Riding with a Legend: Thank you, Jürgen

The first time I saw Lance Armstrong race he was 16 years old and so was I. There, however, the similarities ended. I was simply a race spectator who’d come to see the era’s legendary triathletes battle for victory. Lance, on the other hand, was already among the USA’s strongest triathletes and competing at the sport’s highest levels. That day Lance took 2nd, only 90 seconds behind the winner.
That was the day I became a Lance fan and the day I decided to one day become a triathlete, too. Perhaps not at Lance’s level but at least a member of the triathlon community.

Fast forward 20+ years and Lance has had his ups and downs (a blog topic for another day!) but triathlon remains a sport I love. It’s given me every reason to live a healthy lifestyle and meet extraordinary people. This was especially true last week when I found myself exhausted, legs burning, dehydrated, nearing heat stroke, and loving every minute of it.

My triathlon hero in the ‘90’s was a German named Jürgen Zäck. Jürgen was different than the other pros. While most pros are wafer thin and under 5% body fat, Jürgen was powerful and muscular with (gasp!) 8-10% body fat. While most pros look like skeletons and run like deer, Jürgen’s strength was the bike. He’d power his enormous legs through a streaking bike split and then lumber through the run with (hopefully) enough of a lead that the Bambis couldn’t chase him down. His style was unconventional but his results indisputable. Several times he broke records and won titles. Now approaching 50 years old, Jürgen still races at elite levels.

Last week, I had the privilege of training with him.

Business travel took me to Thailand and I learned that Jürgen now directs a triathlon training academy in the area called Thanyapura. What luck! So after a week of meetings I registered myself for a weekend at his camp.

This camp attracts all kinds: Professional and Olympic athletes at the top of their game, people who’ve put their lives on hold to pursue the dream of becoming elites, and “normal” people who’ve checked themselves into Jürgen’s camp to lose weight and regain their health.

What made the experience so special was how everyone there shared a passion for the same tiny subculture, the world of triathlon. Together we enthusiastically chatted ad nauseam about all the things that make triathletes your most boring dinner guests: race wheels, aero helmets, VO2 max, blah blah blah. To an outsider this was the epitome of geekville; to us, it was nirvana.

One moment I really cherished was our morning bike ride, during which Jürgen and I broke off from the pack and rode together on backroads with sweeping vistas of the Indian Ocean. “Am I really riding with the legenday Jürgen? Awesome!”
Granted, Jürgen did most of the talking and I did most of the gasping but he was gracious enough to slow the pace and let me hang on.

To Jürgen Zack and my other new friends at Thanyapura, Thank You for the experience of a lifetime!

To everyone else a few questions:
What’s your passion?
Are you making time to enjoy it? To connect with others who share it?
Who are the legends in that world you’d most like to meet? How can you make that happen?
Even if it’s only for a day or two, meeting like-minded people and brushing elbows with the greats is among the most energizing experiences life offers.