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Back 8.10.2017

Determination: An interview with Jake Montgomery

It takes serious determination to compete professionally in the sport of triathlon. Jake Montgomery represents the quintessential embodiment of this determination. Tragedy struck the reigning Ironman 70.3 Australian national champion with two extremely serious training accidents in 2016. In spite of sustaining injuries that could have disabled Jake for life, he bounced back remarkably fast and is back on track to challenge competitors at the highest level. We caught up with Jake at Zipp headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation:

You’ve been here spending some time in the wind tunnel and doing a little bit of product testing…

I was sort of shocked when I was asked to come to Zipp HQ because this has been a little dream of mine, especially watching the wind tunnel for years and years thinking ‘Oh one day…’ but I didn’t think it would come about this soon.

So, 2016… that was a rough year for you. Do you want to explain what you went through last year?

Yeah, so 2016 was the biggest high I’ve ever had in my sporting career and also the lowest moment of my life. I started off in February winning the National Championship 70.3 in Victoria and then it was about three weeks later that I was actually hit by a garbage truck riding home from swimming. It went straight over the top of my bike and foot, which ruptured multiple ligaments in my ankle, but luckily I made a good recovery from that and got back to the U.S. and had a couple of good races and was on track for World Championships and was going into that ranked 12th, and then about four weeks later I had a race and had a bit of a knee niggle, and things weren’t looking good for World Championships [in September]. I was almost considering pulling out, but having it be at Sunshine Coast just two hours up the road, I thought, ‘Well, I got to go do it at least.’ I got up there that morning, had a swim and then did my usual ride just to make sure the bike was working that afternoon and the first 10 minutes of that is all I remember for the next three weeks. [Jake was hit by a car and received multiple fractures and a life threatening brain injury. The crash left him unconscious for days.]

That’s terrible. Obviously that put you on your back for months, yet you’ve come back super strong in less than a year. What can you tell us about your road to recovery?

It was a bit shaky at first, especially that first month when I had the doctors telling me there’s a very slim chance I’d ever run again and that competing… you can worry about that later. So I thought to myself, ‘What else am I going to do?’ and I did everything I could and pretty much started rehab in about week three and it was just a case of hydrotherapy and then walking. I was walking every day, and I’d go from 10 minutes up to… before my first run I was walking for two and a half hours along the beach. I just took it step-by-step and was luckily… Come January was when I was actually doing my first triathlon. It was only sprint distance… ticking the boxes and doing the ride and run all together again. 

As a pro triathlete the time demands for your training at this level are huge. How much time do you spend training on a daily or weekly basis?

Weekly is roughly between 20 and 25 in season. So that’s the most I’ll ever get to and daily it can really vary. An easy day might be only 90 minutes but some hard days will be up to five or six hours.

What do you like to do during your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of racing?

Back home, it’s surfing by far. Some weeks when the swell is in … I was surfing as much as training. (laughs) I count it as an extra swim session! It’s good fun and I’ve done it since I was a little kid. It’s a hard thing to let go of.

If you weren’t a pro triathlete what would you do for a living?

That’s a hard one. I wish I could say that I was a good enough surfer to be a professional surfer! (laughs)

Well you’d be amazed at how many of the athletes we ask say they want to be professional soccer players.

Come the money case, it’d be a professional footballer or golfer. I don’t mind a bit of golf now and then, so that could be a second option.

Let’s talk about equipment. You are one of the few triathletes racing on the new disc-brake equipped bikes. Why did you choose to go disc?

Because having been with Cervelo, their new flagship bike, the P5X came equipped and I was pretty excited about it because of having so much trouble with rim brakes in the past. Having to swap over wheels and you’ve got your alignment, your brake pads, and then all the rest of it was just a nightmare before a race. But with disc brakes, they are exactly the same as your training wheels. You just swap them in and out and they fit in flush and they work on race day, which is super important. A lot of times [with rim brakes] you’d have one brake working or both would be just a little bit and you’d feel unsafe going downhill. With disc brakes I’ve had a couple of people say, “Why? You’re not going down wet downhills in bad conditions or anything.” But they work when you need them. You brake later and you’ve got more confidence when you are braking whether that’s going downhill or even into a U-turn.

Do you think disc brakes are the future for tri?

Absolutely. Especially like when I mentioned the swapping between wheels is just hassle free and then also just having that confidence the same as your training and race wheels.

Let’s talk about wheels. What wheels are you typically training and racing on and what are the factors that have influenced these selections?

I’ve got a set of 404’s (Firecrest) for training, and they are the perfect all-rounder. They’re good at climbing and are a aerodynamic for the flats… They’re just the ultimate for a TT bike in training. But my always go-to race day wheelset is the Super-9 Disc-brake disc and 808 (Firecrest Disc-brake). And I’ve been racing that combo for about three years now.

It has been awesome having you here in Indy, Jake. Thanks so much for coming all this way to visit us.

Thanks very much for having me. I was thinking about staying longer because I love the place so much and there is so much to do and see. I appreciate it.

Follow Jake on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

All photos by Joe Vondersaar