As her stellar pro triathlon career (including wins at the 2011 ITU Long Distance World Championship, 2012 Challenge Roth, and three podium finishes at the Ironman World Championship) wound down, Joyce put her attorney background to use for the sport. In 2015 she was a key member of the 50 Women to Kona movement to get equal slots for pro women at the Ironman World Championship. In 2015, Joyce was active in the founding of the Professional Triathlon Union, which has since evolved into the Professional Triathletes Organization. After the birth of her first child Archie in 2017, Joyce bid adieu to her pro career with a win at Ironman Boulder. And last year, Joyce became one of the original athlete Board Members of the PTO.
Slowtwitch: I noticed in one interview that you had a very interesting motivation for taking on the PTO mission. You said you were worried about the sport of triathlon – and women’s place on the pro level - might be on the decline if something wasn't done to raise it up. What brought about those worries?
Rachel Joyce: My concern was more for professional triathlon as a whole. As I saw it in 2017, it was getting increasingly difficult to make a living from professional triathlon for athletes consistently performing very well. I personally knew athletes who had multiple 70.3 wins and podiums and a top 10 finish at the 70.3 world champs, who were only just making a living. This situation does not reflect a thriving professional sport. It is a symptom of a landscape that hasn’t yet recognized the value of the professionals. The increase of races on the world circuit coupled with a net loss in prize money meant that pro fields seemed to be getting more and more diluted and getting less attention. This is not good for the long-term future of the sport. Sponsorship contracts (from hearsay and when I was looking to renew in 2018) seemed to be getting smaller too with pros in competition with influencers and age group teams.
ST: What did you think needed to be done?
Rachel: My view was that if professionals wanted to see professional triathlon grow and flourish they needed to take ownership. This view was shared by quite a few athletes and is why a few of us started talking and trying to unite the pros at the end of 2014. It has been a winding path but with the formation of the PTO I see great potential for pros to gain power and reap the eventual gains of the value they bring to the sport.
ST: What did you think about the structure of the sport when you arrived on the scene?
Rachel: When I took my pro card I had zero idea about structure of the sport so I was learning as I went. For the first few years of my pro career, I was working out the sport, learning and really trying to make it work as a career. As my career progressed, I looked to engage with race directors and organizers (Ironman, Challenge) to give feedback and look at small changes that could improve the sport and what I could do as a pro. Frequently this involved collaborating with fellow pros who were equally interested in influencing and shaping the sport for the better.
ST: Where do you think it is headed now?
Rachel: The formation of the PTO has the promise and potential to give professionals a platform to showcase their performances and also, for example, shape how they want the professional sport to look through development of its own anti-doping policy, athlete development programs and sharing information and knowledge.
ST: What do you think is the most important, innovative and promising thing about PTO? What is its biggest challenge?
Rachel: The most important and promising (and innovative) thing about the formation of the PTO is how it has unified the professionals behind a common shared goal: to showcase professional triathlon and that the professionals are partners who will benefit from their “united” value. The key to this is that the PTO unifies the professionals and this creates terrific value whilst at the same time not diminishing the success of the individual.
ST: How big a shift in thinking is this and how big of a challenge?
Rachel: This is a massive shift in how professional triathlon has looked and I would say that shift is one of the biggest challenges. Change is hard and meets resistance and keeping the unity during that time is important. There will be a shift in how power is distributed in the sport and that means at times it will feel uncomfortable. One of my major frustrations especially towards the end of my career was being part of a group that wanted to leave the sport in a better place than we found it. We spent a lot of time trying to create a unified voice and have discussions to create change: whether that be equal representation of pro men and women in Kona or change drafting rules. Even though these changes were supported by many professionals, we weren’t truly unified and thus were unable to spark the changes we were seeking.
To me, the most innovative, risky and promising things about the PTO is their emphasis on being in a partnership with the elite athletes. That is, their first big decision about what to do about the distribution of $2.5 million to the current top points earners right away to help virtually all pros survive the pandemic and the lack of events due to the lockdowns. To me, it mirrors the decision made by the U.S. Treasury to allocate $1200 and $2400 to help citizens stay afloat and make rent and expenses. While the principle is the same, the PTO allocation offers a much higher stake to pro triathletes.
ST: Will this work?
Rachel:The decision to pay out the PTO Annual Bonus early came from Mike Moritz and Charles Adamo, which I think is a great demonstration that the professional athletes have the benefit of being in partnership with the right people. Both Mike and Charles see the value of unity amongst professional triathletes. They were very quick in recognizing that COVID was going to take away pro’s opportunity to race and make money and so suggested the early payment of the bonus.
I’m not sure what you mean by “work”. I think it showed that the PTO will act in the interests of athletes and I know from hearing first hand from many athletes that it did make a difference.
ST: Will it engender a high degree of loyalty to attract pros?
Rachel: Having been a part of the discussions around the early payment of the bonus I know that this decision wasn’t made to buy loyalty but came from a wish to do what was right. Loyalty takes time to build up and the early payment in of itself won’t create it. In my opinion it will develop through consistent actions (big and small) to show that the PTO is an organization that has professionals at it’s core and sees the athletes as partners.
ST: What will be your duties with the PTO? What ideas will you suggest to make triathlon grow?
Rachel: As a member of the Athlete Board we meet at least once a month to discuss developments on the commercial side. It is our role to provide feedback from the athlete perspective and also put forward ideas we have. All the Board members will also be members of the various committees currently being formed. I am on the Tax & Legal Committee and the Athlete Development Committee.
ST: What do you think about the Collins Cup? Do you think that pro triathletes teams – US, Europeans and Internationals can build rooting interest that can capture the imagination of fans the way golf’s Ryder Cup does?
Rachel: I think it can. When Charles Adamo first started talking to a group of us about the existing professional triathlon landscape, I didn’t know much about golf or the Ryder Cup and couldn’t see how a golf tournament format could translate to triathlon. This is one of the values Charles Adamo has brought. He has not been constrained by the current norms of triathlon and the history of the sport and this fresh perspective combined with him talking to just about everyone in the sport means we have a unique team format that, along with excellent television production will draw in the mainstream sports fan as well as existing fans of the triathlon.
ST: How many ideas have the board members like yourself, Alistair, Tim, Meredith <.>et al suggested? How many of those ideas have been accepted?
Rachel: As I said, the Board meets officially once a month but in reality we have been speaking much more frequently. We have an open dialogue and different opinions are welcomed, debated and ultimately decisions have been reached that balance the athlete board’s input with commercial considerations. To date we operate on a consensus basis. I would imagine as we become more established the processes etc will be formalized.
ST: What are some of the particular issues facing pro women triathletes? How might the PTO work on them?
Rachel: Generally triathlon is leading the way in terms of equality. As an organization the PTO is striving to build on this through the development of maternity leave policies. After my experience in 2017 I am delighted that this was one of the first things the PTO prioritized! Also, the PTO is founded on the principle that men and women should always be equally represented, so I am.
ST: Given your retirement from pro competition after the birth of your son Archie, how does this PTO post satisfy your desire to stay involved in the sport?
Rachel: It has been satisfying to see the PTO to this point, having gotten involved back in 2014.
ST: What can the PTO do for the age grouper?
Rachel: Helping the sport grow helps age-groupers. By expanding the revenue streams beyond AG entry fees, there is not the pressure to keep raising entry fees. They should be lower and that will help the sport grow and be more accessible.