A triathlon of any distance is quite a feat. You have to not only swim, bike and run, but do them well enough to finish under a predetermined time. That is no easy feat by any measure. While I got a late start on endurance training and competition at age 43, Mississippi native John Pendergrass decided to take up IRONMAN distance triathlons at age 60! Not just any triathlon, the full 140.6 mile distance. While most people are counting down their careers and looking forward to a relaxing retirement, Dr. John Pendergrass longed for a challenge that would push him to his limits and drive him to achieve something few people, including many mush younger people, had ever done before.
Against The Odds is a wonderfully written and equally inspiring, entertaining and extremely funny account of his unlike entry into IRONMAN competitions. While always being active through running marathons and doing smaller triathlons, Pendergrass recounts what drove him to triathlon at age 60.
“As the decade approached, I noticed how things were changing. Store clerks all addressed me as “Sir.” The folks at the AARP wrote me regularly. I could see Medicare and Social Security just over the horizon waiting to welcome me into the Golden Age, the life of fulsome leisure. I knew the nursing home might be just a few years away, but it was time for a challenge. This was the 19th hole of life and I needed something bit to shoot for, something to stoke the fire in this decrepit, dormant body of mine.”
Even the sheer thought of doing an Ironman at age 60 is much more ambition that most people actually end up doing. What makes his story even more intriguing is his ability or should I say lack of ability. OK, before everyone gets upset I am actually complementing Dr. Pendergrass. We all know the athletic types that go out and compete in all sorts of events with grace, speed and ease. By his own admission, Dr. Pendergrass is just a common man who enjoys being healthy and trying new things. He is not gifted athletically but has a passion and drive for success that connects him to readers from the very beginning. Often times laughing at himself, he embodies humility, passion and self-competitive spirit that says, “hey if I can do this at age 60, what’s your issue?”
Before Pendergrass could tackle an IRONMAN, he had some work to do to convince his wife Polly. Training for an IRONMAN is not only takes its toll physically; it demands a great deal of time as well as support from family. Pendergrass recounts, in hysterically funny fashion, breaking the news to his wife on what he planned to do as he entered his golden years.
After more than 35 years of marriage, I’ve learned how to introduce new ideas to Polly. I am nothing if not clever and subtle.
“I’m thinking of doing an IRONMAN triathlon, I say one morning over coffee.”
“That’s nice” she replies, “You’ve done those before, haven’t you?”
“No, I’ve done some triathlons before,’ I say, “but I’ve never done an IRONMAN Triathlon.”
“How far is the race?” she inquires.
“The swim s 2.4 miles in open water, then there is a 112 mile bike followed by a full marathon, 26.2 miles.”
“Good Lord, how long does it take you to do all of that?” She asks.
“The race starts at 7:00 am and ends at midnight,” I reply. “I’ve got to finish in 17 hours or less or it doesn’t count.”
“Are you sure you’re not too old for all that?” She asks. “You complain about how hard it is to take out the garbage. Every time you cut the grass you need a couple of beers to recover. You know you’ll be 60 in a few months.”
Uncertainty hovers, maybe she’s right. Things don’t move like they used to and getting out of bed in the morning takes a little longer. The other night while watching television I got stuck in my recliner chair. Maybe my day has come and gone.
Then, with a reassuring smile, she looks at me and says, “I know you’ll do well.”
Against The Odds takes the reader into the world of IRONMAN with a very humorous explanation and description of the sport from Pendergrass’s perspective. He explains how the sport has grown and the mania behind the rise of the IRONMAN brand.
Deciding he would compete in an IRONMAN 140.6 distance triathlon, Pendergrass takes readers on a light hearted and hilarious chronicle of his preparation from his three line training plan, his encounter with a bull to his recovery from a training accident, all with a healthy self-deprecating style that will make you laugh out loud.
Pendergrass set a goal to compete in six IRONMAN triathlons on six different continents while in his sixties. He recounts his travel and race experiences with humor and emotion that leaves the reader laughing, smiling and feeling the pain that Pendergrass he himself felt during competition. He also takes readers on tour of the countries he visited leaving you with just enough knowledge of triathlon and some exotic places to make you want to give this a try yourself.
The real worth in Against The Odds is the lesson Pendergrass leaves readers, either intentionally or not. At age 60 and not a great athlete, Pendergrass shows readers that if you believe in a goal and work hard to attain that goal, anything is possible.
“The whole thin hasn’t been easy, but I’ve gone about as far as my energy and talents can take me….and I’m grateful for every minute of it!”