Three Times the Fun
Sep 02, 2014 11:09AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
By Carol Sorgen | Photos courtesy Annapolis Triathlon Club
David Mathes was no lifelong couch potato. The former college athlete knew a thing or two about keeping fit. But like many people, family and job responsibilities took away time at the gym, and by 2003, Mathes weighed in at 400 pounds and knew it was time to get serious about making fitness a priority. He underwent gastric bypass surgery, shedding 120 pounds as a result, and followed his doctor's prescription for exercise with a fervor, hitting the gym twice a day. But when he felt that he needed to bump his training to a new level, he turned—quite by chance—to the Annapolis Triathlon Club (ATC).
“I met Jeremy Parks [ATC’s co-founder] in 2008 and by the next year I was signed up to do an IRONMAN triathlon,” says Mathes, who has participated in 10 triathlons of varying degrees. For the uninitiated, all triathlons—including youth events up to double and triple ultra-distance events—have a basic format of swim, bike, and run, though there are several racing distances, from sprints to IRONMAN, a long-distance triathlon race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.2-mile run, raced in that order and without a break.
Mathes says that he joined ATC not to become an elite triathlete but to maintain the health and fitness he regained after his bariatric surgery. Why he has stayed, though, is the camaraderie, encouragement, and support he has found among the members, whose ages range from their 20s to 70s.
“Whether we’re participating as a group in an event like IRONMAN Wisconsin or IRONMAN Florida or we’re cheering each other on from the sidelines—either in person or via Facebook or Twitter—we’re there having fun and supporting each other,” says Mathes, an insurance agency owner who is 45 and lives in Annapolis.
Or, in other words, as the club’s website makes clear, “Sport is fun, and it becomes a great deal more fun when we learn, train, and race together!”
“We’re just there to enjoy ourselves,” Mathes continues, adding that ATC is not as “competitive” as other clubs he has seen.
Because old football injuries are coming back to haunt his knees, Mathes’ triathlon days may soon be coming to an end (though he has plans to participate in the inaugural IRONMAN Maryland in September and IRONMAN Florida in November). But he plans to maintain his involvement with the club, both to keep up with the friends he has made and to pass on the knowledge he has gained to others.
That team spirit is just what Jeremy Parks had in mind when he cofounded ATC in 2006. The 43-year-old Arnold resident, who works in his family-owned real estate development company, was a lacrosse goalie and a wrestler in his youth—“not much running involved in either of those!” he chuckles.
At the urging of a friend Parks joined the triathlon world when he took part in a short marathon at Disneyworld. Though he wasn’t a top finisher, it wasn’t his time that disappointed him; rather, he wanted one of the “cool” jerseys members of other marathon clubs sported.
At that time the only local triathlon club was located in Columbia, MD, and Parks knew his times weren’t competitive enough to join. So he and friend Tom Smith came up with the idea to create their own club. They enlisted 12 members, developed a website, pulled together a Board, and over a few rounds of beers, came up with the philosophy that was going to make ATC a success, where other clubs had failed.
“Other clubs got stale,” Parks says. “We not only got the cool jerseys I always wanted, we came up with the logo, ‘fueled by fun.’” The Club’s guidelines are simple: First of all, they’re a club, not a team (while many of the members, who pay dues of $50, do participate in the same events, they do so as individuals); there are no “politics” involved; get-togethers (which include monthly socials) are “fun and lively”; the club is for triathletes of any level (a mentor program even pairs newcomers with more experienced athletes); and the members have made philanthropic efforts a major thrust of their activities and have already donated between $50–75,000 to various charities including the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and an endowed scholarship at Anne Arundel Community College.
Current ATC president Randy Stiles is committed to continuing ATC’s mission of merging a healthy lifestyle with community support and just plain ol’ having a good time. To that end, under Stiles’s leadership, the club has begun hosting family activities as well. “We train together, we race together, so it’s nice to be a family together,” says the 44-year-old Pasadena IT manager.
“Some of the members train as much as 20 hours a week,” Stiles continues. “That’s a huge commitment that takes time away from the family so it’s nice to make them part of this sport as well.”
