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Triathlete Extraordinaire Jarrod Shoemaker







by Peter Mallet     (from the March/April 2010 issue of New England Runner)

 

At ten years-old, Jarrod
Shoemaker
is supporting the Red Sox and dreaming of the major leagues. He is
playing baseball and growing up as an average kid in the small town of Sudbury,
Massachusetts. He is on a typical path and everything would be fine except, on
a whim, his younger sister joins the local swim team and he finds himself
inclined to do the same. His life changes course indefinitely, but it is
notable only to the odd effect that he now regularly wears a Speedo and many of
his friends are not willing to do the same. There is still the chance to become
a baseball star.

 

Every year, early in his
blossoming life, his parents would run the Boston Marathon and so he had to get
into the whole running thing as well. So he joined the cross-country team at
Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School. By sophomore year he was fourth on the
team. By senior year he was 22nd at the Foot Locker National Cross-Country
Championships and was winning the spring track league mile in 4:20. It turned
out he was pretty good at this running thing – better than he was at baseball for
that matter. So, he let the big league dream slide a little. But somewhere in
there he was still finding the time to sport a speedo and compete for the swim
team. A life upheld in this manner could only unfold in atypical fashion.

 
Now 27, Shoemaker is a
professional triathlete. At the end of the 2009 season he was ranked as high as
10th in the world, having claimed first in the Hamburg World Championship race
of the Dextro Energy World Championship Triathlon Series. The win in Hamburg
would compliment his victory at the 2009 Duathlon Worlds Short Course
Championships in North Carolina and build upon his 18th place finish in the
triathlon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
 
 
(Photo: Shoemaker winning
the 2005 Mayor’s Cup Cross Country
8K. Photo by FitzFoto)
 
 
One need look back only a
few years‰ÛÓto his emergence on the multisport scene, sealed in gold, at the 2005
U23 World Championships‰ÛÓto fully appreciate the victories that have propelled
Shoemaker to the forefront of a young and vibrant sport.
One year later at
the 2006 Edmonton World Cup, Shoemaker solidified his position among the
world’s elite‰ÛÓto himself and others‰ÛÓby finishing second to 2004 Athens Olympic
Games gold medalist Hamish Carter and ahead of US triathlon top gun Hunter
Kemper.
 
 
Surprise, surprise, all it
took was another relative to provide the inspiration. Uncle Leon Okurowski, who
lived just up the road from Jarrod in Concord, Massachusetts, completed an
Ironman triathlon in 1999 and encouraged this impressionable athlete, in light
of his protégé’s swim, run background, to give triathlon a go. It took only a
few seasons of NCAA D1 running at Dartmouth College to push Jarrod into the
great beyond.
 
 
 
“I started playing around
with triathlon when I was hurt in college.” Shoemaker reveals casually. After
all, what collegiate athlete hasn’t faced injury or some tribulation? Making
the best of an otherwise tough situation is what genuinely driven people will
do. In Jarrod’s case the tough times, quite mercifully, were punctuated by some
serious success, including a memorable individual win his junior year at the
Ivy League Cross Country Championships in Van Cortland Park, NY. This was on
the heels of three consecutive team victories at the Ivy XC Champs.

 

A personal best 14:09 in the
5K, good for 13th at the 2004 NCAA outdoor track championships, capped off what
could be surmised as a fairly impressive collegiate career for this rising
talent. Still, injuries are injuries and Jarrod endured the best of them by
suiting up in his beloved speedo while reaching back to his foundation in the
pool. All it took was the calculated addition of the bike and the awesomeness
of spandex to complete the trifecta, and bam! Mix in some throwback neon yellow
stripes down the side of the cycling shorts, some crazy expensive equipment, a
little swim, bike, run, and there, amongst the chaos, arises, ‰Û¢triathlon.’

 (Photo: Taking the tape
at the inaugural B.A.A. 5K.  Photo by FitzFoto)

We’re not talking
Ironman‰ÛÓfor Jarrod, the objective is not to endure a searing race of attrition
that takes over eight hours to complete. No, Jarrod competes in a style of
triathlon known as ‰Û¢draft-legal.’ What this means is that a governing body,
known as the International Triathlon Union (ITU), oversees races in which a
professional triathlete is sanctioned to complete a 1500 meter swim, 40
kilometer bike, and 10K run in a time that usually averages under two hours.

 

The twist is that, during
the bike portion of the race, the triathletes are allowed to draft, or sit in
behind others to cheat the wind. The time-trialists and so-called Ironmen see
this as a violation of the purity of the sport. For athletes like Jarrod, this
added dimension is viewed as actually enhancing the sport. He is passionate
when he describes the dynamics: “It’s about constantly going over the red-line,
then coming back under and being able to quickly respond and recover from rapid
changes in effort. It’s a different kind of racing. It’s intense. In many ways
the breakaways that can happen and the unpredictable changes in pace can make
draft-legal triathlons more exciting than the standard fare.”

 Of course, the ultimate goal
is to make the Olympics, something Jarrod has already done, and competing in
ITU draft-legal formatted races is the way to get there. At the end of the day
the whitewater thrashing of the swim is only a precursor to the breakaway that
could potentially succeed on the bike. Though, undeniably, in this type of
triathlon, the stellar runner has the ultimate trump card. A recent post of
14:13 at the 2009 Carlsbad 5000 can validate Jarrod’s inclusion in this elite
echelon.

 

He is without a doubt one of
the most accomplished triathletes in the world right now. Moreover, the
argument logically follows that Jarrod is the most accomplished triathlete to
hail from New England.

 

These days he’s cheating
the frozen northern tundra and training down in Florida, even as he claims he
loves New England and doesn’t think he’ll ever leave. With coach Tim Crowley
living down the street in Marlborough, Mass., and the Minute Man Swim Team in
Lexington, there’s plenty of training opportunities for Jarrod when he returns
home.

 

Upon his arrival he might
take another shot at winning the BAA 5K or defend his 2005 cross country
victory at Mayor’s Cup. With 25 to 30+ hours of conditioning to attend to,
along with a packed race schedule and the coordinating of his own personal
project‰ÛÓthe Commonwealth Triathlon Series‰ÛÓit’s hard to say where the man might
end up.

 

Few things are certain.
Future goals are to be crowned world champion and medal at the 2012 and 2016
Olympics.
“It’s
about striving for consistency,” says Shoemaker. “It’s the most important thing
to replicate. For example, my worst race in 2009 was 14th at the World
Championships. I plan to improve on that for 2010.”

 Upon competitive retirement
Jarrod would like to help develop the next group of athletes. One thing is for
sure in Shoemaker’s current world: This is the big leagues and speedos are
acceptable.

 (Photo: First at the Hamburg World Championship. Photo courtesy of the ITU)

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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