Category Archives: T3: People You Should Know

West River Invasion: Jonette Murphy


1I9A3821When a superstar athlete decides that a sport may just be causing more harm than good, cross training (and triathlon as a result) often comes along.

That’s the case for Jonette Murphy of Rapid City. Murphy, our featured T3 athlete of the month, grew up in Hoven, South Dakota. Those who follow high school sports know that in the ’90s, the girls’ track team in Hoven was a force to be reckoned with. And while Murphy dabbled in track, she never really saw herself as part of that legacy. “I put my time in,” she says. Shortly after finishing college, she purposed herself to train hard and, in her words, be really good at something.

So, like many triathletes, she found her footing. She began running marathons. A lot of marathons. Seventeen, to be precise. Since she was serving with the National Guard, she took advantage of their sponsorship opportunities and raced with them. But consistent activity in just one sport can wear a body out, and Murphy began to recognize this principle. “They (the marathons) were just getting hard on my body.”

So, she started to teach herself to swim. Like most farm kids, Murphy could keep her head above water, but she needed to learn to move more like a fish. She spent a lot of time in the pool and took advantage any swim instruction she could read or watch online. She started to bike around Sioux Falls, and she found tri-legend Kathy Grady as a mentor in those early years. 1I9A4436

Murphy’s first race was the long-running Hot Springs tri. She tackled the sprint distance, and, like with many of us, a spark of interest led to a flickering fire of desire. She continued to dabble in the sport as she went to anesthesia school, where she earned her degree as a nurse anesthetist. Then, upon completing school, she bought a tri-bike and signed up for Ironman Wisconsin. And the spark that led to a flame turned into a roaring fire for the sport.

Jonette claims she’s a one-and-done Ironman, but even that single endurance event changed things in her family. Her husband, Brendan, was also a runner at the time, and seeing Jonette complete an Ironman inspired him to do the same. The next couple of years involved Jonette continuing to train for local tris and Brandon completing two different Ironman 140.6 events.

In 2011, Jonette felt the urge to take the sport even more seriously. So she hired a coach and began training vigorously for half ironman distance race. However, life shifted a bit when a month before the race, she discovered, after believing she and her husband couldn’t have children, that she was pregnant. Since she had trained up until that point and her body was used to the stress of training, her physician encouraged her to continue training and to complete the event. So, she did.

IMG_0135Not only did Murphy put up some respectable numbers for a 70.3 during her first trimester, but she also went on to complete the inaugural Outland Challenge the following August further into her pregnancy. And then in January, miracle baby Mason was born, and Murphy once again resumed her training.

Murphy’s location in Rapid City offers her some unique training opportunities. In particular, she enjoys riding through any one of the variety of canyons around the city. Additionally, after adding Mason to their family, the Murphys moved from an area outside of town to a house right on the bike path, offering Jonette the opportunity to do some fast brick workouts with each bike ride she completes.

Her training is paying off. Murphy continues to make her presence known in the South Dakota triathlon scene. According to Grady, “She’s racing crazy fast this year.” And it’s true. Murphy herself admits that right now is the healthiest she’s been in a long time. We see evidence of this as Murphy consistently finds herself among the top five women in many of the races she’s competed in.

Regardless of her speed, Murphy notes that the best part of this sport isn’t just finding a place on the podium or even beating her old times, but it’s continuing to connect with the competitors who perpetuate the sport and make it so fun. All of these things together lead Murphy to drive a few hundred miles from her home in Rapid City, cross the river, and compete on the east side of the state on a fairly regular basis.

With her competitive times and constant smile, we are certainly always glad to see her.


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When a Fish Learns to Run: the Evolution of Kathy Grady

IMG_6179Kathy Grady never liked running. Ironically, in the center of landlocked South Dakota, she swam. How does one of the best female triathletes our state has ever seen go from “just” swimming to dominating race after race that requires more land than water?

In short, she persevered.

