Riding with a Legend: Thank you, Jürgen

Posted on | February 11, 2013 | 16 Comments

The first time I saw Lance Armstrong race he was 16 years old and so was I. There, however, the similarities ended. I was simply a race spectator who’d come to see the era’s legendary triathletes battle for victory. Lance, on the other hand, was already among the USA’s strongest triathletes and competing at the sport’s highest levels. That day Lance took 2nd, only 90 seconds behind the winner.
That was the day I became a Lance fan and the day I decided to one day become a triathlete, too. Perhaps not at Lance’s level but at least a member of the triathlon community.

Fast forward 20+ years and Lance has had his ups and downs (a blog topic for another day!) but triathlon remains a sport I love. It’s given me every reason to live a healthy lifestyle and meet extraordinary people. This was especially true last week when I found myself exhausted, legs burning, dehydrated, nearing heat stroke, and loving every minute of it.

My triathlon hero in the ‘90’s was a German named Jürgen Zäck. Jürgen was different than the other pros. While most pros are wafer thin and under 5% body fat, Jürgen was powerful and muscular with (gasp!) 8-10% body fat. While most pros look like skeletons and run like deer, Jürgen’s strength was the bike. He’d power his enormous legs through a streaking bike split and then lumber through the run with (hopefully) enough of a lead that the Bambis couldn’t chase him down. His style was unconventional but his results indisputable. Several times he broke records and won titles. Now approaching 50 years old, Jürgen still races at elite levels.

Last week, I had the privilege of training with him.

Business travel took me to Thailand and I learned that Jürgen now directs a triathlon training academy in the area called Thanyapura. What luck! So after a week of meetings I registered myself for a weekend at his camp.

This camp attracts all kinds: Professional and Olympic athletes at the top of their game, people who’ve put their lives on hold to pursue the dream of becoming elites, and “normal” people who’ve checked themselves into Jürgen’s camp to lose weight and regain their health.

What made the experience so special was how everyone there shared a passion for the same tiny subculture, the world of triathlon. Together we enthusiastically chatted ad nauseam about all the things that make triathletes your most boring dinner guests: race wheels, aero helmets, VO2 max, blah blah blah. To an outsider this was the epitome of geekville; to us, it was nirvana.

One moment I really cherished was our morning bike ride, during which Jürgen and I broke off from the pack and rode together on backroads with sweeping vistas of the Indian Ocean. “Am I really riding with the legenday Jürgen? Awesome!”
Granted, Jürgen did most of the talking and I did most of the gasping but he was gracious enough to slow the pace and let me hang on.

To Jürgen Zack and my other new friends at Thanyapura, Thank You for the experience of a lifetime!

To everyone else a few questions:
What’s your passion?
Are you making time to enjoy it? To connect with others who share it?
Who are the legends in that world you’d most like to meet? How can you make that happen?
Even if it’s only for a day or two, meeting like-minded people and brushing elbows with the greats is among the most energizing experiences life offers.

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16 Responses to “Riding with a Legend: Thank you, Jürgen”

  1. Suzy
    February 12th, 2013 @ 6:26 am

    “Live a healthy lifestyle and meet extraordinary people”- can’t ask for a hobby better than that!

    Thanks for providing an inspiring blog, Ben!

  2. Dennis Sheehan
    February 12th, 2013 @ 7:04 am

    Ben,

    I just went and found Jurgen’s blog. It is titled “Riding with a legend: thank you Ben”. :-)

    Dennis

  3. Stewart
    February 12th, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    As you know, most of my cycling heros have passed away long ago (Bartali and Magni to name a few). However, the thought of them, their passion, their determination, and their courage rides along with me as inspiration always. One look at my physique will betray any thoughts of coming anywhere close to their accomplishments (or even matching their body fat percentages). However, at the age of 56, the inspiration they provide can drive me onward to self improvement and to experience a small taste of what they must have felt along the way.

  4. Krebs
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:00 am

    Great post, Ben. What a fantastic opportunity!

  5. Marcel
    February 12th, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    Thx Ben. Was cool riding with you. Let me know when in cold Switzerland. I can show you some of the steepest roads you’ve ever ridden :-)

  6. Jim Aden
    February 12th, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

    Thanks Ben, for sharing this wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt much the same way when I had the opportunity to run a short 3-miler with Dean Karnazes. People like him and Jurgen are inspirations to the rest of us mere mortals. And it’s always nice when they slow down so we can experience the moment to its fullest.

  7. Colleen
    February 12th, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

    So fun Ben! What a great opportunity- thanks for sharing it.

  8. Ben Lawrence
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

    Hi Colleen, Indeed it was a great opportunity and I’m glad you had fun reading about it. Thanks for your comment! -Ben

  9. Ben Lawrence
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

    Not only that, Jim, but thanks to you I’m the proud owner of a book signed by The Ultramarathon Man himself. If Jurgen ever writes a book you’re the first to whom I’m sending a copy. -Ben

  10. Ben Lawrence
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:14 pm

    Marcel, I suspect those roads in Switzerland are not only steep but LOOONG. Please bring a rope: one end to tie around your seat post and the other end around my handlebars :)
    Wow, what a dream to ride with you guys in such a beautiful place. We absolutely will do it again. -Ben

  11. Ben Lawrence
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

    Andy, In your dreams I know you’ve had visions of this place. Penn State has gotta have an alumni association in Thailand, don’t they? Sounds like it’s time for you to book an important business trip.. -Ben

  12. Ben Lawrence
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:21 pm

    Stewart, When guys like you and me reach the top of the mountain, it’s the same view, the same reward, the same euphoria that the legends experienced all those years ago. (Yeah, it guess it takes a little longer but that’s OK :) You’re carrying forward their legacy in exactly the way I have to believe they’d want it to be. Pedalare! Viva Coppi!

  13. Ben Lawrence
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

    Oh, geez.. Dennis, You made me blush. Thanks for the kind words. And speaking of riding, I’m anxiously awaiting that photo of you with your bike atop the Alps!

  14. Ben Lawrence
    February 12th, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

    You keep running, Suzy, and I’ll keep pedaling. We’ll balance out the universe yet :) Thanks for your comment!

  15. Rudy
    February 12th, 2013 @ 11:39 pm

    Hello Ben! Sounds like an awesome experience. I have started the triathlon experience and love it. I’m not very good but the training and energy keep me young. Thanks for including me…

  16. Ben Lawrence
    February 14th, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

    Alright, Rudy! I’m proud of you for taking the plunge (literally!). Would love to hear from you as you get more involved. Train smart and stay injury free :)

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