Growing up in Glenburn, Art Mathisen used to spend a lot of time with his grandparents in Old Orchard Beach.
So when Mathisen, a 20-year veteran of the Army who is now the CEO of a hospital in Vermont, returned to town for the Ironman 70.3 triathlon last month, he felt right at home.
“It was kind of nostalgic to be back where I hadn’t been for several decades,” he said.
Not only did Mathisen reflect on past family gatherings, he enjoyed competitive success, finishing first in the 40-to-49 age group in the 70.3-mile event.
The Ironman 70.3 consists of half of the traditional Ironman distance of 140.6 miles. Mathisen, who has participated in 20 full Ironmans, completed a 1.2-mile ocean swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a half-marathon (13.1-mile) run.
“We had a great day, great weather,” Mathisen said. “It’s always fun to be on the beach.”
Like many endurance athletes, Mathisen grew up with an interest in team sports, basketball in particular, which he played at John Bapst High School in Bangor.
Under Maine Basketball Hall of Fame head coach Bob Cimbollek, Mathisen learned a lot about discipline and life skills on the hardwood, in particular when he faced some adversity his junior year.
“I got benched and had to fight to get back to the starting position,” said Mathisen, a point guard who graduated from John Bapst in 1989 and was part of a state championship team.
“That’s what I like about sports, there’s no free lunch. You’ve got to earn it, and you look at failure and you fail sometimes, but you get back up and keep fighting. That’s what [basketball] taught me.”
Those traits prepared Mathisen well for his 20 years in the Army, where he served in various capacities in the medical field, including a term as a Medical Service Officer, and at military hospitals.
He previously spent three semesters at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham studying Political Science before joining the military.
Mathisen’s time in the military led him to discover triathlons, and he quickly grew to liking the endurance challenge that is one of the top tests any athlete faces.
He said the ocean swim in Old Orchard Beach was the most challenging aspect of the recent Ironman 70.3, which featured flat bike and running routes. Mathisen typically sets a training plan for a specific race about four months out.
“Whenever you swim in water that’s under or right around 60 degrees, that’s a little bit of a challenge,” said Mathisen, who noted the swim portion of a triathlon is always unpredictable, especially in the ocean.
“Just because of the current and the tide,” he said.
Mathisen said he doesn’t have one particular strength of such an endurance test, but has always enjoyed the second discipline (biking) while becoming consistent in the water and with the run.
“As I’ve gotten older I’ve found I’m swimming a little bit better and I’m running and biking [consistently],” he said.
Mathisen has competed in Ironman Hawaii — one of the toughest triathlons in the world — seven times. He has found a great balance between his training and his busy job at Copley Hospital.
“A lot of us are better when we have more on our plate than less,” he said. “We focus more and really utilize our time. I’m an early riser so I get my workout in in the morning.”
Mathisen was planning on getting in a run at the conclusion of his shift on Wednesday night.
“The balance is key,” he said. “We all need to strike that balance somehow.”
Mathisen, who met his wife, Jennifer, an Orono native, during his brief time at USM, also hopes to inspire others by maintaining his healthy lifestyle.
“Being a good example to those around you is important,” he said. “When [people] see me making it a priority, they understand it [could] be a priority for them.”
But Mathisen still reflects on his basketball playing days.
“Those are still fond memories, I feel very fortunate to have gone to John Bapst,” he said. “Not everybody gets to win a state championship. I didn’t realize it back then but I [now] look back and say those were the times that I will remember.”