Feeling Young In My 70s – Gary Vicari’s Story

Most people in their 70s, 80s, and beyond who continue to compete in triathlon feel younger physically and mentally compared to their peers. Gary Vicari’s goal is to keep pushing himself to higher levels, balancing his needs as an older athlete with the belief that “you’re only as old as you feel”,

Who is Gary Vicari?

Gary describes himself as “a stubborn, gracefully aging warrior, fighting all the challenges of a family man trying to maintain his health while managing his large, family-owned business.”

His family includes Amy, his wife of 35 years, three children, and a five-month-old grandchild. The family business is Arlington Toyota in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

“At 70 years old, I am gratified and blessed to be able to fully participate in all areas which I spend my time – family, business, and training for and competing in age group races. Owning a successful business that runs smoothly affords me the ability to devote some of my energies toward activities that promote a lifestyle I hope will allow me to perform and enjoy well in to the future.”

Riding with sons helps Gary to feel young through triathlon and other endurance sports
Gary Vicari (center) with his two sons, Alex and Jason, at the Evanston 25 mile Bike Race.

Active in Sports as a Youth and in College

During his high school years, Gary competed on the football, swimming (in diving) and track (in pole vaulting) teams. A diving accident during his sophomore year, and a physically abusive track coach that “sucker-punched me in the solar plexus at an invitational track meet” caused him to leave both teams and these sports.

A fractured neck from a spear tackle during Gary’s junior year in high school ended his participation in football.

“l tried to walk-on for the University of Colorado track and field team. However, I was outclassed by those with scholarships, the best recruits from high school. I left the team, content to continue with intermural athletic activities, which included the quirky fraternity broomball league.

“During my senior year, I had my first experience related to triathlon. In 1976, the University of Colorado hosted SUPERSTAR II. The contest involved athletes choosing to compete in eight of ten events. Choices included a 60 yard dash, field goal kicking, softball throw, a half mile run, a 50 yard swim, basketball free throw, bench press, ice skating an obstacle course, and bowling.

“I entered the ‘decathlon’ on a lark, and won the Open Division. My first place finish in swimming was combined with second and third places in the other seven of my events. When all points were totaled, I was happy to learn that being good at many events was better than being outstanding in one event but mediocre or weak in others.

“Ironically, that characteristic of multi-sport competition sparked my interest in multi-sport endurance events.”

Gary Vicari exiting the swim at the 2021 Pleasant Prairie Sprint Triathlon. Gary’s strength as a swimmer drew him to triathlon.

Gary Vicari’s Early Triathlon Career

“My first foray into triathlon was on a three-man team comprised of business associates. The event, a triathlon with a one mile swim, 50 mile bike, and 12 mile run, was held in Baja California (Mexico) on October 16, 1982. This was the first time they held this race, which was riding the upstart popularity of triathlons in Hawaii and San Diego.

“I took the one mile swim leg. This turned out to be the longest open water swim for me to date. The swim seemed even longer, in part because of a pre-race joke about there being sharks in the water made by at least one swimmer. Our team finished 9th. I was just satisfied we all made it home alive.”

First Solo Triathlon

“Then, on June 26, 1983, I did my first solo triathlon. This involved a one mile swim, 28 mile bike, and 8 mile run on Coronado Island in San Diego, California.

“Mark Allen and Mark Montgomery, two of the world’s top triathletes, battled it out for first and second place in a grossly mismanaged race. The Running News headline for coverage of this race read ‘They Were Running With No End In Sight!’

“I missed the turnaround, as did many athletes, and hit the wall at around mile seven. The next three unexpected miles were pure torture, as running was my weakest event. Runners over twice my age passed me as I walked back to the finish line, with only a dozen stragglers behind me. This was quite the humbling and embarrassing experience. It would haunt me for many years, as I quite consistently finished triathlons in the bottom half of the field.”

Except for the New York City biathlons in 1986 and 1987, Gary finished in the middle of the pack, unacceptable for him.

Between his late 20s until his 60s, Gary chose to focus on his family and career. Competitive athletics were a low priority. He put his triathlon career on hold, temporarily.

Resuming Triathlon

Gary did not pursue triathlons again until 2008, even though the sport was always in the back of his mind.

“Triathlons allowed me to resume my interest in swimming, not diving, and track that had been cut short in high school.”

In August, 2008, Gary entered the Bangs Lake aquabike race. The event consisted of a 1.5 km (0.93 mile) swim followed by a 23.5 mile (37,8 km) bike ride. Much to his displeasure, he placed 18th out of 20.

Four years later, at age 55, he entered a mini-sprint triathlon. “From that race, I realized my aerobic conditioning was terrible.”

Despite the disappointing results, he stuck with it. Gary entered one or two triathlons a year. With consistent training, his performance gradually improved to place around the middle of the pack.

“Although my performance wasn’t award winning, the excitement of triathlons, the competition, and the hope that I would improve motivated me to continue.”

