Athena and Clydesdale Spotlight Series: Lance Fargo and Jessica Mullin
by USA Triathlon
In celebration of the Clydesdale and Athena National Championships being a part of USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals in August this year, every month we will be honoring and acknowledging individuals who have proudly represented and supported the Clydesdale and Athena race categories over the years.
We are thrilled to showcase the continued growth in the sport of triathlon when it comes to inclusion for all types of triathletes.
Clydesdale Athlete: Lance Fargo, an 8X National Champion, who has been competing as a Clydesdale athlete since 2001.
Hometown: Ocean View, Delaware
Occupation: Small Business Owner
How long have you been involved in triathlon?
I did my first triathlon on Sept. 9, 2001 at the Jersey Shore in northern New Jersey. I didn’t know how to swim properly and breast stroked the entire swim, but when I finished, I could not wait to do my next race! I remember very clearly being at Sandy Hook State Park that day and seeing the World Trade Center twin towers past the Verrazano Bridge. We all know what happened two days later.
What would you say is your strongest discipline?
Definitely cycling, which surprised me since I came into this sport as a runner. At one point I had severe plantar fasciitis, which sidelined me from running for over two years. I used the downtime from running to go all in on cycling which really took my performance to the next level when I was finally able to compete again.
Favorite race you have competed in as a Clydesdale athlete?
The Age Group National Championship in Milwaukee in 2013. It was my first time competing at a USAT National event. The field size and the production of the event far exceeded anything I had experienced to that point. I did the Olympic race. Chrissie Wellington handed me my finisher medal which was memorable in itself. My wife and I definitely shared an emotional moment when we learned that I had just won my first USAT National Championship. I am thrilled that Clydesdales and Athenas have been reintegrated into AGNC and I eagerly awaiting a return to Milwaukee this year.
What does it mean to you to race as a Clydesdale athlete?
That I am not going let a physical disadvantage prevent me from racing to the best of my ability. I may not be a Ferrari, but when you see this Mack truck coming, watch out!
How do Clydesdale/Athena athletes represent body positivity and inclusion for the sport?
Clydesdale and Athena athletes are outliers from the “typical” triathlete body type. When we are represented at races, we demonstrate that you don’t have to look like Lucy Charles-Barclay or Jan Frodeno to race and race well. Many people who may not have a “typical” triathlete build have been inspired to take up this crazy sport that we love because they see people of all shapes and sizes competing, which makes entry into our sport much less intimidating. None of us have control over our body type, but we have complete control over what we decide to do with our bodies.
What misconceptions do you want to clear up when it comes to Clydesdale athletes?
Especially when it comes to how competitive Clydesdale athletes can be. That we are not “real” triathletes. Clydesdales and Athenas can absolutely crush it! I know Clydesdale and Athena athletes who are pound for pound some of the best athletes in any race they enter. The laws of physics may prevent them from taking overall wins, but they are right in there giving it their all and racing fast.
Why is it important that Athena/Clydesdale was added as a category for USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals?
It validates us as legitimate athletes and not just a side show. We just want to be treated like everybody else.
Why are you proud to be a Clydesdale triathlete?
At 6’4” and 230 pounds I am never going to have a “typical" triathlete build. I love showing age-group triathletes what we are capable of. I have won or placed in overall Masters at many local races and am often met with surprise that a Clydesdale placed so high in the overall field. I have had to “educate” a few race directors that Clydesdale and Athena athletes are eligible for overall awards as full participants in a race.
What improvements could be made at races when it comes to hosting the category?
Don’t save the Clydesdale and Athena awards for dead last at the awards ceremony, when most people have already left the venue. That perpetuates the notion that we are not "real "triathletes. When the Clydesdale and Athena awards are announced after overall awards and before age group awards, it gives the rest of the race participants an opportunity to see what we are capable of and that we are full participants in the event.
You have a great history of success, winning 8 national titles. How would you describe the level of competition within the Clydesdale category when racing at events that include it?When I meet other Clydesdale and Athena athletes at races, I find that there is a special bond. It may be unspoken at times, but we can instantly relate to each other through the challenges and struggles that we share as Clydesdales and Athenas. There is a lot of friendly camaraderie amongst our group, but when it is “GO!” time expect some fierce competition as we battle each other for the win.
To what do you owe your success in the sport?
The love and support of my National Champion Super Sherpa (and loving wife) Paula Fargo. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. She is remarkably supportive of my athletic pursuits and very patient with me. I am very thankful to still be reasonably competitive at my age.
Athena Athlete: Jessica Mullin, creator of the AlohaAthena.com, a health and wellness and Athena community blog for 40-something women who know that age and weight are not deterrents to being fit and feeling fabulous!
