“Speak Kind Words and You Will Hear Kind Echoes”

Photo by DAvid CC BY 2.0

From the Editor– over the next few weeks we will be posting some thoughts from the boss (not Springsteen) who has put together a list of 26 influential people in his life.  People that have helped mold, direct, and teach.  Each day, starting November 30th, we will add one of the 26 individuals to the list…but don’t take my word for it:


“Speak Kind Words and You Will Hear Kind Echoes” Kevin O’Connor

Last December 14th we were all shocked by the horrific act at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  In the following days we heard heroic stories from so many that were on the front line that day.  There were a number of people who started doing 26 acts of kindness in honor of the 26 children and faculty who were lost that day.  I want to share with everyone some of the people who have had such a positive impact on me as a person and as a triathlete.  After all I am who I am because of the people around me.  And after well more than 20 years of racing I have had the privilege of meeting so many great triathletes.  These are the athletes that have given me a great perspective on racing and life.  The following are some of the stories about each of the great people and the perspective they have given me.

This isn’t perfectly written.  I just wanted to write down a few notes, stories, or quotes from some of the great people I have had the privilege to know.  For the most part the list is chronological of when I met them but not always.  Also, this is not all the people.  I have literally met hundreds of triathletes.  Most all of them have impacted me.  I put together the list pretty quickly and I have certainly forgotten some people and I haven’t shared all my thoughts of these athletes either.  So please don’t read into the exact words.  Instead realize I am simply trying to show these people the respect they deserve.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy.

26) Bob Powers– Bob is 89 years of age, is a WWII and Korean War Vet, earned 4 Purple hearts and still races triathlons and duathlons.  But what he does now in the races is simply part of a healthy lifestyle that he has always lived.  I could go on for pages about what an amazing man Bob is but for the purpose of this writing I will get to the point.

Bob makes everyone feel like a friend of his.  He seems to remember everyone’s name the very first time he meets them.  Thus he calls everyone by their name each time he sees them.  I don’t think Bob has any secret method to his recalling of names, nor do I believe he has some superior memory.  I think he does this out of respect.  He respects everyone  enough to make a point to remember their name.

he man

When I was 14 yrs. of age I got to go on a bird hunting trip for the weekend with my Dad.  We were meeting a friend of his who was about 20 yrs. his senior;  Russ Butler.  I had never met Russ but the moment we arrived to set up the tents I understood why my dad liked him so much.  Over the weekend I saw my dad hang on every word Russ said.  It was the first time I had seen my dad like this.  My dad was the ‘big shot company executive’ who always seem to have grace under pressure.  To me he knew more than anyone else; Until Russ.  It was strange to see my dad not be the one with all the answers.  But it was great to meet the person who my dad admired more than anyone else (his own father excluded).

This is way I feel about Bob Powers.  When I am with him I simply want to listen.  Learn as much as I can.  If I were given the opportunity to spend an hour with anyone who would it be?  Bob Powers.  I just hope my boys understand how much I respect and like Bob.  How being around him makes me want to be a better person.  Nicer, kinder, more respectful, complimentary, optimistic….In short more like Bob.

Bob Powers: You will only learn when you listen; you won’t learn anything if you are the one talking.

25) Dave Slavinski- Dave is another ‘race friend’ and although he lives a thousand miles from here, it hasn’t stopped him from going 4 and 0 against me.  Dave and I are the same age.  When I went out to race du nationals in 2010 I was fit and ready to go.  For the first time ever I had done speed on the track and I was running the best I had in more than a dozen years.  At that race this guy who had just started multisport racing, Dave, was showing that he was a real runner.  I did all I could to keep him close on the run and bike but that didn’t matter as he also out split me on the bike.  The following year I went down to Powerman Alabama as it was Du Nat’s Long Course, 10k, 60k, 10k.  Dave was kind enough to run with me for the first 3 miles but then decided to turn on the gas.  Once again he blasted the bike before a stellar second run.  I was now 0 for 2.  A month later, April 2011, I was hoping to get my revenge.  I was the most fit I had ever been and very healthy.  But that didn’t help.  Again I finished about 5th overall and Dave was first overall.


Last August at Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee I got to line up against Dave at Sunday’s Sprint distance.  He was defending champ and clearly the guy to beat.  Coming out of the water I had a one minute lead and the naïve belief that I might finally beat him.  I rode off the front as hard as I could and at the two turn a rounds I could clock the lead I had on him.  Starting the run I had 40 seconds and just a 5K.  I felt good on the run and ran like I was being hunted.  At a turn-around near mile 1 I got to check the lead and it was down to about 25.  I knew it would be close but never knew how close.  With 300 meters to go he passed me and we exchanged a few nice words.  Crossing 10 seconds too slow is often times hard to handle.  But not when it is against Dave.

Dave has become the example for Master’s men in the country.  He can race short course, long course, tri or Du.  What I know is that it is better to lose to Dave than it is to win without him there.  I hope that next year I have the fitness to try and finally get the upper hand on him.  And I hope that he also has the fitness at the races, as I would be happy to go 1 for 5 against him.  0 for 6 would be OK too.

Dave Slavinski:  It is OK not to win.  It’s only a disappointment if you don’t respect the person who beats you.

