82-year-old triathlete: “Survive the competition”

Jack Sutcliffe isn’t letting his age slow him down.

The 82-year-old San Antonian is gearing up for his 19th crack at the Dam 09 Triathlon, which spans Olmos Park Dam and the 78209 zip code of Alamo Heights.

This year, Sutcliffe is the oldest person registered for the August 20 race.

“One of my thoughts on that is, ‘Outlast the competition and don’t finish last,'” he said. “And so far I’ve done pretty well on both counts.”

Although there are usually a few people in their 80s who compete in the 22-year-old’s race, Lisa Soler, owner and president of Soler’s Sports, said Sutcliffe was the only person in that age group this year. Soler’s Sports hosts the Dam 09 race. The closest competitors are a woman in her 70s and 33 people in their 60s.

Competitors will be split by age group, starting at 15 and under, 16 to 19, and continuing in five-year increments up to the over 80 range. Soler said the race used to only go up to 70 and over before keen triathletes like Sutcliffe got things going turned upside down.

Sutcliffe said he first took up running in the 1960s during his 23-year Air Force career. He competed in marathons, half marathons, and an “uncountable number” of 5K and 10K races. In 1999 he ran his first triathlon. Today the Dam 09 is the only race he competes in.

A triathlon combines distances of running, cycling and swimming.

“I think it’s a real personal challenge to stay in shape in any way to compete in these three events,” he said.

However, the running part is a challenge for Sutcliffe. He said a hip replacement eight years ago “eliminated any sense of real running” but didn’t affect swimming or cycling.

But swimming has never been a favorite sport of Sutcliffe. He usually postpones practice for this portion of the competition until mid-June.

However, running and biking are always part of his weekly workouts, and he has two groups of San Antonio friends that he goes with. They run between 2.5 and 4 miles on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Sutcliffe gets on his bike on Sundays and rides between 20 and 40 miles.

Sutcliffe and his 59-year-old wife Judy spend their summers in Colorado, so the workout takes a slightly different form when he’s out of town – he usually adds hiking to the mix.

The training prepares him to compete in Dam 09’s sprint triathlon, which consists of a 400 meter swim, 9 mile bike ride and 4 km run. People have the option of just a swim and bike race or just a run and bike race. A handful of people also compete in a relay version of the triathlon each year.

The triathlon is the only thing Sutcliffe gets off the mountains in summer. When the event is over, he drives back to Colorado.

Soler’s Sports is a race management company that contracts with local businesses and non-profit organizations to help organize fundraiser races. Soler said Dam 09 is the only event the company is hosting itself.

The race reached its maximum registration of 300 people in the week before last. Soler said last year it took until the week of the event to sell out and the event hadn’t sold out consistently since its early years.

Dam 09 Triathlon isn’t the only event garnering more interest; Soler said she’s seen this phenomenon of increased registration at all the races she’s officiated.

“I think it’s just an interest in fitness since the pandemic,” she said. “I think in 2020 and 2021 people were stuck at home and decided to start training. And that made people want to compete and be outside.”

Soler has chatted with Sutcliffe over the years, largely thanks to his involvement in the Dam 09 triathlon. In years past, Soler said she would see Sutcliffe and the other handful of men in his age group after the competition.

“These guys are everything,” she said. “It’s really great.”

Soler said that while Sutcliffe stands out, “a ton” of people return year after year.

For his part, Sutcliffe has no intention of quitting anytime soon. He said he wants to continue until he’s in category 85 and up.

“Every year I say to myself, ‘Do you want to do this again?'” Sutcliffe said. “And every year I say ‘yes’.”


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