competed mostly during the mass start era.  Like in business I found that having a plan and a honed response to the inevitable challenges gave me a slight edge.  I was able to view the adversity piece as an opportunity, and for a guy who had zero swimming background and who took up the sport at 30-years old, I needed every fair and legal advantage I could get. 


Where else in our personal lives do we learn valuable lessons that carry over to our business?  I'm sure if you look, you will realize the opportunities exist just about everywhere.  And I've found that when we seek to enrich one part of ourselves through any pursuit born of passion or desire for excellence we often touch the rest in the process.  How 'bout you?


Anything is possible, 



Robert J. Spinosa
Executive Loan Advisor
NMLS: 22343 
Cell/Text: 415-367-5959 Fax: 415-366-1590 
1058 Redwood Highway, Frontage Road, Mill Valley, CA 94941


LendUSA, LLC dba RPM Mortgage NMLS #1938   Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Residential Mortgage Lending Act. 


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Betsy N. Robinson - Serving the Sandhills, NC
Everything Pines Partners, LLC. - Whispering Pines, NC

Beautifully written, Rob.  This is one to share will all our Agents!  Thank you.

Sep 12, 2017 10:15 AM #19
Amanda Thomas
Providence Group Realty - Plano, TX
​Broker, SRES®, BPOR, MCNE, ​Certified DRS Agent™

Hi Rob Spinosa, love the analogies in this blog post! Well done x2!  Just keep swimming. :-)

Sep 12, 2017 10:34 AM #20
Corey Martin
Martin Presence Group - Ruston, LA
Real Estate and Management Solutions

Excellent advice! I completely agree with Amanda Thomas, just keep swimming! Thank you for sharing!

Sep 12, 2017 12:39 PM #21
John Meussner
Mason-McDuffie Mortgage, Conventional Loans, Jumbo Loans, FHA, 203(k), USDA, VA, - Walnut Creek, CA
#MortgageMadeEasy Walnut Creek, CA 484-680-4852

It's amazing how many parallels there are between sport and business.  With the exception of point #2, of course.  There are a lot of folks navigating business waters that can't swim but refuse to leave the course!

Sep 12, 2017 01:20 PM #22
Janna Scharf
Keller Williams Realty Coeur d'Alene - Coeur d'Alene, ID
Coeur d'Alene Idaho Real Estate Expert

I sure needed this today! I've watched the inspirational competitors in the Coeur d'Alene Ironman Traithlon for years. What insightful points you make, #2 put a lot of things in perspective for me today. Anything is possible! Thank you for the reminders.

Sep 12, 2017 06:18 PM #23
Victoria Ray Henderson Marshall Henderson
Buyer's Edge Company Inc - Bethesda, MD
Real Estate for Home Buyers with Buyer's Edge

What an incredible accomplishment! Congratulations and thank you for writing this blog! It's an excellent analogy to how to stay focused on our business. Have a great week and get some rest!

Sep 12, 2017 06:23 PM #24
Carmelle Bernier
West USA Realty - Scottsdale, AZ
Dedicated service since 1995!

Very a propos... thank you for the reminder.  All your points were on target.

Thank you and wishing  you continuing success.  

Sep 12, 2017 07:19 PM #25
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
New Hampshire Home Stager

I'm amazed at anyone having the stamina for such an event. Your analogy is perfect and will inspire many! Well done!

Sep 13, 2017 04:47 AM #26
Michael Horwitz

Great use of metaphors. Excellent connections to our daily lives.

Sep 13, 2017 06:03 AM #27
John Dotson
Preferred Properties of Highlands, Inc. - Highlands, NC - Highlands, NC
The experience to get you to the other side!

Rob,  what a great story about yourself and lessons learned.  Congrats on being in the "Big" one multiple times.  Your dedication is obvious and will live with you all your life.

I am especially impressed about your take-aways on the swim part.  I can relate a little, but only a little!

Sep 13, 2017 07:51 AM #28
Joe LaMastra
Realty One of New Mexico - Albuquerque, NM
Central New Mexico Real Estate

Excellent post, Rob. I find myself wrestling with #5 and have moved to #6 at this point. Your post came at a good time for me - reinforced some of my own thoughts.

Sep 13, 2017 09:06 AM #36
Nick & Trudy Vandekar, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - Devon, PA
Tredyffrin Easttown Realtors, Philly Main Line

Great advice, well earned feature, and I like the analogies you use to business from the sporting world.

Sep 13, 2017 12:02 PM #37
Paul McFadden
Paratex - Seattle, WA
Pest Control, Seattle, WA.

Wow! Impressive. Great job!

Sep 13, 2017 01:57 PM #38
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
your real estate writer

Thanks for sharing these important life lessons - they really do apply to all we do from day to day.

Sep 13, 2017 02:15 PM #39
John Wiley
Right Move Real Estate Group- EXP Realty - Fort Myers, FL
Lee County, FL Real Estate GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA

I always listen more carefully when someone speaks from their own experiences. What a great post and analogy.

Great tips for us to follow that will lead us to a higher level in our business.

You are impressive.

Sep 13, 2017 02:43 PM #40
Cynthia Larsen
Safe Haven Realty - Cotati, CA
Independent Broker Serving Sonoma County, CA

Very cool post, Rob. Do you do the Vineman Triathlon here in Sonoma County?

Sep 14, 2017 12:53 PM #41
Todd Kaufman
Rodeo Realty Fine Estates - Simi Valley, CA
Simi Valley CA real estate agent

Such a wonderful and relevant article. I can relate, as I had competed in a triathalon in Central California quite a few years ago and the swim portion was quite humbling.

Sep 14, 2017 01:09 PM #42
Stavrula "Sam" Crafa, RNC,GRI, CDPE, PSA
Future Home Realty - Seminole, FL
Providing the integrity and service you deserve.

All great advise. And you're right, #1 is the most important. Great post and congratulations on the featured post. 

Sep 17, 2017 08:26 PM #43
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Rob, thanks to Lottie Kendall, I found this monumentally positive post! This is truly one of the best and most inspirational reads to-date that I've found on ActiveRain. 

This could easily be a daily moniker for success.  Two of my favorites that spoke to me: Do not get in someone else's hurry or panic.  It won't help you.

And :Churchill's quote is apropos:  "If you're going through hell, keep going."

                                                         LOVE THIS!!!! 

And you are not only a superlative athlete, but I'll betcha equally as great in business! 

Sep 26, 2017 09:16 AM #44
Jan Green
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Thank you for sharing your experiences in the water and in your pursuit toward the finish line. I can't imagine the sheer will of all those swimmers at once - ouch!  But I CAN imagine the longevity of sports and the will and training that takes place.  Playing in one sport for 25 years and switching to another sport simultaneously, blew out my knee and I was done.  Argh.  It's that same spirit I try to muster in my career.  Sometimes I pause, so thank you for undoing my pause button!  Kudos to you and a well written featured post!

Oct 02, 2017 01:57 PM #45
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Rob Spinosa

Vice President of Mortgage Lending, Marin County
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