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Triathletes: Anything but Average

By COL Brice A. Gyurisko, Sr. PhD(c), MPA, USA, Ret

mzA few weeks ago, our triathlon coach was selected to participate in a television commercial promoting an orthopedic doctor's organization. The theme of the commercial was using athletes that appeared average. Our coach is anything but average, and revered by those of us on the team. However, upon reflection, our coach is an example of what an average person can become with determination, perseverance and of course, style!

The members of our triathlon team are average people. We are homemakers, teachers, students, real estate agents, salespeople, military members, veterans, retirees, college professors, engineers, nurses, firefighters, musicians, working mothers, fathers and many other professions. What we all have in common is a desire to excel, and this amazing team helps coach, inspire and commiserate with each other! We are average people, but doing what others see us as both above average or just plain crazy. Who else but an athlete will get up at 4:30 a.m. to meet with a group for a run or 5:30 a.m. swim at the YMCA? Our friends, families, and coworkers usually tell us we are outrageous for doing the things we do. Yet we continue this arduous journey for some kind of personal victory that only other athletes truly understand. We trade nutritional tidbits, share home remedies, similar injuries, and laugh at ourselves about the dumb things we do in training. I know others have put their helmet on backwards, forgotten socks, incorrectly set heart monitors, and my favorite: putting chain oil lube in my swim goggles instead of defog!

So who are these crazy average people who are on our triathlon team and what drives them to do what they do? What inspires an average person to push past limits of physical exhaustion? I have been on this team for about three years, and you do get to know each other. There is nothing like a 10-mile run or a 50-mile bike ride to get to know someone. I found along my personal journey the members of my team are unique, remarkable individuals who for many have overcome personal difficulties that would make an average person cringe.

mzFor example, I was amazed at the number of our members who are cancer survivors. The mother of five, who started the triathlon team to get back into shape and is one of our best all around athletes; the mothers of special needs children who have some of the greatest senses of humor and outlooks on life. Another amazing woman with an equilibrium imbalance and still competes. The firefighter who ran a race in full equipment carrying the United States flag. A member with a blood disease, another with constricted veins and also a cancer survivor. A member who was hit by a car and continues to push herself and has made a remarkable recovery. Myself, a 30-year career Army officer with significant physical challenges that took up swimming and cycling as rehabilitation.

You get to know your teammates on a personal level, and realize these average people are anything but average. These wonderful individuals have a unique and special quality that makes you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, and you feel downright inspired by these great people. I am so grateful to have met these folks and glad to be a part of the team.

Though I was used to being a member of a team, sports generally consisted of individual events for me, such as running. Competing in triathlons is an individual sport. However, through the actions of our coaches, our team is not just a group of individuals. The team motivates. The team inspires. The team is fun! We enjoy each other's company both socially and during training. It is not unusual during one of the local races to see a large contingent of non-participants from the team and their families cheering the competitors. We help each other and I was amazed how many people would come back to check on me, cheer me up, and pull me along as I began this journey, particularly on the longer bike rides and swims.

mzWe may be average people, but each of us has achieved goals far beyond any of our expectations. I left Walter Reed Army Medical Center some years back with difficulty walking, and can proudly say I have completed almost 30 triathlons in the last three years, including two-half Ironman races. I can only attribute these successes to my wonderful and inspirational teammates and coach (and the many physical therapists who have helped!).

Watching the Olympics, we get inspired by the athletes and are in awe of their physical prowess. Average athletes might not have sponsors or extra money, and many need baby sitters to train, but I believe do so for the love of the sport, the esprit de corps and camaraderie of the team. I am thankful to be average, and grateful for my teammates and coaches on the Blanchard Park and Avalon YMCA Triathlon Teams in Orlando, Fla. Go Green!

COL Brice A. Gyurisko, Sr. PhD(c), MPA, USA, Ret, lives in Orlando, Florida and is faculty with University of Phoenix and member of the Blanchard Park YMCA Triathlon and Running Club. He can be reached at