“The National Senior Games triathlon was the first race of any kind in which I competed in all my life,” wrote Joe Simonetta.
How This Post Came About
Earlier this year, I received an email from Joe Simonetta, from Sarasota, Florida. He was responding to the ‘welcome email’ sent to new subscribers of the Senior Triathletes Highlights newsletter. This email invites them to contact me if they would be interested in having their triathlon story published.
I later learned that Joe’s first triathlon was at the 2023 U.S. National Senior Games held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday, July 18th.
How did Joe prepare for his first triathlon? What did he learn in his first race, a sprint triathlon?
No Stranger to Competitive Sports
Joe has led an active life and is an experienced competitor, despite completing his first triathlon a month ago.
“I’ve never stopped working out and playing sports. I have a comprehensive workout routine. And I have learned a lot about nutrition and have practiced a healthy lifestyle for many years.”
From his college days until today, Joe has a long list of accomplishments.
While attending Penn State, Joe lettered in soccer and tennis. He also competed in inter-fraternity football, basketball, wrestling, swimming, volleyball, and racquetball. He won the Penn State racquetball championship twice.
In the early 1970s, Joe was a USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association) professional. During this time, he also quarterbacked a flag football team in Sarasota. The team won their league championship three consecutive years.
In 1979, Joe won the Colorado racquetball tournament for the 35 and over group while studying for a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Colorado.
After graduation, he continued to play racquet sports, swam, played volleyball, and lifted weights. During 2005 through 2014, Joe worked on a real estate project in the Andes Mountains in southern Ecuador.
During this time, he played Ecuadorian volleyball, aka Ecua-volley. This game is a variant of international volleyball that involves three players on each team, a higher net, and heavier ball.
Back in Sarasota, Joe continued with racquetball and swimming. However, in 2020, he gave up racquetball and returned to running; earlier, he had regularly run six miles a day.
Getting Ready For His First Race at the Senior Games Triathlon
During the fall of 2022, Joe started looking at the swim, bike, and run times for past triathlons on the National Senior Games Association (NSGA) website. He thought he could compete with others in his age group, men 80 to 84. With this in mind, he registered for the triathlon at the 2023 National Senior Games.
For reasons still not known, NSGA officials opened registration for triathlon to everyone. Competitors did not have to qualify for triathlon at one of the state games. In this way, Joe could compete in triathlon at the National Senior Games without ever having completed a triathlon.
By that time, Joe was running a 5k three to four times per week. He was also swimming regularly, though not as frequently as he was running.
In early December, after deciding to compete in the National Senior Games triathlon, Joe began bike training.
He started by dusting off a used Cannondale road bike he had purchased seven years earlier.
He then laid out a 3.1 mile course in the community where he, his wife, and their two children (a son, age 10, and a daughter 7) live. This course, complete with eight cul de sacs, became his training course for the bike and run legs of the triathlon. Training for the triathlon swim took place in the family’s 44 by 18 foot pool.
Joe supplemented the swim-bike-run training with lifting weights, jumping rope, and hitting a speed bag in his garage. In addition, upon awakening each morning, he did core, range of motion, and balancing exercises.
What Joe Learned During the Triathlon
“When I showed up on race day, I knew these guys had been doing triathlon for many years,” Joe told me.
“Most triathletes have expensive bikes and gear, including special clothes, bike shoes, wetsuits, watches, and so forth. I showed up in a pair of running shorts, inexpensive running shoes, and a rented bike I had picked up in downtown Pittsburgh. The other competitors laughed. in a friendly way, that I had a bike with a kickstand.”
Here is what Joe said about his experience in his first triathlon.
“The one mistake I made was in the swim leg. Normally, the quarter of a mile swim—and far more—would be very easy for me. However, today, I tried to keep up with guys in my wave (age 65-84) who were much younger than me. Because I was going faster than my normal pace, I couldn’t breathe. I struggled and had a horrible time for the swim. I was one of the last to finish. It was a terrible rookie error that I could have avoided easily.
“At that point, I figured there was no way I was going to win the triathlon or even place.
“However, I came back strong on the bike and run. I overtook all the guys in my age group who were ahead of me and finished first to win the gold medal. You can see my times on the NSGA website.
“The guys in the triathlon, all very nice, were shocked that I won my first race.”
From what he learned in his first race, Joe is confident he can do far better in his next triathlon.
Look for him at the City Island Triathlon in Sarasota on October 8, 2023.
I also did my first triathlon using a bike with a kickstand. It was also where I first saw a tri-bike.
Tell us about a ‘rookie mistake’ you made in your first triathlon. How about the most important lesson you learned in your first race?
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