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We woke up in the stillness of predawn, driven by our year-long commitment and unwavering dedication. That’s because we’re not just Cisconians. We’re swimmers, cyclists, runners, and on the brink of our defining moment.

Jerome cycling.

Ironman Village is brimming with triathletes from across the globe, and their collective energy is palpable. The atmosphere is a blend of excitement and apprehension because what we’re about to undertake is nothing short of audacious. Yet, amidst the jitters, a resounding voice inside our heads reassures us, “You are ready! You are capable! You are one step closer to becoming an Ironman!”

Maia, Chief of Staff in Cisco’s Customer Experience and Operations team and I, Senior Product Marketing Manager in Outshift by Cisco, connected on LinkedIn over our shared passions for innovation, transformation, and … triathlons. We bonded over our mutual aspiration to conquer the Ironman 70.3, a grueling test of endurance encompassing a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. And as fate would have it, we were racing on the same weekend, Maia in California and me in Tennessee.

Our journey began with a simple choice: to embrace this formidable challenge. What we learned along the way was invaluable.

Our Purpose Powers Our Passion

At Cisco, our purpose is to power an inclusive future for all, and just as we work relentlessly to foster inclusivity in our professional lives, we’re equally passionate about making triathlon a more inclusive sport. Triathlon is unique, demanding excellence across three distinct disciplines, but it also presents obstacles for those who lack access to essential equipment, whether it’s a pool, a road bike, or a good pair of running shoes.

My first sprint triathlon in North Carolina served as a turning point.

Looking down on Katie's bronze Olympic medals

I couldn’t help but notice the lack of representation from black and brown communities, and the statistics are telling. As of 2021, U.S.A. Triathlon reported that only 13.3 percent of its annual members were people of color, with less than 2 percent being Black or African American. Determined to effect change, I made it my mission to find ways to increase diversity in the sport and inspire others to do the same. While preparing for my Ironman, I connected with Katie Zaferes, U.S. Olympic triathlete. I was not only in awe of her impressive medals but also curious about what the sport’s governing body was doing to make triathlon more diverse and inclusive. She admitted there was room for improvement and was open to exploring new possibilities to diversify the sport in our North Carolina community. Just connecting and asking questions can be a way to help plant seeds of change.

Focus on Small Steps to Tackle Big Goals, and Don’t Fear Failure

Our Ironman journey was riddled with new challenges. We had to face the long swim, bike, and run distances and learn how to stay calm in open water, master riding with clipped-in pedals, and execute rapid transitions between disciplines. However, we tackled these challenges by breaking them down into achievable goals, focusing on what was in front of us, and understanding that practicing failure is an essential part of the growth process. So is the courage and confidence that comes with achieving those goals!

Embracing new challenges within the Ironman community motivated us to bring this same mindset to our organizations and teams at Cisco.

It Takes an Ironman Village

Maia wearing a Cisco shirt with her bike.We were welcomed into the Ironman community as newcomers, where we learned from coaches and fellow triathletes. We set pride aside to ask questions, accepted accountability, leaned on that supportive community, and sought support from our family and friends, especially as race day loomed.

Once we shared our goals with our fellow Cisconians, they rallied behind us with unwavering support, even our leadership teams. There were days when we showed up to meetings exhausted, with wet hair, or postponed due to scheduling conflicts, and our teams showed us grace and empathy, mirroring the supportive spirit of the Ironman community.

From the initial days of training through race day, where our teams were closely following our progress using Ironman trackers, and, in a lighthearted twist, there were glitches and questions about our whereabouts on the course, our teams were invested in our progress and had our backs. We couldn’t have made it across the finish line without them.

Hybrid Work Empowering High Performance

Balancing demanding training schedules without compromising professional performance wouldn’t have been possible without the unwavering support from our leaders and Cisco’s hybrid work flexibility. Maia’s Monday and Friday mornings were dedicated to swimming, but she could take calls as she drove to the pool. When her training plan intensified, her team was flexible with her later workday start on long-run Wednesdays. Meanwhile, I rode with my peloton on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, returning to my home office after getting in some valuable miles. This simply wouldn’t have been possible if we were coming into the office full-time, five days a week.

As our Ironman journey reached its culmination, tears rolled down our cheeks as we took our final strides down the red carpet. This was our moment, the accomplishment after months of unyielding dedication, grit, and the unwavering belief that #AnythingIsPossible.

Gratitude filled our hearts — gratitude for the unwavering support of our loved ones, for the ability to train like we could, made possible by Cisco’s hybrid work environment, and for our coworkers, whose camaraderie and collaboration paved the way for our success.

But this wasn’t a finish line — it’s another starting point.

With the wind of achievement at our backs, everything we’ve learned under our belts, and our incredible support systems lifting us up, what can we take on next? It’s all possible, one step at a time.

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Jerome J. Sanders

Senior Product Marketing Manager, Emerging Technologies

Outshift by Cisco

Maia Marken

Director, Chief of Staff

Strategy, Planning and Insights