24) Jared Berg-I first met Jared in 1997.  He was a young guy who just finished college at the U and was starting in triathlon.  He was full of piss and vinegar and wasn’t afraid to toe the line with anyone.  As it typically the case he had to work hard to get fast.  He is not a genetic freak or naturally gifted any more than the next athlete. That didn’t stop him from working as hard as anyone.  He quickly began a coaching company he named Tri Endurance.  He hired a couple guys to coach with him: John Shelp and Dan Cohen.  His goal of being a professional triathlete brought him to Boulder, CO.  Shortly after his move he met a great young lady, Sarah.  Sarah had a son when she was very young.  Even though I would describe Jared as ‘young’ his maturity shined.  He and Sarah Married, they came to MN for 2 years for her to finish her Chiropractic degree, and have since had 2 more children together.

man up

When push came to shove, Jared ‘manned up’ and did the right thing.  He married the woman he loved and respected, and adopted her first son.  It is great that he put family first when it really mattered and put his racing aspirations on a semi-permanent hold.

Jared Berg: Being a top tier pro athlete isn’t nearly as great as being a dad.


23) Dan Hedgecock-This is the guy who just oozes with athletic talent.  He has a nearly perfect physique for a triathlete.  He came to MN for a corporate job back in 2005.  While there he attended a presentation that the corporate Tri Club had arranged with Gear West Bike.  I was going to do this presentation but woke up sick.  It was the worst illness I have had in the previous 10 years.  So I let Big Curt Wood know I was out and he quickly recruited David Thompson to do the presentation with him.  What a fortunate turn of events.  Listening and talking with those two guys Dan got the bug to once again do some training.  Dan was a D1 runner at Missouri and he was good.  His 5000m track Personal Best was somewhere in the 14:07 range.  To achieve this kind of fitness so often burns the athlete out.  This was not the case with Dan.  He jumped into his first triathlon in 2009.  It was instant success

mizzou logo

Dan Hedgecock: Recognizing your potential for success and doing all you can to achieve it is the only way you will truly reach a goal. 

22) Greg Taylor- I didn’t meet Greg until about 2005 up at Timberman Triathlon in Northern MN.  However we have known each other for 20 years.  That is because we finished back to back in Kona back in ’93.  He was just a few seconds ahead of me when I set my PR.  Back then he seemed old to me.  He was 39. He lived in Idaho back then and I lived in Iowa.  But in early 2000’s he moved to MN.  When we met in ’05 we were trying to figure out why we knew each other’s names.  We quickly figured out that it was seeing the names on those old results.  During that Timberman Race I was working as hard as my out of shape body would move me and I was passed by Greg.  All I could think was “if you ever said to me I would be passed by a guy who has ‘50’ on his calf I would call you crazy”.  I told this to Greg as I passed him on the run.  He didn’t mind me passing him because of me admitting that I was crushed to be passed by a 50 yr. old.  Greg loves to remind me that my PR race in Kona wasn’t his PR; he has gone faster than that.  Greg likes to share that the 5 time age-group world champion (and our common friend) Tony Schiller hasn’t been within 30 minutes of Greg in Kona.  He doesn’t do this with any tone of arrogance.  Instead it is to remind both him and me that none of this is too serious.  He knows where he fits in when it comes to race results.  And if he can get your goat for the day by passing you on the bike he will do it just to make sure you don’t finish feeling TOO good about yourself.

For a person who has been training and racing at an elite level for 30 years he does a great job of keeping it in perspective.  After all it is all about being the best he can be.

Greg Taylor:  The longer you race the more you realize that at every race you can find the small successes.  Like keeping a 30-something guy humble.


21)  Alfredo Martel- Alfredo is a typical triathlete.  He started racing when he was in his 30’s.  He didn’t have a single-sport specialty from his younger years.  He simply started participating in triathlons and found he liked both the challenge and the people.

A couple years ago I simply knew Alfredo as ‘the Caribou Coffee guy”.  After all, he heads up the marketing at Caribou’s Corporate Headquarters.  Alfredo would come into the shop and talk to everyone; and everyone liked him.  Over the next couple years we got to know him we could all see his competitive side.  Alfredo travels to a couple of national races with his core group of three friends and they seem to have as much fun as anyone at the races.


About one year ago Alfredo sent an email to both Hannah and I.  The subject was ‘this just in’.  In the body of the email he let us know that he had qualified for USAT nationals in Milwaukee for 2013.  He wanted to thank us for our support and advising him on his racing.

On one hand I thought ‘big deal’.  It isn’t that hard to qualify for nationals.  But I quickly realized that it may not be hard for me to qualify but it took real dedication and work for Alfredo to qualify.  After all I can’t dunk a basketball even though I am 6’2”.  Heck I can hardly touch the rim!  I can’t throw a baseball at 50mph or bench press 250 lbs.  But there are thousands of guys that can do all three of the above things without even trying hard.  The list of things I can’t do is 10 fold longer than the list of things I can do.

I love the fact that Alfredo trained hard and accomplished something that he didn’t think he would be able to do.   His pride in accomplishing it shows how challenging it really was.  Nice Work Alfredo.

Alfredo Martel: Be proud of what you achieved if you worked hard to achieve it.  What is easy for one person is a challenge to the next.

