Team Hoyt Inspires John, a Little Person, to Try Triathlon

As a teacher, father and Varsity swim coach John Young has daily opportunities to encourage the lives surrounding him. Now, as a triathlete, John models strength and character to many new faces as he swims, bikes and runs to the finish line.

John & I have similar traits and experiences:
- As kids we were picked last at recess.
- As adults, we're slow runners.
- As parents, we hope to model the joy of fitness & living life fully to our children.
- And friends & strangers have judged our athletic abilities based on our body type. For me, it's been issues with my weight. For John, it's his height. At 4-foot-4 John is a Little Person, defined as any adult smaller than 4-foot-10. He was born with achondroplasia a condition that hinders bone growth.
His wife Sue and his son Owen also have achondroplasia.

I connected with John via's triathlon community where I volunteer as a moderator. His post "Dwarf triathlete encourages others to TRI (try)!!!" caught my eye! I was also drawn by the energy and voice of his writing style. It's been a pleasure learning more about him.

John already had two of the three pieces for triathlon's swim-bike-run format. He's swam his whole life. And last year, John began bike commuting to work.
It was the father-son duo of Dick & Rick Hoyt Team Hoyt who got John thinking about triathlon.

JY: I've always been one to challenge myself and after re-watching a video with the Hoyts doing the IRONMAN I thought I might want to look into it. At first I was only going to do Aquabike (swim-bike) races since I've never done any running. I did my first race in Lowell, Mass., where I completed a sprint Aquabike race. I was going to do the Maine State Aquabike race three weeks later but started talking to the A.D. at my school. He recommended I try a triathlon and if the running did not go well I could always walk it. So I signed up to do the Witch City Tri in Salem, Mass., and the rest is history.

- In the minute/seconds before your wave starts on race day, what goes through your mind?
The first time it was a lot of fear and apprehension. I had not prepared with any open water swimming (big mistake) and had a hard time. It did not help that we were swimming in a river that was moving fast after a lot of early summer rain. In the last two races things have gotten a lot better. I recommend doing 2 or 3 races within weeks of each other. It really helped alleviate the fear. This past race, the start was a lot more fun. I had a plan to stay near the back of the pack, found a comfortable spot and got swimming.

- Describe the emotions/feelings you had crossing the finish line.
Pure joy! Tears the first two times. Happy I accomplished something others are too scared to try. The Timberman was a hard race and a number of doubters thought I might struggle on the hilly bike course. There were 1,100 competitors and I was happy to say I was faster than 46 other cyclists. I passed 3 others walking their bikes up the hills. I am not saying this to down play the others. I am simply saying it because you should NEVER underestimate your ability.

- As a parent, what do you hope to teach your son through sports/triathlon?
The goal at my level is not to be first across the line. Simply getting across the line is winning. Try your best and be happy you were able to complete the race. Realize that the training and racing are helping you lead a healthier lifestyle. A lot of little people (LPs) are reluctant to compete against average sized people knowing they will most likely finish at the bottom.

- While training, what helps you stay motivated?
JY: Good motivational music. Changing what I do so I don't get in a rut. Passing cars stopped in traffic. Passing other cyclists. Having people drop into my wife's work to say they just saw me riding around town. I also get emails from other LPs telling them my racing is helping to motivate them to become more active.

- I read that people with achondroplasia often have joint pain. As a little person what has your experience with running been like? Do you follow a certain running style/technique?
I simply run in what I consider to be the most comfortable manner. I certainly need help with this portion of my training. The back pain can be quite bad. At this point I try and run and walk at a 1 to 2 ratio. 2 min walk for every 1 min of running. I obviously hope to reduce the walking and increase the running.

- Anything can happen on race day, what helps you stay in the moment on the swim, bike and run?
Thinking about my son and wife, especially when pain comes as is so common on the run. I visualize them further down the course waving me to continue on. I also pray quite a bit while competing. Again, not to win, but to simply stay motivated and that fear is nothing more than another hill along the course I have to get over.

- Will your son or wife consider trying triathlon as well?
I don't think my wife is going to but son (who is 6) already says he wants to race like Daddy.

- I read that you met Ironman athletes Dick & Rick Hoyt. Tell me more about that experience.
JY: They were the original reason I considered doing this. We met at Timberman and it was great. Both Rick and I know what it means to have people make assumptions based upon what they SEE. Dick is a terrific man who does great things together with Rick for differently abled people. They passed me on the run portion as they were going in and I was heading out. I got a big thumbs up from Dick and it was a great boost.

- What would you like to tell men and women thinking of signing up for their first triathlons?
Do some preparation and realize there will be some fear. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Do some preparation and in the end try your best to have FUN. Give high fives to people on the race course and make sure to stick around and cheer on others who finish behind you, because you never know when you might be the last one in.


Thanks John for sharing your experiences here! Learn more about John in this Boston Globe article and on his blog. John recently joined Comprehensive Racing, a triathlon and cycling club based in New England.

Photo credit: my tape measurer. Do #'s define us as athletes?


Donna said...

What a cool entry! Go John!!!

Thanks for sharing such an inspring story!

And I, too, share all those same points with you!!!

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

very encouraging. thx for sharing!

Karin & Brian said...

Thank you for sharing that!