I grew up engrossed with triathlon, reading the magazines, searching far and wide for any and all tidbits of news related to the sport I loved. I knew all the early names, from Mark Allen and Dave Scott, to Erin Baker, Paula Newby Fraser and the Puntos twins, Colleen Cannon, Mike Pigg, Kenny Glah, Andrew MacNouhgton, Wendy Ingram, the list goes on and on. When Pauli Kiuru showed up in Hawaii to chase after Wolfgang Dietrich with a HR monitor strapped to his chest, I set off in search of a Polar watch, I loved the races, the stories, and the technology as I saw it all as pieces to the puzzle I was now determined to "solve". Along the way when triathlon looked like it would be contested at the Olympics the nature of my goals began to shift, moving from World Triathlon Champion and Hawaii Ironman Champion to Olympic Champion. The thought of seeing the Maple Leaf fly high and singing OCanada at the Olympic Triathlon, what could be better. My mentality and physiology was more suited to the Olympic distance, my hand eye coordination and athleticism being an advantage, fast twitch tendencies refined at the rink playing hockey, on the basketball court (sitting on the bench during games..), in the mid field playing soccer, I had a good sense of spacial relations and tactical awareness. And still, I had a love of the Ironman distance, the legend of Hawaii, the Lava fields, the mystique, the Ironwar. Dave Scott vs. Mark Allen, Julie Moss, the Welch's, Peter Reid, Lori Bowden, Chris McCormack, Crowie and Chrissie, to name too few. If I could have lived dual lives with parallel careers I would have raced as I did, an Olympic distance athlete, and I would have another career, focused entirely on the Ironman distance.
I would have applied myself with absolute conviction and expressed my gifts in a similar manner.
All of this to say I am a huge Ironman distance fan and consider myself well versed in the history of the sport. Which made being in Germany for Challenge Roth all that more special and in every way I could have imagined the "we are triathlon" people far exceeded these high expectations.
Roth is one for the bucket list, way up there if you love our sport and want to experience the best of the best races. Come and participate in Roth with the Challenge Family. It is an extraordinary spectacle. I didn't even get to experience the midnight finish line stadium scene, which is apparently second to none (I'll be back next year for Collins Cup, and I'm bringing a sleeping bag, or finding a caravan to crash in). You need a plan with regards to how you are getting back to your hotel at midnight.
I found myself in Roth as part of the Collins Cup contingent, on behalf of the Professional Triathletes Organization, a collective formed to bring professional triathletes together and help represent them on the triathlon circuit. As a Co Captain of the International team with Lisa Bentley, Craig "Crowie" Alexander and Erin Baker, I feel honoured to be considered and look forward to seeing the Collins Cup come together. Named after the founding "family" of the Ironman distance, John and Judy Collins pulled together the first version of the Hawaii Ironman when they envisioned a race combining the Waikiki rough water swim, the around-Oahu cycling race and the Honolulu marathon in 1978. 15 athletes competed in this epic adventure, and the Ironman was born. Collins Cup is 40years in the making with 36 athletes competing over a 3/4 iron distance race, in a Ryder Cup (golf) like concept, 12 races within the race, in heats of 3, a European Team, Internationals Team and Team USA, competing for the Collins Cup, and the legacy of racing as a team, taking on all challengers. The first Collins Cup will be held July 1st in Roth as part of the Datev Challenge Roth, as we look to weave another thread into the quilt of our sports history.
That and Team International looks to stick it to Team USA Captains Dave Scott and Karen Smyers, two of our sports legendary characters, along with Chrissie Wellington and Norman Stadler, European Captains and Hawaii Ironman Champions.
It was a privilege to participate as a relay team with Dylan McNeice, Lisa Bentley and Chrissie Wellington. Seeing the race from the inside was phenomenal, what an honour, thank you to Challenge Family CEO Ziby and Felix for letting us participate. To ride 90kms on closed roads throughout the Roth region was special. It was fun to see Dylan again, we hadn't caught up since 2012 when I was training down in NZL with Andrea Hewitts squad, we spent a few moments before the start reflecting on the late Laurent Vidal, it gives me goose bumps just writing about him, Laurent was one of a kind, truly one of the most generous, gracious and kind individuals you will ever meet, he brought us all together to train at Snow Farm 13 km up a gravel road outside of Wanaka, it ranks as my favourite training camp during my long career, a spectacular setting in perfect alignment with the wealth of wonderful people who came together in common enterprise, to do something they loved, and share in the experience with a man who will always be missed, his legacy being that of Grace and kindness. Seeing Dylan and spending a moment reflecting brought it all back, 5 years later Dylan didn't miss a beat, it was joy to pay tribute to Laurent again as we spoke of his impact on our lives, the privilege it was to know him.
