Dear Triathlon, A Long Goodbye...
(This is the long version of my Hall of Fame speech, it had to be shortened due to the time constraints of the banquet).
DEAR TRIATHLON: THIS HAS BEEN A LONG GOODBYE…
In my very first triathlon, I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t realize the importance of fast transitions and didn’t know that the clock doesn’t stop between the bike out and bike in banners. I was unaware that the lighter your bike, the faster your bike split. I didn’t realize that shaving your legs was actually performance enhancing. I was just an Orlando kid who was 3 decades ahead of the #TimeToTri movement sweeping the nation right now.
I competed in my first triathlon 32 years ago at the age of 10 in Clermont, FL, a town north of Orlando. I was invited to one of Fred Sommer’s Kid Tri series events by two swimming friends of mine. After swimming 100m, biking 3 miles, and running a 1/2 mile in 17 minutes - I WON. I finished on the top step of the podium, beating two other 10 year olds in my age group. It was at that time that my talent in triathlon was overwhelming and clearly visible.
I then went on to compete at the 1986 IronKids National Championships at Busch Gardens in Tampa, FL. It was my second triathlon ever and I ended up finishing in 1st place, beating every single 10 year old in the country that day, of which there was 9. So the way I looked at it, I was getting better. I also quickly realized that I was finding success in a sport that nobody else was doing.
I can vividly remember the slogan being announced before my very first IronKids National Championships — “Rainbow IronKids, Where Every Finisher Is A WINNER!” Wait, what did he just say (I thought to myself)…..every finisher is a winner??? I DON’T THINK SO! I mean this is the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS people, every finisher is NOT a winner! There’s only going to be ONE winner today and that is going to be THIS GUY.
I grew up as a kid watching Mike "Pigg Power” Pigg, Greg “Welchie” Welch, and Mark “The Grip” Allen, race professionally in triathlon. I was also a big fan of the Olympic Games and wore my “Goin’ For Gold” hat everywhere I went.
My dream as a kid was to be an Olympian, although there was a problem…my sport was not in the Olympic Games. That all changed during my freshman year at Wake Forest University, the Spring of ’95, when the IOC announced that triathlon would make it’s Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
I’ve raced with and learned from so many of the legends in our sport…Simon “All I Do Is Win” Lessing, Chris “Macca” McCormack, Craig “Crowie” Alexander, Greg “Money Bags” Bennett, Simon “Olympic Medal Hog” Whitfield, Bevan “Always Top 3” Docherty, Jan “Frodessimo” Frodeno, Allistair “Golden Boy” Brownlee and Johnny “Little Brother to Alistair” Brownlee, Javier “Nothing I Can’t Do” Gomez, and fellow Americans and teammates, Andy Potts, Tim O’Donnell, Matty Reed, and so many more.
I spent my professional career resetting goals and dreaming bigger dreams about what I thought was actually possible. I’m grateful for how much all these athletes pushed me to train harder and be better, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Triathlon has afforded me the ability to travel the world…
I filmed a commercial in the heart of Sydney, Australia and at the same time lost a race to a Kangaroo named, “Skippy.”
I swam with sharks in the harbor during the Sydney Olympics.
I’ve celebrated a victory on the Great Wall of China.
I’ve crashed my bike and broken my left collarbone.
I’ve successfully Escaped from Alcatraz twice and won.
I’ve biked with thousands on Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago.
I’ve swam in the Hudson River….. willingly.
I’ve run through Central Park in a speedo and proposed to my wife (not in a speedo) in that same famous park later in the day.
I’ve had 5 surgeries on my left elbow and an IV PICC line put in my opposite arm to clean out a staph infection just a few months before the London Olympic Trials.
I won $170,000 and Toyota RAV4 at the LifeTime Fitness “Battle of the Sexes” Triathlon, bought my first house in Colorado Springs, and found out my wife Val and I were expecting our first child, all within a summer.
I’ve been drug tested so much that when my son Hudson was 4, he would answer the door and say, “Daddy, your friend is here.”
I lost to Javier Gomez at the HyVee triathlon by only 8 seconds and had confetti rain down on me all while realizing I had just lost out on $80k….or as my wife said at the finish line, “do you realize you just you lost out on $10,000 a second?”…Thanks for the much needed and timely perspective Babe!
I graced the cover of a Wheaties box with Peyton Manning and had General Mills tell me that I was being selected to be on a new Wheaties cereal box, called Wheaties Fuel, as the “Everyday Guy,” not to actually sell the product…that was Peyton’s job. Wait, what…what do you mean “The Everyday Guy?” You know, people relate to you, because you swim, bike, and run for a living. Ya, but I run like a 4min. Mile and a 10k in sub 30min. at the end of my triathlon. You know what I’m saying, you’re just the “Everyday guy” whose relatable. I’m not so sure about that, I mean I shave my legs for a living, that doesn’t seem so relatable.
