I first met Shannon in 2009 at the opening party we had for the Dunning shop on Yonge Street in Toronto. Craig Alexander was a Dunning brand ambassador and was at the party...so a lot of people showed up. Back in 09 we were running slim fit technical and cotton apparel that was also made in Canada. This was the launch point in my mind for Foreign Rider because I knew Dunning was always going to be perceived as a golf company which it was. I didn't really know Shannon other than that I knew she was a very good triathlete and I ended up doing a lot of riding with her. Then a few years later, Shannon broke her collarbone just 3 weeks prior to Kona and raced anyway...yeah. I watched Shannon grind it out on the Queen K on both the bike and the run and saw firsthand just how tough she really was.
In my years of riding with Shannon, I have seen her bury a lot of people when the going gets tough because she has the ability to go deep inside and fights her way out of getting dropped.
I knew Shannon was a great athlete, but it was really over the last two years that I got to know the real Shannon off the bike. We were at a camp together in January 2020 in Florida and I had just left Dunning, a brand I had started 20 years earlier in my basement. I was in Florida to train and put together the plans for my future in business. I wanted to focus on building FR. and I was super focused on building an online education platform to teach entrepreneurs how to build a brand and a company people deem trustworthy. That platform started on that trip and I came home to Toronto to Covid.... to finish writing it and film it. You can check it at www.buworkshops.com
At one of the dinners in Florida, Shannon spent a couple of hours telling me what she was working on at school and what she was hoping to do with respect to helping athletes in a number of areas. You could see just how passionate she was about helping people. It was raw and straight from her soul. It was incredibly real.
Fast forward to now and Shannon has her own company called The Holistic Athlete that each of us should look at. It's a company that stands for a number of areas but all goes straight back to the pure authenticity of Shannon.
I was fortunate to work with Shannon in understanding nutrition and she taught me a lot, but her process in teaching me was what blew me away.
I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to design Shannon's logo and identity which she has taken and built a beautifully executed brand. It was a great project to work on because Shannon knew exactly what her brand stood for which is rare.
Hope you enjoy this one...and do yourself a favour and check out her company. It will really make a difference to your life...
Thanks for reading.
Please tell us about The Holistic Athlete - what you do, why you started and how the reaction has been so far. Who are most of your clients?
The Holistic Athlete was born from my wellness journey. I have been an athlete my whole life and for many, many years of my life I only focused only on training & performance. I didn’t nurture any other parts of my life until approximately 7 years ago when I started to make a lot of shifts in my life. I realized that when we pay attention to mind, body, spirit, this is how we can truly thrive and live a life of fulfillment.
Part of this journey, was deciding not to return to my corporate job after having our son and instead help my partner with his business. When he decided to sell his business, I realized I had an opportunity to start something new. I had always tried to do my best with nutrition but would get really overwhelmed by the information available & all the diet trends. This is why I decided to go back to school to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. I had no idea how much this was going to change my life. I was blown away as I learnt of the power we have to heal our bodies with the food we eat & by adapting a holistic approach to life. After graduating I struggled to find a niche as I found all areas fascinating. That was until I discovered the work of Dr. Stacy Sims, PHD, exercise physiologist & nutrition scientist, I was fascinated by her work, it totally resonated. Many of female athlete challenges that she speaks of, had happened to me over my career of racing Ironman. I never understood why I ran into these issues with nutrition or performing in the heat or hyponatremia, when none of the guys that I trained or raced with seemed to struggle the way I did. But it made sense now that I knew so many of these issues were hormonally driven, the needs of a female athlete are different!!! The standard nutrition & training protocols are based on research done on college age men! I went on to study with Dr. Stacy and developed a passion to share this information with other women. I see how empowering it is when I share this information with other women. I feel like we should have learnt more about our bodies & hormones when we were young girls so we could have made better choices for ourselves.
