We found John and Laura when the SDTA series began back in April. Laura’s face kept popping up on our race pictures. Then, when we began our coverage of the South Dakotans competing in Ironman Boulder, we found John. We erroneously thought maybe this was his first Ironman.
Boy, were we wrong.
John has a long history of fitness and triathlon. His journey began in the late seventies when he caught the running bug and joined hundreds of thousands of Americans in tackling road races and building their fitness. When overuse injuries began to stunt his hobby and tv networks finally thought Ironman was worth broadcasting, John considered triathlon as a way to avoid the same injuries. He figured he could swim and bike, so he gave it a try.
John’s first triathlon was a tri at Wall Lake at the time, which, in 1985, boasted of a longer course than the current Wall Lake tri with an 800 yard swim, 20-mile bike, and 6.5 mile run. These days were the beginning of triathlon and certainly events not for the faint of heart. Clip in shoes did not exist. Shoot, tri bikes didn’t exist. People swam, biked, and ran in their speedos or whatever they deemed appropriate.
Since that time, John has completed over 70 triathlons, including four Ironmans. He’s that strong. He took on Wisconsin in 2002, 2005, and 2007, and then Boulder this past year. Word on the street tells us that an injury stopped him from completing IM Arizona a while back, and he’s still chewing on the possibility of signing up for that one in the future as well. Unfinished business can make a person do this.
Laura met John in 2000. She too had been running, and when she saw John complete a triathlon in Minnesota, she felt empowered by the vast variety of people at the event. Anyone who has even just watched a triathlon knows that no two triathletes look alike. Just about anyone who trains–young, old, big, small, tall, short–can complete a triathlon. So, Laura joined the Y, and like any good man who would love to see his girlfriend join him in his hobby, John helped her learn how to swim. John’s patient help must have made a difference because in 2003 they got married. Then, in 2005, just five months after she gave her mom a kidney, Laura completed her first triathlon at Lake Pohoja near Inwood, Iowa.
With John as her coach, in 2010 Laura completed Ironman Arizona, and then in 2012 she took on the cold waters of Ironman Coer d’Alene.
Each of their events has given John and Laura a wealth of memories and experiences, which we believe make them the tough triathletes they are. Laura recalls the 57 degree temperature of the swim in Couer d’Alene, and how many women coming out of the water were shivering uncontrollably. She just sat on her (very white) hands so the gal helping her didn’t see her own coldness and so she could warm up on the bike rather than in transition. John recounts the year that Ironman Champ Paula Newby Frasier came to the Lake Alvin triathlon, spoke at a banquet the night before the race, and then smoked the entire field the next day at the event.
“That’s the cool thing about triathlon—you race with the pros,” states, John.
Both Laura and John have had many a brush with the pros during triathlons. In particular, when Laura raced her first 70.3 in Kansas, Chrissie Wellington also raced. Wellington, known as a great ambassador of the sport, stayed at the finish line and took pictures with whomever wanted a picture with her. John ended up visiting with her in a food tent, and, in his one “epic fail” according to both Laura and John, missed his opportunity to buy Wellington a sandwich. “John got more pictures of Chrissie than he did of me,” states Laura with a laugh.
This sport has given much to the Zumhofes. In particular, they both note the friendships sparked as a result of this common interest. “I have friends I met in triathlon that are as close as some of my college friends,” states Laura. Furthermore, this sport has made their relationship stronger, as they celebrate with each other and empathize when one is injured or sick and unable to complete an event or workout.
With such a strong pedigree in triathlon, the two have great advice. In the midst of particular long and challenging races like Ironman, both have found themselves praying, thinking about those who are thinking of them, and just moving forward with those thoughts in mind. “The people, when you have lots of friends thinking of you and praying for you–I try to think of that. I think of that positive energy,” states Laura.
Laura and John Zumhofe sparked our interest, and we have a feeling that as they continue to compete, they will inspire those around them with their upbeat can-do attitudes and tenacity.