Katherine Donnelly | 06.18.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Lisa Bentley. 

Best known for her triumphs in the world of triathlon and Ironman competitions across the world, this Women In The Wild could seriously be Wonder Woman in the flesh. But there's so much more to her than her medal count, and even though she's retired from competition, she continues to inspire those around her on a daily basis. Oh, and did I mention that she was instrumental in bringing the Iron Girl triathlon to Canada? Moral of the story: she's awesome. Get the full scoop below.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Lisa Bentley is.

Lisa Bentley: Professionally, I am an 11-time Ironman Champion and 16-time Ironman 70.3 Champion having raced for 20 years. I started racing as an amateur, and I raced the Olympic distance triathlon (1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run). I raced on the National Team for many years, raced at the Pan AM Games in 1995, and started to race Ironman in 1997. I retired from professional sports in 2009. Now I am an author, speaker, coach and consultant and lover of activity and fitness. Personally, I am a wife, sister, daughter and mother to a four-legged furry girl named Fenway. I love walking her and swimming with her.

OP: When did you first know that you were going to spend your life in the outdoors?

Lisa Bentley: I love activity and I was always looking for an excuse to move. And movement outside is the best kind of movement. I love the smells, the sounds and the adventure. This morning on my run in Toronto, I marveled at the smell of the lilac bushes, I was sprayed with water from a helicopter spraying for gypsy bugs, and I almost ran into a raccoon. He sized me up and I sized him up and I turned down a different street with a bit of fear. All of that in a 75-minute run in a residential neighborhood in Toronto – what an adventure!

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry?

Lisa Bentley: I don’t really think about woman or man. I just see “strong” and “vibrant.” I have experienced a smaller prize purse (versus the men's prize purse) in a professional race, but I don’t dwell on the inequality. Instead, I push for equality. When I was offered a lower appearance fee at a race a few years back, I simply did not attend. Yes, I lost a nice paycheck, but I held my head high.

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Lisa Bentley: The outdoors gives me freedom and room to play. It is my “office” and my “playground.” I respect the elements. I have been composting and recycling and re-using items for years.

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think outdoor enthusiasts should play in this evolving conversation and landscape? How can we support events that reinforce conservation and protection of our lands?

Lisa Bentley: For me, I carry my recycling and compost home and aim to keep garbage out of the landfill. I support political leaders who protect the outdoors. I aim to ride my bike or walk rather than drive. I combine many errands on a single drive aiming to limit my driving.

OP: What does adventure mean to you?

Lisa Bentley: When I hear adventure, I think about finding the path least traveled. I think about taking a road or trail that I haven’t taken before. I think about playing and learning and being brave and being afraid but confident that I will find my way.

OP: What does the term "badass" mean to you?

Lisa Bentley: It means living and playing outside of the box. It means being part of the 5% of society that forges their own path and finds purpose and fulfillment in extraordinary ways.

OP: How have you managed to align your career with your passion for the outdoors? And do you have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same?

Lisa Bentley: When I was racing professionally, my office was literally outside! I swam, biked and ran everyday, and Mother Earth was my playground. Now, I still consider the outdoors my office. I do most of phone calls when I am walking outside. I still swim, bike, and run most days, and that is outside. When I am coaching at an event, I am outside and I bring my dog, Fenway, with me everywhere. I try to have my meetings while walking outside.

OP: We are seeing a shift in what the term woman or female might bring to mind (LGBTQ), both in the outdoor community and throughout the world. What does being a woman mean to you? Femininity?

Lisa Bentley: Being a woman means living full. I really don’t see myself as “woman” or “man.” I am not taken care of as was typical generations ago. If I cannot do something myself, then I get help, but I don’t distinguish “man” jobs and “woman” jobs. I am solely responsible for myself and for my upkeep.

OP: What mantra or set of words do you live by?

Lisa Bentley: Live full. Live with courage. Lead with love. Finish what you start and do it with heart.

OP: In a perfect world, what does the outdoors (the people, the places, the community as a whole, etc.) look like to you? And what can outdoor brands and media companies, such as Outdoor Project, do better to help get us there?

Lisa Bentley: The outdoors has plenty of green space, trees and forest and pathways for walking and biking and lakes and rivers for swimming. That is what I see. I see bikes and cars sharing roads respectfully. I see backpackers with their lives on their back and I see people eating outside, dogs being walked and children living in nature. Outdoor Project and other brands can continue to show us that outdoor life is worth living. 

OP: What is one thing that you never leave home without?

Lisa Bentley: A snack – seriously – I bring apples or cereal or a Zone bar with me everywhere.

OP: What is the greatest piece of advice or direction that you’ve ever received and what’s the story behind it?

Lisa Bentley: When I became a teacher, an older veteran teacher said “love your students”. He said that if I loved them then teaching would be easy. He was right. Whenever I entered my class and led with love, everything was easy to manage. And when I did not because I was having a bad day, then my students would be unmanageable.

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out as an Iron Man competitor and as a writer, what would it be?

Lisa Bentley: Be kind to yourself. Be your own biggest fan and finish what you start.

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media, and how does it play into your lifestyle - both work and play?

Lisa Bentley: We all need social media to build our brands. I try not to overdo it. I would love to post every book review I get, but I also don’t want to appear pushy or over ambitious or self promoting. So I ask myself “could you say this to a stranger to their face?” And if not, then I do not post it. It is easy to hide behind social media.

OP: How has living and competing with cystic fibrosis shaped your relationship with the outdoors?

Lisa Bentley: I know that movement keeps my lungs healthy, and I need the outdoors to move and breathe and play and run and bike and swim. I cannot imagine a day without at least walking in the outdoors or snowshoeing in the winter.

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Lisa Bentley: I have a few book signings this summer and I am going to work hard to spread my message about finding the path to fulfillment. I really believe my book can help re-wire the brain of the reader and give them tactics to becoming happier and more fulfilled in daily living.

OP: The title of your autobiography would be... 

Lisa Bentley: An Unlikely Champion - and that is the name of my new book

OP: In your next life, you will come back as...

Lisa Bentley: A dog walker.

OP: Tell us one thing about yourself that no one knows.

Lisa Bentley: Everyone knows everything – no secrets. I get a manicure every three weeks.

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Lisa Bentley: Nothing is impossible with the proper preparation and a heart full of belief. Mindset and heartset and soulset are the keys to fulfillment and joy.

Learn more about Lisa on her website, and follow along on her adventures through Instagram and Twitter. You can also learn more about and purchase her new book, An Unlikely Champion, here.


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