In the beginning, there was not much more than cross country skiing, and running in my world of training and racing.A high school pal of mine who sat next to me in band class, and got me started in cross country skiing, asked if I wanted to assist him during training for an event called a triathlon back in 1987.First, he wanted me to go to the pool to swim with him as friendly motivation.At least this is how I recall it anyhow.I didn’t know how to swim in my senior year of high school.I had gone to great lengths to avoid the water, despite growing up on Lake Huron in Michigan, and enjoying my summers at the beach.
In gym class, I received a special waiver to avoid the swim portion of the semester class. This was in exchange for extra running during that period, along with a few others who either had medical reasons or some other excuse for not getting into the pool.Looking back, I was embarrassed that everyone else knew how to swim, at least a little.Avoid what I couldn’t do was the plan, until it became a favor for a friend in search of his goals.That year, I set out to help my friend prepare for the swim portion by dedicating myself to showing up to the pool at certain days at a pre-set time.I proceeded to plop my rear end in the center of a large inner tube & paddle around while he swam laps.That was my idea of helping him-- just by being in the water.
It wasn’t long before I ended up getting some swim goggles, and attempted a few laps.The initial laps were nothing more than sliding along the lane line or wall, and that was it.After a few months, my friend finished his first and only triathlon.Seeing the pain he was experiencing seemed humorous to me, as this is the same guy that was the 2x Michigan State High School Cross Country Ski Champion. “Jeff” was also the same guy that one day would end up being the NCAA Division II National Cross Country Ski Champion, and a top 20 Olympic Trials in Nordic skiing finisher. Something inside me thought, “Here is one of the fittest humans (actually he was an ANIMAL when training--) in the USA, and he’s not only getting clobbered, but I actually think I can do this a little bit better if I did this next year.”The problem was, I was not at his level of fitness; I was even worse of a swimmer than him, and did not own a bicycle outside of my Schwinn Varsity.I decided to take the plunge, and keep up the pool workouts long after Jeff had stopped.His vow to not do another triathlon was oddly enough timed with my transitional vow to start doing them.
After several weeks of doggie-paddling and resting on the lane lines every five to ten meters or so, an older man approached me asking if I needed some help.His wife was the pool director, and he was a 65 year old life guard, retired from a long life of 9-5 jobs.I worked with “Dave” all summer, and it eventually led me to my first open water swim at his house.I drove 20 miles to his beachfront property on Lake Huron, to swim in water that was a good 20+ feet deep.No wetsuit, and the water quite cold…it was my nearest in-water death experience to date.He had swum much faster and quite far away from me.I got scared that something in the deep black water would come up and grab me from underneath (some shark have been found in the Great Lakes, apparently by way of the Erie Canal).I hyperventilated, and my mentor noticed I was in trouble.He swam up to me and told me to flip on my back and float like he told me before the swim (if I got in trouble), and stay that way until I calmed down.I made it out of that swim alive, and that was the last I swam out there with him.I preferred to do my swimming in a pool from then on, until I got better…much better.
Shortly after that swim, I bought my first bike, a Cannondale Crit frame.I purchased my Cannondale for $400 back then, and in 1988, competed in my first triathlon (The Hubbard Lake Triathlon).That was the first day of the rest of my life.Since then, triathlons have led me all over the world, competing internationally, at world championships, as a professional, and now, on the other side of the spectrum of racing, a coach.That slight glimmer in my eye after watching my friend Jeff compete way back in 1987, saying to myself, “I think I can do better…” was the start of something I never dreamed would lead me to where I am today.
Moving to Boulder, Colorado, meeting my wife, and having a rather interesting and fun life in a sport I did not know the meaning of some 20 years ago, is nothing short of a shocking surprise.Sure I saw it unfold over the years, but back then, to think it would lead to where it has, I would never have guessed it.We each have a story of how we launched into multisports, some by mistake, some on purpose.In my case, it was just a matter of sitting next to one of the finest athletes in the country during band class.Funny how the sounds of woodwinds and brass… the percussion sections…have been traded for the music of the “whirring” harmony from my bicycle wheels, the splashing of water and pitter-patter of footsteps trouncing along the trails of the Rocky Mountains.
4/25/07By Kevin Konczak, Founder and Head Coach of Gemini Multisport.