Up Close with Trista Francis

Trista Francis is a fast athlete and a busy coach, but she had some traumatic brain injury (TBI) setbacks after getting rear ended twice in her car. She however has a very positive outlook and in this interview talks about family, training, racing, the struggle with TBI and much more.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.

Trista Francis: Thank you Herbert for reaching out! It’s always a pleasure catching up with you.

ST: How is Colorado treating you and where are you originally from?

Trista: I am a Colorado Native! I was born and raised in Pueblo, CO and headed back to the State in 2001 with my husband and 3 little girls. I always like to downplay how awesome Colorado is to keep people from moving here, ha! It’s been a wet summer which has been wonderful for the state after the past couple of summers of fires. I’ve really enjoyed the added humidity and slightly cooler temps.

ST: Where were you before 2001?

Trista: In 1989, I graduated from Pueblo East High School and then attended Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. I graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine. Greg and I were married in 1993 and Daphnie was born in 1995. We were in Utah until we moved to San Francisco area in 1997 nine days after Darbie was born. Deloitte Consulting has offered Greg a position there. We lived in Concord, San Diego, Santa Cruz and Sunnyvale during our 4-year span there. There was a big pull for us to get to Colorado to raise our 3 daughters and to be close to my 2 other sisters and parents. We knew it is where we wanted to end up. Demi joined our family in 2000 and we moved 1 year later.

ST: But you spend quite a bit of time in Utah?

Trista: I do! My daughters all went to college in Utah. With all three being in the same place it has allowed us to visit them frequently. We are a pretty tight knit family and really love the ability to do that. Demi and her Fiancé’ Pearson will be there for a little longer while they finish up school. Daphnie and Cole are employed in Utah now and they just had our first grandchild in March. Darbie and Mason have recently moved to Arizona for employment there. So we are at the end of that era with my daughters all being in the same place!

ST: In late May you raced the Sand Hollow Sprint Tri, after a fairly long break.

Trista: Yes, and it felt so good! It wasn’t originally on my radar but Darbie and Mason wanted to do a triathlon with me this year and Sand Hollow was the winner. It was so fun to be back in the racing and high energy environment after a long COVID-19 hiatus and the 3 of us all won our age groups so that was a fun unexpected result.

ST: When was the last time you were in Kona?

Trista: 2017 with a client of mine who had qualified at IM Boulder.

ST: What about you racing?

Trista: I don’t race Iron distance triathlon. Or at least I have not yet. I have been to Kona 8 times if I am counting correctly supporting my athletes. I raced IM 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, FL in 2009 and 2010.

ST: If the Kona bug had not bitten you yet, why would it come in the future?

Trista: I personally love the shorter faster racing. It has also helped provide balance with coaching my clients and being a mother. As seasons change, things could look different. Never say never!

ST: How did you keep yourself motivated during 2020?

Trista: I had suffered a 2nd TBI in 3 years. From October 2019 to October 2020, [it] ended up being a year full of Concussion Therapy, Physical Therapy and Speech Therapy. I was hungry to train as much as I could during 2020 but was limited to what I was prescribed to allow my brain to heal. The motivation came from just generally wanting to be healthy. I think when the pandemic hit, individual wellness become a growing concern and I saw an uptick in my Wellness Coaching side of my business.

ST: Would you mind talking about the TBI?

Trista: In 2016, I was rear ended while I was stopped at a stoplight by a big truck going 40 MPH. That was a 3-year process of treatment to get me back to normal daily functions, training and being pretty much pain free from neck and head. I was discharged August 2019. Three months later, October 2019, I was rear ended again by another truck. I could not believe it! I was so hopeful that it wasn’t that bad but that didn’t end up being the case. This was actually my 3rd significant concussion if you count my 2009 Ski accident. I really don’t want to be in another car accident again, to be honest. Head injuries are the worst!

ST: How is your head doing now and where are you generally health wise as we speak?

Trista: My head is in a good place. I do have flare-ups with head symptoms a couple times a month and I just have to reset for a bit until it passes. Hopefully in another year I won’t have any!

ST: While training or racing?

Trista: The flare-ups can happen during training, racing, or even just sitting on the couch if I am highly emotional about something (happy or sad). My vestibular, emotional, and cognitive components of the brain were affected. Flip turns in pools, rough water, or even a fast windy decent can trigger symptoms. It can also happen during work conversations where I am doing a lot of word finding; which means I struggle to find a word that normally would not be a problem. This was a significant struggle during rehab but still manifests itself, unfortunately. This was never the case with my previous brain injuries.

ST: Are you at all worried that one of these flare-ups may cause another incident, or that another crash might really hurt you?