In 2012, Gary earned an invitation from USA Triathlon to the National Age Group Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Although I placed 44th of 51 in my age category (M60-64), the enormity and grandeur of the event was inspiring. It prompted me to sign on with a coach to help me improve beyond the middle or back of the pack.

“I entered the Lifetime Tri Sprint held in Chicago on August 25, 2013. With the help of my first coach, I finished 624th of 2286 overall and 10th out of 49 in the M60-64 age group. Wow! Never knew I had it in me!”

“The Triathlon I Will Always Remember”

“The triathlons in which I have won or made it to the podium in my age group bring fond memories. However, the one that I will never forget was the TriRock in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin on September 13, 2014. Though physically prepared, I didn’t properly assess the weather conditions, an air temperature of 40 degrees with rain.

“I was out of the water 3rd in my age group. I went racing off with only my tri suit on. Other, smarter racers donned long sleeves, cycling leggings and other protective clothing. I naively thought that by going fast, my body would warm up and take me to T2 and on to the run. Nope!

“While on the bike, I slowly approached hypothermia. Upon entering transition, I went into full hypothermic freeze. A coveted spot in the medical tent where I was encased in a thermal body bag with heaters blowing hot air through hoses to raise my body temperature became the third event in my triathlon. About 15 minutes later, I recovered, and they discharged me from the medical tent.

“The valuable lesson I learned from ‘the triathlon I will always remember’ is that triathlon has many, constantly changing variables. Ignoring or dismissing any of the warning signs during a race or training can have disastrous consequences.

“From that race to today, whether I am training or on a race course, I remind myself to assess the risks and adjust accordingly.”

Related Post: In 101 Triathlons – John Dean’s Story, John described his experience with hypothermia during a triathlon.

Experience of Training With and Without a Coach

From 1983 until 2013, Gary said “I was either untrained or self-trained and not very competitive. Finishing in the middle of the pack was my aspiration. I thought others who took the time to get serious about competing or were just plain genetically superior took all the glory and medals.”

In 2013, Chris Wiatr, a 20 year old college student and accomplished triathlete, came to work at Gary’s business.

“I learned that Chris was very successful at local triathlons, his father was a respected European cyclist, and he was interested in coaching me. For two years, he wrote workout plans and gave me tips for improvement. He got me on the right track.

“Though Chris was not a certified or trained coach, he opened up a new way for me to look at my triathlon performance. Coaching definitely helped.

“When I returned to self-training using local triathlon (YMCA Y-Tri), swimming, cycling, and running clubs, the results were, in hindsight, predictable. I went back to a middle of the pack finisher or worse.”

A New Coach

“My goal was to feel the exhilaration that came with winning or at least getting on the podium in races with others in my age group. So, I signed up with coach Jennifer Harrison to regain some above average performance.

“Within months, I saw improvements from her structure, accountability, encouragement, and the verbal and video assessments of my form. For two years, Jennifer coached me. I was able to win, place, or show in my age group at local races some of the time.

“After being invited to the USA Triathlon Nationals, I was hooked on competitive amateur triathlons.

“Thinking that I could achieve results for less money than with an in-person coach, I signed up for a remote triathlon coach through Training Peaks. I had some success, but it was less than I had had with Jennifer’s in-person coaching.

“Injuries and surgeries sidelined me in late 2016 through 2017. I returned to amateur competition in pretty questionable shape.

“This year, I began coaching with Matt Peterson at The Fitness Pursuit in Grayslake, Illinois. Matt is a certified coach with a degree in sports physiology. He is also an accomplished, ranked USA Triathlon competitor.

“As before, the structure, accountability, and accessibility of a personal coach is producing results. The only hindrance to steady progress is the occasional injury.

“What I have learned is that a coach brings out the best in me. I must often train by myself because of my schedule. My coach acts as the little birdie on my shoulder, constantly reminding me what I need to do.”

running for triathlon
Gary Vicari crossing the finish line at the 2021 Crystal Lake Aquathon. This event includes swimming and running.

Training Throughout the Year

For Gary, each calendar year begins with building a base of fitness. This continues until sometime in May, after which the intensity of workouts increases.

Once the racing season in Illinois and Wisconsin begins, his training schedule depends on the date of his next race.

On weekdays before a Sprint or Olympic distance race, Gary reduces the intensity of his training. For a Sunday race, training on Thursday and Friday involves progressively lower stress. Training on Saturday is “very easy with either a short swim at the race venue to get acclimated to the course, or rest”.

“As a senior athlete, I require more time to recover from workouts. Hammering it the entire week before an event would likely deplete my reserves, causing a sub-par performance on race day.”

Typical Week’s Schedule

Gary’s coach provides the detailed training plan from information from his Garmin watch and his qualitative feedback. However, in general, training during a typical week is:

  • Monday – Rest
  • Tuesday: Swim and Run; full body strength workout and stretching
  • Wednesday: Cycle
  • Thursday: Swim and Run
  • Friday: Cycle and Weights
  • Saturday: Long Run
  • Sunday: Long Cycle


Gary supplements the activities listed above with strength training using stretch bands and TRX, an occasional yoga class, and “plenty of walking to keep moving and calm the soul”.

