Stevie Potter – a life in dentistry
We speak to Stevie Potter about her life in dentistry and how she balances that with life as a GB triathlete too.
What came first – dentistry or triathlons?
Stevie Potter: I went to dental school first. I put on a bit of weight in my first year and came home. My dad said you’re probably not doing much, just drinking and getting a beer gut.
I thought, well I’m a student, what can I do that’s cheap? Everyone runs, you see everyone out running, I thought I could do that.
I’ve never run before, and was never sporty.
So I went out and did some running but thought it was really hard. My mum entered me for a 10k and said, when you come back next Christmas you’ve got a 10k to do, so you better keep working at it.
I joined the rowing team in my third year and I was a cox rather than a rower. Part of that is you have to do all of the land training, work with the teams, do all of the workouts together. I got fitter through that and realised that my running was ok – but I was getting injured a bit.
Whilst at university, I took up the triathlon, and thought it was probably a good way for me to keep fit, hang out with all of the rowers, maintain my weight and also make sure that I didn’t get injured.
It was in my last year of university that I did my first triathlon.
I also did a duathlon whilst I was up there as well. I jumped on my bike onto the train from Newcastle to Durham and cycled to the start, did the race and carried the trophy on my way back home.
Afterward I thought: ‘Yeah, I can do multi-sport, maybe I’ll do this again!’
How did you fit the dental studies in around the rowing?
Stevie Potter: The rowing was actually really good. They always say if you want something done, give it to a busy person. I started to realise how true that was because you’re working out twice a day.
That just became a normal thing. You’d get up, you’d do strength and conditioning. I’d do something slightly different to them, doing my own thing, just to be there in the gym with those guys.
Then you go and do your studies. You have to get the work done. If you wanted to go out and have play time, the work time would come first.
I think a lot of my colleagues didn’t have the same drive. A lot of people were staying up late into the night for deadlines.
I wasn’t doing that because I didn’t have the option. I was away for competitions and I was going to sessions.
That’s probably where the time management element came in. You haven’t got a choice, you just have to get it done.
When did you first realise that you were good at triathlons?
Stevie Potter: I don’t know, I still don’t think I’m that good!
I went out and did a duathlon, and I finished near to the bottom. That finished with me getting a trophy and I was quite pleased with it.
I did it for fun and for the sense of achievement. Also the social aspect, it was always a good day out.
I just had a thirst for the training as well. And I never really took it that seriously at the start. I just wanted to go out and ride my bike and do running, wanting to do better all of the time.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve climbed my way up the rankings. It has taken 10 years to get where I am now.
I’ve never seen myself as someone who has a gift for it. I’ve seen myself as someone who is a very hard worker.
If I want to do something I just go and work really hard. When I first started, I wanted to do an Ironman. I had a five-year plan of what I was going to do. Then I got there and did it.
I thought, what am I going to do now? I went back to the sprint distance so that I could hang out with my family a bit more. We just saw how fast I could actually do it and now here we are!
Did you find yourself trying different things in training and just gradually getting better?
Stevie Potter: I’ve always been someone who wants to understand why things happen.
Obviously, being a dentist, I have a good knowledge of physiology and science in general.
Generally, us dentists are quite interested in how things work. We work with materials and people and stuff like that.
For me, training was exactly the same. I wanted to understand how it works.
So, I read books and magazines, and thought about how I was going to get faster. I coached myself to do better based on what I knew, as well as my background in physiology – and just applied it in a sports sense and married the two.
This gave me a unique approach because or the drive. I also had an ability to understand science, so I could read sports science papers and understand how training works and apply that for myself.
What practice do you now work at and how do you find the time to train?
Stevie Potter: I work for Bupa, in Taunton. This was a change that happened right at the start of COVID.
I started off in an independent practice and worked four days a week. I always have the weekend plus a day to train. So, I wasn’t really doing too much outside of that.
Then, I was getting a bit bored. So I did my aesthetics training and then thought I wanted to do a bit more with that.
I started my own business with that. Then, I made the switch to Bupa so that I could work three days a week. They’re a great team down there.
One of the advantages of working for a corporate is that everything is taken care of. I can literally go into work and do dentistry and hang out, and just go home.
I’m only 20 minutes away. So I can pop off to the pool in the morning, get my swim done and then go to work. Then I have a second breakfast with my nurse and catch up on what we have to do on the day. Occasionally we have a couple of meetings at lunch time with either my coach or my other clients from my business. Then, after work I’ll come home, have a quick snack and do a second session for the day.
I think having a team that works really hard for you is important. It means I’m not worried or distracted when I’m not there.
That’s exactly the same for Densura who sponsor me as well. They just take care of me so I don’t have to worry about it. You have to separate work and training quite clearly. Having a team who supports you to do that is important.
Take us through a typical week. How much training do you do?
Stevie Potter: On Monday I’m usually in my office here doing my business stuff (The Wonder Clinic).
Wonder Clinic is my elite wellness business. I run an aesthetics clinic on Saturdays, but I also have clients who I coach, my performance clients.
I have time to fit in a couple of sessions on a Monday because I’m a bit more flexible with my time. If I’m training twice a day it’s always an early session in the morning, get back and eat. Then I go straight to work.