20) Brooks Grossinger-  Brooks has been racing with the Gear West tri team for 10 years.  What has motivated me for years from Brooks is one race result he has.  Of course Brooks has a number of great results, both in running races and in triathlon.  But the greatest was in 2006 at Manitou Triathlon.  With some prize money on the line all of the fast guys from MN were there.  The start line was the who’s who in triathlon.  Brooks came out of the ½ mile swim 40-75 seconds behind all the guys he wanted to beat.  There were 12 guys in front of him when he got on the bike.  I was one of them.  To put in perspective, I was having heart rhythm issues that were athletically debilitating.  As I watched the guys in front of me fade up the road, I had Brooks pass me just a couple miles from the turn around.  The turn-around is a simple left hand turn through an elementary school’s parking lot out in the country.  As I was coming back onto the road, Brooks was getting back onto his bike!  He had somehow fallen over.  As I was passing him I asked if he was OK, which he was.  Re-passing me a mile later we had just over 5 miles left.  He was now in about 12th place.


Brooks finished second overall, first amateur behind Pro David Thompson.  Apparently the crash motivated Brooks.  He reeled in a couple of the guys on the bike and then clicked off a 15:26 for the 3 mile run.  He set the all-time run course record, and reeled in all but David.  He caught John Shelp just before the line and finished 6 seconds up on him.  Brooks’ raw determination and focus reminds me to never give up because you never know what you might achieve if you just give yourself the opportunity.

Do not give up

Brooks Grossinger:  The jolt of adrenaline might be all it takes for you to realize your potential.

19) Ruth Brennan Morrey-I have only known Ruth for a couple years and I would describe her as a ‘race friend’.  I don’t have any stories about her, I don’t know her kids or husband, but I sure do respect her.  She essentially exploded onto the triathlon scene just a couple years ago.  What I like so much about Ruth is how she does not come from an elite single sport background like other top tier professional triathletes.  Ruth was a standout soccer player at UW Madison but as that ended she moved into doing a little running.  No big surprise she was good at it.  A 2:48 marathon got her into the Olympic Trial back in 2000 but running injuries took her out of running from ’02-11.  10 years without competing, post doctorate degree in psychology, and three children later she picks up triathlon.  What I like most about Ruth is that she uses her raw determination to both train hard and win races.  She motivates me to work as hard as she does.UW Soccer

Ruth Brennan-Morrey: Some people seemingly come out of nowhere.  It is because they don’t settle for second with anything in their life. Racing is just them showcasing all their hard training.

18) Matt Payne-My first memory of knowing Matt is following the Waconia race when Brian Bich put me through the ringer.  Matt was new to the sport and like Patrick wasn’t YET fast.  That quickly changed.  With his great speed he entered more races.  Each time it was harder for me to stay ahead of him.  For 3 years I have seen nothing but his backside.  At least I have plenty of company.  Very few can get the better of Matt. I would also describe our relationship as ‘race friends’.  But you can learn a lot about a person when you see them both win and lose.  Matt is always ready to race and win but his outward attitude is quite relaxed.  Turtle-crossing-sign

He never talks to me about how much training he is doing or his race nutrition. Instead the talk is about the experience of the day or the previous race.  It is never about his result.  His success seems to come from his desire to experience the race much more so than a desired result.  Next time you watch a drummer rip out a solo think of Matt.  And if you ever come across a turtle crossing the road do all you can to make sure our little shelled friends make it.  That will put a smile on Matt’s face.

Here is a funny video that pertains to the story.  If you want a laugh, check it out (hint “I Like Turtles”):


17) Patrick Parish-Patrick motivates me!  Not because I want to beat him.  After all I want to beat all the guys out on the course.  It is because he is such a talented athlete.  He was a D1 runner at Duke University while earning his engineering degree.  With a job bringing him to MN he started racing in Tri’s about 4 years ago.  The guy could run!  But he couldn’t yet swim or bike.  Give it a couple years and he would show that he would learn how to compete in all 3 disciplines.  What impressed me most was in 2010 he showed that he learned how to bike, and bike fast.  That is what has motivated me.  Not that I will ever be the kind of runner he is, but if a natural runner can become a triathlete why can’t a natural triathlete become a runner?

duke university

Patrick Parish: If someone else can ‘do it’, why not me

16)  Cathy Yndestad- I actually met Cathy a number of years back when she came in with her ‘boyfriend’.  This guy named Kerry and she stopped in to buy their first triathlon bike.  I remember it being the off season but they were motivated as they worked out at Life Time Fitness in Plymouth.  Outside of that I knew nothing about them but for some reason I remembered them.  They did start to race and they also married.  Cathy was a standout golfer and found out she had quite an endurance engine as well.  Many of you know how much success she has had as a triathlete but she hadn’t always been at the very front of the races.  Don’t get me wrong, she was fast.  Just not the fastest.


At the Year End Minnesota Multisport Awards Night in 2005 Cathy and I were standing at the back of the room as “Female Triathlete of the Year” was announced for the Women.  Cathy was not on the list of Nominees.  She turned to me and said “I want to be up there next year”.  I remembered it very well.  And the following year she was.  I don’t remember if she won the TOY award the following year but she did win in ‘07.  Even with that improvement Cathy wasn’t close to reaching her triathlon potential.  By 2009 she earned the USAT Athlete of the year; yes she was the fastest amateur triathlete in the country.

What was so great to see from Cathy was that she made a decision that she wanted to be the fastest triathlete she could be and got it done.  And it all started when she verbalized her goal.  Impressive!

say it out loud

Cathy Yndestad:  When you know what you want to do you shouldn’t be afraid to say it out loud. Be ready to do what it takes to achieve it.

