Individual Competition, Team Effort – Gene Peters’ Story

Triathlon is a competition involving three activities, usually swimming, biking, and running. The three activities, or legs, are most often performed by an individual. However, reaching the finish line of a triathlon requires training and the support of others, including family and friends. This is Gene Peters’ triathlon story.

Gene Peters’ Path to Triathlon

Gene’s introduction to triathlon occurred in the early 1990s, in his late 40s, when his younger brother and his brother-in-law, both in their 30s, were doing triathlon.

“What’s wrong with these guys?” He thought, “This is crazy. These guys have missed their opportunity to be serious competitors in triathlon. Why bother?”

If the window to compete in triathlon had closed for these guys in their 30s, it definitely had closed for Gene, who was nine years older than his brother. That’s what he thought, at least.

While Gene was somewhat active while growing up in central California, he was not athletic. “As a kid, I was shy and not athletic. I was never among the first to be picked when teams were formed.”

However, he had stayed active during college until his late 30s, racing motorcycles off-road and riding ‘centuries’ (100 mile bike rides).

Volunteering at Wildflower Triathlon

A few years later, Gene’s brother asked him and his wife Kitty to help out as volunteers at the Wildflower Triathlon at Lake San Antonio in central California. Gene’s brother was responsible for feeding the race volunteers who came from a local college. He needed help with barbecuing at the end of the race. Since most of this work was done after the race, Gene and his wife were able to get up close to what happened during the race by volunteering at the sole transition area for this triathlon.

While sitting around the campfire later that day, Gene’s brother threw out a challenge. If Gene would compete in next year’s triathlon, his entry would be free.

“Anything my brother offered to participate in with me was perfect. The guy was an absolute joy to be with, He was fun.”

There were two challenges right from the start. The sprint triathlon involved mountain biking and Gene did not have a mountain bike. Second, the only swimming he had done was in group lessons he had taken when six or seven years old and when he water skiied later on. With water skiing, he wore a wetsuit. In other words, he was starting from the point of a near beginner swimmer.

Before the race, Gene developed his swimming first by swimming back and forth in the small round pool managed by the HOA (homeowners association) and later in a local community pool.

First Triathlon – Wildflower Off-Road Sprint

When Gene arrived for his first triathlon, he learned he needed a wetsuit for this race. The only one he had was for jet skiing, which was not appropriate for the triathlon swim. He ended up borrowing a Farmer John wetsuit from his brother-in-law. However, because the suit did not fit well, he said “I would have been better off not wearing a wetsuit”.

“Then on the mountain bike leg, I was chugging along when who should pull up beside me but Paula Newby-Fraser. She said ‘You’re not even breathing hard’.”

After finishing his first triathlon, he and his wife were talking about the race. Gene told Kitty, “You know, I think this could be fun.”

He told her that he would need a wetsuit and a bike. They walked over to the expo where vendors were selling triathlon related items.

After looking at the price tags on the triathlon wetsuits, Gene remembers thinking out loud, “How much use am I really going to get out of a wetsuit? I mean, how many triathlons will I do?”

Knowing something Gene had not yet realized, Kitty said, “Go ahead and get it.” Since then, he has worn out that wetsuit and two or three more wetsuits as he trained and raced in other triathlons, including eight or nine times in the Wildflower half Ironman.

Competing in Olympic and Half Ironman Triathlon

The next year, he went back to the Wildflower event, this time to complete the half Ironman distance. His goal for this race was to finish with a Kona-qualifying time. However, Gene learned how difficult it is to qualify for Kona.

For the next several years, during his late 40s and early 50s, Gene continued to compete in Olympic and half Ironman distance triathlons. He was not giving up on his goal to race in Hawaii.

Gene also realized he was a triathlete, something which had taken him a while to recognize. “For a long time, I thought I was playing, not a real triathlete.”

Related post: My First Triathlon – Is This How George Plimpton Felt? Plimpton was a journalist who competed as an amateur in different professional sporting events. He then wrote about the experience.

1996 – A Milestone Year

In 1996, Gene’s brother invited him and his wife to volunteer with him and his then girlfriend and later wife at the Ironman World Championships in October.