From the age of 11, when a friend convinced her to join the swim team, she honed her skills until she owned the sharklike skills she uses today. Grady, now the current SDTA women’s leader, continued to swim throughout her junior high and high school summers, and then she received an invitation to swim for the USD swim team in college. Clearly, she was a fantastic swimmer.

Meanwhile, triathlon had begun in South Dakota, a sport that most runners typically find before swimmers. When Grady lived and worked in Sioux Falls in 2006, she participated in the Master’s Swim class, like all good swimmers do. A girl she used to coach in Pierre also was swimming in the class, and she mentioned to Grady that she planned on doing the Watertown tri. A spark of interest grabbed Grady, and she signed up. At this point she had the perfunctory 10-speed like most new triathletes, and she’d done some biking, include a century ride. So she knew she could ride.

The first race began something pretty special for Grady, and arguably paved a path that has led her to many wonderful experiences and friends. Grady did not win that first triathlon. She didn’t even come in second. She led coming out of the bike, but when the run hit, so did that awful feeling that comes to those who haven’t trained for it. “If someone would’ve offered me a ride, I would’ve taken it,” she jokes now. She finished fourth of all the women, and like many first timers, she vowed to never do a tri again. . . until the ride home.IMG_2983

After completing a three-week run program designed by a friend, Grady took on her second triathlon, this time in Pierre. And this time she came home the victor. The first year Grady did 3 triathlons, and now she consistently completes (and often dominates) 10-12 each summer.

Grady not only competes in triathlon, but her life is steeped in it. Shortly after starting her amateur career as a triathlete, Grady’s family moved to Omaha, a scary place for a small-town gal. But Omaha gave to her as much as she did to it. In Omaha Grady’s love for triathlon grew as she won the inaugural Omaha tri and as a result was offered sponsorship from Scheels, including a new bike, shoes, and helmet. She also received her International Triathlon Coaching certification in Omaha. Unfortunately, two weeks after her sponsorship offer from Scheels in Omaha, Grady’s husband received a position in Sioux Falls, and the move required her to forfeit the sponsorship. But her I.T.C.A. certification continued to benefit her as well as the triathlon community after her family moved back to Sioux Falls shortly after her big win.

Now as the Aquatics Director at the Sanford Wellness Center in Sioux Falls and a USAT level 1 certified triathlon coach, Grady also leads the Triathlon Training Group for adults as well as a Kids Triathlon Training group. The training groups have grown consistently since their beginning a few years ago. No wonder Sioux Falls consistently produces some great athletes.

IMG_4178Additionally, while Grady wasn’t able to keep her sponsorship deal with Scheels in Omaha, she does have some sponsorship from Scheels of Sioux Falls, Sanford, and one of America’s Best Bike Shops, Spoke-n-Sport.

Grady cites the people in triathlon and the motivating atmosphere as two of her main reasons for staying with the time-consuming sport. “It’s fun,” she states, and as we all know, so are the people. Furthermore, now that Grady is looking back over 18 years of photos, preparing for her oldest son’s graduation, she also notes the fitness benefits that come from training consistently. “I always thought I was in good shape, but I wasn’t,” she states with a laugh.

New triathletes often find themselves intimidated by the sport, and as a coach, Grady has sound advice for them. “Find a group to train with. That makes it so much more fun when you have that social network,” she states. Additionally, triathletes who maintain consistent workouts find success and enjoy the sport more. “It doesn’t have to be long,” Grady says, but she recommends a 3-3-3 approach of practicing each discipline three times every week. Additionally, though she herself writes plans for triathletes and leads a training group, she notes the abundant resources available to those unable to find a group. “Even if you’re not going to find a group, there are so many free training programs out there,” she states.

Grady’s pedigree is long, so long that we cannot name all of the races she’s won. She perpetually comes out on top of the women’s field in local races, and as a result of her success, she’s had the opportunity to race in the Best of the US race. Additionally, she’s done well enough in the Sprint and Age Group Nationals to qualify for the World Age Group nationals more than once. In particular, racing in London stands out to her as one of her favorite races.