Trista: With 3 significant TBIs, the first one being a ski accident in 2009, I really do not think I would fare well with a 4th. I am quite the nervous driver because of being rear ended with the last two TBI's. I honestly think about it while I'm in the car more than anywhere else. Not so much when I am doing activities I love.

ST: Back to sports. Are you generally as motivated as before or have some of your priorities shifted?

Trista: I am pretty motivated but I think as we age, we gain perspective and when that happens, priorities can shift. The first shift happened when my oldest daughter began high school in 2009. At that point, instead of training endlessly, I allocated a certain number of hours a week I would commit to training and I was ok with being as good as I could be within those parameters.

ST: Talk about your training volume right now and how that compares to a few years back.

Trista: Hello 50! As a coach, I have always supported my clients based off what decade of life they are in because every decade is different. It is very interesting having to use that school of thought on myself right now. In my 30’s and early 40’s, I could easily tolerate 14-17 hours a week. I saw a big shift at 42 and another this year turning 50. I just need more recovery and I am learning to honor my body and explore what is best for me now to have longevity and enjoyment in sport.

ST: Can you break that down in terms of swimming, cycling and running weekly for you at this time?

Trista: Sure! I average 6-7 hours on the bike, 3-3:30 hours on the run, 2-3 hours swim and 60 minutes of strength, broken down into three 20-minute sessions. Those seem to have been helpful for recovery in this new decade of life. The one thing I notice is sometimes I just need an unexpected day off and I take it, guilt free. I have learned that pushing through at this time just buries me. It has been hard, but I am learning.

ST: Looking back at your start in triathlon, when was it and how did it get started?

Trista: It is a funny story. I grew up a runner and my husband bought me a mountain bike when we were engaged. I had a friend in 2004 that asked if I wanted to do Tri for the Cure with her. I told her “no, I don’t know how to swim.” As soon as she left, I was so bothered that I said I couldn’t do something. I got online and looked for an adult swim class and signed up. The first class, the instructor watched me swim a 50 and 3/4 of the way she stopped me and said “put on your fins, you’re going to drown” I was 33. I raced Tri for the Cure with my friend that summer of 2004 on my mountain bike with slicks and that was the start of my transition away from mountain bike racing to triathlon.

ST: Of all the events you have done over the years which one means the most to you?

Trista: That is an easy one! ITU Age Group World Championships Beijing, China top 10 finish. We were racing at the Olympic venue there and you could just feel the energy. My personal goal was to be 10th in the world at this race. For the run, we ran laps in and out of the stadium. It was beautiful, flowers everywhere and in front of the crowd. I did not have any idea where I was in the field, but I did know a woman from Mexico was just a head of me. I caught her and was trying to figure out when to kick to the finish to beat her. I kicked too early and she responded, and we ended up running neck to neck. I wasn’t sure if I had anything left but I knew my family was watching at home and I said to myself if you’ve got one more gear you have to find it now! I dug deep, found one more gear and out chested her at the finish line. It took 50 minutes to learn that I was 10th, Mexico was 11th. Such an epic day and even more epic to hear my family’s side of the story watching it in America.

ST: You have been on various teams over the years. What drew you to that team experience?

Trista: You are correct! I was on the Timex Multisport Team from 2008-2018 and the Suunto Elite Team 2018-2020.

ST: What is your current status?

Trista: There were a lot of changes that came after 2020 with the current team I was on. Things did not shake out until the end of April unfortunately and it was too late for me to obtain additional sponsorships. I am currently sponsored by BikeSource (a local shop), Amp Human, and Honey Stinger.

ST: Talk about your race bike and how it is set up.

Trista: Love my bike! I have the disc brake equipped Cervelo P5 with Ultegra Di2, Ultegra Crank with Stages power meter, and ENVE SES 7.8 wheels. This is the first time I have had molded grips and I really am partial to them now. With the thru axles, I do not think I have ridden a stiffer, faster bike.

ST: And is there a race you have had on your bucket list but have not yet done?

Trista: I don’t think so! I keep my eyes open, but I have been blessed to race in most parts of the country. I love the flavor of different venues and communities.

ST: What is next on the calendar for you?

Trista: USAT Nationals is next! Excited to be there.

ST: Is there anything else we should know?

Trista: I have been coaching for 17 years and that has been far more rewarding than any personal result. This year I will be in Kona, 70.3 World Champs and Leadville 100 MTB with clients. I also had a National Champion at Duathlon Nationals in May. This year I became a grandma and if this isn’t the best thing on earth, I am not sure what is! My goal was always to become a grandma before 50 and it happened 6 days before my birthday! I wear my title of ‘NANA’ proudly.

You can follow Trista Francis on Instagram via @tristafrancis

All images courtesy of Trista Francis