Other forms of cross-training are unnecessary. Alternating swimming, cycling, and running is enough to give relief when one muscle area needs more rest.

Lessons From One Who Uses Triathlon To Feel Young

What are the most important lessons Gary has learned while training for and competing in triathlon?

About Training

Gary says “A formal, progressively more intense seasonal training regime has produced the best results for me. However, this must include flexibility to substitute planned workouts with others when ‘life happens’. Some flexibility is key to maintaining a positive mental attitude and avoiding getting discouraged or feeling guilty about missing a workout.

“Triathlon is an endurance sport. To persevere and enjoy the journey is just as important to me now as are the results. Avoiding setbacks, such as injuries, is another reason that I give myself some leeway from a strict regime, though I do my best to adhere to the training plans set forth by my coach.

Gary has also learned that working to improve a skill or ability can change one’s perspective on it.

“For decades, I dreaded the run and favored the swim. Now cycling is my favorite leg of the triathlon. Since concentrating on improving my run, it’s no longer my least favorite leg. Ironically, while I enjoy swimming immensely outside of competition, the swim during a triathlon is my least favorite leg. Swimming in a competition can quickly aggravate old injuries.”

Training with a group or club is a low cost way to get support and create accountability during training.

About Nutrition

“My current coach is urging me to improve my choices in nutrition, minimizing breakfast cereals and other simple carbohydrates, sugar and other empty calories. He wants me to replace these with more vegetables and protein, including 30 or more grams of protein at each meal.”

About Rest & Recovery

“Rest and recovery are a necessary part of training. As much as I dislike a pause in training or competing, trying to ‘tough through’ has prolonged the agony and done way more harm than good. Rest and the resulting recovery of this senior athlete is just as important as training.”

About Racing

“I consider racing an extension of my training regime. By entering races, I set self-imposed timelines and deadlines for accomplishing levels of conditioning and readiness. Races are as much a means to an end as they are a destination. Racing confirms my efforts in a comparative way, against the same in my age group. It also brings me back to fond memories of high school swim or track and field meets.”

Even before the 2023 season began, Gary had already identified twelve (12) races in which he would compete. These included a mix of Olympic and sprint triathlons, running, and bike races. He has left open the possibility for an Ironman 70.3, as well.

Advice for Those Thinking About Their First Triathlon

“When I first started in the sport, triathlon gave me a chance to resume the interests in swimming and track that were cut short in high school. As I have continued, the greatest benefits of triathlon are in a two-way tie. There is the feeling of living a healthy lifestyle. Right along with this is the feeling I get when I see quantifiable improvements in my physical and mental well being.

Approached correctly, triathlon can benefit many others who are considering doing their first triathlon.

“Triathlon is a very inviting and forgiving sport to enter at any age, given the person goes at it in a sensible, progressively more intense way. Charging full speed ahead can lead to hitting the wall, getting discouraged, and dropping out due to injury or mental fatigue.

“A person over 50 who just wants to enjoy the triathlon experience without preparing for serious competition can enter super sprints or sprints to ‘dip his or her feet in the water’. It may lead to more, or not.

“Athletes with prior competitive experience will find that triathlon can test their upper limits at all distances. And I know plenty of wannabes who caught the triathlon fever. Even with little prior experience in any of the three disciplines, they could train to a level at which they became comfortable and confident with their performance.”

The Future of Training and Racing for Gary Vicari

At present, Gary’s top goal is to make it through the 2023 season injury free. A second, slightly longer term goal is to complete a half Ironman triathlon (IM70.3). As we saw earlier, this is a possibility for 2023.

Once he has reached these goals, he is considering ‘raising the bar’ to a full Ironman.

Why? “Because I want to keep challenging myself to reach for my limits, without pushing myself to the breaking point.”

What are the Main Challenges?

Gary has obviously thought about what it will take to reach these new goals.

First, is time for training. “To go for the longer endurance event distances requires training times that are tough for me to balance while operating a large business and sustaining a happy family life.”

Second, Gary has developed plans for treating health issues if and when they arise.

“I’ve assembled a good network of coaches, doctors, a sports performance chiropractor, and a massage therapist. I believe I can rely on them to be there as needed to restore me to competitive condition.

“As I age, there are more issues that surprise me. The challenge is to address them and then continue.”

Finally, Gary recognizes that most of his peers, friends and relatives have already abandoned active, competitive sports.

“As a 70+ multisport athlete, it can be lonely at get togethers. I have different interests than most others my age. To combat the tendency to go with the flow, I concentrate on being active in groups that are active. That usually means being with younger, sometimes much younger, amateur athletes. I like to rely on my experience and judgement to integrate with the youngsters.”

“Being with various ages of people reminds me that “you’re only as old as you feel.”

Does Triathlon Help You Feel Young?

