Interviewing Central Florida Athletes: “Why Do You Tri?”


sbrFor people who love the sport of triathlon, the dawn of the month of October brings an anticipation and excitement that is difficult to express. The 2nd Saturday of October is for fans of triathlon what the Super Bowl is to football fans – the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

140.6 miles that tests every fiber of an athlete’s mind, body, and spirit in the form of a 2.4 mile swim in Kailua Bay followed by a 112 mile bike from Kailua-Kona to Hawi and back, followed by a 26.2 mile run. It seems an impossible feat, and yet thousands of people cross the finish line every year.

And while “Kona” and hearing Mike Reilly say those 4 famous words – “You are an IRONMAN” at the finish line may be the holy grail for triathletes, on any given weekend in any given state, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of weekend warrior triathletes gathering to swim, bike, and run.

Why do they do it? Why do they push themselves so hard?

I love the sport of triathlon. I love the training. I love the suffering – embracing “the suck.” I can only speak for myself when I say that triathlon embodies everything I believe – that you can only go as far as your MIND will take you.

Triathlon is HARD!

Regardless of the distance I’m racing – it’s HARD! We train our bodies – we swim and we bike and we run and we eat and we sleep and we repeat -for months in advance of a race. Most “age groupers” (non-professional athletes) walk a daily tightrope, balancing jobs, families, all the normal life responsibilities, and hours of training. They wake early and stay up late to fit it all in around the edges – swimming, running, and biking while most of the rest of the world sleeps.

Our bodies are trained to do the work, but on race day it’s the MIND that must be convinced. It’s the SPIRIT that is tested – much more than the BODY.

Here in Central Florida we are so fortunate to have a wonderfully vibrant triathlon culture. I am so blessed to call some amazing triathletes my friends. They all race for their own reasons and they are all champions. So, I asked them WHY?


Jae Hilgers – Port Orange, FL – Sales Professional

Jae Higlers running in a triathlon race.
Photo Credit: Almost There Photography

Two years ago, Jae woke up on the day after Christmas and decided it was time to make some changes in her life. She made a New Years’ resolution to get in better shape. Her three children were leaving the nest, one by one, and she actually had the time to take care of herself for a change.

She started running and built her endurance and aerobic capacity, but was plagued by annoying injuries along the way. A sports medicine doctor suggested that she introduce cross-training into her exercise regimen to relieve some of the constant impact pressure of running. At the Santa Hustle 5K in 2013, Jae saw a sign for the Tomoka Triathlon.

“I looked at the distances for the sprint distance race and had no idea what I was getting into. I thought 1/4 mile swim didn’t sound too bad… 16 miles sitting on a comfy bike with a nice breeze sounded like fun (there was no mention of crossing the Granada Bridge twice)… Finishing the race with a 5K sounded like it would be in my comfort zone. I didn’t factor in the difference of doing a run after being exhausted by the swim and bike. To say I was naïve to take this on would be an understatement.”

Jae downloaded a training program from the internet and jumped in – swimming, biking, and running over the winter months. She found a network of other athletes, which made the journey less lonely. Her first triathlon experiences were not ideal, but through perseverance and training she steadily improved. Jae has completed nine triathlons to date and has plans for more!

“Triathlon training is an ongoing journey because it is always changing, never boring, and you can always improve. My goal isn’t to be in the front pack – winning is not what this is about. My goal is to feel good about my performance… To know I put it all out there and didn’t leave anything behind… To enjoy every moment and appreciate the way God made my body to execute these sports. That makes me a winner.”

Lani Faulkner – Ormond Beach, FL – Works at Morgan-Stanley

Lanie Faulkner swinging on hanging rings during a fitness challenge race.
Photo Credit: FL.ROC

On any given day, you can find Lani Faulkner killing a workout somewhere in Volusia County. With her fierce, but friendly attitude and always rockin’ a Team Red, White, and Blue eagle, Lani is easy to spot!

A veteran runner, with several half marathons and a full marathon underher belt, Lani’s introduction to the triathlon scene came when she just signed up for a sprint distance triathlon and raced. The distances didn’t seem like a big deal – “How hard can it be?”

“When the starting gun went off, I, along with hundreds of others, plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off of Ormond Beach. The race officials had actually threatened to cancel the swim due to the turbulent water. I got dunked, swam over top of, punched in the face, and was next to last out of the water. I will never forget how unbelievably tired I was coming out of the water that day then trotting over to my bike in transition. Everybody else was already gone but, I got on my bike and rode until I had to run and then ran until I finished. 1 1/2 hours later I crossed the finish line…threw my hands in the air and said – ‘WHOA, I need swimming lessons because that was AWESOME and I have to do it again!!!!’”

Lani professes that she is not a great swimmer, and essentially uses the swim portion of a triathlon to “wake up and get ready for the bike.”

I think what keeps me coming back again and again is the fact that triathlon is three different sports all together and there’s nothing boring about it. I love the different activities of a triathlon. I love thinking about what I’m doing now and what I’ve got to do next. I guess it could be a little A.D.D. thing.”

Lani’s “A-race” in 2014 was Ironman Augusta 70.3 (a half-iron distance race, consisting of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike, and a 13.1 half marathon). While training for Augusta last April, Lani broke her foot, ankle and heel during an obstacle course race.

