Title credit to Mike Kanute. He coined the name for this race because of its similarity to Ali’s famous fight Thrilla in Manila. I have taken to wearing an Ali shirt before my race, and have been trying to emulate his unshaking confidence leading up to fights.
Some people grow up wanting to win an Oscar. Some want to play in the NFL, or be a millionaire. Those dreams for me were fleeting (although having a million dollars would be nice), but the one that stuck from a very young age was to be an Olympian. Those people were my heroes.
I mean where do I even start? There are so many stories that became legends in the Olympics. I loved every single one. From Billy Mills to Mark Spitz to Katie Ledecky. Each year I would watch every sport I could. I loved the drama. It didn’t matter what event it was. I watched it all. I could see the passion in the faces of the athletes, and loved the fierce competition. I got into each race/event and found myself yelling at the TV in excitement. I watched the National Anthem play hundreds of times and saw the emotion in that moment. I compared myself to them and asked if I had what it took to compete on that level. The dream of competing there manifested itself in my life, and each day I made sure to work toward that goal.
The Olympics has been a dream for so long, it’s hard to believe that I will be competing there in just a couple short months. To be a part of the biggest stage in sports, and to represent the United States of America in Rio de Janeiro is the biggest honor I have had in my entire life.
The lead up to Yokohama was like slowly stretching a rubber band to see how far you could shoot it. Racing in New Zealand, Australia, and Texas had taken a bit out of me, and my training load was just about to peak before taper. I had a series of great workouts, and some really mediocre ones. The one thing that was constant though was that I was confident. I trusted in my preparation, and I was excited to test myself in the last qualifying race. A few years prior, I was not even sure if it would be possible for me to even be considered for the Rio team, and now I had a real shot at qualifying.
After my last couple of workouts in Tucson, I was off to Japan with just about 6 days to go until the race. From the time I landed, to the day of the race, it was business as usual. I felt calm, and went through each workout not really focusing on numbers or how I was feeling, but just getting the work in. I knew all that mattered was Saturday.
My race plan was the same as any other race. I wanted to be at the front in the swim, keep the bike pace fresh, possibly capitalize on any gaps from the swim, and run like hell. There really was nothing of note leading up to picking my spot on the pontoon, which is always a positive. I did not have much choice as to where I was able to go because my start number was so low, but lucked out and got a couple of spots from the very right of the pontoon. I had a quick chat with a few of the guys around me about the current, and to make sure that they knew which way I was going to go. This helped prevent any unnecessary bumping at the beginning of the race.
I was able to start off very quick. By about 200m I could tell that I would hit the buoy in first. I was able to then focus on my stroke, and try to keep the pace as honest as I could. However, my suit started to feel like it was filling up with water, and I figured out that it had come unzipped about half way through that first lap. It was really no big deal, and I just focused on getting done with the first lap quickly, so I could zip back up. Henri Schoeman from South Africa took over the responsibility of setting the pace for the next lap, and I just relaxed and sat on his feet. The water was pretty rough the entire swim, so it was nice to have some feet to sit on and focus on getting through the water cleanly. As we were coming up on the last 150m on the last lap, Henri started to veer more to the right than I wanted to go. I felt really good, so I kicked it into another gear, took my own line, and tried to challenge Henri to be out of the water first. I was able to just beat him out, and it was a short run to T1 to grab my bike.
I got out of the T1 pretty fast, and tried to get the pace going as quickly as possible on the bike. I could tell it was really strung out at the first 180, and there is always the small chance that gaps will open. For about a lap we had a little group working okay together. However, it was pretty short lived, and over the next lap or so, the field would come together. It was a classic case of the guys behind us willing to work harder than our group up front. I was perfectly fine with that, and the pace was kept high by a few different people until the Great Britain team decided to move to the front and control the race. They were deciding their Olympic spots at this race (like a lot of other countries), and two of their guys were showing they could be domestiques. This resulted in them just drilling it at the front of the race. It made the bike hard enough because it would stretch out, and to move up a lot of power was needed. The other thing they did well was gutter the field. This means that they moved over to the side of the road (opposite the direction the wind was coming from) so that nobody except for a few people could get a good draft. I loved this and even encouraged them to continue to gutter everyone else. My main goal was to stay in the top 10 in the field and wait for the run. I was having a blast and keeping my spot near the front of the field was not nearly as challenging as it could have been if the pace was not on. I tried to move up at different places in the course where it wouldn’t cost me much energy. Other than that, the bike was uneventful until the last couple of laps. This is when everyone wants to be at the front, and I had to focus a bit more to keep my position. I had to finagle my way a bit around the field and squeeze into a couple gaps, but found myself behind Team GB’s lead-out train into T2. I was able to ride that in and go around the last GB athlete while he fiddled with his shoes. I got in and out of T2 first, just where I wanted to be.
The run was going to be tricky for me. I knew that I did not want to go out too hard, but if I let a lot of people go, I ran the risk of not being able to bring them back. So I let a few people go up the road, and tried to settle into a group for that first lap. I knew that if I was top 20 and ahead of Eric Lagerstrom and Kevin Mcdowell, that would get me the 3rd Olympic Spot (by the Objective Points System). So I was playing a game of just hanging onto a group, but after that first lap, I could tell they were a bit quick for me. I decided to slowly let them go because I was running 10-15th and had a bit of space to spare. From there, I quickly found another group to run with just behind, and I hovered around 16th/17th place. My stride felt really good, and I was making sure whenever I could to keep our pace pretty quick. There was a good group of guys closing in on us from behind, but I felt confident we could hold them off until the end. It was a bit stressful because if they caught us, my wiggle room for the finish would have gotten a lot smaller (I would have gone from a solid few spots in at 16th to right at 20th and possibly miss out on the Olympic Team). That last lap on the run was just me pushing and telling myself this is it. I finish right now, right here, and I am going to the OLYMPICS!!! I was still running with a few guys I couldn’t shake, so I made sure to save just a little bit for the finishing straight. It is a long one, so I let one of the guys lead out the sprint from far out and just told myself to hold on. Finally, we were sprinting down the blue carpet, and I crossed the line in 17th with enough points to go to Rio.