All total, Grady is beginning her 12th year of triathlon—of consistently excellent performances. If our math is correct, that means she did not begin to run or complete the swim-bike-run sequence until she was 38. This gives us all a little bit of hope. For this twelfth season she has two major goals: to stay injury free and to try to focus more on recovering. The triathletes that have donned the spandex for a long time know the value of both of these goals, as not doing one can cause problems with the other. They work hand in glove.

Grady has given us all something to aspire to, with her own busy full-time work schedule, personal training, and family affairs. In the “off season” she and her husband spend time following the hockey teams that her three teenage sons play for.

We look forward to watching Grady continue to compete in South Dakota and follow her as she conquers the world of triathlon

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Greg Taylor: a Champion’s Perspective

South Dakota's own Greg Taylor guts it out and wins his age group at the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

South Dakota’s own Greg Taylor guts it out and wins his age group at the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Photo credits to Nick Morales.

When the mercury plunges below zero in January, seasoned South Dakota triathletes know that during this time, when everything else creeps to a standstill, they must begin moving. They must find their plan, scratch out their races on the calendar, and start training.

Ironically, South Dakota’s own champion triathlete, Greg Taylor, found his beginning in triathlon during such cold snaps.

Taylor, a Yankton resident, topped the podium for his age group in four major races in 2014: Ironman Boulder in early August, the USAT age-group championships a week later, Ironman 70.3 World Championship, and Ironman World Championship.

It’s hard to believe that for Taylor triathlon began as just a way to train in the off season.

Nordic ski racing actually captured Taylor’s attention and heart before he ever donned a bike helmet or dipped his toes in the water. Triathlon, according to Taylor, was a secondary event to stay in shape during the offseason.

One great triathlon win paired with one disappointing ski race was all Taylor needed to make a decision that changed his personal history and the history of triathlon as a whole. In his early 30s Taylor competed in a nordic ski race where he began the race in second place and then dwindled on the latter half. The results of that race, and seemingly most races, depended on the unscientific process of ski waxing. Taylor likens the frustration to if a triathlete would have three different sets of tires to use, and the decision to use them was hoping that the one picked would work the best. Unlike the simple luck that nordic racing requires for success, in triathlon hard work means success for the most part. The formula is pretty simple.

Greg Taylor strides to an age-group win at the USAT age-group nationals in Milwaulkee in August. Taylor also won best performance overall. Photo credits: Kristin Taylor

Greg Taylor strides to an age-group win at the USAT age-group nationals in Milwaulkee in August. Taylor also won best performance overall. Photo credits: Kristin Taylor

Shortly after that ski race, Taylor had a good friend who challenged him to compete in The World’s Toughest Triathlon. With minimal training, Taylor finished high enough to earn a spot at Kona, the Ironman World Championship. With a cache of knowledge about the endurance training required for nordic ski racing, Taylor began to train for the big race. Having no prior experience other than World’s Toughest Tri, Taylor finished sixth in his age group by seconds.

And the seed for triathlon was planted.

Since that time, Taylor has qualified for a total of 25 Ironman World Championships, giving him many trips to experience the big island in Hawaii. He has competed in dozens of other triathlons, always with Kona in the back of his head for the year.

Success obviously breeds enjoyment. Had Taylor not succeeded so quickly, one would wonder if he would have continued in the sport. However, with such a strong work ethic, Taylor quickly noted one of his favorite things about the sport: “it felt like the result was a direct correlation to your effort,” he states. Basically, if a person is willing to work hard, according to Taylor, he can achieve just about anything. He has to understand the sacrifice involved and be willing to make that sacrifice to meet his goals. And if he can do that–understand the sacrifice and work hard–he’ll meet them.

