Sunday, September 13, 2009

Story of a real hero...

A long time ago in a land far, far away I began my career in triathlon, which developed through a lot of hard work and seemingly endless hours of post-midnight bike trainer rides in the basement of my parent’s house. It was in the wee hours of the morning after a 12 PM-12 AM, or 6 AM to 6 PM or whatever screwy hours they gave me…in a labor job during the summers between college years, when already tired—I pounded out the miles in the summer night heat of a small room with no air conditioning. After those rides I would usually take to the plastic covered concrete weights I inherited from my brother who decided exercise would not be part of his daily lifestyle. The only real reason I wasn’t heading straight to bed upon my shift’s end was because I didn’t like second place. Not in the overall standings or my age group…second was the first place loser. Fast forward to the race seasons during college and post-college years, when first place overall in my area was nearly an every race occurrence. There was a weekend where I won a triathlon on Saturday, then raced again the next day—winning both of them overall. It was not just by a small margin, but quite a bit—well over 5 minutes in both sprint races.

Was it a case of poor competition and small fields? Possibly, but not to those attending the races. I had heard of another fast guy from Green Bay that was lighting up the circuit around the US, in pretty much any town/any race whether it was on the national or world level. One day this guy showed up at a race I fully expected to win. I actually thought I was in the lead at one point until I got about a mile from the 10 K turn around of the run. This guy would have been at the 4 mile marker while I was only at the 2 mile marker…”What the…? *)@” Did this guy take a short cut and do the entire course? “No bleeping way…” I thought to myself. Later I found out it was the guy from Green Bay and it all made sense. I had a chance to talk to him…his name: Chris Peeters. A few years later he showed up again and I was able to close the gap on the bike…this time, my foe was only about a quarter mile into the run when I was arriving at T2. Finally, I was able to show myself Chris was in fact human by denting his large lead out of the swim. Little did I know I had blown my running legs in order to chase him down (but I had still biked faster so that was a small victory in itself). Over the years this guy was the carrot I chased in my training sessions, since he was the best.

Chris disappeared for a few years while going to medical school, getting his doctorate in Radiology. It took me a few years to improve and leap up to levels that included Team USA and multiple Ironman World Championships. When he returned to racing after med school, he came back to the sport stronger. Once again, he was faster, stronger and was able to take down the likes of even some of the strongest athletes in the world. Athletes who have become of legendary age group lore—many of whom I had already beaten multiple times such as Tim Hola from the semi-pro group Team Timex. Even when guys like Hola were at their very best at the Ironman World Championships, Chris’s best was better, faster. An unassuming guy who I got to know over the last two decades, Chris is a class act. Always humble and willing to share whatever knowledge about racing and training, Chris was far from protecting his routine. I admired the accomplishments both on the race scene and off the race scene. He is a whole 3-4 years older than I am, so not too much older…yet we raced each other for nearly two decades and I have never finished ahead of him.

Likely, Chris never knew it was he that would help drive me to become better in this sport. He was one of my biggest rivals yet I was nothing of the sort to him as he was so much faster—nor likely was I ever a threat in races to him no matter what the distance. Still, this is a guy that I placed a target on for nearly two decades and who over those years, became one of the few heroes I had in the sport. Not Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Molina, or Scott Tinley, but a guy from Green Bay. He is a “real” person with a “real” job, not a media-driven full time sponsored athlete who pretends they have lived in the real world most of us live in while trying to climb the rankings of this sport. No salaries to buoy his training over the years by some sponsor, or months of just training in exotic places like so many pros at the top level have done. That is why I saw some of myself in him, and aspired to remotely reach even a sliver of what he has done in the sport. If he could do it so could I type of thing.

I was riding one day this summer with Barry Siff, founder of 5430 Sports, when he told me Chris Peeters was retiring from racing at a young age of 43. Turned out that he recently discovered he has M.S. If you don’t know what this is, it is a cruel sentence on the human body that debilitates those afflicted with it. There are many forms of it and degrees of severity, but let’s just say it isn’t something an athlete can really ever see themselves having because we are usually so used to being able to achieve the impossible with our body. I was at the US Junior National Championships coaching in the Mentor Program for USAT just a few weeks ago, running a clinic for over 100 kids, with about 6 assistant coaches. I contacted Chris since I was to be in the area, after not seeing him for some years (of course I fell out of touch and wondered where the heck he had been…)

He invited me over to his house for dinner, to meet his wife and 8-month old daughter. I was flattered to be invited to sit down for supper at one of my biggest hero’s home. I must admit, it was a great time. I passed on the beer and went for what was actually one of the tastiest spinach salads I’ve had (but picked the almonds out due to allergies). He had ordered pizza, so Chris, Laurie (Chris’s wife), and I sat around reminiscing about the athletes we raced against back in the Midwest throughout the years. Then…the awkward part of the visit came that choked me up (I tried to hide it best I could). I feel you should tell people of their importance in your life, especially, if they help you to become a better person or whatever. Just because they helped you in some way, shape or form—even if you don’t normally hang out together. I think Chris picked up on the fact I was bothered by his diagnosis and mentioned something about how people can have pity parties or just move on in life. I wasn’t there for a pity party certainly, but to tell him how much of a POSITIVE effect he has had on my life without him directly knowing it. The getting “choked up” part came about just because I care about people I think it is a raw deal he is getting…that’s just me. Regardless, I set out to do something I should have told him a long time ago, tell him. It may have seemed odd for him and his wife to hear, but what the hell, I’ve never claimed I wasn’t odd in some way, shape or form. In hindsight, I felt like a dork, but whatever.
I wondered why I never mentioned this to him before. All I could come up with is that I needed to keep my race face on whenever I saw him and not give up any power. I really honestly felt I could take him one day, now I’ll never know. One thing that is for sure, it doesn’t matter. In fact, what matters most is that he as served a great purpose in my life whether he knew it or not, causing me to aspire to become better than what I could have been without him as a carrot. I suppose it is a case of “if he could do it so can I” type of thing as I said earlier. I left his house feeling like I made contact with an old friend, sitting around having an informal dinner chatting about old times. It was pretty cool and I HOPE it wasn’t too weird for him to hear how he inspired me. Last thoughts here…I sure wish a cure for MS would become a reality with all the Labor Day millions in research gathered over the years. Last year, I also lost the manager that hired me last year due to MS, it is time a cure came about to battle it down to the levels of a head cold. What a great thing this would be with Labor Day just passing about a week ago. Besides, it sure would be nice to kick Chris’s butt in a triathlon at least one time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Blue Seventy Rocks!

Just got back from a 50K ride with aero position intervals, upon returning there was a box on the doorstep. It was my Blue Seventy Kit for Hawaii Ironman Championships in less than 5 weeks! Talk about a sweet suit! The Point Zero 3.0+ fit like a glove & the mirrored goggles should be awesome for the hot Kona sun. Maybe I'll have to test drive it out to the Coffees of Hawaii raft floating in Kailua Bay, I'll be able to get there quicker now at least, and in style. If you haven't checked it out, go to KK'S POST tab on my website: for the latest post.

Also, congratulations to Dr. Molly Craven of Michigan, on her new baby. Molly is an ex-girlfriend that has always been an awesome person to stay in touch with, and all around good human being. An athlete herself and former kick-butt cross country skier, Molly offed to Med School and met up with an army doctor, got hitched and is now practicing in lower Michigan. She went for her dream and is now living it. Way to go Molly!