One month before traveling to Hawaii, Gene and his wife moved to Park City, Utah. While going for his first bike ride in his new home state, Gene was hit by a car. In the accident, his back was broken in two places.

Despite being in a back brace, he made the trip to Hawaii. While being stationed at T2 (bike to run transition area), he spent most of his time lying on the grass. However, at one point during the race, still under the influence of pain medication, he got up and walked over to where the bikers were coming in and runners going out, and proclaimed, “I gotta do this!”

He went back the next year, now fully recovered and without the influence of pain medication, to get a better picture of the race.

Related post: In this post Restarting to Bike After a Crash, you will read how Gene and other senior triathletes have recovered from a bike crash to start riding again.

First Ironman Triathlon for Gene Peters

In 2000, Gene completed two full (140.6) Ironman triathlons, including his first in Oceanside, California, near Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

Soon after registering for the Oceanside triathlon, Gene’s friend contacted him to let him know the race director had opened 500 more race spots for Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia. Gene and his friend stayed on the registration website overnight in order to secure spots in this race.

Gene qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii for the first time in 2004. Sadly, his younger brother, the one who had gotten him into triathlon, passed away in 2003.

All totaled, Gene has completed 35 Ironman triathlons. Included in these are three World Championships in Hawaii. He has already qualified for the 2024 World Championships in Hawaii.

Gene and Mary "Kitty" Peters at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee
Gene and Mary “Kitty” Peters at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

A Love for Triathlon Training

Gene ‘loves’ triathlon training and his association with the sport. He told me that it has taught him discipline, self-determination, and confidence.

“While I have always been relatively healthy, I have been in better shape in my 60s and 70s than I was in my 30s.”

Training/Preparing for Ironman Triathlons

Gene’s characterization of his Ironman triathlon training is straightforward: “I follow directions”.

Several years ago, Gene began using the TriDot® system, initially without a coach.

Since February 2017, he has been coached by Kurt Madden, a TriDot coach who is also one of the senior triathletes coaches. Of Kurt, Gene says that he “is excellent at adjusting to what my needs are and what my condition is.”

Kurt is Gene’s second TriDot coach. The first one, selected because Gene and he had graduated from the same college, was about half Gene’s age and focused on Olympic distance triathlon. The relationship lasted one year because of their differences in age and focus.

Before starting the relationship with Kurt, Gene spoke to a lady at TriDot about “needing a coach who could relate to the needs of the older triathlete and what we are going through. You need to have a program that recognizes that older triathletes don’t recover as fast, sometimes, as a person in their 30s.”

Gene attributes the TriDot system for impressive race results. “In the last ten years, I have podiumed in 100% of my races.”

Gene Peters’ Advice

Earlier in his racing career, Gene did triathlons and ran marathons. Today, however, he focuses on triathlon.

“I learned unless I warmed up with a nice long swim and bike, I pushed too hard on the run. I would hurt myself.

“Now, I do only half marathons. I stopped doing full marathons except as part of a full Ironman.”

Stay Consistent

Gene echoed what many have told me to be a key to success with triathlon – consistent training. Gene has thought about the time he has spent training for an Ironman triathlon, acknowledging it is not for everyone.

Operating his own accounting business enabled him to train consistently. On top of this, Gene had not only the support, but encouragement, of his wife to continue training and racing.

Tribute to Mary C. “Kitty” Peters

In October 2022, with 55 years of marriage to Gene, Kitty passed away. Gene was by her side.

Before she passed away, Kitty would help keep Gene stay on track, knowing how important and valuable the training was to him. She was known for telling her friends how proud she was of her husband.

Kitty also willingly volunteered at many triathlons, being known for the smile with which she greeted finishers. According to Gene, she volunteered at more Ironman races than he had done. As a registered nurse, she often provided medical help at triathlons.

In reflecting on our conversation, it is doubtful that Gene would have accomplished what he has throughout his triathlon career had he not had her never-ending support. She is and always will be missed.

Who’s Behind Your Triathlon Accomplishments?

Who do you credit for your triathlon achievements? In what way(s) have they supported you?

Give them the recognition they deserve in the Comments below.

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What a great story and lovely tribute. You’re truly golden…