I’ve won and I’ve lost and it’s all been part of my sweet journey in a sport that I dearly love. I AM GRATEFUL!
To ALL the age group triathletes in this room here tonight, would you raise your hand right now - THANK YOU! I know many of you have had some of the same race experiences I just described. Why, because our sport is a sport where elites and amateurs alike can compete at the exact same distance on the exact same courses around the world.
The people in this room, the athletes in our sport, are inclusive and welcoming. Our sport is a lifestyle sport for any age, gender, or race. We ALL believe in the empowering affects triathlon can give a person when they cross that finish line. Whether you here your name being called out at the finish of an IronMan by Mike Reilly or whether it’s #TimeToTri and your doing your first race with some friends from work, OUR SPORT OF TRIATHLON IS THE MOST SATISFYING, HUMBLING, WELCOMING, ENCOURAGING, TRYING, MOTIVATING, and AMAZING sport in the WORLD.
To all the sponsors that have supported me throughout my career to get to this stage tonight, THANK YOU! My agent, Michael Spencer, was very forward thinking in his desire to pursue outside of the industry sponsors. Michael always represented me in a way that was beyond reproach. He went above and beyond for me and the companies I represented. Most of my sponsorships were with companies that were not directly associated with swim, bike, and run…companies like Visa, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ameriprise Financial, GMC, Atos Origin, General Mills, Toyota, P&G, HyVee and HumanN. THANK YOU Michael Spencer for being the best at what you do and creating an environment for me to take care of my family financially.
Thanks to the U.S. Olympic Committee for their commitment over the years. You accredited me with access to the U.S. Olympic Training Center for the entire length of my 18 year professional career. The free dorm living for the first five years in Colorado Springs was a helpful jumpstart to my career. The OTC dining hall pass was essential, and Flower, my favorite cook, kept me fueled up. It wasn’t just the housing and food that the USOC provided, but the many other services as well. Sports Science and specifically, Randy Wilber, played an important role in my success and helped me capitalize on altitude training in the OTC lab by sleeping high and training low. Peter Haberl, my sports psychologist, always knew what I needed to hear, but even more importantly was always there to listen. I am grateful for Sport’s Nutrition, Strength and Conditioning, Sports Medicine, and the use of the Recovery Room as it helped me reach #1 in the world and extend my career. THANK YOU Flower, Randy, Peter, and the USOC for all the direct support!
Injuries are an inevitable part of an athletes journey. I got to know many specialists, a little too well, that helped me in those trying times. To my surgeons Dr. Parker, Dr. McDonald, Dr. Clanton, and Dr. Viola, thanks for putting me back together again. Thanks also to Kelly Crosby and all the emergency dry needling sessions and to Brad Carlson, my Muscle Activation Therapist. Thank for helping me get back on the race course as soon as possible.
To everyone at USA Triathlon - THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart! The financial support that was provided from my own federation allowed me to reach the highest level in triathlon.
Tim Yount, we’ve traveled to many Olympic Games together and you’ve always been a source of encouragement to me. Tim, you are truly the heart and soul of USA Triathlon…thank you!
Rocky Harris, USAT’s new and fearless leader/ CEO. Your natural leadership style, creative and outside the box thinking is great to see. THANK YOU for your commitment to High Performance and your desire to see TEAM USA continue to reach the top step of the Olympic podium.
I’ve had many coaches since I was little, all of them instructing and teaching me how to be better in swimming, cycling, running, and transitions.
Thanks to my age group swim coach Clay Parnell, my HS CC/ Track coach Charlie Harris, my college running coach John Goodridge.
To my first triathlon coach as a professional, George Dallam, thanks for teaching me how to train like a professional. You always knew when to challenge me in training and when to hold me back. I wouldn’t be here this evening without your belief in me.
To my triathlon swim coach, Mike Doane, thanks for pushing me in the pool for years and creating a training environment to excel in.
AND to my very last triathlon coach during my London and RIO Olympic campaigns — Cliff English. Thanks for teaching me how to empty the tank and how to perform my best on the biggest stage in our sport. Thanks to all of you for believing in me and sharing your knowledge throughout this triathlon journey.
I want to thank a tremendous group of friends who have supported my triathlon career from the early days in Orlando, FL, to reaching #1 in the world in 2005 and 2006, to the end of my career as I chased my 5th Olympic Team in RIO. You all know who you are and what you mean to me.
