Athlete Profile: Brian Zobel from Sprint to IM + a Pre-race Crash

"You do triathlons?" another cyclist asked Brian Zobel during a training ride for the MS 150 City to Shore bike tour. "My answer was 'NO I can't swim to save my life!'" recalls Zobel.

But sometimes that's all it takes, a simple question from the right person when the window of opportunity is flung open and waiting. Zobel agreed to do that first triathlon only because he knew he could touch bottom in most parts of the lake! Even though the swim is the shortest segment of triathlon, an open-water swim is often the most intimidating piece for new and experienced triathletes.

Fast forward a few seasons of successful sprint-distance triathlons and Zobel would soon be swimming farther and in bigger bodies of water along with thousands of athletes thanks again to encouragement from the same cyclist (Darren Pedersen) from the MS 150.

In 2007 Zobel and Pedersen registered for the August 2008 Ironman Louisville (Ironman-brand series require registration a year out and often sell out in minutes!) After registering Zobel took off racing up triathlon's ladder completing Sprint to Ironman events in one season!

Zobel credits his family, training partner Pedersen and his local New Jersey tri club Team TRIumph for supporting him and preparing him for his first Ironman. Between May and July 2008 Zobel raced several sprint to half-iron triathlons while improving his swim, getting comfortable in a wetsuit and refining his nutrition. He had several top five age-group finishes while embracing turning 50!

In your pre-race taper you want to avoid getting sick or injured, unfortunately Zobel hit some tough luck. It happened on his last training ride, the day before he was to drop off his bike to be transported to Louisville.

"I was struck broadside by a motorist crossing both lanes of traffic to turn into her drive," says Zobel. "In true cyclist manner once I saw it was only blood on my arm and the bones seemed intact, I immediately thought of my bike! Is the frame bent .. it's got to go to Kentucky tomorrow!" Zobel dropped his bike at the shop on his way to the ER.

After cleaning Zobel's road rash and taking x-rays, the ER doctor had bad news--bone chips in Zobel's left hip. Zobel got a funny look for asking if he could race that Sunday. "I got a look like I had two heads!" he recalls. Zobel did get good news the next day from the Orthopedic doctor. After a MRI, Zobel learned the hip wasn't fractured, there'd be no permanent damage if he ran on it.

To race or not, he had four days to decide, Ironman doesn't allow refunds or deferrals. Some events give partial refunds within a set timeframe. Zobel decided to fly out and either try the race or cheer for his teammates. His bad luck persisted --after several delays his plane touched down close to the 5 p.m. athlete check-in deadline, but with some creativity and a little speed, he made it.

Zobel tested his road rash and hip mobility in the water on Saturday the day before the race, still not sure what to do on Sunday. Race morning arrived and Zobel decided to give it his best. His goal pre-injury was to finish the swim under two hours. Post-injury, he hoped to finish under the time limit of 2:30. Even with zig-zagging down the river Zobel finished the 2.4-mile swim in 1:53!

Thrilled to be back on dry land, Zobel took 10:22 in Transition 1 preparing for the 112-mile bike course. The early miles of the bike course were challenging as his road rash would stick and then tear open each time he went over a bump or changed position from his gooey aero bars. Later on
he wrapped his forearm with an ace bandage which helped and then wrapped up the beautiful hilly course in 7:26, 15 mph average, last segment 17+ mph.

"I took all the time in the world" in Transition 2, says Zobel, taking time to dry his feet, fill his fuel belts and get everything right before the marathon. His post-accident marathon goal was to finish before the 17-hour cutoff but he hadn't tested out his hip with a run since the accident.

But it went well. "The support along the run course was awesome," says Zobel. On his second half of the marathon Zobel did the math and figured if he could stay on pace he had a chance to meet his original pre-accident goal time. After a hot and humid run Zobel made his best-day goal becoming an Ironman in 15:42. Well done!

Zobel followed up his IMKY experience with a trip to Panama City Beach for Ironman Florida 2009. He dedicated IMFL to friends with MS "which only added to the awesome journey," he says. He cut over two hours off, finishing IMFL in 13:26:41. Again, well done!

Zobel's enjoyed volunteering with his tri club and helping new cyclists via MS 150 City to Shore, but he was looking for another way to give back and connect with other triathletes.

"When I volunteer at a triathlon finish line it's such a great feeling seeing the faces of finishers as they reach and cross the finish line," he says. "Some are in tears as you place the medal around their necks telling them how awesome they did."

It doesn't matter where in the pack athletes finished. It was the act of finishing--the Victory is Finishing--says Zobel. He's found later finishers experience the "Victory if Finishing!" sensation most!

The finish-line sensation pushed Zobel to create Victory is Finishing , a motivational resource for triathletes. He hopes triathletes of all experience levels will share personal stories, motivational quotes or training tips via the site. E-mail with the subject line "Share with ViF".

After doing two Ironman events back to back, this year Zobel's main event is Ironman 70.3 Syracuse along with many running and shorter triathlons throughout the season as well as time together with his family. His son and daughter surprised him with an awesome welcome home IronDad yard display after his first IM finish and both his kids have done the MS City to Shore ride with him. Currently Zobel and his daughter are training together for her first 5K. I hope it went well!

Zobel's Race Memories:
Ironman Florida I TRI to end MS
MS City to Shore Bike Tour 2007 Team Tania - Riding toward a cure for MS
Team Tania - the largest friends and family team on the tour. This is Zobel's 8th year riding the tour. He rides in support of a dear friend named Kim who lives with MS. It was on a MS training ride that Zobel was introduced to triathlon.

Zobel's had no post-accident stress or trauma while cycling. "And as they say sometimes good can come from bad," he says. "Looking back on it I think being hit and going into race day just hoping for the best, removed a lot of the pressure on finishing my first Ironman."

Questions for You:
- What quote or tip can you share with Zobel?
- Have you dedicated an event to a person, cause or charity? If so, what?

photos submitted by Zobel's family and friends.


T said...

Beautiful story! Thank you for the inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Brian is one of my closest friends. I met him through Team Triumph and this article represents him well!

janiem625 said...

This is a wonderful profile of Brian. I would only add what a wonderful person/friend he is in his everyday life.

WILLIAM said...

Gave me 'goose-bumps' just reading it.

Kim said...

Brian is one of the finest people I know. He has inspired me to achieve more than I ever thought possible. He leads by example and is always willing to help anyone in need. A true hero.

Matt Castillo said...

More than proud to call him my Uncle Brian! Go IronUncle!

Velma said...


Big Daddy Diesel said...

Wow, thats great!! Amazing!!

My biking team, we dont race, we only do charity rides and fitness promotion rides. We are contracted to 10 a year, but most of use do way more then that.

Evelyn said...

Brian, you continue to be an inspiration to so many of us!

Sara Cox Landolt said...

Brian - wow, thanks for letting me tell part of your tri experience here! What an amazing group of athletes you have supporting you - what a blessing!

Thanks everyone for reading & commenting. If you know of a story or athlete I should feature, please let me know.

ShirleyPerly said...

Great story!

I don't have any quotes or tips for Zoebel but did back in 2004-5 run 21 marathons in 9 months to raise $21K for two charities that helped our troops. I called it my 21 Run Salute :-)

Sara Cox Landolt said...

ShirleyPerly - again you are amazing! :-)

Thanks everyone!