Like many triathletes, Taylor also cites the triathlon community as his favorite part of the sport. Because of his success, Taylor has had the opportunity to mentor different individuals, helping three in particular make their way to the same island that holds such allure for him. A trio of athletes have qualified for Kona under Taylor’s wing. Furthermore, he’s had the opportunity to inspire countless other young athletes, two of which ended up going back to school and furthering their careers outside of triathlon because of him. But more than that, Taylor recognizes that spending time with people, training with them and sweating with them, creates a bond and forges friendships different than other activities. And while he notes that this type of bond is not unique to triathlon, he does recognize the uniqueness of triathletes. “This sport just attracts a special kind of people,” he states.

Taylor has racked up some big and little awards in his tenure in the sport. While his performances make him stand out on paper, his personality makes him stand out in person. After all, he has the perspective and wisdom that comes from endurance racing for a couple of decades. He oozes philosophy and wisdom, much of which he has gained from his most challenging and memorable races.

The World Championship in 1995, for example, stands out as one of his most memorable experiences. Winds gusted that year and literally lifted cyclists and their rides off the road. Taylor remembers a good swim and then a challenging ride. He talks in vivid details, as if the race just occurred last week. He recalls a “tiny tailwind” for the first 45-50 minutes and then mean gusts that met the riders head on. “It was blowing dogs off chains,” he states.  And while he thought he was moving forward and making some progress, he recalls people passing him in droves. At one point in the race he could see three-quarters of a mile ahead, and all he saw was a line of riders.

Little causes more frustration to a champ than seeing droves of people ahead of you.  “I was thoroughly demoralized,” he recalls.

In fact, Taylor remembers watching the pavement go by under the bike as he pedaled and ground his way against the wind, and then thinking that the pavement passed by more quickly when he ran than when fighting these island gales.

Forty-five minutes of mental anguish followed, and then something magically changed. Taylor cannot describe this something, but like with all big, long races, the low passed and a high began that lasted the rest of the race. “For the next six hours,” he states, “it was effortless.”

Taylor went on to run a three-hour marathon. He ended the race 32nd overall (that includes professional triathletes) . He surged to the finish line, collapsed with exhaustion, and then immediately popped up before medical personnel could cart him off. “I was high for two weeks,” he states. Taylor cites no fatigue, no soreness, but just pure elation after that race.

And he has yet to replicate the experience.

At age 60, Taylor has nothing but good things to look forward to in triathlon. He has automatically qualified for Kona again with his age-group win there this past October. Now he has to decide if he wants to go back a 26th time.

What does a champ do in his off season when he’s on the fence? Not what every other 60-year-old does. He goes to the gym, faithfully, and pumps iron. Taylor has spent the last eight weeks strength training, and in short, feeling great as a result.

Who knows where the future will lead Taylor. We just know this: we’ll continue to keep tabs on him. After all, it’s kind of fun to see the “old guy” sprinting up and past the young bucks. Best of luck, Greg Taylor.

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Two Ironmen, One Great Couple

PhotoGrid_1409714336130Laura and John Zumhofe aren’t average triathletes.

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.

As already stated, these two are no ordinary triathletes.PhotoGrid_1409715002984

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.

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For the Love of the Sport (and all the people who do it)

Howard Bich competes in the 2014 Wall Lake Triathlon. He inspires just about everyone who sees him compete.

Howard Bich competes in the 2014 Wall Lake Triathlon. He inspires just about everyone who sees him compete.

Anyone who has competed in triathlon in South Dakota for even a short period of time will soon begin to recognize a familiar face that appears at a handful of sprints across the eastern part of the state. With his twinkling eyes and constant smile, Howard Bich is hard to miss. He’s the toughest 74-year-old we have seen in our sport, finishing every race he’s ever started.

Bich’s career in triathlon began not by his own aspirations but via his son’s influence. Brian Bich, an accomplished age-grouper now, was attending graduate school at USD when a friend convinced him to try triathlon. He experienced success almost immediately. Howard went to a few of Brian’s events, and as a natural athlete himself, thought the whole experience looked like fun.

