From Professional Accountant to Professional Triathlete

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IMGCAP(1)]Ten years ago, I was sitting in a training session at a Big Four accounting firm, thinking about my answer to a question on a self-evaluation form: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I remember exactly what I wrote: to be a professional triathlete winning the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon.

I knew that reply wasn’t exactly what the managers wanted to read (I’m sure everyone else has written something like “making partner” or “CFO”), and I thought about changing it to something a little easier for the managers to swallow. But I didn’t.

I continued to work at the firm for three more years, gaining invaluable experience and making my way up the promotional ladder.

It wasn’t until my twin sister, Laurel, got sick with cancer when I revisited that idea of being a professional triathlete. With my sister and best friend faced with a life-threatening disease, I could no longer focus solely on accounting. Being a part of her fight to beat cancer made me realize I wanted to follow my passion, to inspire my sister who so badly wanted to be healthy and active. Plus, I knew I had it in me: I ran track and cross country at Mount Saint Mary’s University, an NCAA Division 1 school, and swam competitively for 15 years. Plus, I was already a "professional" at something — accounting — so how hard could the switch be?

Of course, such a drastic shift in career cannot happen overnight. I first took a less stressful job with more flexible hours. A few months later, I eventually stopped working as a CPA full-time to concentrate on training. I soon discovered that the work ethic I developed from working as a CPA made the transition to the intense workload of training seem easy. Some days, I’d think, this 10-mile run isn’t so bad. At least I’m not stuck in a conference room staring at a spreadsheet!

[IMGCAP(2)]Being a CPA has helped me have success as a triathlete. Fitting all of the training, resting, massage, physical therapy and weights into a day takes some serious organizational skills. Also, my years of working at a CPA firm, being surrounded by other successful and extremely dedicated people, has made me the sharp, fierce competitor that I become when racing.

And, of course, because I have that CPA, I’m always able to find a part-time job in the off-season. When it is December and it is cold and snowy outside, I can say to myself, “I’m so glad I’m sitting at this desk and not outside running 10 miles!”

Rebeccah Wassner was named USA Triathlon's Athlete of the Year in 2009, after winning the 2009 New York City Triathlon and six other professional races in 2009. She started her accounting career at Deloitte & Touche in Washington, D.C., and now lives in New York, N.Y., and works as a CPA for the bakery Amy's Bread in her off-season. Her twin sister, Laurel, made a full recovery and now competes as a professional triathlete as well. For more information, visit

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