What are triathlon’s greatest benefit for you? Or, if not yet involved, what would you like to get from triathlon or other multi-sport endurance training and racing?

Please share your thoughts and any questions for Gary in the Comments section below.

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

Triathlon Across the USA: State #50 – West Virginia

Parsons, West Virginia; May 20, 2023 – PVFD Cheat River Triathlon, Mill Race Park.

The West Virginia triathlon was the final one in the Triathlon Across the USA adventure that began over a decade ago. Our children, Jon, Liza, and Ben, joined Joy and me for this road trip. The warmth of the people and beauty of the landscape of West Virginia made this special time even more memorable.

A Family Road Trip to West Virginia for a Triathlon

Joy and I left our home in The Villages, Florida on Thursday at a little after 7 am. Three hybrid bikes hung on the bike rack, secured to the hitch of our Chrysler Pacifica. We would use the bikes on the mixed paved and gravel trail we would ride during the West Virginia triathlon.

Our destination for today was a hotel near the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our three children would meet us in Charlotte, one on Thursday evening and two on Friday morning.

Fortunately, all flights were on time. Actually, the one on Friday morning was about twenty minutes early, which allowed us to start our journey to West Virginia a little earlier than planned.

By 11 am, we were on our way with the five of us snugly packed in our van with triathlon gear for three of us. Joy and I had additional luggage, golf clubs, and other items for the two months we would be in the north central part of the country,

As we drove, we remembered earlier road trips. Our best recollection was that this was the first road trip together as a family since 1985.

Our destination for this evening was Elkins, West Virginia, a 30-minute drive from Parsons. Along the way, we made an intermediate stop at the New River Gorge Bridge. According to the US National Park Service, it is “the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States”.

3rd Annual Parsons VFD Cheat River Triathlon

The race, a fundraiser for the Parsons Volunteer Fire Department (VFD), began at 10 am on Saturday. Advertised distances for the individual legs of the sprint triathlon in which we competed were:

  • Run: 3.9 miles (6.3 km)
  • Kayak: 3+ miles (4.8+ km)
  • Bike: 7 miles (11.3 km)

A Special Race Morning

We left the hotel at a little after 8 am to allow time for check-in and packet pickup, setup of our transition areas, and some pre-race stretching.

We arrived at Mill Race Park in Parsons, West Virginia, after a leisurely 30-minute drive. Mill Race Park is where the triathlon would begin and end.

From the moment I started walking to the packet pickup area, I knew something was up. I could see people looking and whispering. There was also a reporter from a local TV station. As we walked to pickup our race packet, I saw a banner recognizing this 50th state milestone prepared from pictures used in other SeniorTriathletes.com posts.

We picked up our timing chip, t-shirt, and mandatory whistle for the kayak leg. During the pre-race meeting, we learned that, according to West Virginia law, anyone on the water is required to carry a whistle. The fine for violating this law is $50.

Pre-race Meeting for the West Virginia Triathlon

During the pre-race meeting, Fire Chief Kevin White welcomed the participants and described the race course. He warned of the possibility of some loose material on the bike path, despite it having been swept the previous day. He also told participants about a couple of places on the Cheat River of which to be careful. In particular, he mentioned a tree downed in the river. His advice was ‘keep left’.

Chief White then welcomed a ‘celebrity’, which turned out to be me. He told everyone about this being my triathlon in the 50th state. Then, he called me to the front where he presented a special plague prepared by the VFD to recognize the occasion.

After the pre-race meeting, the reporter, Tanner Gilmartin, asked to record my answers to a few questions. Sections of the interview would later appear on the WDTV evening news.

After a quick stretch, it was race time. Kevin counted down, after which all racers took off on the run leg.

pictures from before the 2023 Cheat River Triathlon in Parsons, West Virginia
Before the Cheat River Triathlon, (upper left) I posed with the banner prepared by our children, (lower left) Chief Kevin White presented a plague commemorating West Virginia being the 50th state in Triathlon Across the USA, (upper right) closeup of the PVFD plaque, and (lower right) Tanner Gilmartin interviewed me for a spot on the WDTV evening news.


Liza, Ben, and I positioned ourselves at the back of the pack before the beginning of the triathlon. We crossed the starting line last and ran together at a pace I had planned for the first mile. My goal was to avoid starting too fast, something I had learned in a reverse triathlon (run-bike-swim) done in New Mexico.

It was quickly apparent that we were racing against fast runners. The distance between us and the person ahead of us grew each moment. When I reached the end of the run, all other runners were on the kayak or, for those who were part of a relay team, walking or jogging back to Mill Race Park.

Scenes from the Parsons VFD Cheat River Triathlon courtesy of my daughter Liza.
Left: While on the tree-lined run course, we got a hint of what we would face on the kayak.
Center: A view from the kayak while entering one of the most tame rapids.
Right: The bike leg was on a well maintained, mostly paved, path used earlier for the run.


