Kona Cowgirl 

A top contender to win the Ironman world championship, triathlete Linsey Corbin's proud to be Montana-made

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If it weren't for Montana's icy winters, Corbin admits she'd struggle to keep her drive in check.

"Winter is great for me—at least the first part—because it really forces me to take a break in my training and take a proper off-season," Corbin says. "I have always wondered, if I lived in Tucson or San Diego, what it would be like to train year-round. I think the injury and burnout rate would be pretty high for me."

MONTANA STYLE

From a triathlete's perspective, Montana is a cold, harsh place for much of the year. Lakes and rivers never really warm, and snow often frustrates joggers and cyclists well into June. Despite less-than-ideal training conditions, Missoula sustains a thriving triathlon scene, and a number of impressive young athletes have emerged from the ranks of the local racing club, Team Stampede, which fostered Corbin's raw talent as an amateur and remains a vital part of her life.

In 1994, endurance athlete Matt Seeley and a handful of like-minded friends created the club as a nurturing ground for Missoula triathletes. Since then, Team Stampede has claimed four national club championships and propelled several members into professional racing.

Early Stampeders earned a reputation for "just coming in and sleeping wherever," Seeley says. "It was a different approach from those people who had a hotel and had to be in bed by nine o'clock." But members of the scruffy Montana crew began to consistently finish in the top slots. Stampeders may appear easygoing, but in competition they're fierce.

"There's a mentality that we've been taught from other Missoula triathletes that you go big or you go home," Corbin says. "We'd always show up at Wildflower like a ragtag team on borrowed bikes, but we had an extremely strong work ethic. We would just go and kick everyone's butt, passing people on $6,000 bikes [while] we're not even clipped into our pedals."

click to enlarge Corbin and her training partners swim laps during a 6:30 a.m. training session at the University of Montana's Grizzly Pool. - CHAD HARDER
  • Chad Harder
  • Corbin and her training partners swim laps during a 6:30 a.m. training session at the University of Montana's Grizzly Pool.

With endorsements from the likes of Saucony and Clif Bar paying her travel and equipment expenses, Corbin has the freedom to live and train anywhere in the world. But she says she's got a good thing going and plans to stick around.

"Linsey is at a level where it's tempting to be closer to coaches and sponsors," says Seeley, who thinks her choice to stay in Missoula shows "she's got a loyalty to the Montana scene."

In a nod to the Stampede tradition of grit, guts and good cheer in any situation, Corbin crosses all her finish lines wearing a cowboy hat, a practice begun by the original Stampeders. An instantly recognizable accessory, the hat distinguishes Corbin from a crowd of nearly identical toned and ponytailed women, and tells the world she's proud to be Montana-made.

"Nothing compares to coming home to my great training partners, friends, and [husband] Chris, of course," Corbin says. "I have been to a lot of places in the last four years, and it is pretty hard to find a place where you can leave your front door and only hit two traffic lights and then be able to ride for four to six hours."

FINITE FOCUS

Rarely do amateur triathletes compete for anything more than a T-shirt, and even the best athletes still devote years of hard work before moving to the pro class and competing for purses ranging from $500 to more than $200,000 for winning the world championship in Hawaii. Even at the upper echelon very few pros earn enough from racing to quit their day jobs. Seeley—"a true triathlon legend" in Corbin's words—continued to teach mathematics at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo during his nearly 10 years of professional racing. Corbin may prove to be an exception. Three years into her pro career she's earning enough to spend her days training rather than working a shift, and she owns 11 bikes, including a high-tech, hyper-specialized triathlon bike that costs $10,000. The single-purpose machine is a far cry from her first racing bike.

"When I first started I used a borrowed bike," Corbin says. "It was my husband's—well, boyfriend at the time—and then, over time, as I got better I got nicer equipment."

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