In 2007, I was first introduced to the sport of triathlon racing. I had a couple of friends who decided they were going to enter a sprint race at the end of the summer. At the time, I was 32 years old and weighed 350 lbs. I told them there was no way I could do it, but I would cheer them on. At the race that August, I cheered and went home disappointed that I hadn’t tried to join them. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I committed to myself that I would cross the finish line at the St. Paul Sprint Triathlon in August 2008.
I played a lot of sports in high school and played semi-pro football for a few years in my mid-20’s, but I lost all motivation for exercise after I stopped playing. Without the competition it just wasn’t interesting to me. While I had no illusions that I would be a competitive triathlete, it was the competition with myself to make the ½ mile swim, 14 mile bike, and 5k run (ugh, I hated running, and my knees weren’t big fans either) that got me moving again.
In April of 2008, I bought my first bike (a hybrid). I enjoyed riding since it was easy on the knees, but my backside wasn’t a fan of being in the saddle for very long. It took a couple of months to build up the stamina to ride 10 miles. I also started swimming again, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid either. I found it was another enjoyable exercise for my size (fat floats) and I quickly built up to ¼ mile swims. Towards the end of the summer, I started open water swimming to get used to being in a lake. I still avoided running as much as possible, but would do a mile every now and then.
My first triathlon in August 2008 was awesome. It was so rewarding to have put in the effort for four months and have it pay off with crossing that finish line. I had to do a lot of breast stroke in the water and some walking on the 5k, but I finished (in 518th place out of 571). By the day of the race, I was down to 310 lbs. I had tried to be a little more conscientious about my eating, but I really didn’t change much. It was mostly thanks to the exercise.
For the next few years, my focus was on enjoying training with my friends and gradually adding more races. I did two sprint races in 2009 and three sprint races in 2010 and 2011. I would usually get down to around 290 lbs. by the end of the summer. In 2012, I reduced the number of races back down to two and didn’t even bother training for the first one. I had gotten to the point where I knew I could do the distance and I wasn’t competing with anyone for time, so there wasn’t much motivation. By Christmas of that year, I was up to 320 lbs.
I decide that I had to find a new challenge. I wanted to do a longer distance race, but the strain on my knees was just too much to even try an Olympic with the 10k run. That is when I heard about aquabike races. I did some internet searching and found that there would be a ½ Ironman distance aquabike in the Wisconsin Dells in August 2013. I again committed myself to crossing the finish line.
I knew from past years of training that I was not going to be able to bike 56 miles at 300+ lbs., so I took advice from my father and started counting calories. I wasn’t focused on limiting myself to a certain number; I just focused on being aware of what I was eating. The attention to my calorie intake and the training for a longer distance bike ride paid off – I lost 85 lbs. in 2013. I also crossed the finish line with energy to spare.
At 235 lbs., I was at my lightest since high school. A funny thing happened with all of that weight loss – my knees stopped hurting when I ran. In my training for the ½ IM aquabike, I actually did a lot of running because it was easier to get in a quick workout and it was no longer painful. This led me to my next goal, a complete ½ Ironman.
In 2014, I achieved my proudest athletic accomplishment to date. I completed the 2014 Square Lake long distance. I did it in less than seven hours, which was the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I was also down to 213 lbs. by the end of the summer, which I hadn’t seen since the 10th grade. I ran the St. Paul Sprint distance that August and finished in 1:20:29 (65th out of 286), which was 30 minutes faster than my first one back in 2008.
For 2015, I plan to keep up the motivation. I have signed up for two ½ IM races (Racine and Superior Man) and plan to sprinkle in some Olympic distances throughout the summer. Triathlons have become my passion and my savior from obesity. I have so much more energy in everything I do and have never been happier.