Like Mathes, Stiles came to triathlons after watching the pounds mount up (“five or six years ago I was 80–90 pounds heavier,” he recalls). He mentioned to a pal that he needed some motivation to get fit again and his friend suggested they sign up for a sprint triathlon.
“What the heck!” Stiles responded. He found his first experience “overwhelming”; nevertheless he finished—albeit slowly—and was immediately hooked. “I had such a feeling of accomplishment,” he says. “I couldn’t wait for the next one.” Each race is a “bigger carrot,” says Stiles, who loves the adrenaline rush he gets from setting and completing a goal. “Seventy percent of competing in a triathlon is mental,” he says. “You’re having an ongoing conversation with your body which is telling you to stop, rest, and relax, but your mind tells you to keep going.”
Stiles says that the ATC has been a “godsend” to him, helping him achieve his personal goals for each race. “The knowledge and support of the other members is so valuable, and their healthy lifestyle is addictive,” he says.
But it’s not just his own goals that matter to him, says Stiles. After an injury forced him to sit out a race, he nevertheless attended so he could cheer on his fellow club members. “It was nice to be part of their goal too,” he says.
As the sport continues to grow, the demographics of the athletes have been changing as well. Triathlons are no longer just for men. According to USA Triathlon, since 2000, the organization’s female membership has grown from 27 percent of the total of the annual members to more than 36.5 percent at the end of 2013. Some of the reasons the organization cites for this growth are society’s acceptance of “active” women, women feeling more comfortable living an active lifestyle, the growth of women’s-only events, and races focusing on charity involvement and fundraising.
Annapolis resident Kelly Huszar is one such triathlete. Huszar started off with a 5K race three years ago and then segued into her first triathlon just five months later. She joined ATC two years ago and enjoys the companionship she has found with like-minded competitors. An athlete in high school, Huszar, 34 and a Federal budget analyst, has found within ATC the same sense of togetherness she recalled from her high school sports teams. “I have my personal challenges but I also have friends cheering me along the way,” she says.
Huszar likes the fact that in triathlons, “you’re constantly doing something different.” She also appreciates the fact that the sport has given her an avenue through which to challenge both her energy and her competitive spirit in ways that don't get in the way of her personal and professional relationships.
The club has also given Huszar, who now serves on the Board, a group of friends with whom to share a sport she calls “almost spiritual.”
“Actually, it’s more than a sport,” she adds. “It’s our passion…It’s our way of life.”
There’s a new race in town, and whether you're a triathlon newbie spectator or an experienced triathlete yourself, you can get up close and personal at IRONMAN Maryland, the first IRONMAN competition in the state, to be held the weekend of September 20th in Dorchester County.
IRONMAN is a three-part endurance event that attracts both professional and amateur athletes from all around the world. Participants swim a 2.4 mile course, bike 112 miles, and run a full marathon of 26.2 miles. If they are able to finish the course in less than 17 hours, they earn the title IRONMAN. The 140.6-mile IRONMAN Maryland course winds through Dorchester, and is expected to attract 1,500 participants and 3,000 supporters. Dorchester is the 12th U.S. location in the IRONMAN series and the only full-length IRONMAN Triathlon in the Mid-Atlantic region.
IRONMAN events are held all over the world, with the world championship in Kona, Hawaii.
IronClub Maryland, a booster club to support the racers and the event itself, was recently launched, with membership levels starting as low as $24 and going up to $5,000.
According to Dorchester County Tourism Director Amanda Fenstermaker, there is already an active triathlon culture in Cambridge, MD, and the IRONMAN Maryland competition is sure to strengthen and broaden it.
A triathlete once herself (“before kids!”), Fenstermaker hopes that being around the competitors will give her the inspiration to get back into the sport. “They give me hope that I can be involved again,” she says. “Once you start, it’s obsessive!”
For more information, visit:
Annapolis Triathlon Club, www.triannapolis.org
IRONMAN Maryland, www.ironman.com
IronClub Maryland, www.ironclubmd.com