15) Curt Wood- Big Curt Wood is 6’6” and a little over 200lbs.  He is a true horse of a guy.  He started racing in about 2004.  He grew up in Mankato area and swam at Mankato State University.  As expected at the triathlons he would exit the water at the front and get to work on the bike.  His biking prowess was as good as any triathlete.  In fact he had the fastest bike split at USAT Age Group Nationals in 2009.  When it came to his run he wasn’t quite as accomplished.  We would poke fun of him and saying that Curt ‘couldn’t run’.  As many have said “I wish I ‘couldn’t run’ like Curt”.  After all he was running just over 6 minute miles.  No one would even talk about his run if his swimming and cycling weren’t so stellar.  He was always a great teammate on the team trials and at the Corporate Charity Challenge Relays.  What I admired so much about Curt was that even while he worked on his running he never neglected his strengths.  As his experience grew his running improved and his results showed.  Only the very best triathletes in the country could catch him.  But along the way his swimming and cycling both improved as well.  He was a perfect example of an athlete that while working on his weakness did NOT neglect his strengths and his results showed.just-run

On a side note about Curt; he is a great dad and husband but the most surprising thing about him is his humor and creativity.  He is very humble, shy, and quiet.  It is hard to understand how someone as tall as he could disappear amongst the crowd at the race venue.  But what we learned about him when he worked here was how funny he is.  It was such a pleasure having him here at the shop.  He was always positive and someone that could add humor to the driest of subjects.

Curt Wood:  Whatever you do, don’t neglect what you are best at doing.  Build on your strengths and cover your weaknesses.  

14) Drew Frakes- Drew came to Gear West 10 years ago.  He had been in the cycling industry for 25 years but came to us because of his graphic design skills as much as anything.  As we got to know this father of two girls we found out that there is a lot more behind the quiet exterior.  He did his first triathlon in 1982. But that was just for fun, as was every triathlon in the early ‘80’s.  After finishing college he rode a self-supported, solo bike trip from Anchorage, AK to Texas.  He then did some USCF Bike racing before being a typical avid cyclist, father, and husband.


In his early 40’s he ran Twin Cities Marathon a few times.  He didn’t set any course records but he definitely set a standard for consistency.  With at least 5 finishing times between 3:50 and 3:53 he decided he was going to do what it takes to lower his times.  A few years of honing his training, weight, and race strategies he dropped 15 minutes on his finishing time.  Then in 2011 he ran a 3:24 and qualified for Boston.  He has since run faster yet.

tc marathon

Drew told me a story about a neighbor who years ago introduced him to a second neighbor.  The first neighbor points out to the second, that Drew has run TC Marathon a handful of times just like the second neighbor.  The second neighbor asks Drew his time.  Drew replies that he runs a little over 3:50.  The second neighbor responds with a chuckle “Oh…….you are one of the FAST guys!”  Drew’s marathons had never brought him the descriptive of ‘one of the fast guys’ until that day.

Fast is relative.  At the shop we will pick on each other at every opportunity.  But don’t be fooled by Drew, this 52 yr. old will very likely take you on that city limit street sign sprint.  He certainly takes me every time.  Drew can also skate circles around most every triathlete, having been a high school hockey player.  But you can’t tell by looking at him.  He also has the respect of many triathletes who walk through the door.  I have listened to customers asking Drew about Chisago Half and the sound of respect that Drew is a sub 5 hour Half Iron guy.  And he isn’t necessarily done getting faster.  Although he has been on a bike and lacing up running shoes for the last 35 years he continues to get faster.  Maybe there is hope for the rest of us post 40 yr. olds.

Drew Frakes:  Even when your age is past your athletic prime you can still improve.

13) John Shelp-I was introduced to John by Jono.  Ironically John lived just a few miles from the shop and would come into the store.  But as a customer he flew under the radar because of his humble demeanor.  By 2003 John had gotten quite fast with Triathlon.  He taught PE at Blake Schools and then started coaching with Jared Berg at Tri Endurance.  By 2005 he was one of the guys to beat.  This is also when the kids started coming.  He now has 4 little girls that he and his wife Micki raise in their home in Maple Plain.  Micki teaches in White Bear Lake and handles that long commute without complaining!  Both have had to deal with health issues even though they are barely 40 yet you can’t keep them from enjoying life.  When John (and Micki too) walks into a room the room lights up with joy.  Their laid back approach to life would drive me insane; but it works great for them.  Whereas most triathletes compete to be the first to arrive on race morning, John is guaranteed to be the last.  Of course this doesn’t affect his results, it probably helps.

keep calm

Each year Thanksgiving morning I run the grass trails of Baker Park and meet John for our Turkey run.  We run, what is for us, a long run of 2+ hours.  We solve as many of the world’s problems as we can and talk about our kids.  As I run the trails back home I get to enjoy the feeling of being more like John and less like me.  I can almost feel my blood pressure lower, a smile come over my face, and I almost feel light on my feet.   At our Thanksgiving meal it is quite clear for all that I am thankful for.

turkey dinner

John Shelp: Don’t let the ‘challenges’ in life get you down.  