Dylan ran into transition, and I walked out, just soaking it all in, a field full of triathletes, compression socks, tattoo's, nano materials, aero helmets and gu like nutrition solutions. The crowd was enormous with people everywhere, dangling off the bridges ledge, lining the shores of the canal, packed in columns of all different nations along the bridge, celebrating "we are triathlon". Again Roth is special. And there I was, riding a road bike borrowed from Scott bikes, wearing some dudes cycling shoes, in a bike kit our Mobile Bike Shop Velofix sent by express post the day before. I put the seat back a cm, didn't touch the height, tilted the brake hoods up a few mil, bought some gels, JIC, and I was off for a 90km ride, 80km longer then my longest ride in over a year, with yet another huge shit eating grin on my face, riding the Challenge Roth course, in amongst it, taking in the beauty of our sport, from inside the fabric of one of the greatest sporting festivals you can imagine. Roth is famous for the Solar Hill climb, twice, at the 70k and 150km mark you ride up a short fairly steep climb packed with thousands and thousands of spectators, "tour de France" style, you rise up above the city of Solar riding in single file with fans screaming in your ear, i was told it is a site to behold and it did not disappoint. I was smiling ear to ear trying to hold my camera steady having promised Velofix I would get a shot of our kit climbing Solar Hill, with over a 100 franchises we're providing a mobile bike shop solution, and we've now climbed Solar Hill, next we need to bring Chris G. out of his Iron distance retirement to experience the whole race, while David, Boris and I do a relay... (maybe Meg can run for one of us).
Handing off to Lisa Bentley was fun, we've known each other for a long time through the Ontario triathlon scene, Lisa has won more Ironman's than I can count, her career was built on the back of pure unadulterated hard work, and fierce focus. To see Lisa's smile as she set off for her lap of the German country side was great, again it wasn't lost on either us just how special it was to take in the Roth race as we were. I know when she handed off to Chrissie, a legend of legends, the Iron distance World Record Holder, in 8:17, set in Roth, they were both quite moved by the experience. A marathon later Chrissie did her signature roll across the line and although I couldn't get back to the stadium to see her finish, apparently you could hear the roar of the crowd far and wide, the Region of Roth, loves their sporting hero's.
Speaking of sporting hero's, I had a chance to catch up with three of our sports ironic figures in the days before the race. Bumping into Daniel Ryf was truly unexpected as we managed to cross paths, with me drinking a beer listening to my audio book in the beer garden... while she headed to a sponsor event. We raced together on the World Cup circuit for a few years, to see Daniel dominate in the manner that she has, built on the back of her unbelievable work ethic, makes all of us who knew her on the ITU circuit very proud, it was nice to just talk briefly, connecting again with many years between, and see her smiling face taking it all in as she prepared to face the pressure reserved for those expected to win. She handled herself, as always, with class and composure, and dominated on race day, as the "angry bird" does.
I have saved my favourite moment for the end; sitting and watching Jan Frodeno sign autographs and take photos for an hour at the Ryzon booth, beside a Frodissimo cafe, with a line up extending well beyond the booth. I bought a coffee from an expresso stand across the way, pulled up a lawn chair long since abandoned as everyone wanted to be closer to the action, and I took it all in. Jan has done it all, Olympic and Hawaii Champion, our sports ultimate double, an astounding accomplishment by a man who eats, sleeps, breaths excellence. I lived with Jan in 2010 in Sarbroken at the German National Center, his work ethic and training load shocked me. He simply never stopped exercising, morning, noon and night, up to four times in a day, day after day, with a physio living close by, a full support team on call, he was as focused as I had ever seen, in fact, I knew deep down inside that my focus, with a young family at home, had changed. It was completely overwhelming to think about and ultimately although I learned a great deal and had the privilege of seeing one of our sports greatest champions prepare up close for three weeks, it extinguished some belief I had in my own commitment and preparation. In the long term it was worth the trade, no need to deny reality, conviction is built on hard work, and absolute commitment. I was balancing too much, and although I may not have outwardly admitted it, I was aware there comes a time when we most all acknowledge the choices we make, in this case the life changing experience of having children.
The sacrifices we are no longer willing.
Seeing Jan in his element was great, he is a champion well beyond the race course judging by his genuine engagement with each and every individual who wanted a moment with the star of the show. Front and center Jan made everyone he met feel like they were the only person there for that brief moment of exchange. There wasnt one point where he flinched, looked distracted or unwilling to fulfill a request, whether it was making an expresso for a couple or posing for "just one more". In the end I stood close by in my newly purchased Frodissmo shirt and caught his eye. It was great to see Jan, we shared some time together catching up quickly on life and kids before finding our way back of house where Emma was taking a quick breath away from the crowds. I've known Emma since 2000 when she was a Australian Jr. triathlete. Emma is one of a kind. She's humble and always happy to see old friends, it was special to sit with Jan and Emma on a bench behind the scenes, just the three of us, reflecting on the last time we saw each other, there being too much time in between, and just how exhausting notoriety can be, the "and yet" side of applause, we sat quietly blinking and breathing after we talked about and internally reconciled the costs we each have paid for this 15 mins of fame, the varying degrees to which we have enjoyed it, or not.
The theme of this trip has been "and yet" and performance decision making as I seek to gain greater understanding and connect with old friends, individuals I shared extrodinary moments with during our sporting careers; the process they go through to attain and refine their art and mastery, and a short acknowledgment of the costs we paid as free cheese is only found in mouse traps. I often ask myself if it was worth it for the lessons learned, and what would I do if i could go back. Acknowledging in comparasion we lose sight, life is perfect as it, as it is, what it is.
And that was Roth; from the race atmosphere, to catching up with old friends and a nice long ride on a borrowed bike, it was an outstanding experience, full of nostalgia and quite a few German beers.