For most Americans, vacation doesn’t involve a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon, all in a 17-hour window.
But then again, Michael and Jane Bryant aren’t your typical father-daughter duo.
The two will compete together in an Ironman triathlon for the first time on July 22 in Lake Placid, N.Y. It will be Michael Bryant’s fourth Ironman, all in Lake Placid, but it will be the first time he will be joined by his 18-year-old daughter.
“I was kind of a newbie at one time so I remember being overwhelmed, but now I’m kind of the seasoned guy and I can pass on things to her,” Bryant said. “I enjoy the training and the time spent together. The race is great, but spending time with her is the part of it I’ll remember.”
The Bryants live in Baltimore, Md., and visit their Lake Placid vacation home every summer. In 2005, Michael Bryant watched the final two hours of the Ironman from near the finish line. With a background in triathlons, he found the race immediately piqued his interest.
“After that, I said, ‘I want to do this,’” he said. “At first it was a bucket list thing, but then it became something I wanted to pursue.”
Michael Bryant, 62, entered and completed the physical and mental challenge in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Jane Bryant, who just finished her freshman year at Towson University, became interested in the competition after watching her father take part.
She ran track at Baltimore’s Mercy High School, competing in the 800- and 1,600-meter races and the 1,600 relay. She completed her first Iron Girl triathlon in 2006, which consisted of a .6-mile swim, 17-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run. She also competed in Olympic-distance triathlons, the most recent being the Columbia Triathlon in Howard County, Md.
“I had always watched my dad do (Ironmans), and being in that environment it got really contagious,” Jane Bryant said. “It makes you think of what is possible when you set your mind to it.”
Michael Bryant’s participation hasn’t just rubbed off on his family. One of his neighbors has been drawn in, as well.
Josiah Mueller, 31, lives across the street from the Bryants and had experience in triathlons before arriving on the East Coast. He acknowledged that when house hunting, having a potential neighbor like Michael Bryant was a bonus because he knew people in the area had similar interests.
Michael Bryant fostered Mueller’s interest in the Ironman, and he will now be joining his neighbors in Lake Placid next weekend.
Mueller is a nurse, working 12-hour shifts at times. His days usually consist of working, training, eating and then sleeping. To prepare for an Ironman, competitors train on average close to 15 hours a week for 20 weeks, in addition to base workouts started well before the four- to five-month training stint.
That much physical activity condensed into such a short span — six-hour bike rides followed by 40-minute runs aren’t uncommon — takes a toll on the body.
“You’re constantly training on tired muscles,” Mueller said. “You just never recover, and you’re constantly tired. It becomes a mental challenge you didn’t know you could do.”
The 17-hour competition, Michael Bryant said, becomes a test of courage and fortitude. It is difficult for first-time participants to withstand the combined physical and mental strain, but he said his daughter is ready for the challenge.
“Some people kind of panic and freak out, but Jane’s got a really strong mind,” Michael Bryant said. “At a certain point your body gets hit, so it’s your mind focusing at some point. She’s really got that ability to just be able to do that.”
Training together has only strengthened the father-daughter relationship. They accompany each other on runs and bike rides, but also train on their own.
Mueller said it’s touching to see them prepare together.
“They’re such great people and I’m proud of their hard work,” Mueller said. “What a special experience to be able to share. Michael has been my coach through this whole thing, and I couldn’t have done it without him, either. It’s so cool they can do this together.”
The Bryants will have more than 30 family members and friends cheering for them at the race.
Jane Bryant said the support they have received has been a driving force behind her pursuit of completing an Ironman.
“I don’t think I could do it without all those people around me,” she said. “People are always asking and are so interested. It helps so much to not leave me in the dark on this.”
After this Ironman is done and the family returns to Baltimore, Michael Bryant isn’t sure what he’ll do next athletically.
A college wrestler at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, he has seen the benefits that training and competing in the Ironman brings to his life. He doesn’t think about when he will stop participating in the Ironman because he really doesn’t know.
He’s just enjoying himself at the moment.
“At this point, I don’t even ask anymore,” he said. “For me now, it’s about being fit and sharing the experience. When you get older, you get in your comfort zone and you have to do things that help you grow as a person. This has helped me grow as a person.”
© 2012 The Baltimore Sun