After a 4th place finish in the Women’s Triathlon at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Deerfield alumna Sarah True (née Groff) ’99 had her sights set on medaling at this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A native of Hanover, New Hampshire, True attended Deerfield Academy and then Middlebury College, where she majored in conservation biology and studio art and graduated Cum Laude in 2004. She has gone on to become a world-class professional triathlete, currently ranked #9 in the world in the World Triathlon Series. She narrowly missed qualifying for the United States team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and in the 2012 London games, True finished with a time of two hours flat— ten seconds out of a podium position and twelve out of gold.
“Fourth place in the Olympics is totally bittersweet,” True said. “You think, ‘what could I have done differently to get a medal?’ Because that’s what people remember.” Nevertheless, True herself was very content with her performance. “I was really proud that I stepped it up on the day and had a great race,” she commented, “but you definitely leave thinking, ‘what could I have done differently in the race, what could I have done differently in my prep?’ I went into 2016 with that same sort of focus.”
Looking back over the years, True reflected positively on her Deerfield experience, noting that Deerfield protected her from becoming too specialized too early.
“Deerfield really reinforces that you should be a well-rounded person,” True mentioned. “An endurance sport is about being able to string together years of hard work, and I think if I had been training like a world-class athlete as a teenager in high school, I would have been burned out by the time I was twenty.”
As for the decision to enroll back in 1995, Deerfield was an easy choice for True. She applied and was accepted to Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Deerfield Academy, and knew right away that Deerfield was the school for her.
“The second I stepped onto the campus at Deerfield, that was it… I was really comfortable with the rural, small town feel of Deerfield. It was a tight knit community.”
An aspect of the Deerfield experience that she especially cherished was the number of different opportunities provided by the Academy because they helped shape each student as a person.
“I was forced to have other interests,” she said. “The likelihood that you’re going to come out of Deerfield and be a professional athlete is slim to none, so there’s the sense that you should be involved with community service or other co-curriculars just to make sure that you’re a more interesting, balanced person.”
True participated in swimming, cycling, and cross-country at Deerfield — the three legs of the triathlon— and she feels that the Deerfield community as a whole made a robust impression on her.
“Coming from a small school, you’re used to being a big fish in a little pond. Then you get to Deerfield and realize how many amazingly talented, well-versed people there are, so it was a good wake-up call for me… I got to meet some really incredible people there. Some of the teachers and coaches I had really shaped me, who I am as a person.”
Although True is an Olympian now, her discovery of her talent in triathlon did not come until much later in her life. While she had competed in a couple triathlons in high school and college, it wasn’t until after she finished school that she realized that she could be a professional triathlete.
“I narrowly missed the Olympic team in 2008, and that was kind of a wake-up call. [I realized that], I could definitely be world class, I could be an Olympian and I could be one of the best. So it took a few years,” True reflected.
After narrowly missing out on a medal in the 2012 Olympics, True entered the 2016 Brazil Olympic Triathlon in peak condition. She spent the past four years training with a new determination, qualified for Rio, and felt prepared to take a medal home for the United States. However, after a strong start in the swim, True’s quadricep muscle seized up on the bike. After falling on a steep hill, getting back on the bike and then being forced to step off again, True had no choice but to make the decision to withdraw from the 2016 Olympic Games.
“What happened was something that never in a million years would have crossed my mind as happening,” True stated. “That’s the really crappy part of sport. It’s going to happen. I would love it to have happened on a day where nothing mattered instead of the one day I’ve been focusing on for four years. There’s nothing you can do.” Despite this bump in the road, True is not going to call it quits anytime soon. “I’m really glad I got a good Olympic experience out of the way, because this one wasn’t so great. You end up getting perspective as you get older… it’s just part of sport,” she added.
Just two weeks after Rio, True rebounded with an impressive second place finish at an International Triathlon Union (ITU) race in Edmonton, Alberta. “I’m definitely going to race [next] year,” she confirmed. “I love it, I’m still racing well. I think as long as you wake up in the morning and you’re really psyched about what you do, there’s no need to change. At some point I’ll have to get a real job, but what I do right now is pretty awesome.”
While True has placed highly in several competitions, she believes it is more important that she has a blast doing it. Here is her advice to Deerfield students: “You will find your niche, and if you’re super passionate and patient about what you’re doing, you can pretty much do anything. It’s having that mindset that it may take a long time and you just have to find what really gets you fired up. Keep on trying stuff!” Thank you True, and good luck on all your future endeavors.