What I’ve Learned From My Triathlete Dad

By Brooke Rymer |

It Can Be Done.

These words sat upon the desk of my dad’s home office — engraved on a sturdy, yet small slab of glass. They were never there to boast, but rather to serve as a subtle, steady source of encouragement. While directed at him, the impact of these words drifted far beyond the surface of his desk into the hallway of our home, affording me hundreds of consistent glances over the course of my childhood and teenage years. The phrase — at some indefinable point in my adolescence — became another piece of DNA I received from my dad.

These words did not just sit on my dad’s desk — they were put into action. Leading by example, my dad, Ed, still encourages me to “be a woman of your word.” In other words, do what you say you’re going to do. This is a piece of advice, when exercised regularly, serves me well both personally and professionally, just as it has for him. It’s advice that has motivated me to pursue everything from completing bigger fitness goals like triathlons, half-marathons, and hiking the Grand Canyon; to more adventurous ones like moving to a different city, trying out surfing, and taking pottery classes.

At the well-oiled age of 64, my dad will be participating in the upcoming Ironman in Panama City Beach, Florida — his third event, but a feat many 20-somethings like myself have a hard time grasping (but certainly admire). With 17-plus years of marathon training under his belt and numerous triathlons completed, including the annual Life Time Fitness Triathlon held here on our home turf of Minnesota (a key training event he’ll be doing this Saturday to prep for his November Ironman), my dad has shown me the meaning and richness of an “It Can Be Done” kind of life — both in and out of the water.

Here are some life lessons I’ve learned from my triathlete dad:

  1. Set Goals. Small Ones. Everyone one of us has a big dream or goal we want to see ourselves live out during this life. Maybe you want to hike every National Park (like I do), build your dream kitchen, save money for a big cross-country road trip, or complete an Ironman. Whatever it may be, a series of mini-goals makes getting to the big one more realistic — and enjoyable. Committing to an Ironman is a big goal. “Having a series of small, steady, sustainable goals is how you arrive there,” my dad says. I’ve come to believe this lesson can be applied to anything you put your mind to — from training for an Ironman to plotting your first garden in your backyard. A little planning in the beginning phase goes a long way!
  1. Do Things Right the First Time. This goes hand in hand with item No. 1. If you want to reach your big goal, go about it the right way. Sure, we all make mistakes but we typically have control over whether or not we choose to “cut corners.” With this in mind, I’ve found life’s tasks go a lot more smoothly when I do them the right way the first time, whether it’s running the planned daily mileage to prep for my upcoming half-marathon or putting together a new piece of furniture. It’s always nice to look back from the finish line when you went about things the right way. As thetagline says, “No regrets.”
  1. Start Slow. This advice is pretty straightforward when it comes to a running a race. If you start out slowly, you set yourself up for a more enjoyable experience overall. If you start out sprinting, you’ll burn out quickly and have trouble catching your breath or maybe even struggle to finish. I’ve found this to be great life advice, too. Even when I’m excited to passionately dive into something new and ready to burn fuel doing it, I try to enter slowly, with intention and purpose. And remind myself: I can always pick up the pace later.
  1. The Power of Accountability. The moment you make any decision, you adopt of new degree of accountability to yourself and to those around you. If you choose to make a healthy goal, say completing a triathlon, you have the opportunity to be a positive influence to family, friends, and the people you meet along the way. The attitude and lifestyle of any single person affects others. So when you choose a healthy lifestyle, say, the life of an Ironman, that lifestyle influences those around you and yourself. In my dad’s case, for the better.
  1. Be Your Own Competition. You can never be anyone else so why compare yourself to someone else? My dad led me to adopt this attitude by being an example to “compare yourself to the best version of you.” Whenever a feeling of insecurity starts to creep up on me, I redirect that energy to a time I felt energized and open, yet settled. (This is much more effective than negative self-talk based on comparing yourself to a person you can never be.
  1. It Can Be Done. Finally, I believe each of us has the potential for greatness in this life. Be open and willing to take some time and effort to find your place of most potential so you can unleash this greatness and live out the dreams and goals your heart most desires. “Why do you do it?” people often ask my dad. His response: “Because I can.” This attitude of gratitude is a reminder to never take my own healthy state for granted, because it allows me to do the things I love.


Ed in (tri) action.

My brothers, mom, and I with my dad after his first Ironman in 2007. What a thrill to witness!

Mom and Dad sharing a moment of greatness and relief after his first Ironman.


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