12) David Thompson-David first walked into Gear West in 2001 after he had finished his undergrad degree.  He had done a couple races including a victory over Doug Davis at Mankato Tri.  He needed a little money so we hired him in to build bikes.  At the time I knew next to nothing about him; he had an Aunt, Dorothy, who lived in St. Paul and he was a pretty fast triathlete.  At season’s end David went out to school at MIT to earn his Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering.  By the start of 2003 he had finished his schooling and was coming back to MN with his future wife Hannah.  I purchased the bike business on February 1 of 2003 and David started full time that day.davidthompsonpromo-thumb-230x201-1998It was very clear that David was both athletically talented and highly motivated.  He was already as good as any of the amateur guys in the country and after a hard crash at a bike race in June ’03 he decided he wanted to race amongst the Pro ranks in Triathlon.  The first couple years he would fly to the ‘big’ races and do all he could to stay out of the bottom 5 in the pro field.  But his persistence paid off.  By 2006 he was getting some solid results and ’07 was to bring him the respect of all his peers.

He flew out to Boulder Peak Half Iron in ’07.  The airline had lost his bike box which also included his shoes and race clothing.  Staying with a local friend he was planning on doing the race anyway on all borrowed equipment.  But on race morning at 5am the airline called to tell him they have his ‘luggage’.  The delivered it to David an hour before the race.  His homestay had already left for the race.  David quickly assembled his bike put his race uniform on, and rode to the race site.  He dropped his bike, dumped his backpack with transition items on the ground, cut in line at the port-o-potti, and then put on his wetsuit as the national anthem was sung.  He made the start line by 30 seconds.  The race went quite well for him!  He won in 3:50 which broke Craig Alexander’s course record.trust_nuclear_engineer_rectangle_decal

What is most enjoyable about David is the fact that he doesn’t get worked up about much of anything.  It isn’t that he doesn’t care; in fact he cares a lot.  Just not about the little stuff.  Lost luggage, weather delay, being sent off course, flight delays, cancelled swims, mechanical Issues, etc.  David passes by these things with perspective that we can all learn from.  There is always another race.  And after all, it is just racing.  This isn’t life or death.

Traveling with David is a real joy for me.  It is like having the steer amongst the bulls.  He keeps everyone around him calm.  We eat wherever it works out, get to sleep when it works out, and get to the race when it works out.  If something isn’t perfect there is no panic or frustration.  But don’t think this passive attitude is his MO on the race course.  He is a fierce competitor and you will have to be as fast as him and willing to suffer as much.  Good Luck!

David Thompson:  Being ultra-competitive and one of the best doesn’t mean you have to get worked up over the things you can’t control.  And remember this is just racing.

11) Jono Mcleod– Jono came into the store with a few college friends whom he swam with.  They were all U of M swimmers with Jono being the best of them.  It was ’98 and he was interested in starting in triathlon.  He had a world ranking of 10th in the 200IM and was the former Canadian National Champion in that event.  With him and his friends starting in triathlon we had our first group of single sport athletes entering triathlon here in the state.  Jono was never challenged when it came to swim.  Even the fast swimming triathletes were left far behind in his wake.  But it was his accomplishments on the bike and run that earned him his Hawaii Ironman Slot on his first attempt.  He led the swim in Madison and then pushed the bike and run to finish in just over 10 hours.

minnesotaAfter he raced Kona in ’03 he returned to Calgary where he met his wife and now has two beautiful daughters.  He showed that if you decide to get something accomplished you can get it done.  He decided to learn how to ride and run.  And in spite of ‘everyone’ giving him advice on how to get it done he used his common sense and relentless work ethic to reach his goal.  Sometimes we have all we need to reach our goal right inside our body.699px-Flag_of_Calgary,_Alberta.svgJono McLeod:  If you are a great athlete in one sport you will likely have success in other sports.  It will take a lot of work but remember it took a lot of work in the first sport too.

10) CJ OngCJ has been racing for more than a few decades.  He has preferred to do the races that only a few ‘nuts’ choose to do:  Double Ironman, 100 Mile run races, Hawaii Ultraman, etc.  He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with his wife which is where I met him competing in the Pigman races in the early ‘90’s.  In 1994 as an act of kindness he put together a grassroots fundraising run for my 3rd trip to Ironman Hawaii.  It was a cold cloudy morning in Cedar Rapids where CJ got all of his friends to come out and run a few laps around a rural park and give a few dollars to help me pay for the trip.  I was just 23 yrs of age and had just finished college in Ames.  Having someone rally his friends and get them to give me a couple hundred dollars was quite generous.  Ironically it was my most disappointing year in Kona but the generosity I was shown has not been forgotten.

I like calling CJ a friend.  However, not all people want to be friends with CJ.  This is where it becomes complicated.  I want to be careful to not put words or feelings “in his mouth”.  CJ is very well known in CR amongst the gym crowd as well as the endurance crowd.  He developed a core group of friends, training partners, and athletic pupils.  He worked at the primary ‘health club’ in town and taught a few classes.  But as he became frustrated with the culture amongst the management at the club he spoke up to some of his class pupils and staff members.  The management did not like this and asked him to leave; both at as an instructor and a member.  I am pretty certain that this hurt him personally.  To CJ this wasn’t about business but about how to help people be healthier.  This spilled over to challenges with athletes that were training with him and using his experience to guide them in their own athletic success.  This ‘falling out’ spilled over to the primary tri club in town and some people figured they didn’t agree with CJ and therefor didn’t want to be friends with him anymore.

As with every person, CJ is complicated.  He is opinionated, but open minded.  I don’t agree with him on many of the things he states.  But that is why I like him.  I like being around someone who challenges my own opinions.  Openly stating his opinions has cost him some friends and I am sure it has cost him some personal pain.  But CJ can sleep well knowing that he is at least being honest with himself.  He knows that it is far better to be hated for who you are than beloved for who you’re not.