I started The Holistic Athlete to help active women be their best version by taking a holistic approach to their life, and to teach them how to sync their nutrition & training with their monthly cycle. I also work with women who are in peri-menopause & beyond, this is an area where there is very little support or even information. It can be a challenging time for women as their hormones go chaotic leading to many symptoms that can really impact your performance, your life & how you feel about yourself. Implementing new nutrition & exercise practices can have a huge impact.
You have launched a new business and jumped from being in the corporate world to becoming a mother and then made the decision to be an entrepreneur and start your own business. How was that transition from corporate to mother hood to setting up and building your business both emotionally and physically.
I’ve become very good at adapting to change! There were quite a few really big shifts in my life in a fairly short period of time. However, I feel that adapting and forging ahead is easy enough when you are passionate about something. Becoming a mom changed my world. Sure, the transition from the corporate world to being a mom was huge but it also felt so natural and so easy. Being a mom for sure is my proudest most fulfilling role, it is everything. Becoming an entrepreneur is also life changing, the freedom to create, express myself, follow a vision & be of service has been wild. It has also been tough without guardrails or a road map of what’s worked in the past or established processes. Lots of learning and expanding. I’ve really leaned on my new self-care practices, and my partner, to keep me grounded through it all.
It lights me up to be able to help other women be their best and maybe even overcome some struggles. To be able to give is the best feeling.
Did any of the areas in your corporate world carry over into your entrepreneurial world?
Absolutely. My corporate roles were marketing so I find now, when I’m working on my brand I’m super particular about how I present my brand to the world, to my clients. I take great pride in this and maybe appreciate it a bit more than someone who doesn’t have that background.
As I’m sure you can imagine, working for a one of the best brands in the sporting industry, there were very strict guidelines to respect and implement. Having the freedom to express myself in a creative way through The Holistic Athlete is very freeing and a great outlet for me. I had never been one to be very vocal about my thoughts or feelings, but that has all changed. I love sharing, with my clients and anyone who follows me, what I’ve learnt along my journey. I know personally, I am always inspired and more likely to take action when I hear from someone who is actually living what they are teaching.
There is a lot of talk today about being ethical and environmentally responsible, but the larger corporations have a lot of work to do to get there. Some have given target dates as far out as 2030. They also have to be sensitive to the fact that ethical production and being environmentally responsible is expensive and changes their margins significantly. Do you see a shift away from bigger companies from people because they are slower to react or do you find only a handful of people actually care. This is also very evident in the food and nutrition space.
I see that there is less and less tolerance for this now. People are voting with their dollar and supporting the brands who’s values they align with. I think people have really started to step up after seeing so many small businesses struggle and even close their doors during the pandemic. It’s awesome to see this awareness with the millennials (and even younger) as well. Even my 4 year old talks about saving the planet! These little humans are the ones that will generate & drive the type of change we need to see.
When it comes to how we feed our bodies, more and more people are going to farmers markets & local farmers in the summer season and for packaged foods, choosing ethically sourced. When I work with clients, in addition to encouraging them to eat organic & local, I encourage switching to natural cleaning & beauty products to reduce the amount of toxins they accept into their life, and into the planet. This can seem like an overwhelming change initially but if you make the switch gradually, it is doable and allows us to be much more conscious consumers. One of my favourite quotes is “Be the change you want to see in this world.” I try my best to embody this every day.
You have taught me personally about the importance of eating natural and real food on my training rides. This is something I had never done since my racing days starting back to 1989 when all I would do was eat Powerbars and then switched to gels which made my stomach a mess and could never get the balance right over a long race. Eating natural foods changed that and bonking and cramping seemed to magically go away. This will be potentially a very controversial topic with people, but after watching many videos on YouTube on pro cycling teams - they seem to eat mainly real food and only eat gels when it was more convenient depending on the terrain etc. Take us through your thoughts on natural vs. processed nutrition when training.