For reference, I have kayaked many times. However, my previous experience was with a closed kayak on a lake. I seldom went out when there was more than a light wind and small waves. Today, I would learn about kayaking on a river with rapids.

Upon reaching the water, a volunteer told me to ‘pick one of the green kayaks’. They were apparently lighter weight than others. I found one with easy access to the water, dragged it to the edge of the river, and put on my helmet and life vest.

As I climbed onto the open kayak, I recalled an earlier conversation about the kayak leg with a couple of guys from the area. Admittedly, I was a little concerned about kayaking going into this race, not knowing what to expect. I remembered them mentioning ‘some rapids’.

During that conversation, I had asked them if they were going to wear their running shoes on the kayak. While they were especially kind, the look in their eyes betrayed them. Of course, they were going to wear shoes. I’m sure they thought I was crazy.

From their comments, we jettisoned the two-gallon plastic ziplock bags Liza had packed for us to keep our shoes dry during the kayak leg.

Kayaking on the Cheat River . . .

I was not ready to get my shoes wet at the beginning of the kayak, just in case it was not necessary. I pushed the kayak into the water as far as I could while being able to get into it without walking into the water. To get the kayak into the water so I could start paddling, I used a rocking motion. This eventually worked but took too much time.

I made it through the first rapids, though my kayak was full of water when I reached the other side. I tried for a few moments to bail water with my hands, but realized this was a waste of time.

At the next small rapids, I headed for a slightly calmer area, one through the center. As I would quickly learn, this was not a good choice. I soon felt the bottom of the kayak scraping on rocks, eventually stopping. I tried rocking the kayak as I had to get off the bank at the beginning, but was stuck.

My shoes would not be dry for several days after this point. I got out of the kayak, pulled it past the shallow area, ever careful not to fall. While I was there, I emptied the water from the kayak.

Once I reached the other side of these rapids, two guys who had watched this fiasco from the shore told me to ‘stay to the right’. The current was apparently stronger on that side. (The only advice I had previously heard was to stay to the left near the end of the course, where the tree lay in the water.) I followed their advice, mostly. The time I didn’t follow it was the next time I got stuck.

. . . With Real Rapids

As I was dragging my kayak off the rocks to the right, where the current was indeed stronger, Liza and Ben caught up to me. I learned that Ben had capsized while going through the first rapids, losing the hat Liza had loaned him.

From hereon, the three of us traveled the river at the same pace. Now, I was trying to figure out how to read the water to find the fastest route.

We finally reached the point where the tree lay on the right bank. The water was far more active than we had previously seen. We would eventually pass through what I saw as ‘massive’, two foot high waves.

As I started into the most turbulent section, a mix of thoughts ran through my head. The ones I now remember were “keep paddling to keep the kayak straight”, “here’s what I am going to do when I capsize”, and “I wonder how many more of these I have to go through”.

Thankfully, I made it to the other side in my kayak.

A short distance later, I saw two guys on the left shore motioning us to land. Since I thought we had further to go, I had stayed in the middle of river. To get to the exit, I tried, with minor success, to turn the kayak and paddle perpendicular to the current. It wasn’t long before I was stalled on shallow rocks again.

I pull my kayaked the rest of the way to shore, where my oldest son Jon shouted advice based on what he had seen others go through while exiting.

As soon as my helmet and life vest were off, I carefully (thanks to Jon’s coaching) climbed a set of rocks to reach the flat grassy area leading to the bike transition area.


After putting on my bike helmet and grabbing my bike, I headed out of the transition area and onto the bike course. The flat, out-and-back bike course was on the same path as we had run. This time, however, we turned around near the place we had earlier headed to the water.

As I relived the time on the water and realized I would complete this triathlon, I took more time than usual to enjoy the scenery. Today, this included a patch of beautiful blue and white irises, the river we had just ‘cheated’, and several impressive natural rock sculptures. A couple of roosters and several race volunteers stationed at each of the intersections faithfully cheered us on.

Liza, Ben, and I traveled more or less together, having decided we would finish together. I didn’t want this race to be remembered for the competition between the three of us. And I certainly did not want to be beaten by either or both of them.

crossing the finish line of the Parsons VFD Cheat River Triathlon in Parsons, West Virginia
Liza, Ben, and I crossed the finish line together. Biking was the third leg of the Parsons VFD Cheat River Triathlon and 50th state in which I crossed the finish line at a triathlon. Source: Appalachian Timing Group.

A Triathlon Axiom Confirmed in the West Virginia Triathlon

“Never try something for the first time on race day.” I learned this early in my triathlon journey. For as far as I can recall, I had been faithful to it. Except for today.

For this race, I knew I was going to violate this rule. I had never kayaked in a river. Before today, I didn’t even know about the rapids in the Cheat River.

Since there were no splits for the individual legs of the triathlon, I will never know how much time I lost in the kayak leg. However, my inexperience with kayaking in water like that of the Cheat River cost me a lot of time.

After the West Virginia Triathlon

There is one thing we do know. We would love to return to this region of West Virginia, possibly even this triathlon, in the future.

