Brittany Pierce knows what it takes to be a world-class triathlete. "Work . . . a lot of work," she said. "If you don't love training, don't think about it."
The 31-year-old St. Petersburg native joined the professional ranks three years ago but still finds it hard to make ends meet on prize money and sponsorships alone.
"I had to get a job," she said. "But fortunately, I have the best one in the world."
Four days a week you'll find Pierce perched on a lifeguard tower on Clearwater Beach. One of the few places on the west coast of Florida that has year-round lifeguards, Clearwater has a reputation for attracting elite athletes.
"You have to stay in top shape if you want to do a job like this," said Pierce, who has to run and swim daily, "so it is the perfect side job for a professional triathlete."
Pierce, who hopes to score another top 10 finish at next weekend's St. Anthony's Triathlon, typically trains at least 20 hours a week, depending on how soon her next race is.
"The hardest part is getting up day after day and getting out there even when you don't feel like it and putting the time in," said Pierce, who graduated from Shorecrest Preparatory School, where she ran track and cross country. "You have to have that level of commitment," she said. "You really can't miss a day."
Although she was born in St. Petersburg, Pierce moved to Tennessee when she was 6. She lived on a farm, where she was homeschooled and where recess consisted of outdoor play and long hikes in the woods.
She later returned to St. Petersburg, where her father encouraged her to try out for the cross country team.
"That summer he would wake me up early every morning and make me go run with him at the park," she said. "Soon it became a habit to get up and jog."
Pierce started running cross country that fall.
"It was really hard," she said. "But my dad told me that if I stayed in sports and passed all my classes he would get me a car when I was 16."
She got her car, but then her father said that if she wanted to keep it, she needed to get a job.
"One day I was running at the beach and the lifeguards stopped me and said I should try out to be a lifeguard," she said. "I didn't pass the swim test the first time, but I started training and got it."
Pierce graduated from Shorecrest in 2003 and was accepted to Southern Illinois University.
"I really liked the running coach there," she said. "I didn't know one person so it forced me to make all new friends."
Pierce attended Southern Illinois from 2003 to 2007 and ran cross country and indoor and outdoor track all four years. During the summers, she would come back to Florida and work on the beach.
"I started swimming a lot more and my swimming improved a lot," she said. "I also started doing a few triathlons."
After college, Pierce took a couple of years off from organized sports but missed the thrill of competing.
"In 2010, I started training more seriously for triathlons and became more competitive," she said. "As an amateur triathlete in 2011, I qualified to compete at the 2012 70.3 World Championships, and the following year I made the USA Team to compete at the ITU Olympic Distance World Championship in London."
During her 2013 season, Pierce also qualified for her "pro card" at Vineman 70.3 Ironman in California. She likes the Olympic Distance triathlons such as St. Anthony's but thinks she could do well on the 70.3 circuit as a pro.
"2016 will be my third year racing pro. One of my future goals is to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships," Pierce said.
"I love it, but you have to at this level," she added. "And if you put your heart into it, who knows how far you can go."
Contact Terry Tomalin at [email protected]