Success Story – Nicole Serraiocco
Nicole Serraiocco, 41, sits in a café in Franklin, TN, sipping a green smoothie. She wipes tears from her eyes with a napkin, shakes her head as if words weigh too heavy in her throat. She is an Ironman-certified coach who also holds certifications from USA Cycling, Road Runners Club of America, and Balanced Body Pilates Reformer 1. She has a growing coaching business and dozens of clients that depend on her. She is doing the kind of work she was made to do, work that fits her personality and her innovative style of guiding others from decision to accomplishment. She is passionate about helping the athletes she works with, not only in their athletic endeavors, but in being authentic, engaged people. Nicole has a vibrant personality and is a talented athlete herself. She is also moving back to her home state of Michigan and leaving everything she’s built in middle Tennessee. Part of her is heart-broken when she considers all she’s giving up, but she’s also sure that moving to Michigan for her husband’s job is the right thing to do. She laughs that there must be people in Michigan who need her specific skill set, but it’s less a passing remark than it is a heartfelt belief. Her faith assures her that she’ll find what she’s meant to do there. Nicole has never shied from decisions that set her on new paths and offered new experiences. Instead, she invested her energy into finding the best way to learn and grow. Once again, she speaks the mantra that’s been a guiding force in her life. If it is to be, it is up to me.
Nicole is the oldest child in her family and fits the established personality that comes with being firstborn. She is active, driven, responsible, and has a growth mindset. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college. The University of Michigan awarded her a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and she started a position with Ford Motor Company as a Reliability and Quality Engineer. She excelled at her job. Encouraged by her supervisor to take on more challenging roles, her confidence in her abilities and in herself grew. She notes that the combination of encouragement from a mentor along with her own effort combined to boost her self-efficacy. When someone believes in you, she says, you begin to believe more in yourself. By age 26, Nicole was one of the youngest managers at Ford.
She loved her job, but when her husband had an opportunity to work in Paris, France, she was all for it. They packed up their family and moved overseas. For one of the first times in her life, Nicole struggled. Coming from an engaged, work-focused life, the transition to a stay-at-home mom in a foreign country whose language she did not speak was hard. She felt alone, disconnected, but something inside her demanded she push through, figure out what she was made of, decide what kind of person she wanted to be. If it is to be, it is up to me.
Nicole took up photography and began to learn French. She was involved in her children’s schools and led a Girl Scout troop. She made friends. Three years later, she would have the same feeling of disconnection and disillusionment when the family moved back to the states, this time to the south, to Nashville. Pregnant with her third child, the move was difficult. She found herself in the middle of a culture crisis. She didn’t know how to behave, how to relate. After her son was born, she was even more desperate for some sense of belonging, so she joined a gym. That small decision was the first step to discovering her true purpose.
Nicole started running as much for the social engagement as for the exercise. When she ran a hilly 10K in downtown Nashville and won her age group, it clicked in her head that maybe athletics was another strength for her. That inspired her to encourage others to run races, and it felt natural to become their trainer. One friend, whom Nicole trained for a Half Marathon, had a baby with a severe heart defect. Nicole felt helpless. Never a person who simply accepted such feelings, she decided to run a marathon in the child’s honor. While training, she would raise money to help with medical bills. She ran the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama, and successfully raised $12,000. Nicole’s breakthrough came in doing something hard for someone else. She could push herself to go farther and faster when her focus was on those who can’t do the things she was doing. It became another mantra – for those who can’t.
Running turned into triathlons. She was hesitant to hire a coach, but she wanted to complete a Half Ironman. It would be a significant challenge and there was much she didn’t know about triathlon racing. Perhaps it was fate, or just a stroke of grand luck, but she found in her coach a trusted confidant, and a person who encouraged and believed in her. That belief strengthened Nicole, made her want to work harder. It was her coach who suggested she race in Kona, in the Ironman World Championships and raise money for charity. Nicole’s father had died from melanoma, and she liked the idea of doing something hard to raise awareness for the disease and at the same time memorialize her father. She raised $52,500 in 2 months and 10 days. Again, she raced for someone other than herself. She raced for her father. She did it for those who can’t.
Becoming an Ironman coach and trainer happened organically for Nicole. Athletes took note of her engaging spirit and of her passion for helping others. She was athletically gifted, but she didn’t place her achievements on a pedestal to glorify her own strength. For Nicole, the effort was about benefiting others. People began to ask her to be their coach. She said yes, but to be the best possible coach, she attained the necessary certifications.
Nicole is aware that she can motivate and help others achieve significant goals, but she doesn’t view herself as extraordinary. She is simply being true to her own heart. She takes what she learns from each step in her own journey and gives it back tenfold. She remembers how encouragement helped her become stronger, so she uses encouragement and enthusiasm as coaching tools. Along the way, she found another mantra: Just say yes. She asks her athletes to just say yes to challenges, just say yes to facing fear, just say yes to starting new journeys. Say yes to doing things for others and in so doing find your calling, your own reason for being.
Nicole moved to Michigan. It was not something she planned, not something she necessarily would have chosen, but this new experience, this new challenge, presented itself in much the same way as other significant changes in her life have – as an opportunity for growth. And in the same way she faced those other changes, she faced this one – with grace, with confidence, with determination – and with the power of saying Yes.