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Be A World Champion Triathlete and Live Well Forever (almost)

By William Ziering | Nov. 08, 2019, 12:40 p.m. (ET)

bill sitting on road

I’m Pokey Bill Ziering, going on 90, the reigning ITU Age Group Triathlon World Champion, Olympic Division since 2015 and always shooting to extend my title. In truth, the jig may be up, and I wonder whether I’ve run out of miracles.

My racing form inspires no one. When race results are posted, I generally am listed just ahead of the DNF athletes. Even in my heyday, with any luck, I might finish atop the fourth quadrant. Nowadays, I just hope to make it home alive. 

There are two pathways to achieve World Class status – come through the front door by being a legend in the sport, or sneak through the back door by outliving the competition! The last one living. Finish, you win.

Growing up in the pushcart district of Brooklyn as an orphan, I’d dash home from school, throw down my books, and dash into the street to play games – stick ball, curb ball, stoop ball, punch ball, hand ball and roller hockey. I wasn’t very good. When sides were chosen, I’d invariably be taken last. In truth, I didn’t mind knowing I wasn’t the Big Kahuna because little was expected from me. Eight decades later, I’m still at it, wondering if the juice will ever kick in.

In bygone times school studies dominated. From grade school on, I had my eyes on a career. I wanted to make something of myself. Sports were just recreational, a means to keep the happy endorphins cooking and studies less odious. I realized that if I wanted a different life for myself, I needed to earn it. I dreamed of being a doctor where I could be of some value. While not a whiz kid, I achieved good grades because I studied without pause. However, I did not deny myself exciting time outs.

Julie Moss inspired me. In 1982, while a graduate student at Cal Poly, on a dare, she competed in the world-famous Ironman in Kauai, Hawaii. Mere yards from winning, she hit the wall and collapsed, failing to finish the race she had surely won. For Julie it has been a blessing. If she had won, her achievement likely would have been an oft told family story, but the popular show Wide World of Sports was there. They memorialized the event to be replayed over and over again throughout the years as a motivational moment. Her spunk did it for me, I was hooked. Since then I’ve finished about 30 events and medaled in almost all. Not because I’m good, but because He is. 

I had no talent to make the school teams nor set any records. Advice on quickening my pace leaves me overmatched, so I putz along at a comfortable pace, totally disinterested in establishing a personal best. I have no trouble making the time for it. I find nothing more spiritually regenerating than triathlon.

Age and my careless nature leave me prone to injury. Nine months ago, there began a parade – spinal surgery, pulmonary blood clots, and a fractured hip – leaving me a steady visitor at physical therapy. I’m told busted up Bill will never feel 80 again. Friends say, “no mas,” and they’re likely right. I brush them off and then excuse myself for a bike ride.

Working out gives me life. It may be a challenge starting up, but joy always surfaces. It has become my sustenance every day. If I quit when it gets tough, I will never know what might have been. I’m not bad at handling disappointments, and I’ve had some mighty imposing ones, but I’ve come to realize that worry bruises my soul, while just moving forward emotionally will prove restorative. It always has, and having the best wife and equally special children are the best tonic for restoration.

I did make it as a physician Northwestern 1956. How’s that for prayerful dreams coming through centuries later? I’m Pokey Bill Ziering, going on 90, and I am still a champion triathlete.

Since I’m not dead yet there are miles to go before I sleep (Robert Frost)


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