When Tom Ward abandoned his 17-year banking career to found Passion Fit as a full-time triathlon coach, he wanted to do at least three things differently than he'd experienced them. He wanted a welcoming culture; he wanted an Endless Pool®; and most personally, he wanted to empower survivors of domestic abuse.
"In 2011, I signed up for my first ever triathlon: IRONMAN Lanzarote," Tom recalls. Then 34, he'd just retired from 20 years of competitive field hockey and felt pressured into it by his father-in-law. "I never intended to follow it beyond that one race. It was just a challenge.
"I enjoyed it much more than expected. That feeling of crossing the finish line – it's hard to explain. I signed up for the UK's 70.3 just three weeks later."
He progressed in the sport relatively quickly. "In September 2014," he notes, "I finished IRONMAN Wales and qualified for Kona," a bit ahead of the four-year plan he'd set for himself.
Tom Ward has good reason to look proud. In the five years since he discovered triathlon, he's finished the IRONMAN World Championship at Kona and made a mid-career shift to found Passion Fit, his own coaching studio with a Performance Endless Pool. Team Passion Fit is "centered around attitude and culture, not ability." He specifically welcomes domestic abuse survivors who need "the self-esteem that endurance sports give you."
Tom had already achieved professional success as a senior bank manager, but he found it decreasingly fulfilling. "I always wanted a career in athletics," and he realized that triathlon coaching paired well with his other passion: helping domestic abuse survivors.
"My mom was badly abused," he notes matter-of-factly. "We experienced quite a lot. My mother and I decided we would be support for women in abusive relationships."
The concept became his triathlon training studio, Passion Fit. But it meant abandoning what had been a lucrative career. "Much to my wife's frustration, it took me about 48 hours to decide. I literally decided to walk away in two days."
"For an amateur athlete, it's as close as you can get to going to the Olympics," enthuses Tom about the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona. He calls it both "a bit of a circus" and "the most incredible experience."
"I first swam in the Endless Pool in Kona" at the triathlon's expo. "It completely convinced me that this was the way forward" for Passion Fit.
"First, the visual feedback is hugely important," he reports of the pool's underwater mirrors and cameras. "I find it difficult through verbal coaching to improve my own swimming. In that one swim, I was able to make some fundamental adjustments."
He's since found similar success with his own Performance Endless Pool for his clients and the triathletes on Team Passion Fit. "In one session, I can progress a client what would take four sessions in a normal pool.
"In a normal pool, if you have dead spots in your stroke, you don't notice. In the Endless Pool, you immediately feel that" thanks to the steady pace of the swim current generator.
"Eighty to 90 percent of my one-on-one sessions are now in the Endless Pool. The client gets so much more for the money in that one session."
For Tom, that doesn't just mean standard triathlon training, helping triathletes to better their personal bests. It also means he has a great ability to empower the abuse survivors among them.
"A lot of abuse victims have turned to endurance sports. The two cross over quite well," Tom has found. "It gives them something to focus on for themselves."
Tom observes that triathlon's draw for abuse survivors is "the self-esteem that endurance sports give you. It's a real challenge, a test of your character. You're not the weak character the abuser made you feel you are."
This is especially true of a full IRONMAN, which covers 140.6 miles. "It's phenomenally difficult to do. It does wonders for your self-esteem. It certainly did for me and my clients, particularly my female clients."
He carries this healing ethos into Team Passion Fit. "We set up an age-group team centered around attitude and culture, not ability. We have two or three who qualified for Kona and two or three who are themselves from abusive backgrounds."
It's his "deep passion for the sport" that differentiates his Passion Fit triathlon training studio. Its tools are important – an Endless Pool, a small strength and conditioning area, and a rowing machine – but it's his family history, determination, and generosity that allow him to "offer other novices what I could never find in a coach."
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Favourite moment of the race, not just because I can finally see the finish line of my toughest race to date but because I get to give my amazing coach a thank you hug, wouldn't have finished this without his superb coaching and support, thank you! 😘 Thank you @shortandrounduk Photography for capturing this special memory 💕