So he signed up for one.

Bich did not know how to swim. He could dog paddle with the best of untrained swimmers, but even the dog paddle will only get a triathlete so far.

Thus in 1995 it all began in tiny Eureka, one of South Dakota’s best small-town triathlons. Bich, in his own words, nearly drowned. And he finished last, but he finished.

Two years passed.

In 1997 Howard decided to try Eureka again. By this time, he had taught himself to do the side stroke, so while Howard finished last again, this time he enjoyed himself. So he kept on competing.

Shortly thereafter Bich swallowed his pride and asked the swimming instructors at his local indoor pool in Wagner to teach him to swim. He claims this was the hardest thing he’s ever had to learn athletically.

To date Bich has competed in somewhere around 170 triathlons. He has completed every single one despite some pretty daunting circumstances. Bich cites a couple of triathlons with incessant rain, wind, and downright cold conditions. In one event (a May triathlon in Watertown) Howard claims the warmest part of the day was the pool swim thanks to temps in the 40s and a stiff north wind.

Bich has become more than just “the old guy doing triathlons.” He is one of the best ambassadors our state can have for this sport we all love. His excitement for the sport and love of the environment is palpable. Healthy people and a positive environment keep bringing him back to events. “It’s hard to find someone with a frown at a triathlon,” he states. True story.

Furthermore, Bich understands the health benefits of the idea that made cross-training a sport. “It’s a really good way to keep in shape,” states Howard. He goes to explain how a person can swim with little health risk (other than drowning) and can bike with little impact on the joints. In fact, Bich doesn’t even really train for races. He follows a fairly regular pattern of playing basketball on Monday, riding bike on Tuesday, swimming on Wednesday, and then taking Thursday and Friday off to prepare for triathlon on Saturday. “That way you don’t get bored,” he states.howardbike

With such a cache of triathlons under his belt, Bich has some pretty great memories. In particular, the first race where he did not finish last–his sixth triathlon–stands out to him. He realized halfway through the run that he might be able to pass the runner in front of him. So he put the afterburners on and caught up to the athlete with only 50 yards left. This race meant Bich had met his second goal: to not finish last. And it also solidified something for Bich: that he could complete something he had formerly thought impossible.

The senior national games in Pittsburgh also stands out, but not with the same pleasant memories. But this particular story reveals Howard’s mettle. He and his wife Arlene had traveled to Pittsburgh for the national senior games, and he had qualified in triathlon. At this race Howard experienced something that to date he has only had happen once: a flat tire. The tire went down within one mile of leaving transition, so, showing his South Dakota tenacity, Howard hefted the bike up and carried it while he walked and ran back to transition. He had brought a spare wheel with him, so he changed out the wheel, went back out, and once again, completed a race despite his position.

Howard has never not finished a race.

A genuine ambassador for South Dakota triathlon, Bich brings a breath of fresh air and genuine perspective to the sport. He competes because he clearly loves just about everything about it. “I love the people – before the race and after the race. The swim, bike, and run – I don’t know whether that’s fun or not,” he states.

He must. After retiring from teaching and moving from Wagner to Sioux Falls, Howard and his wife Arlene founded the highly successful Dakotaman triathlon (taking place this Saturday). They’ve been running the race from their home as a committee of two since the beginning, with each one complimenting the other. Howard claims Arlene is the brains behind the operation, and Arlene claims Howard does all of the heavy lifting work. They really do work well together.

So anyone who ever even has an inkling about doing a tri, consider Howard. Think you’re too old? Bich didn’t start until he was in his 50s, and he continues to race into his 70s. Think you’re too slow? Bich finishes every race despite his placing. He clearly loves the sport. In fact, he encourages other triathletes with one short piece of advice: “Jump in and do it. I’m sure you’ll have fun.”

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