Iron Kid; Once-Chubby Couch Potato Goes the Distance in Full-Scale Triathlon

America’s Tri For Health™ on Labor Day

[Hunter on his bike in the ChesapeakeMan triathlon, 2007]

Oct 8, 2007

Two days after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles, Hunter Lussi’s legs were still stiff with every step.

“Yesterday I tried walking,” he said. “I could, a little bit.”

Last month, Hunter became possibly the youngest person — he’s 13 — to complete an event similar to an Ironman Triathlon within the 17-hour time limit.

More than 140 people from all over the world competed in this year’s ChesapeakeMan Ultra Distance Triathlon in Cambridge, Maryland.

Hunter finished in 15 hours 27 minutes. The times for men who finished the race ranged from about 9½ hours to more than 16 hours.

Photos of Hunter swimming, crossing the finish line, from the Washington Post]

Usually, racers have to be at least 18 to take part in these physically demanding events. Triathlons (“tri” means three) combine swimming, cycling and running. Race lengths vary, with Ironman competitions being among the most difficult.

Hunter’s parents said the people at Guinness World Records didn’t know of anyone younger than 13 who had finished an Ironman-length triathlon.

Hunter qualified for the Cambridge competition by finishing shorter triathlons with ease. The race director for the ChesapeakeMan was so impressed that he made an exception to the age requirement and allowed Hunter to take part.

Hunter said his biggest pre-race fear was that he would not be able to finish. (Sharks, jellyfish and snapping turtles also were concerns.) A more likely problem was that he would become dehydrated, so he drank lots of water and ate bananas and energy bars during the competition.

Hunter says he was “a little chubby” as a youngster and spent lots of time playing video games. He knew he needed exercise, but he didn’t enjoy team sports.

Then his parents, both triathletes, started taking him to their races. When he showed interest in keeping up with them, they showed him how to train.

Hunter entered his first triathlon at age 6. It was much shorter than the one in Cambridge.

Gradually he began training for longer distances. At home in Kensington he’d do his homework while peddling a stationary bike. At recess he’d run laps around the playground. During the week he practiced with a swim team; weekends found him in the choppy waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

“If you are dedicated and you train hard, yes, you can do it,” Hunter said of his accomplishment.

Being ready mentally is as important as the physical training. Hunter sang songs in his head to “keep my mind off how difficult it is sometimes.”

Friendly competition from his parents also motivated him. Hunter said beating his dad, who finished two minutes behind him in Cambridge, is no longer a challenge. But only occasionally can Hunter keep up with his mom. “That’s one of the reasons I do this,” he said. “Who has the more competitive edge?“

What’s next for Hunter? Maybe the Ironman world championship in Hawaii.

“The harder the challenge the better the success at the end,” he said.