I really could not believe it, and as I write this blog it still does not feel quite real. I feel like everything I have done so far has led to this point, and I am just so excited to get another chance at the Rio course. Being able to represent my country all over the world is one of the coolest things about Triathlon, and to do it at the Olympic Games is beyond words. Nothing I can write will describe how proud I am to wear the Stars and Stripes.
It has also been overwhelming with all of the support I have received. It is unreal to me the number of people who reached out to me before and after the race wishing luck and congratulating me. I want to take some time here to say thank you to all of those people and to the people who have helped me out over the years. Without you, I would not have come anywhere close to reaching my goal. There are many people who may go unnamed, but you are not forgotten. If you are reading this blog, you are a part of this, so THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!
Parents- Without their constant support, I would not have made it a year in this sport let alone 15. They are my biggest fans and have done more for me than anyone ever could. They never let me give up on myself and pushed me to be the best that I could be. They are the main reason for my success as an athlete and a person.
Coaches- There are many coaches that have helped me over the years. Adam Zucco has stuck with me for the longest, and has never given up on this dream that I have. He developed me into the athlete I am today. Ryan Bolton has taken the reigns the past year and a half and gave me that extra boost I needed to qualify for Rio. He has experience on the ITU circuit and the Olympic Games that has been so valuable to me. These two have made me a true professional in the sport.
Then there are all of the swim coaches I have starting back on Geneva River Rats: Ken and Janice. Then St. Charles Swim team with Mary, Jon, Joe, Rooney, and Tim. Then it’s onto high school with Bill Schalz. Recently in Tucson it has been Jeff and Geoff from Dolphins in the Desert along with Ford Aquatics Paul Stafford and Rick Laing.
Bike specialists Rob Kelly and Shawn Heidgen who worked with me at various times as I grew up. Along with the entire Bicycle Heaven group who taught me what group riding is about.
Marmion Cross country coach Dan Billish
The famous Multisport Madness Kids Triathlon Team I grew up on with mastermind Keith Dickson whose dream it was to put one of us on an Olympic Team. This team gave me my passion for triathlon and opened my eyes to draft legal racing and the Olympics. It gave me my dream.
UA TriCats Brian Grasky for letting me practice and race with the greatest college team in Triathlon.
Dr. Stephen Walker my sports psych (mental coach). He has helped me grow so much over the past year or so as both an athlete and person. Thank you for helping me to focus on the now and get my mind right.
Mentors- This category is for people like TJ Tollakson who showed me what it took to be a professional triathlete and how to make it a career. Doug Friman and Jimmy Riccitello who have immense amounts of racing experience, a lot of it happening in the golden days of the Sport. Paul Thomas who always has helpful tips of how to be more efficient whether it is on the bike or in life. Bill Kruse with his infinite knowledge of all things, and making sure I was always recovered and ready to race. I would be remiss to not mention the monks at Marmion Abbey who helped mold me into the man I am today.
Sponsors- I am going to brag a bit about my sponsors. They are truly the best in the sport. To believe in someone as young as me in pursuit of a dream means the world to me. Not to mention that they have the best service around. I will list them out here, but check out my sponsors page for direct links to their sites and social media. Trek (seriously badass bikes), Bontrager (great bike accessories, clothing etc.), New York Athletic Club (the greatest athletic club in the world), Advanced Physical Medicine (best Physical Therapy in Tucson), Geneva Running Outfitters (hometown run shop that sells top notch running and tri gear), Verve (their infocrank power meter is the best that I have used), Nuun (best tasting drink), Picky Bars (seriously awesome they are supporting Olympic Dreams). USAT is also a huge part of my success not only by supporting me financially, but by providing a first class team to make sure I have everything I need in training and on race day. People like Andy Schmitz, Courtney Koulick, Bobby Mcgee, and Jarrod Evans to just name a few of those key personnel.
Friends- Stephen Pedone, long time roommate and friend, pushes me no matter if it is on the bike or in my love for coffee. Cody, Shannon, Riley, McKenzie, all people who made my time at the U of A some of the best years of my life, and gave me an escape from the daily grind that triathlon can be. John and Mike, two of my best friends from high school who are some of the best guys I know. All of the UA TriCats for letting me remember how great it is to be a part of a team (To name a few like Neil Segel, Greg York, Luke Mcguire, MollySupple, Laura Haley, Tom Valente, Josh Fowler…and so many more that I could name). I could go on and on, but this is basically a whole blog in itself.
One person who has had a profound positive effect on my life, but sadly is not here to see it in person is Ben Wilkinson. I know he is with me every day, and I try to live by the example he set when he was here. My victory is just as much as yours.
Everyone else- This list is by no means comprehensive. I tried my best to mention everyone, but I know I have missed out on people. This does not mean that I am not eternally grateful for the role that you have played in my life. Whether a friend, acquaintance, training partner for a day, or fan, thank you.