By Brad Culp on 08/09/10 at 10:38 am
When 74-year-old American Steven Jonas steps up to the start line, he isn’t looking to win, or even go fast. He’s looking only to finish, and that “take it easy” attitude has brought him to the finish on 214 occasions. When he toes the start in Budapest this weekend, he can take pride in knowing that he’s completed more triathlons than the rest of the 70-74 year-old age group combined, even if he knows he can’t beat all of them.
Jonas has also shown amazing endurance when it comes to his work, and still teaches as a professor of Preventative Medicine at Stony Brook University in New York. He has also written, co-written and co-edited more than ten books on fitness and wellness. His first book Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals has sold over 45,000 copies.
Jonas qualified to compete in the Olympic-distance event, but a nagging knee injury now has him setting his sights on the Sprint-distance competition in Budapest. We caught up with Jonas a few days ahead of this year’s Age Group World Championship.
This is your 6th time competing in the ITU World Championship. What do you find special about this event that keeps you coming back?
First there are the different places and the opportunity to travel. Just in the last two years I’ve been able to see two new places, Australia and Budapest. The second aspect is that there’s a great group of athletes in the 70-plus age group that I’ve made friends with and it’s always nice to see them.
Lastly, for me it’s such an honour to get to go to a world championship event. I was a non-athletic kid. I was the kid always picked last for gym glass and I really didn’t become an athlete until I found triathlon almost 30 years ago. So for someone who wasn’t an athlete growing up to have the chance to compete at an event like this is something really special. And I’ve gotten here not because I’m fast, but because I’ve lasted. I’m usually the only one in my age group at nationals, so as long as I can finish, I know that I’ll get the opportunity to race at Worlds.
Very few people can claim to have done over 200 triathlons. What’s been key to your longevity in this sport?
One thing is just the mental attitude. It means so much for me to be able to be part of this sport. I’m lucky to do it. The other thing is that I’m naturally slow. I’m just slow in all three sports. Sure, I have a lot of first-place plaques from a lot of races, but it’s mostly because I’m the only guy in my age-group.
If I could go fast, believe me, I would go fast, but I can’t. When you go slow, there’s much less wear on the body. I don’t pound—I don’t run fast and I don’t pound. That’s not to say that if you do race fast you will get injured, but I think your chances of having a serious injury are a lot less if you race slow.
You mentioned that it’s your first time in Budapest. What do you think of the city so far?
The city is absolutely beautiful, especially if you like this kind of architecture, which I really do. Most of the buildings here were built before 1914 and the city has done a great job of restoring them. It’s a beautiful city for sightseeing.
Of the over 200 events you’ve done, what are a few of your most memorable?
Of course there’s the first one I did. I can still see it in my head when I talk about it. It was in Sag Harbor, New York in 1982 at the original Mighty Hamptons Triathlon. I was hooked from my first race. I remember standing in the triathlon area after the race and I decided right there that I would write Triathlon Training for Ordinary Mortals. There were a few triathlon training books out back then, but they were all performance-oriented. One of the most wonderful things about our sport is that there’s room for everybody and I wanted to write a book for everybody.
Another one of my most memorable was at the 2005 World Championships in Lausanne. I didn’t finish my first ITU Worlds in Madeira in 2004 – the hills were just too tough – so I was determined the following year. It was a really tough race for me. I almost got sick on the swim, but I was able to fight through it and make it to the finish. That was a really special race for me.
Is there a long-term goal in mind in terms of the number of races you’d like to complete?
The next big milestone is 250 races. I think it’s unlikely that I’ll make it to 300 now, because I just can’t race that much each year. But my major goal is that I’d still like to be racing when I’m in the 80-84 age group. Even if it means I’m only doing Sprint races and short duathlons at that age, I just want to be out there racing.
Find more details about this event - 2010 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU Triathlon World Championship Grand Final Budapest