FROM THE BOARDROOM TO THE FINISH LINE
Ten YPO members complete the Triathlon Experience Program in LA
BOULDER, CO - Ben Cohen had many opportunities to back out of the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Triathlon on Sunday, September 25. His bike had a broken fork, he was turned back by US Customs because his Canadian passport was at the Chinese embassy awaiting a visa, and the night before the race housekeeping inadvertently threw out his timing chip and race number.
The fact that Ben was in LA to race the sprint distance triathlon at all was a testament to perseverance and peer support. When asked about his athletic background four months before the race his answer was ‘stamp collecting'.
However, his YPO Forum group from Winnipeg, Manitoba had taken on the challenge of completing a triathlon, and they needed Ben to finish in order to have 100% of the members accomplish the goal.
"YPO is split into approximately 1,800 forum groups around the world, and each year the forums go somewhere for a business retreat that involves some sort of learning experience and sometimes an experiential activity", stated Ted Kennedy of CEO Challenges, the company that organized the Triathlon Experience Program.
"For example, a couple of years ago the forum went zip lining in British Columbia, and a few years before that they raced cars in the Baja. However, until now, no Forum group has ever taken on the challenge of having all 10 members complete a triathlon."
Kennedy, along with five-time world triathlon champion Simon Lessing, and Olympic bronze medalist Lynn Kanuka, traveled to Winnipeg in April to explain the concept, challenge the group, and get them started on the long path that culminated in the LA Triathlon. Like most groups of CEOs, there were one or two that had some experience in athletics (including CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers Hall of Famer Wade Miller), but most had never seriously swam, biked, or run - let alone all three activities at once.
The group was given a measured and progressive run / walk program to get them started, plus a '16-weeks to triathlon' training plan. When available, many members would meet for lake swims, rides, and group runs in the Winnipeg area over the summer. They were advised what equipment to buy, given discounts on wetsuits, and sent a cycling uniform to train in.
When race-week arrived, they were met in LA by their three coaches, and the weekend kicked off with instruction on open water ocean swimming. They were taught how to dive under the large breakers, sight on swim buoys, and how to ride the waves into shore. The weekend also included a race strategy session, course tour, and bike and gear check.
Race day dawned cloudy and cool, and the group rode their bikes from their hotel in Marina del Ray to the race start at Venice Beach. Bikes were racked, numbers marked on their bodies, and they warmed up in the water as a team. The nerves reached a fever pitch as they waited for the gun to go, signaling the culmination of their four-month journey.
"It was a very proud moment for Simon and me as we watched the guys sprint into the water, navigate the course, run up the beach and mount their bikes like seasoned veterans", stated Kennedy. "Nine were safely out of the water 25 minutes into the race, but we still had no sign of Ben Cohen. We scanned the horizon for any sight of his white swim cap, but couldn't see him. Around 40 minutes into the race we were getting very concerned, and even thought about jumping into the ocean to see if we could find him. Finally we saw two white swim caps escorted by a lifeguard slowly moving around the final turn buoy."
"I shouted to Simon, ‘Is that Ben'? Then we saw him rise on a big wave and get pushed closer to shore, and sure enough there he was chatting to another first-time triathlete, and now apparent new friend. He struggled to gain his feet and finally emerged from the water exclaiming, with a big smile on his face, ‘That was the hardest thing I have EVER done in my entire life!'"
With Ben safely on shore the coaches hustled to LA Live where the race transitioned from biking to running, and athletes finished in front of the Staples Center. By the time they got there a few of the YPO Winnipeg crew had already finished, and all waited and welcomed each new person across the finish line.
Two of the group went out onto the run course to find Ben, and run him home. There was a huge applause from the other members as Ben made it across the finish line. Even he couldn't believe that he had gone from literally zero athletic activity to now being referred to as ‘Ben Cohen, Triathlete'! His forum mates were grinning from ear to ear, many of them showing plenty of emotion for their good friend.
Sunday night the group gathered in Santa Monica for a well deserved Awards Dinner, and many talked about how the Triathlon Experience program changed their lives, and the lives of their spouses and families. They agreed that without the challenge of completing a triathlon they never would have taken on this journey, and therefore would have missed out on one of the greatest opportunities for personal growth ever presented to them. They are now healthier, have an appreciation of the benefits of regular exercise, look better, and feel better.
As an unexpected side benefit, many of their spouses took up training with them over the summer, and they are now talking about joining their husbands for the YPO Chapter Triathlon Challenge event in Boulder, CO on June 2, 2012.
"The program over-delivered to the expectations of not only the participants, but the coaches", Kennedy said. "We know that some of these guys thought we were crazy when we pitched the program in April, and I'm sure a few went along with it just because of peer pressure. But what we didn't count on was how this journey would bring the team together, how it would strengthen bonds between the members, and how much the human spirit and desire of accomplishment can overcome virtually any obstacle. I literally had a tear in my eye watching Ben stumble up on shore at the end of the swim. I knew what it took for him to toe the starting line, battle the ocean, and fight his way through the surf for the good of the team. And now, on top of being a stamp collector, business icon, husband and father, he can call himself a Triathlete for the rest of his life!"
LA SPRINT TRIATHLON, Sept 25, 2011. YPO Winnipeg Finishers
Swim .4 miles, Bike 14.5 miles, Run 5km
- Grant Cockshott, Welders Supplies Ltd
- Ben Cohen, Axe Houghton Group
- James Cohen, Gendis Inc
- Peter Jessiman, Wescan Capital
- Steve Kroft, Conviron
- Chuck Loewen, Online Business Systems
- Doug McDonald, NewWest Enterprise Property Group
- Wade Miller, Pinnacle
- Harold Rempel, ProVista
- James Umlah, Canadian Tool & Dye
- 100% finish rate!
- Coach Lynn Kanuka was the first female overall finisher in her first ever triathlon!
About the Triathlon Experience Program
The program is hosted by CEO Challenges, the world leader in sport competitions for CEOs, and expert in endurance events for business leaders. CEO Challenges hires some of the world's greatest coaches to inspire, advise, and guide groups of CEOs and Company Presidents. The Program is perfectly suited for YPO Forum groups looking for a totally unique, incredibly inspiring, and life altering positive experience for a Forum Retreat.