CJ Ong:  “It is far better to be hated for who you are that beloved for who you’re not”

9) Jan Guenther-I met Jan when I walked into her store, Gear West Ski, Bike, and Canoe, in Jan 1995.  The irony is that we grew up in the same town in IL but with the age difference we had never met.  I had just moved up here with my wife Tammy and rented an apartment in Maple Plain.  I had no job so I asked her to hire me until I got a ‘real job’.  That was 19 years ago.  I started simply wrenching on bikes.  Jan saw that I was more valuable on the floor with customers and had enough of a brain that I could learn the business side of the shop.  We worked together to build the sport of triathlon throughout MN in spite of the near death of the sport in ’96 here in MN.  As I grew at the store Jan encouraged both my racing and my business growth.  She gave me a lot of latitude to make business decisions because I always tried to make the right decisions for the store.

jan GW kitIn 2001 we were attending the Trek Dealer Meeting in Madison.  We had a conversation about how well it has worked out with me walking into the store when I did…..For both of us.  A year later we worked out an agreement for me to purchase the bike and triathlon business from her.  In February of ’03, 11 years ago, we signed the deal.  It wasn’t all this tough negotiating or arguments about the little things.  It was an agreement that allowed us both to feel that it was the best thing for the two of us.

What I learned from Jan was the value of letting somebody make the most of himself/herself; the value of not standing in the way of someone who is trying to do the best for themself and for you.  It hasn’t been all roses between us but in the end our business relationship has been as successful as it has been unique.

Jan Guenther:  Allowing others to succeed doesn’t necessarily keep you from succeeding.

8) Troy Jacobson-Of the triathletes I have listed I have the most history with Troy.  We would race together at the national races and Hawaii in the early ‘90’s.  It wasn’t until ’97 at Muncie Endurathon that we spent any time talking.  I had just finished what is my fastest Half Iron but still 5 minutes behind Troy who just beat two of the best pro’s in the country.  The following year I had him come out to host a weekend triathlon workshop.  We continued to hold that workshop each April until in ’04 we teamed up to record two of his latest Spinervals Videos here in MN.  We have done a total of 5 Spinerval Videos together and 8 triathlon workshops.  Troy’s athletic accomplishments are amazing including a sub 9 Ironman in Hawaii and running a sub 3 hour Ironman Marathon at age 40 in Arizona.  However, what Troy has taught me is that a person’s business skills are more valuable than their athletic skills.  Troy never made any money as an elite triathlete but he was the first ‘on-line’ triathlon coach.  Coach Troy started in 1992 and he would fax the weekly workouts to his athletes.  As that was growing he created the idea of indoor training cycling videos; Spinervals was born.  He has the best-selling training videos in the cycling industry, a renowned coaching program that has thrived for more than 20 years, and is now the Director of Multisport Training for Life Time Fitness.  He had a reputation as a fierce athlete but it was his hard work in the office that has made his career in triathlon so successful.

Troy Jacobson:  You can use your intellect to earn a living in the sport of triathlon.

7) Brian Bich-The nicest man in Triathlon!  It has been long enough that I don’t remember exactly when I met him.  However, every interaction leaves me feeling that I could be a better person, better friend, better father, and better athlete.  Brian has set the standard for race speed for those who start at age 35+.  He dabbled in races in the mid ‘90’s but it was a few years into the training that he found some speed.  At Heart of the Lakes in ’98 I was having a lack luster race and part way through the bike a guy rides up on me.  Taking a closer look it was Brian.  All I thought was “I am having such a crappy race that I am all the way back here with Bich”.  I dug deep and pulled away from him.  However, this was the last time I had a thought like that about Brian.  He continued to improve dramatically and became the man to beat in MN for a full decade.  It would be 11 years before I was fit enough to ‘race’ Brian.  Waconia Tri in ’09.  The wind was 35-45 mph out of the West and the white caps on the lake were large enough to cut the swim distance in half for all but the Elite Wave.  Brian and I came out of the water together with only Big Curt Wood in front of us by a minute.  I was thrilled to be fit, motivated, and in the right position to finally beat Brian.  Over the next 5 miles I fought the wind to cut the 10 seconds down to 5 seconds.  But then Brian found the gas pedal.  For the next 10 miles I fought as hard as I could to keep him in check but I couldn’t.  I started the run exactly 30 seconds down.  Visually that is a very short distance but as hard as I ran he seemed to have a force field around him.  In the end I fell 15 seconds short and he claimed all the glory he deserved.  As nice as he is off the race course he is just as ferocious on the course.  In the 200+ races I have completed, this is a top 3 for overall effort.  And, the more I think about it, it may be the hardest effort I have put in.

Brian raced at Team USA Qualifier in Menomonie, WI in ’03.  The race had all the fast guys and gals from around the country and the results carried a lot of prestige on the national level.  There was no elite wave so different ages had different start times.  The very nice and talented defending amateur world champion, John Rebak, attended and had put in the fastest time early in the morning.  As Brian came to the finish line the announcers had already done the calculations and it was validated that Brian was flying that day with the fastest time.  Brian’s watch showed the same thing.  Then awards came and Brian finds out his timing chip didn’t work.  The race organizes did the best they could to get an accurate time for Brian.  Unfortunately they just guessed and posted a time that was a couple minutes slower than he earned.  Brian’s victory was accidentally taken away from him but he never complained.  Ask him about this race and he smiles as he tells you that he never felt better during a race.  It was effortless!