“My problem is, I don’t think about aging. Someone says, let’s go jump off of a roof, I think – YEAH!!! Well, did an obstacle course race and did just that, jumped off of a roof type obstacle and boom – 8 weeks in a boot, 4 weeks no running afterwards.”

But even though running was out of the picture, Lani used the injury recovery time to her advantage and made serious gains in her upper body and core strength. On September 28th, Lani completed the Augusta 70.3 course with a finish time of 6:33:21!

“My crowning achievement is just racing! I love each and every race whether I place or not. It’s a great feeling and always so different! I love the people I race with too!!! The excitement and people are the rewards to me!”

Lani’s favorite triathlon distance is the Olympic/International distance (typically, 1500m swim/40K bike/10Krun). The training volume required for the Olympic triathlons fits into her busy work and volunteer schedule well, and allows her plenty of time to spend with her grandchildren!

Pam Giese – Port Orange, FL (4X Ironman) – Nutritional and Performance Coach

Pam Giese running in a triathlon race.
Photo Credit: Pam Giese

Why do I TRI?

“The simple answer is because I can… still. I have always been about finding a way to be a little bit better today than I was yesterday… at everything. Individual sports puts every aspect of your being to the test. I am working on self acceptance and self improvement. That may seem a little deep but everything I do has purpose and is intended to grow me in my life. You learn a lot about yourself in endurance sports and in distance sports; you are alone with yourself a lot of hours and you learn how strong your really are. The mind is such an interesting muscle to train. I am still learning so I am still tri-ing.”

Pam says she kind of evolved into the sport of triathlon. She started running as part of her rehab from knee surgery after tearing her ACL in a soccer game. Cycling had been a part of her life for a while. But she admits that swimming was a huge challenge for her and is mentally the most difficult of the three triathlon disciplines.

Pam says one of her favorite parts of triathlon culture and the reason she keeps coming back for more is that the sport doesn’t simply discard you as you age up.

“Everyone is grouped together, even in transition, by age group. So the conversations are appropriate and relevant from set up to phases of the race to the post race excitement. There are egos, but they are minimal at my age. It’s all about a few hours or a day or a strategy for moving and enjoying health with others just like myself. The stories of what brought people in and what they go through to get out on the course are so inspiring. There is no feeling like crossing the finish line of any race – but IronMan and the Ohio Triple Threat Trilogy were particularly incredible.”

Pam’s crowning achievement in triathlon was completing the Ohio Triple Threat Trilogy, which consists of a sprint distance triathlon on Friday, an Olympic distance triathlon on Saturday morning, a REVERSE Olympic distance triathlon (run – bike – swim) on Saturday night, and then a half-iron distance race on Sunday. The triple threat course features monsterous hills and wickedly hilly, gravely trail runs. (Writer’s pause to add: OMG Pam!!!!!)

The half-iron distance race is Pam’s favorite distance because it is long enough and hard enough to “really pull the insides out” of her. Pam’s next big challenge is the full-iron distance Beach 2 Battleship triathlon in Wilmington, NC in 2015.

Kelly Cory – Edgewater, FL (4X Ironman, Ironman World Championship Finisher 2014) – Athletic Trainer

Kelly Cory cycling in a triathlon race.

Photo Credit: Brad Cory

Kelly has been a distance runner for years. She runs marathons, including Boston, for “fun.” On most Saturdays, I see a Facebook post that says something about “running 20+” or “5 hours on the bike on tap,” etc. Kelly embodies the notion of “embracing the suck.”

She came to triathlon in 2010 as a means of cross-training to help further develop her running platform and fell in love with the sport. The training was a distraction for her while her husband, Brad, was deployed overseas for a year in the military.

“It worked great! I was so consumed with training for Ironman Florida. It really helped me deal with the stress of his deployment. Not to mention he came home to a healthier, fit wife!”

Kelly found that triathlon was a great fit for her – she was good at it and consistently placed in her age group. She set a huge goal for herself – KONA!

The Ironman World Championship race is not like other Ironman races – as an age-group athlete you can’t just pay your money and enter – you have to QUALIFY (or have an incredibly compelling story, or be a celebrity, or win a lottery slot, etc.). In 2013, Kelly had the race of her life at Ironman Florida and she won her age group with an incredible time of 10:33:35 (she ran a 3:36:42 marathon AFTER swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles… Writer Note: AMAZE-BALLS!!!!), and qualified for the 2014 Ironman WCs in Kona.

On October 11, 2014, Kelly achieved her goal, completing the race in Kona in 12:54:36, battling 60 mph headwinds on the bike course, and again running a great marathon in just over 4 hours.

Asked what distance she prefers to race, Kelly said simply:

“I am an Ironman! Plus, I need the long run to make up for my slow swim.”

 **To learn more about triathlon in the Central Florida area, use the following link and contact one of the many regional Triathlon Clubs:

About Angie Flynn

My favorite things in the world are my family, my business, my health and wellness, and helping other people live happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives. I am an age-grouper triathlete with aspirations of competing in Ironman Florida in 2016.

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  1. Angie Flynn

    November 16, 2014 at 6:52 am

    Of course, IMWC is run on the 2nd SATURDAY of October! Oops! Sorry for the typo!

  2. Jimmy Langan

    November 16, 2014 at 10:39 am

    No problem, Angie! The correction to the article has been made! 🙂

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