Occupation: Blogger and Nonprofit Founder
What is your background in how you got involved in triathlon?
I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, so in my early twenties I decided that I needed to find a way to quit. I tried a bunch of ways to quit, but needed to find something that replaced the focus of my love of smoking or just have a reminder of why I wanted to quit. There is nothing better than getting in the pool as an ex-smoker, you are reminded why you want to quit when you are swimming laps. And it worked, I raced in my first triathlon at the New York City Triathlon in 2007, which was my one-year anniversary of quitting smoking.
Favorite race you have competed in as an Athena athlete?
New York City Triathlon
You stopped competing in triathlon for 10 years due to focusing on your career. What made you decide to get back into racing?
I turned 40 years old. I was having a late-night conversation with friends and wondered if I could do a triathlon again at this age, wondered if I could do it again. The idea then just took off from there, I dismissed it a couple of times, but thought ‘why not just give it a try!’ It has been 10 years, but I signed up for the New York City Triathlon, which was the first triathlon I ever did. It’s a little serendipitous in that way.
How has it been physically to be training again?
It is different now that I am over 40 years old. When I was doing triathlon before I was in my mid-twenties. There are just differences, it is not necessarily harder, but the recovery time is not as fast. You have to really do your warm ups and cool downs. But I am up for the challenge. That is part of the reason for starting the blog as well. If I am experiencing this, then I know I am not alone.
Any race goals for this year?
This year, I am just trying to hang on for dear life and find out how I fit in the context of the Athenas after 40. I have a longer-term plan to win a national title before I am 55, but this year I am simply enjoying coming back to the sport.
What does racing as an Athena mean to you?
Racing as an Athena has lent opportunity for me to change and address my own misconceptions. That journey has helped me become a better person and athlete.
My former coach asked me to compete in Athena as a category requirement to compete in club nationals. When he asked me, I cried, I was in the pool sobbing. It was because I felt like less of an athlete due to the fact that I was bigger. It was not the first time that I felt inadequate because of my size. I was bullied for it when I was younger, so I had already had some trauma around my height and my weight. But instead of letting those experiences limit me, I saw an opportunity in the Athena division to do some personal healing and set an example for other Athenas who might have similar experiences. It feels vulnerable in that way. That vulnerability doesn’t have to come out in every race, but it certainly is an underlying motivation that I have behind pursuing an athletic career in the Athena division. It means something to me and I hope it can help someone else down the line as well.
With each race, I put behind a piece of an old belief system that just didn’t belong to me and didn’t serve me – and that is the idea that thin means healthy. I am six feet tall; I have a lot more to move and I like to compete in an even-playing field. There are a lot of reasons why I come to this sport, I just am hoping that I can share that with people.
How are you approaching this season of life now as you get back into racing as an Athena athlete after 40?
I needed a bigger reason than myself or Athena to get back into triathlon. I think the reason I am getting back into it after my 40th is that I wanted to work toward a bigger picture – something that I felt was going to keep me motivated. Something for those 4AM wake up calls to go to the pool, those moments when you need something to get you out of yourself and see the bigger picture and beyond the goals. I decided to tie in a non-profit to this idea. I race for my cause The Ohana Foundation and before each race I will raise money to go toward a room makeover for foster kids. That is my bigger picture. I am working towards that slowly and it gets me out of bed in the morning. I honor progress over perfection. There is no direct line between here and where I want to be. So, I am keeping an open mind and trying to engage with a community that really understands the glory there is with being an Athena athlete. The good and the bad – all of it.
Why start a blog dedicated to health, wellness and the spirit of being an Athena?
I went to grad school for Journalism, which is why I stopped training back in the day because I needed to make time for that. I was looking for a way to use that degree in a way that wasn’t news – I didn’t feel cut out for that. The idea of the blog combined my passion for health and wellness, triathlon, competition, female community, how to build that community or be a part of that community. I had been looking for that for a while and I found that, so I have been taking this one step at a time.
Advice to the woman who still struggles with embracing the feeling of being proud to race as an Athena?
For me, the first step was small and that was appreciating what my body could do for me. It is not easy to swim, bike and run all of that way. I needed to find strength in my size and focus on what I had, while I had them. As you get older, it doesn’t get easier. So, think small and start looking at the things that your body can do, the things that you are proud of and the things you can recognize as strengths within yourself. From there, the light can grow from within. The negative self-talk or inner bully that can reel its ugly head will have less of a presence in your life and it gets easier in that way. But it all starts within. It is not about what other people believe or think, but what you believe.