Iron-Teen takes on American fitness: Q&A with Hunter Lussi

America’s Tri For Health™ on Labor Day

Sep 26, 2009

Last week, I introduced Extreme Self readers to Hunter Lussi and his latest athletic initiative: America’s Tri for Health, a website and online community dedicated to encouraging teens and their parents to get active.

Lussi, who competed in his first triathlon at six, and his first Ironman at 13 (and yes, that’s a world record, if you were wondering), wants to start an annual American triathlon day, called America’s Fitness Tri. Participants register and train, sharing tips and encouragement via Facebook groups and virtual buddies, and then complete an abbreviated triathlon (solo or relay-style) every Labor Day. I think it’s a terrific initiative, and Lussi’s age — fifteen — makes his dedication all the more impressive. Here’s the rundown of Lussi’s national triathlon plan, from his website:

Let’s make America’s Tri For Health easy for everyone...participants can do all three events, the swim, the bike and the run...or just one because triathlons are done as relays too.

And let’s make the distances for the swim, bike and run all take most participants less than an hour...

...so that would make the swim 20 laps of a normal neighborhood or YMCA pool...and the bike 10 miles or about 45 minutes peddling a exercise bike in your gym or YMCA or house and the run/walk about 2.5 miles which would take about 30 minutes for running outside or on a treadmill or 45 to 50 minutes walking.

When I found out he’d be competing in today’s ChesapeakeMan Ironman Distance triathlon (his third time at the event), I thought it would be a good time to get to know the athletic dynamo a little better. So I gave Lussi a call while he was en route to the race, and hewas kind enough to unplug the iPod and give me a few minutes.

You’ve been doing triathlons since you were six, so Iím guessing that adds up to a lot of events.

I think I’ve done 32 triathlons in total, not all Ironman distances, but in general. And of course, the race I did when I was six was a much shorter one. That’s what America’s Fitness Tri is based on, because I don’t expect people to out and train for an Ironman or anything like that. It’s a 20 lap swim, 10 miles of biking, spinning or rolling, and 2.5 miles running or walking.

Obviously, you’re the exception to the rule among American teenagers. Why do you think that’s the case, if you can point to one reason?

Look: I love video games, and TV and all that stuff. I really do. I don’t think that’s the problem. But I think parents and kids aren’t exercising together enough, which for me is a big part of my training. My parents and I go out and are active together, and I want to see more teenagers doing that with their parents.

People say they don’t have time, or teenagers say they don’t want to be seen with their parents, that it’s embarrassing. But that’s an excuse. I’m sure most teenagers would rather do something with their parents, and get along with them, than get yelled at.

One of the biggest objections I hear about triathlons is that they cost a lot of money: bikes, gear, clothing, registration. What do you say to that?

I can’t speak to triathlons in general, but what I can say is that I’m not trying to organize something that’ll cost a lot or require fancy, high-tech equipment. You don’t need a racing bike or special clothes for this. You can do it as a relay, you can do it from your hometown, with a skateboard or a mountain bike or whatever. You can do it however you want. Just do it. Get off the couch, as a family, with friends, as a whole. That’s the idea: to get people moving, not spending money.

You’re not the average teenager. So what do your peers think of the idea, and where do you fit normal teenage life into your training schedule?

I train with a swim team, so we’re hanging out every day when we workout. And one of my friends just looked at my site the other day, and he thought it was a really cool idea too. I also go Paintballing all the time with my friends, so we’re hanging out but we’re also being active. I don’t feel like I miss out on anything from the average teenager life, and I eat all that teenager food too. Usually I load up on pasta and salad — that’s dinner every night — but when I’m exercising so much, I can eat whatever I want.

At sixteen, you’ve finished 32 triathlons and launched a national fitness initiative. What’s next?

After this weekend’s race, my focus is going to be on politics. I’m planning to lobby Congress for $1,000 in tax credits to those who exercise fifty times a year. And of course I want to work more on promoting family exercise, with America’s Tri. As a career, I don’t know. Politics might be fun, yah, but I’m a kid.

Fair enough. So, if you had one tip for teenagers on the couch, what would it be? Where can they start?

For people who don’t think it’s important to get outside and get active, then at the very least, when you walk to the kitchen and back to the couch, do it twice instead of once. That’s something.