After enjoying snacks and drinks, we changed out of our wet clothing, repacked the van, and said our thanks and farewells to the kind people of West Virginia.

From Parsons, we drove to Blackwater Falls State Park, where we made the short walk to view the iconic falls and take a couple more family pictures.

While visiting Blackwater Falls, the skies opened. We cut short further sightseeing plans and began our trip to Missouri and Minnesota, where our three children live.

Joy and I would finish this trip after a couple of months visiting friends and family in Minnesota and South Dakota.

VanderWert family at Blackwater Falls State Park after the Parsons VFD Cheat River Triathlon in Parsons, West Virginia
After the West Virginia Triathlon, we visited Blackwater Falls State Park. On the way up from the viewing area, we stopped for one more family picture.

Race Firsts

  • First triathlon without a swim option. (My Indiana triathlon included kayaking as an option, but I chose the open water swim.)
  • The West Virginia triathlon was the first attended by all three of our children. (Liza did my first triathlon with me. Ben and Liza did another triathlon with me in Minnesota.)
  • First triathlon at which a television reporter interviewed me.

How About Kayaking at a Triathlon?

Have you done a triathlon with kayaking instead of swimming? How about another triathlon with sports other than swimming, biking, and running?

Please share your experience in the Comments below.

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

Exploring the USA Through Triathlon

After completing my first triathlon in 2011, my wife, Joy, and I looked at each other and said, “Why not?”. Why not travel across the USA and complete a triathlon in each state?

I was hooked. On triathlon, that is.

At that moment, we joined our love for road trips with my interest in triathlon. We call this “Triathlon Across the USA”.

Triathlon Across the USA

In this quest, our goal has been for me to complete a triathlon in each of the 50 states of the USA. It has been more rewarding than we imagined.

This adventure has already taken us to many out-of-the-way parts of the United States. These are places we would probably never have visited. For example, many people who live in Oregon don’t know about Sweet Home. We have eaten, slept, and raced there.

These ‘race-cations’ have also provided opportunity to visit family and friends, several who have since passed away. We are grateful for the memories.

Through these travels, we have met people across the triathlon community with a connection to family members. We have met people hundreds of, even more than a thousand, miles from home who have friends or family near where we were living or have lived.

In one case, the race director of a triathlon in a southern state had run near our house while visiting in-laws in Minnesota. We also met a young lady in Alaska who was on our daughter-in-law’s high school swim team.

Encounters like this became commonplace.

Diverse Experiences With More To Come

We have learned a lot about this country. Through our travels, we have experienced differing terrains, altitudes, race courses, weather, race types, scenery, and, of course, food. We have learned to deal with the unexpected.

I have learned so much. There has been at least one new experience in each triathlon. I have listed these new experiences under the ‘Race Firsts’ heading near the end of each post.

On May 20, 2023, nearly twelve years after finishing my first triathlon, Joy, our three children, and I visited West Virginia for a triathlon in the 50th state. 

I am grateful to the Lord for giving me a supportive and fun wife, resources, and physical strength to complete this goal. We have enjoyed our travels around the beautiful USA.

We have met many incredible people, young and old, who share my love of triathlon. You will find some of their stories on this website under the Our Stories menu.

Terry & Joy VanderWert

The Villages, Florida

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

Finding a State in the “Triathlon Across the USA” Story

Below the picture you will find a list of the states in the USA. Click the link with the name of the state. The story about our time in it will appear.

completed Triathlon Across the USA goal on May 20, 2023
We completed our Triathlon Across the USA journey on May 20, 2023. The last race in this quest was the Parsons Volunteer Fire Department Cheat River Triathlon in Parsons, West Virginia.

Please note the region names and grouping of states below follow the standard used by the US Census Bureau. I didn’t just make them up.


States of the Northeast USA
Northeast USA


States of the Midwest USA
Midwest USA


States of the South USA
South USA


states of the Western USA
Western USA

What Is Your Favorite State for Triathlon?

I am often asked about my favorite state or favorite triathlon.

This is really impossible to answer? Each of our experiences has been so different and remarkable. That may not be your story.

What is your favorite state for triathlon?

Let us know in the Comments section below.

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

Inspired to Swim, Bike, Run – Pat Hawks’ Triathlon Story

What has inspired Pat Hawks to take part in the sport of triathlon? To answer this, she took me back to her childhood.

Growing up in southern California, Pat loved to swim and surf in the Pacific Ocean. She also learned valuable life lessons from a mother who refused to give up, despite serious challenges.

After contracting polio at age two, Pat’s mother never walked. However, even though doctors told her she would never have children and not live past age 50, she raised a family and learned to drive a car. She also lived longer than everyone in her immediate family.

What is also remarkable about Pat’s mother is that she taught Pat to swim. Because of her mom’s exceptional upper body strength, Pat never won a swim race between her mother and her.