Making the switch to eating real food while training/racing was a game changer for me. Both my partner and I made the switch at the beginning of the year and we’ve both been amazed how good we have felt on rides & how much better recovery has been as well. I’m talking long rides & racing. On long epic rides it was always my stomach that would give out before anything else, I couldn’t avoid GI issues. This summer the real food on those rides had me feeling like I could keep riding after 250km. Previously, I had always struggled with my training nutrition. In my early days of racing I had so many races go sideways because of GI issues. Eventually I got on a routine with gels that worked most of the time, but not always. It led to bad gut health overall. When you are training/racing and consuming the processed sports nutrition, it gives you the quick hits of energy that you need, but it puts you on a roller coaster with your blood sugar. It spikes & drops, spikes & drops and if your timing isn’t near perfect you encounter “the bonk”. When you eat real food, your energy is more stable, you don’t experience the quick plummet in blood sugar levels. In addition to that, you’re not exposing your gut to all the simple sugars. Making choices that are good for our overall gut health is important. 80% of our immune system is in your gut and endurance athletes are already suppressing their immune system on heavy training days or races.
Also, some people don’t respond well to the types sugars used in gels and this can lead to GI issues, women are more at risk for the GI issues because of our hormonal fluctuations and slower gastric emptying.
There are times of course when eating real food can be too challenging because of terrain or intensity, on those days I would still recommend gels.
When I would finish a ride I would typically just eat a sandwich and basically drink two or three coffees…you put me on a regime of post - ride recovery shakes that kept me full and I noticed a significant difference as weeks went by. I find if I get off track with the recovery, it has a big impact on me the next few days. How much do you think people misunderstand the importance of a recovery drink after a workout session?
What you have for recovery and the timing is so important! This is where a lot of athletes go wrong. For women, we have a lot smaller window to get the nutrition in, we need it within :30 minutes of finishing our training. Men have a bit more time, within 45 – 1hour of finishing. When an athlete misses that window, it will impact their workout the day after and the day after that. The purpose of the recovery drink or meal is to replace your glycogen stores and provide your muscles with the protein that they need for growth & repair. For a lot of the athletes that I work with, this is one of their biggest opportunities for improvement.
What are your suggestions for a really good recovery shake? What’s your fave?
Using the right protein powder is key so you can ensure you get enough grams of protein to activate muscle protein synthesis, women need more than men, I use whey isolate. I always include a bit of kefir (along with the almond milk) for gut health, flax seeds or chia seeds for healthy fats & antioxidants, berries & honey to help replace glycogen stores quickly. I also like to include a scoop of glutamine to support muscle recovery and gut health. I like to support gut health as often as I can since endurance training is so hard on our gut health.
My fav smoothie right now is with above, and raspberries & frozen cauliflower.
Menopause is something men don't understand. When you are married and your wife is going through it...It’s really a struggle to watch your spouse deal with it mentally and physically. You have really helped my wife with learning to manage this, but I believe it's something men need to take the time to understand because it's important to be able to try and help if that make sense? What are your thoughts on this?
Well men aren’t alone, Menopause & Peri-menopause is something that women don’t understand either. Even though this is something that women have been going through since the beginning of time, there isn’t much information or support available. Traditionally, women have suffered in silence with the symptoms and have been expected to just fade away and stop being vibrant beings. It has also been a very taboo topic that has not been discussed. This is the easiest place to start, start having conversations and let the women in your life know that you see them and support them in what they’re going through.
Menopause isn’t just the end of the productive years, when our sex hormones go chaotic in peri-menopause & then flat-line in menopause it affects every cell in our bodies. It is tough mentally, physically & emotionally. Creating an environment where your spouse can express how she is feeling, without judgement, is a great place to start. It is a time that requires women to start doing things differently and start focusing on themselves more (which women tend not to do), so being supportive and understanding of this is also key to keeping healthy & happy relationships.
With some shifts in diet & exercise habits women are able to maintain their active lifestyles and keep doing what they love. Stress reduction is also a big part of this to help reduce the symptoms often encountered with menopause.
For women that haven’t yet reached menopause, I understand that you with them to help them align with their cycle, tell me about that and why it’s important.