It’s hard to properly express or truly measure what a family like mine can mean.
To my in-laws, Frank (Papa) and Verlie (MiMi), you have brought me in to your family and treat me like your very own son. You’ve put thousands of miles on multiple mini vans for the countless times you’ve come to Colorado to watch our kids, allowing Val to be by my side at my events around the world. THANK YOU for always being there for our family.
To my sister Leigh, my #1 cheerleader. THANK YOU for always making me feel that what I did, racing around the world in speedos and spandex, was important and that I was truly living out my God given talent everyday.
To my Mom of this self-proclaimed Momma’s Boy, you have always been there for me. You are a selfless giver who taught me that acts of service happen daily. Those early morning swim practices, making me a quick meal in between workouts, encouraging me to continue my pursuit of excellence…I always knew AND still do, how much you believe in me.
To my Dad (or Bud), You are my mentor and my best man. Your sense of humor and ability to win others over is contagious.
When I graduated from Wake Forest University I told my Dad I was going to be a professional triathlete and try to make the 2000 Sydney Olympic Team. His reply, “How are you going to make that happen?” I told him I was going to move to Colorado Springs and train at the Olympic Training Center. His next question, “Does this mean you’re still on my payroll?” No Dad, they will let me eat at the Training Center and I plan to sell my car for some more cash. My Dad replied, “I believe I bought you that car and the title is in my name.” I responded…well….I can always live off my savings. My dad said, “Your savings?… based on your last statement, you will be home in 8 months.”
Needless to say, I never had to move home, but I may have overstayed my welcome during the holidays by a few months. Dad, you’ve always been there for me and I’ll never forget the memories of you cheering, “Let’s Go Bud,” along the race course.
My parents traveled the WORLD to support me and attended every one of my Olympic Games, THANKS Mom and Dad for allowing me to chase my dreams.
To my 5 beautiful kids; Daddy loves you through and through, yesterday, today, and tomorrow too. Toward the end of my racing career, people probably looked at me like I was crazy when I’d travel to domestic races with 3 or even 4 kids in toe. But my kids brought exactly what I needed for competition and that was PERSPECTIVE. It never mattered to them if I won or lost, I’ve always been just “Daddy” to them. Davis, Hudson, Case, Price, and little Smith — you are the true joys of my life…Find your passion and Dream Big Dreams.
To my wife, Val, you have been my biggest source of support over the last 18 years. You are my beautiful bride and I am so blessed that God placed you in my life.
Val, you are more than Mom to our five precious kids, you are more than a Michigan State Univ. 2-time All-American, Hall of Fame Volleyball Player…..you’re my #1 teammate.
Throughout this journey my wife, Val, has worn many hats…
My personal massage therapist,
my Michelin Star culinary executive chef,
my administrative assistant and accountant,
my certified online travel agent,
you’re my professional suitcase organizer,
You are the Executive Household Manager,
you’re the Director of Child Development in our home,
AND….. you’re my #1 speech writer.
I love living life with you, the ups and downs, the victories and defeats. I’m so thankful that no matter where life takes us I get to do this life with you, hand-in-hand.
Finally, I have been competing in triathlons for over 30 years. I fell in love with our sport at a very early age and after competing as an elite professional triathlete from 1998 - 2016, tonight, I officially announce my retirement from professional triathlon. Thanks to the Hall of Fame committee for giving me this platform to FINALLY announce my retirement.
Yes, it has taken me two whole years without racing to finally be able to say that I am officially done. Was it because I thought I might go back after my run for a 5th Olympics in RIO and try one more time in Tokyo 2020 at the age of 44? Aaahhh NOOO! Did I think I might move up to the longer distance, give IronMan a go, and have Mike Reilly announce, “You Are An IronMan!” It’s never been my dream.
So why two years then? To be completely honest, I’ve just had a hard time saying goodbye. This has truly been the most difficult “TRANSITION” I’ve ever had to make. Triathlon and the Olympic movement have been my passion for over thirty years. I’ve seen the world and lived out my dreams with those I love right by my side…I’ve been so blessed. However, this is not the end of my professional career, it’s just the beginning of something new and exciting.
However, there is one thing I’m definitely sure of and that is the Lord has got ahold of me. I’m right where I need to be, fully relying on God.
In the Bible, Proverbs Chapter 3, vs. 5-6, it says, “Trust in Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I will continue to follow God’s lead in this next chapter of my life.
Thanks again to USAT and the USAT Hall of Fame committee for this tremendous honor…what a special night this has been.
May God Bless all of you.