Seeing her mother accomplish so many things no one expected her to do inspired Pat. Today, Pat often dedicates her rides and runs to her mother, since these were things her mother could not do.

Pat is also determined to pass on her mother’s perseverance to her children. It’s working. Her daughter, Heather, tells others about the difficulty of keeping up with her mother. Pat hopes her children will pass on her legacy to the next generation.

Inspired to run by her mother
Keeping up the tradition. Pat Hawks’ example inspired her daughter, Heather, to run the 2017 Maui Marathon with her.

Pat Hawks – Mother, Teacher, Writer, Hair Stylist and More

Pat has had a rich life, full of diverse experiences.

During a 20-year period in which Pat raised three sons and a daughter, she stayed physically active, albeit with different companions than today. Pat swam and biked with her kids. She also enjoyed water-skiing and running.

Pat was also a Girl Scout leader for the troop to which her daughter, Heather, belonged. One day, she learned that Heather and her friends were going to quit Girl Scouts. They no longer wanted to sell cookies, take part in parades, or do community service projects. They just wanted to focus on badges.

Rather than allowing them to quit, she negotiated with them. They would sell one box of cookies, complete one community service project of their choosing, and identify badge goals.

The first badge goal the girls chose was survival hiking. Through this, Pat learned that she loves hiking. She would draw on this love a few years later.

This experience also became the basis for one of several books she has written. Under Their Wings is the story of her time mentoring those in her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.

Work Outside the Home

Pat also worked as a hair stylist, retiring from the profession after 35 years. She did so when aerosol cans were prevalent and before chemicals carried warning labels and ventilation was required. She credits her decision to add ventilation to her salon for the good health she enjoys, despite what many of her peers have experienced.

After retiring from hair styling, Pat became a parenting teacher. In this role, Pat worked through the court system of the State of Hawaii to teach mothers and fathers how to be parents.

Following this, she became a yoga instructor for seniors, something she continues today. She leads classes both on-line and at a beach in Maui, Hawaii. She also offers a hot yoga class.

For Pat Hawks, hiking to the top of tall mountains is both a hobby and a means of endurance training for triathlon. So far, she has hiked about thirty mountains in the northwest USA.

Joining the Triathlete Community

Suddenly, at age 50, Pat found herself newly divorced. She started ballroom dancing. And, remembering the fun she had hiking with the Girl Scout troop she led more that a decade earlier, she started a hiking club. She learned that physical exercise was a way to combat depression resulting from the divorce.

Around this time, she also met a friend in her 40s at work who was training for a half Ironman 70.3 triathlon. The woman invited Pat to train and do the race with her. However, after looking at the distances of each of the legs, Pat declined. After all, she hadn’t swum any significant distance for many years.

Not accepting this answer, Pat’s co-worker argued, “If you can hike thirty miles into the wilderness with a thirty-pound backpack for three days at 10,000 feet, you can do this.”

An Important Lesson About Training for Older Athletes

She initially started training for the triathlon with a group of younger, 40-year-old people. However, early in the training, she had a lot of knee pain when following the group’s training plan.

She visited her orthopedic surgeon, who was also the sports medicine doctor for the local high school. He told her she was pushing herself too hard.

Pat remembers him telling her, “You cannot train like the 40-year-olds. You are a senior. Do one session per day, not two.” She followed his advice and trained in one swim, bike, or run activity each day for three days. On the fourth day, she did yoga and rested.

Ironically, Pat, who was age 51, and another person in their 50s, were the only ones from the original training group who finished the race. Three of the people in their 40s dropped out before race day or didn’t finish the race because of injuries.

While she did not finish on the podium, Pat completed the race and each leg with time to spare. She walked away healthy, injury free, and happy.

Seeking To Inspire Others

Looking back, Pat saw how difficult it was to restart training after thirty years of raising an active and a busy family. It wasn’t until her last child graduated from high school she could include regular exercise into her schedule. Training for the first triathlon was hard. Really hard.

She never again wanted to restart from near scratch in building physical endurance. She was going to keep moving from now on.

After completing her first triathlon, she scheduled another half Ironman. For this race, she tried to convince her three sons to do the triathlon with her.

When they told her she was crazy for racing at this age, she suggested that the three brothers form a relay team, with each completing one leg of the triathlon.

Before race day, two of Pat’s sons had dropped out, leaving her 21-year-old son, Stacy, to race alone. Even with an injury, Stacy completed the triathlon on his own, saying “If one old lady can do it, I can do it”.

Pat Hawks inspired her son to complete a triathlon with her
Pat Hawks and her son, Stacy, crossed the finish line of the Kings Trail Triathlon together.

Inspired to Continue With Triathlon

Today, at age 68, Pat splits her time between Maui, Hawaii and several western states of the mainland USA. She continues to compete in sprint triathlons and marathons. She still enjoys ballroom dancing and hiking mountains in Hawaii and on the mainland. When we spoke, she was preparing for a century (100 mile or 160 km) bike ride in Maui, Hawaii.