As a woman, we have a monthly cycle that has 4 phases where our hormones are rising & falling and impacting everything we do. If we sync our nutrition & training with that cycle we can improve our performance, training adaptations & recovery. It also allows us to go hard when our hormones can support that type of exertion and rest when we need to rest. An example of this would be, during the first phase of our cycle, this is when our hormones are low (when we are hormonally most like men), this is the best time to hit high intensities or achieve a PB.
How did your retreat go - this was your first one and you have the chance to meet and interact face to face with people. What was it like having that experience for the first time?
Ah it was so good! I had done a lot of zoom sessions with groups of women or teams, but that doesn’t even come close to having a bunch of women in the same room. The opportunity to connect face to face is such a treat now.
I was amazed at how comfortable I felt, the whole day really flowed, it unfolded perfectly. When you are in alignment with yourself and your purpose this is how things will feel. I recognized that and was very grateful.
You are obviously a very accomplished athlete having raced in Kona, a dominant age group rider in gravel races and I have seen you out the hurt on numerous people in group rides (myself included). You seem to be able to handle a level of pain that most would back off when the pace gets to the point where you are turning yourself inside out. Where does that mental toughness come from?
That is a really good question. I have always really enjoyed pushing myself hard & turning myself inside out. My first recollection of this was playing soccer as a young teenager, our team was the first girls team in Aurora (that’s how long ago it was! There are dozens of teams now), and I remember the nights that we didn’t have any substitutes were my favourite because I could stay on the field and just keep going and going. I quickly learnt that the more consistent effort I put in the better I would get and this has transferred to everything in my life.
Being so accomplished - that must help you with building your clients from a credibility standpoint, but I also know you have worked with a number of women who are not endurance athletes who enjoy walking and yoga etc. Tell us more about how that is developing?
I think all women crave a better understanding of their bodies. For our whole lives we were taught to not speak of things like our period and learnt next to nothing about peri-menopause or menopause. So being able to offer women information to help them make better choices for themselves is just as important for women that enjoy walking as it is for a women who are endurance athletes. Anyone who does any type of exercise on purpose is an athlete.
What are your favourite places to ride in the world?
That’s easy. Maui. It takes my breath away just thinking about it. There are incredible routes there that allow you to ride around the entire island. One of my favourite rides of my Maui trip was up the volcano Haliakala – this was me turning myself inside out like you mentioned earlier.
Where would you like to ride, but haven’t been yet?
So many places I’d like to ride. At the top of my list right now is Iceland. I have my eye on a gravel race there, the Rift, the views look surreal.
Are you riding the FR. Friendly Rooster?
Of course! I love that it will offer a good opportunity to push & suffer, as well as the opportunity to connect with other riders. I’ve really been missing group rides and that sense of community.
What are your top 5 movies?
I can’t remember the last time I’ve watched a movie! Right now, I’ve been watching a lot of Kung Fu Panda with Maximus.
What are your top 5 business or inspirational books?
I’ve read a lot of really great books over the 7ish years that have had a huge impact on the changes & new choices I’ve made in my life. These books really changed my perspective on life and connection and how I want to show up in this world. Each one of these I would read again; The Seat of The Soul; The Power of Intention; Sacred Powers; The Four Agreements; The Power of Now & You Are the Placebo. And that’s six because I couldn’t narrow it down ;)
What athletes do you respect in the professional space?
Are there any brands that you pay attention to and respect?
To be honest, I haven’t been paying much attention to this lately. Not going out, led to not shopping much at all. My wardrobe right now is full of pieces that I’ve had a while and still love.
What are your short and long-term goals with The Holistic Athlete?
Bigger format retreats, I have lots of ideas that include beautiful destinations and other complimentary activities. I will continue to work one on one with clients and have with teams. My goal is to keep connecting with as many women as possible, and build a community. Women connecting and supporting each other is a beautiful thing and I think that is something we need more of right now. Too many women aren’t connected to their power and not living to their full potential. I want to help facilitate that change.
For now, I’m working on designing a website and building a YouTube channel.
How can people reach you?
They can find me on IG @the_holistic_athlete_