Extreme Professionals: Two Intowners channel their work downtime into athletics

Sean Bennett and his father at Mt. Kilimanjaro.

A Fortune article cited a recent survey that said the average U.S. white-collar worker sends 19 emails and reads 29 work emails during the weekend, and 79 percent admit to checking work email on vacation. More disappointing, these check-ins often result in a “humblebrag,” when overworking is glamourized to show a character trait of a hard worker. The reality is that workaholic tendencies will result in burnout if there is no outlet for disconnecting.

When two Intown business professionals decided to step away from their desks for some downtime, they took it to the extreme. Literally.

Old Fourth Ward resident Sean Bennett is an endurance athlete who balances extreme training with his career as an accounting manager with UHY Advisors. As a manager he manages multiple projects at once and travels 75 percent of the time, yet still manages to compete in triathlons. This summer, he recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“I’m very good at shutting work out during my training sessions,” Bennett said. “That is my release and escape. All technology goes to the wayside and I focused just on being in the moment.”

Last October, Bennett was presented with the idea to tackle Mt. Kilimanjaro through urgings of his friends at Team In Training, an endurance sports training program that is also fundraises for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He and his triathlete father decided to take on a challenge that would get them off the concrete and into the mountains.

Despite his travels, Bennett trained 14 hours a week, with all day hikes on Saturdays in the North Georgia Mountains and closer-to-town hikes at Sweetwater Creek State Park. The big climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro was a six-day ascent and two day descent, averaging 44 miles round trip, and 11 days away from the office. Thankfully, getting back to work was easier than he thought.

“I picked right back up because UHY is team oriented and I made sure to transition things to team members during the build up to my hike,” he said. “I was able to step away and be out of pocket for two weeks and then slide right back into the role I left.”

Bennett advises open communication with management, not only with career goals but also with personal goals. “You may not know you have flexibility because you may not have asked for it. A lot of people are afraid to ask, but in today’s world you shouldn’t be afraid to express what is important to you.”

Danielle Grabol

Atlanta endurance athlete Danielle Grabol also communicates her sports goals with her company. Career-wise she’s known as VP of Operations at Personal Care in Decatur, but in the triathlon world she is known as an inspiration. Last summer, Grabol became the first woman to compete and complete the ultimate Ironman event, Epic 5, which consists of five iron-distance triathlons (140.6 miles each), on five islands of Hawaii, in just five days.

Grabol helps provide home care services to senior adults with Personal Care. She manages employees, operational work and works in client relations. And after a long day at the office, she’ll jump on her bike for hours. Even though it’s difficult for Grabol to anticipate her work schedule, that doesn’t stop her training program.

“Because my work is so emotionally draining, I turn to my physical endeavors,” Grabol said. “Compared to the stuff I have to go through at work every day, the bike ride is a treat. It grounds me, the training gets rid of a lot of my energy and it’s a huge outlet for me emotionally because the work I do is about end of life issues. When you are dealing with people who are sick, it makes you value and appreciate your own health that much more.”

Grabol says she tries to model behavior she wants her employees to have, but that does not include working around the clock. Because her training is so time intensive, she’ll admit to responding to emails while sitting on her stationary bike, however she won’t press send until work hours.

“Training teaches you discipline. If you are goal oriented and disciplined enough to follow though and make that goal a reality, you are given a new level of confidence,” Grabol said. “I feel more confident in the work that I do when I go out and do these crazy races. If I was that determined to make this happen, the challenges in my work life seem next to nothing.”

1 Comment
  1. Thanks for mentioning humblebrag and the people who glamorizes hard work instead of having pride in a good work-life balance.

    Good article and coverage on the hike.

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