Pat’s strategy for continuing to compete in triathlon is three-fold: (1) do some physical activity every day with a goal in mind, (2) eat well, and (3) destress to stay healthy.

She does this for many reasons. First, she believes that good health results from these goals and choices.

Second, she sees these choices as a way of both honoring her mom and passing on her mother’s legacy to her children. As her mother and grandmother impacted her, Pat hopes to inspire her children and others to make choices that will keep them healthy and physically active.

For Pat, there is actually one more source of inspiration to stay with triathlon. She loves the feeling of elation coming from finishing a race or reaching the summit of a mountain. Anticipating this feeling keeps her going whenever she is struggling during a training activity, hike, or race.

How Pat Trains for Triathlon and Other Endurance Activities

For Pat, what some call training is simply time to do physical activities that she loves. This self-coached approach is based on advice over the past 20 years from medical professionals, especially her orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine doctor and her chiropractor.

Since she believes consistency is key, Pat spends one hour each day either swimming, biking, running, or walking. Her belief about the importance of consistency is shared by many, including coach Tony Washington, whose advice on daily strength training can be found here.

On any day, you could find Pat going for a one mile swim in the ocean, a four-mile run/walk, or a one hour bike ride with some hills. She swims every other or every third day. And based on the advice of her doctor, she never runs over four miles.

She is also a believer in yoga for muscle flexibility and the body’s overall health. Pat is convinced that yoga is the crucial piece of her training, holding the keys to her being able to train for a sport as physically and mentally demanding as triathlon.

Yoga is so central to Pat’s ability to compete in triathlon that on the day before a race, she completes two yoga sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening. She does these to get the body tuned up and muscles toned. For her, this routine is key to safely running the race.

Some Weight Training

Pat also does some weight training, primarily to maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis. This includes running with light ankle weight belts. For other weight training, Pat has learned to use lower weights with more repetitions. Sadly, her one experience with a personal trainer, in which he had her lift 50 pounds (23 kg) above her head landed her at a chiropractor.

Pat also considers hiking and ballroom dancing part of her training. “Hiking is especially good for building endurance.”

Choosing Health Through Nutrition

Hanging over the door in her yoga studio is a sign that reads “Food is our FARMacy”. She does not take supplements. Instead, Pat believes in juicing fruits and vegetables to get the vitamins and minerals needed to remain healthy.

Pat recommends new triathletes learn about nutrition and hydration alongside learning about swimming, biking, and running.

Having seen the terrible consequences of becoming dehydrated in other triathletes, Pat has become a stickler for staying hydrated, especially during hard exercise and races. To make sure she has adequate electrolytes, she likes coconut water because of its potassium content.

Her pre-race ritual includes consuming 1/2 liter of coconut water. She also carries her own water during the bike and the run legs to supplement that provided by the race organizer.

Pat has become so good at staying hydrated that, in a recent race, she finished with “my bladder ready to burst.”

Advice for Seniors Thinking About Triathlon

From the lessons learned on her triathlon journey, Pat offers the following advice for the over-50 person who wants to do a triathlon.

First, she says, talk to your healthcare professional about your plan. Pat bases this on the value of advice she received from her doctor when she was training for her first triathlon. For example, he advised her to start with a run-walk combination. He also took her shopping for the correct running shoes for her.

Second, Pat says, start slow, learn your limits, and keep at it. “You will be astounded at the improvements.”

Pat reminds us that as we start, realize that you can’t train like your 40-year-old self. Be careful about the weights you use in strength training. More repetitions (reps) with lower weight are both effective and will help prevent injury.

Once you have started, be consistent. Do some training every day, preferably with a friend or group of people close to your age. They will help to hold you accountable. Just remember to never compare yourself to anyone else.

Finally, Pat says that once you have decided to do a triathlon, sign up for a race and pay the entry fee. In most cases, this will prevent self-doubt from derailing your plan.

Remember, The Tortoise Won the Race

Pat’s advice is to be like the fabled tortoise, for whom slow and steady won the race. She remembers the accomplishments of her mother and grandmother. She appreciates that she can move and wants to stay active as long as possible.

If that is not enough, she need only look at those around her who are older, some in their 80s and 90s, that get up each day and start moving despite the many pains.

She is especially excited to see those who get back capability they thought had been lost for good. Pat remembers an 80-year-old woman from her yoga class who came into class one morning with fist in the air, proudly announcing “I just put on my pants without sitting down on the bed.”

Seeing other’s health and fitness, including strength and balance, improve through continued exercise and a yoga discipline is motivating.

What Inspired You To Do Your First Triathlon? To Continue?

What was the reason you did your first triathlon or are now planning to do it? What has kept you in triathlon or other multi-sport endurance events?

Please share what motivates and inspires you in the Comments below.

Comments: Please note that I review all comments before they are posted. You will be notified by email when your comment is approved. Even if you do not submit a comment, you may subscribe to be notified when a comment is published.

Affiliate Disclosure


Enjoy this post? Please spread the word :)