This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of USA Triathlon Magazine.
On a sunny, warm August day in Cleveland, something looks out of place.
There’s your typical sea of bikes, tri suits, branded championship signs and club apparel that are common at a USA Triathlon National Championship event.
But then, out of the pack, you see him — this shirtless dude rocking a horseshoe mustache and wearing nothing but a pink, watermelon Speedo and a backward snapback trucker hat — sprinting down the finishing chute, passing folks one at a time like he just left the starting line of a 100-meter dash.
USA Triathlon’s Male Age Group Triathlete of the year Justin Lippert has a vibe that screams “bro” more than “star triathlete.” That is, until you watch him race.
“You look at him and you think Hulk Hogan because of the mustache,” friend and club teammate Wilson Haynes says. “And then, you think Connor McGregor because of the body type.”
Wilson pauses. “But then he goes out and wins triathlons.”
Lippert — a 23-year-old graduate student at Queens University of Charlotte — has done a lot of winning this past year. He swept the Olympic- and sprint-distance races at the 2018 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships, becoming the first man in the event’s history to do so. In November, he won a third national title in long course triathlon at the Multisport National Championships in Miami. A victory in the Draft-Legal Sprint Race at the 2019 Duathlon National Championships this April made it four titles in a nine-month span.
2018 USA Triathlon 3 x Overall National Champion 🥇🥇🥇. . One week ago I captured my third overall national championship of 2018 in Miami at the USAT Multisport Festival Sprint Distance 🥇✅ Olympic Distance 🥇✅ Half Iron (70.3)🥇✅. . This is a feat that no mortal human has accomplished in the modern era until now. People ask me “what’s your secret?” And I tell them it is not a secret but a well known race strategy used only by the best in the business (me) - float the swim, send the bike so hard your bending chainrings and borderline on your way to the med tent, and then whatever you got left for the run which usually involves a lot of puking and walking. Nothing exposes your weaknesses better than a 4 hour trip to the hurt locker on a hot day in Miami. We are coming away from this race with a lot to work on for 2019 and boy you better be ready for what’s comin’ for ya 👊🏼 Huge thanks to @multirace , @aleckdagrosa and @usatriathlon for the amazing events and support and allowing us masochist triathletes to send it together. Also @theredbicycle aka @jonathanerdelyi the first man to believe in me, @noreaster_elite @dudes_of_noreaster @fullsendtriathlon and Mom and Dad #fullysent #triplesend #sweepsend #wheresthebrooms #fullsend #fullsendtriathlon #teamfullsend #fullsendtriteam #strongertogether #senditandbendit #swimsendrun #miami #miamiman #champ #kingoftriathlon
BIG shoutout to our 2019 Draft-Legal Sprint Duathlon National CHAMPIONS! 💪 Congratulations to @justin_lippert for breaking the tape in the men’s race this morning in Greenville!🥇 Following his great performance, it was 17-year-old Makena Gates winning the Women’s race — making her a BACK-TO-BACK national champ! 🏆🏆🇺🇸 Nice job to all the athletes who crossed the finish line today, and we can’t wait for tomorrow! For our full race recap from Saturday, head to usatriathlon.org! #USATDU #Duathlon #NationalChamps #greenvillesc #Greenville #runbikerun #FullSend 📸 Steve Wallace/Creative Concepts Photography
He won with style (hello: Speedo), swagger and authenticity. And with one spectacular quote in Cleveland, he started a movement.
“I just went full send on the bike,” he told USA Triathlon at the time. “My phrase for the day was, ‘Are you going full send right now?’ So, every 5-10 minutes, I’d do that mental check — ‘Are you going full send? No? Well, let’s go.’”
“Full Send.” What does it mean?
“For me, ‘full send’ is going so hard that your brain thinks you’re not going to be able to make it to the finish,” says Lippert, who has marketed the phrase with hats, T-shirts, cycling jerseys and a Full Send triathlon team. “But you will (make it). When you’re sending it, you’re not thinking about the consequences. You’re thinking about going your hardest, right here and right now.”
While he admits he didn’t come up with the phrase, he’s certainly adopted it as his own, joking that it probably makes up “about 50 percent” of his current vocabulary.
“Full send” can be anything from competing in multisport to doing the laundry to taking on a ridiculous food challenge — like the time a few years back when Lippert tried to eat 60 poached eggs in one night.
“My college roommates said I couldn’t do it. When you tell me I can’t do something, I make it my mission to do that thing,” said Lippert, who could “only” down 38 eggs that night. He’ll tell you that with the right preparation, he still thinks he could do it.
“Maybe next offseason,” he quips.
It’s that type of “don’t hold back” mindset that won him those two national titles in Cleveland. But, the idea of “full send” is something he didn’t fully adopt or practice until a couple months prior.
The Turning Point
Lippert has always been an athlete. It runs in the family. His dad ran cross country at Rutgers University — and was a 4:03 miler back in the day. His mom was a runner at Villanova. His older brother, Conrad, ran at Penn State and his younger sister, Hanna, ran at West Chester University for a year.
