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Triathlon not as easy as Farrar makes it seem

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Every time I watch former South Dakota Gov. Frank Farrar complete a triathlon, I'm tempted to sign up for one myself.

Is that crazy or what? These so-called sprint triathlons (to distinguish them from the long, long Ironman Triathlon) involve swimming something like a quarter of a mile, hopping on a bicycle and pedaling 12 miles or so and then running a bit more than three miles on foot.

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Gosh, what's not to like about that agenda, huh?

It's pretty impressive when Farrar, an 80-year-old Britton resident who was governor in 1969-70, wades into the water to start the swimming portion of the event. It's equally impressive when he straddles a bike and heads out for a dozen miles of adventure. It's most impressive when he gets back, racks the bike and sets off on a set of knees blown out in high school football more than 60 years ago. It's downright inspiring when he chugs back and across the finish line, far from first place but a darn sight better than last.

I was little more than a cub reporter when Farrar was governor. I've written about the Sunday morning in 1969 when our family watched him swim from the Farm Island beach across to the island and back, and about the time he swam from the east bank to the west shore of Lake Oahe near the face of the dam back when Pierre held the Great Oahe Swim as part of its annual Oahe Days celebration.

I know from those experiences that the guy was in pretty good condition 40 years ago. But 40 years makes some pretty significant changes in the body. It did in mine, at least.

Still, when I watch the guy compete -- as I did at triathlons in both Pierre and Chamberlain this summer -- I start to dream a little, thinking it might be fun just to see how much of the event I could manage.

Our 19-year-old Chamberlain granddaughter competed in the Farm Island event and the one in Chamberlain a week ago. Our 40-year-old son and our daughter-in-law also competed at Chamberlain. Each of those family members did all three events. Another granddaughter, 15, did the biking for a three-member team.

The third Chamberlain granddaughter, 17 and starting her senior year, took to heart a Will Rogers saying that was printed on the back of CHS cross country T-shirts a few years ago. "We can't all be heroes," the cowboy philosopher said, "because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by." I told the granddaughter I'd join her in that, and if we could get one more, we could have a sit-on-the-curb team for future triathlons.

Even so, I find myself watching the former governor and thinking, "Gosh, he's 80. I'm only 65. I ought to be able to do it if he can." He fuels that kind of thinking when he tells people that he's no athlete, just an average guy, and "anybody can do a triathlon if they decide to."

I start getting pumped, thinking about spending more time on the bike, occasional evenings at the running track just a few blocks from the house, early mornings in the YMCA pool.

That's when the dream starts to fade.

I probably could ride a bicycle 12 miles, given enough time, a bit of a downhill route and a fair tailwind. Trouble is, the bike portion of the Chamberlain triathlon starts at the north park and heads out on Highway 50 past St. Joseph's Indian School and on up that long and winding road. I'd be exhausted before I reached the top of that first hill with most of 11 miles remaining.

I might just be able to walk-run three miles, again given enough time, and I guess the triathlon is about personal performance, not records. But in high school, in the best physical condition of my life, I never ran more than two miles without stopping. Forty years later, what makes me think I could do three?

All of which is irrelevant, because I'd drown halfway through the swim.

Come to think of it, that curb thing is darned inviting.

Terry Woster's column appears Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.

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