I usually have a couple of snack breaks timetabled into wherever I am. Because I’m normally hungry all the time.
Then a quick lunch break, second session. If I’m home, I’ll often do a very gentle session with a client.
Then, I’ll have a quick snack again and go out and do my training. That is usually a hard turbo session. And then I’ll jump straight off into a run or I might do a harder running session. So, the evening session is usually a bit harder.
Sometimes on a Wednesday I work later, because I have slightly different hours with Bupa on a Wednesday. So I’ll come home and do a weight session, strength and conditioning.
Then dinner and bed. I’ll usually go to bed at nine or 10 and wake up at five.
Do you have a rest day?
Stevie Potter: We have easier training days. But unless it’s competition week, I generally don’t have a rest day.
I’ll have a day where I’ll do just a swim. So sometimes on a Thursday I’ll just do a swim or on a Friday. Then I’m geared up for the weekend.
On Saturday I can go out and do a long bike ride for a couple of hours. Then I’ll maybe go and swim in the sea. On Sunday I’ll have a couple of longer sessions as well.
The rest day is normally to prepare you for the weekend.
Is oral health an important part of your training?
Stevie Potter: Yes massively.
What we’re learning more and more now is, there isn’t dentistry and health. We’ve treated them as separate for so long. And as dentists as well, we’ve sometimes neglected thinking about diet.
For me, more and more – food is medicine, it’s not just fuel. You are what you eat and teeth are a really good reflection of that.
If you eat sugar all of the time, what do you see? Tooth decay.
Our teeth aren’t designed to consume all of that sugar because our bodies are not designed to consume all of that sugar. Even as somebody who is competing in very high intensity exercise all of the time, I still watch what I have in terms of sugar.
Educating my patients in the same way is really important. It actually makes it relatable for them if I say that I’m an athlete and when I’d go out on the bicycle, I’ll have water instead of fruit juice. That’s easy for them to understand.
I think we see more and more of gut health as well – which we need to be aware of, as dentists. Exactly the same things that have an impact on your mouth and oral health, have an impact on your gut. So alcohol and artificial sweeteners.
As dentists we often advise people to buy sugar-free things because it’s safe for teeth. But we aren’t looking at the overall picture.
There’s two sides to the story, and all healthcare professionals have a responsibility. There’s so much that we can talk about to our patients about their lifestyle and diet and hydration.
As somebody who has to be really mindful about what I’m putting into my body and what impact that has, it means I’ve done a lot of reading and a lot of research about it. I can pass that knowledge on and have those conversations with patients.
Also, with my colleagues, to help them to help their patients as well.
Do you speak to other competitors, what is the general oral health like amongst athletes?
Stevie Potter: Yes, pretty poor.
I think it’s getting better now. One of the greatest things my coach ever said to me was: ‘What I want you to do is get a bottle of glucose mix (energy drink) for your bike, and you can do some mouth rinsing. There’s evidence that if you actually rinse your mouth out with carbohydrate drink, then you’ll still absorb a bit of it without having to digest it’.
I told him what he said blows my mind. That is one way to get caries! But you’ve got athletes who are looking for the edge.
Everybody is looking for what is going to make the smallest difference.
Unfortunately, pages in magazines are about needing carbohydrate drinks, energy gels – which is a lot of sugar. Trying to speak to athletes about it is difficult.
You don’t want to bore people with it. But when people come up to you and talk to you about nutrition, it’s a good opportunity to talk to them about the benefits. And then that you’re a dentist, and can talk about teeth.
What are your plans for the future?
Stevie Potter: I’m now seeded ninth in Europe, which is pretty good! There’s still some work to do.
Next year, we were supposed to be off for the World Championships in a couple of weeks, in Bermuda. Unfortunately, it’s cancelled because of COVID.
But next year I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be a good year.
It’s going to be a really good competitive field next year. I’m spending the winter training and then seeing what we can do.
I’ve only been working with my coach for a short time. So I’m committing to that for a little bit longer and seeing how much we can improve and get faster.
And what’s your plans for the Wonder Clinic and working with Bupa?
Stevie Potter: The Wonder Clinic is always growing. Obviously, we have a little hiatus whenever I’m racing.
Clients understand that. I’m hoping to grow that in terms of the coaching I’m doing. I really want to spread the message of health and wellness and what that is. I’m trying to help dentists with it as well.
It’s not enough just to be really good at dentistry. You have to look after yourself as well.
I want to package that up and give it to people and help people.
The Wonder Clinic is going to focus a lot on coaching and building confidence and leaders. As well as helping people to perform better even in just their everyday lives.
At Bupa I’m getting stuck into my Invisalign and my aesthetic dentistry. And I’m loving that.
I’ve really got a renewed vigour for dentistry now in the last couple of years. It comes after making the switch in my job and hanging out with the guys at Densura a bit more.
It means that I’m talking to more dentists, which is really nice. And not just about dentistry.
I’ve got a great team down at Bupa, who are awesome and really help me out. They make sure that I go home from work not stressed.
So I’m loving working there, and fitting everything in!
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