Brian Bich:  You can be an incredible athlete AND the nicest guy in the state!


6) Tony DeBoom-When I raced Kona with Tim in ’92 I listened to Tim talk about his older brother as if he was a myth.  Tim was excited that Tony would be finished with the Army by year’s end and the two would be able to race together.  All 4 of the DeBoom Brothers were valedictorians of Cedar Rapids Washington High School.  Like Todd and Tim, Tony was a state champion swimmer.  And like the oldest brother Todd, Tony attended West Point and completed his Army Ranger Training.  He did this before he turned 25 yrs. of age.  In ’93 he did join Tim at the races.  He was second overall to Tim at Nationals and continued to improve over the course of the years.  Although Tony and I have never been close friends we always enjoy seeing each other and are never at a loss of topics when we do connect.  He continues to have success in the triathlon industry and is a hard working father of two.  The DeBoom’s have always stuck together as a family and Tony seemed to be the one that the family centered around.  Tim may have been a little faster on the race course, but if there was a gather of Debooms, Tony was present.  He always brings the energy to the group.

Tony DeBoom:  Some people are as great at their younger brother say they are.  Being the actual person that others look up to brings so much positive energy to the rest of us.

5) Tony SchillerTony may be the triathlete with whom I have the most history.  I first ‘met’ him at Manitou Tri (lightning turned it into a Duathlon) in ’93.  His 2:18 marathon prowess put him out front in that race from about the first stride.  At that race I battled and eventually lost second place to Rich Heilman.  Congratulating Tony after the race I realized that he didn’t have time for the little guys back in 3rd place.  The following year at Ironhorse Tri in Springfield, IL we had a heated philosophical argument that didn’t build a bond between us.  Six months later I moved up from Iowa with my wife here to MN.  Having beaten Tony at Ironhorse triathlon I thought I had earned his respect.  I may have done that but now that I moved into “his territory” he was certain to keep me in my place; below him on the results page!  He did a good job of that.  But not at every race.  And because of that he slowly came around to realize that neither of us is going to back down and I was making MN my home as well.   This may sound like I am picking on Tony, but I am just laying down the groundwork for why I think we have such a good friendship.  The reason Tony ‘liked’ me wasn’t because I was a world class athlete, or because I was wealthy, or because of who I knew.  Instead he respected me for being the same type of competitor he was.  Someone who is willing to work as hard as anyone else on the course, never shying away from the tough competitors, and always racing fair.MIRACLE KIDS RACING   Tony’s athletic accomplishments are quite impressive!  The list is so long you would be bored reading it.  But the most impressive thing Tony has done is the development of the Miracle Kids Triathlon.  Tony started this non-competitive kid’s triathlon as a non-profit fundraiser for the Families of MN with Children being treated for Cancer.  The success Tony built with the Miracle Kids Tri is astonishing.  Tony doesn’t have any children of his own but he connects better with so many kids than any person I have met.  Miracle Kids is far more impressive than any of his otherwise studly athletic achievements.

Tony Schiller:  No matter how successful an athlete you may have been it is what you do after your athletic career that can set you apart from the rest.

4) Doug Davis-I met Doug through Rich.  Doug had been racing for a couple years.  At the time he was teaching up in Detroit Lakes, MN.  He swam at Mankato State University (now Minnesota State Univ.) and decided he wanted to race triathlon. Doug’s racing M.O. was the same at every race: Blast to the front on the swim, don’t let anyone catch you on the bike and see if you can’t hold them all off on the run.  And he did hold them all off on the run.  As it has been said to me “I wish I ‘couldn’t run’ like Doug”.  Compared to the other guys up front Doug’s 5:50 miles weren’t ‘fast’ compared to the sub 5:30’s others were running.

MSU mavericksDoug and I traveled to races together as well.  In August of ’96 we drove to Ohio for a Triathlon Stage Race.  On day 3 was race number 4; a half ironman team time trial.  Our team was John Koenig, Doug, and I.  They had to wait for me on the 1.2 mile swim, but once we hit the bike we were all working well together.  Halfway through the bike on a very steep downhill I watched Doug, unable to hold his line, cross over the road and hit the ditch at 30+ mph.  His front wheel grabbed and he was launched over his bars.  Amazingly Doug jumped up and we began pulling leaves and debris out of his tri clothing.  Our following Support Vehicle pulled over and began to assess and fix Doug’s bike. His front wheel was folded, bars slipped, seat torn, etc.  But Doug was OK!  A quick 3 minute repair and Doug climbed on, raced the 25 miles on the bike and never walked a step of the half marathon.  After the awards ceremony we climbed into my Isuzu Trooper and drove the 11 hours home arriving in the middle of the night.

It wasn’t until we were well on the way home that Doug even mentioned that he was sore from the crash.  The crash was visibly violent.  But it didn’t shake Doug’s resolve.  He simply got back on the bike as quickly as possible and finished the Half Iron that we set out to finish that morning.  He literally rolled with the punches that day.

Doug Davis: When the worst thing possible, a crash, happens during a race don’t let it stop you from accomplishing what you set out to do.