He’s relatively new to the sport of triathlon, however. Like many triathletes, Lippert started as a single-sport athlete, running competitively in high school and eventually walking on to the cross country team at Clemson University.
His introduction to triathlon came in the spring of 2016, when Clemson hosted the USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships. Lippert was there to watch his friend, Jack Felix, who had recently quit the cross country team to focus on triathlon.
“I went to support him, and it was super wild. The atmosphere there was crazy,” said Lippert, impressed with the sport. He started hanging out with the triathlon team, bought a bike and did his first triathlon that summer.
He quit cross country later that fall, jumping headfirst into his new sport. Lippert found a new home with Clemson’s collegiate club triathlon squad, racing at nationals the following two years. But he wasn’t all in — not yet.
The summer after graduating from Clemson, Lippert went to Ipswich, Massachusetts, to train with Nor’Easter Elite and head coach James Peterson in a daily training environment (DTE).
DTE lasted two months, starting in June of 2018, and that’s when Lippert fully committed to triathlon.
The structured, daily workouts laid the foundation for those three national championships he’d win later in the year, and living all summer with a group of guys who call themselves the “Dudes of Nor’Easter” brought out even more of his inner bro.
“We have fun. We’re goofy. We have mullets and mustaches, just having a grand old time,” said Lippert, who has qualified for his pro card and plans on racing professionally someday. “Oh, and we race in Speedos.”
Ah, his trademark: the watermelon man swimsuit in all its glory. It’s all part of his brand — breaking the mold of what a triathlete in this day and age should be.
Breaking the Mold
“In a sport where there are a lot of serious people, Justin is very refreshing,” said Sonni Dyer, his club coach at Queens.
Refreshing is one word for his now famous pink Speedo. Although, “fresh” probably isn’t.
“I think he’s worn that for about a year,” Felix says. “He probably sleeps in that.”
“Oh, I’m wearing it right now,” Lippert says in an offseason phone interview with USA Triathlon. “I wear it every day when I swim. I have another Speedo now too, but I just wear the watermelon one.”
So, does he at least … wash it?
“I mean, you swim in a chlorinated pool. And, I’ll rinse it off in the shower,” he reasons.
Good to know. But, that’s Lippert. He relishes loving the things that would make most triathletes laugh and roll their eyes. It’s not just what he wears. It’s also what he says to competitors.
“He’s not intimidated by nearly anything,” Felix says. “He could line up next to anybody and smack talk them.”
“It’s gotten me in trouble a few times,” Lippert laughs. “But, it’s all in good fun. I only trash talk people who are faster than me.”
Like the time he raced — and trash talked — U.S. Olympian Ben Kanute at the Boston Triathlon.
“I went up to him afterward and was like, ‘Dude, when are you going to learn how to run?’” Lippert said.
Kanute won the race, by the way. Lippert came in fifth.
After looking 👀 for the parking lot for way too long, I finally found my way to the #bostontriathlon which quickly turned into a #duathlon 🏃🏼🚲🏃🏼 because water was falling out of the sky and into a larger body of water. Even though I’ve been #swimming a lot I figured I still had to #sendit in the #speedo on this beach start #runbikerun —> after hitting the deck in T1 and getting a drafting penalty on the bike I tried to go #fullyeast on the 10k run to cross the finish line first and pretend like I won for a little while before the penalties came out but @benkanute and his #roadbike were just a touch too far ahead for these #legcannons to catch. So I was first loser yet again which means it’s back to the #drawingboard a.k.a. I need to get faster on the bike which means a.k.a. @noreaster_elite is going to make me swim bc he likes to torture me @bostontri @raywatch73 Also peep my dad in the #clemson hat in the background #hidad #gotigers #allin #byog #byow
“Sometimes, people take it the wrong way. Obviously, I’m joking. Ben Kanute is an amazing athlete and someone I look up to,” Lippert said.
From the swagger to the mustache and the Speedo, people have begun to recognize Lippert not only because of his racing success, but because of the brand that he’s built on social media.
Dyer recalls a time earlier this year when he had a recruit on campus. He named off all the triathletes on the team who had their pro and elite licenses. She had never heard of them. But when it came to Mr. Full Send?
“Oh yeah, I follow him on Instagram,” the recruit said.
Perhaps Lippert’s triathlon fame is growing so fast because he’s so unashamed of who he is.
“I’m trying to break that mold of ‘Triathletes have to wear a swim skin or spend $400 on a super aero race suit, eat this perfect diet, do this perfect training regimen.’ That’s all great, but you don’t have to be like that,” Lippert said. “You can express yourself. You can have fun out there. As long as you train hard and have fun, that’s what it’s about. I’m the antithesis of the typical triathlete. But that doesn’t make me any slower.”
From training, racing, earning his master’s degree and working 30 hours a week, Lippert does everything. And, he does it all full send.