3) Rich Heilman-I first met Rich watching him from across the transition area at Turtleman Triathlon then Muncie Endurathon a week apart in 1992. turtleman Amazingly he didn’t qualify for Hawaii in ’92, but he sure did in ’93.  In ’93 my wife Tammy and his wife Lisa spent race day together in Hawaii.  With a race as tough as Hawaii anything can happen.  In fact something bad is likely to happen out on the course.  However, that was not the case for either of us.  For just over 9 hours we were never more than 3 minutes apart, but we only saw each other a few times the entire day.  We would be a minute behind the other for 40 miles of the bike and never know it…the same on the run.  For a number of years Rich and I raced together and roomed together in Kona, but what impressed me most about Rich are the following two stories.  Rich has raced several Ironman venues including Lake Placid, Canada, Hawaii, and Wisconsin.  I don’t remember the exact number, but in his first 10 or so Ironman races he never went over 10 hours.  Even when he didn’t do well he still pulled out a sub 10.  His consistency has gotten him to Kona eight times.  Of his twenty Ironman races I only recall one in which he was disappointed with his race performance.  Back in ’93 when we both had our ‘perfect’ race,  Rich’s didn’t go quite as smoothly as he hoped.  IM was trying a new tactic to curb drafting.  The new rules stated that the draft marshals would notify you that you were required to serve a penalty at the end of the bike.  As Rich got off the bike he was shown which direction to go when he realized that he was not heading straight to the changing tent.  He pleaded with them stating that they had the wrong guy.  In the days before texting or even cell phones the two way radios weren’t always crystal clear.  In the end they realized that they did make a mistake and let Rich out of the ‘sin bin’.  But that cost him 2+ minutes.  Rich ran his 3:20, or so, marathon and crossed the line with his hands held high.  The only problem is the time and placing.  Ironman gave him his time back and apologized.  He finished with a 9:16 but his photo shows a 9:18 time.  I barely heard a peep out of Rich and for years he proudly displayed that finishing photo.  His perspective on the situation has always been that of nobility.

Rich Heilman:  Even when you are ‘cheated’ at the best race of your career it is OK because after all you know what you accomplished.
2) Tim Deboom– I met Tim at the same race as I met Jim Pollard. At that Duathlon I spent the first run and half the bike with Tim. It seemed clear Tim was going to win but Tim and I didn’t know how to run off the bike and Jim reeled the two of us in for the victory. However, it was the following June at the inaugural Pigman Sprint Triathlon that I spent any time talking with Tim. Like me, we each had only done two triathlons before the Pig Sprint but his pedigree as an IA state champion swimmer put him a few minutes ahead of all of us. Tim and I both qualified for Kona in ‘92 and at age 21 we roomed together for our first trip down there. The 3 of us Iowa boys knew that Tim would be the fastest of us in Kona, then me, then 40 yr. old Pollard. We could not be more wrong. Jim’s experience trumped our youthful enthusiasm. My claim to fame with racing with Tim came in ’93. He had won every race he had entered including Age Group Nationals. But a few miles into the run in Hawaii I caught up to him. We chatted a little while we ran down Alii Drive when Tim says to me “go ahead, I can’t keep up”. I did actually ‘go ahead’ and one and only time I finished ahead of Tim. Over the next few years Tim started to focus more on HI Ironman and the results showed. His steady rise from a top 20, to a top 10, to top 5, then 3rd, 2nd, and finally back-to-back World Champion Titles in ’01 and ’02 showed that he was truly the real deal. He showed that there are no short cuts. Consistent hard work will always pay off.
When we first started racing, my girlfriend (now my wife!) would spend the race mornings talking to Tim’s late father, Ken. He would talk about his 4 boys as any proud father would. He shared a philosophy that he instilled in them as they were growing up. “There are 3 things in life: Academics, Sports, and Social Life. Pick two as you can’t do all 3 well”. I don’t think Ken could have been more accurate and I have repeated that philosophy dozens of times. As adults it is slightly different.

Tim Deboom “There are 3 things in life: Family, Career, and Hobby. Pick two. You can’t do all 3 well” (Tim Deboom’s Father)

1)  Jim Pollard-Jim is THE dentist in Boone, IA whom I met at the Old Capital City Duathlon in 1991.  He was twice my age but at age 19 that doesn’t say much.  He was the big name in triathlon in Iowa back then.  What I learned most from him was sincere generosity.  He was generous with his knowledge, time, and equipment.  I got to travel to a number of races with Jim from ’91 through ’94 at which time I moved to Minnesota.

Jim was the first person to treat me like an adult.  I was just 20 yrs. of age and I had never been in a position to earn respect from others who all seemed to be twice my age.  From day one Jim treated me like a peer, not a kid.  Jim did not treat me like I was someone special; he treated everyone like they were someone special.

A couple of my favorite moments with Jim are:  At Duathlon World’s 1991 in Desert Palm, CA we finished back-to-back.  I was just 20 and knew nothing about racing.  To finish stride for stride with an athlete like Jim was quite a thrill.  My first trip to Kona in ’92 he passed me 75 miles into the bike so quickly that by the time I yelled his name he nearly crashed turning back to see me.  He went on to break the Master’s World Record that day.  The race I met Jim at in ’91 I got off the bike a minute behind first place. I saw that 3rd place, Jim, was well over a minute behind me.  That 3rd place guy blew by me halfway through the final 5k run and then went on to catch the leader at the base of the final hill up to the finish line.  Upon crossing Jim turned back and literally caught the kid, who had led most of the race, as he crossed the line.  That kid was…….You will read tomorrow.

Jim Pollard:  It is easier to treat everyone with respect than it is to treat some people with respect.