When Rob Lea arrived in Nantucket on October eight, he had been biking throughout the nation for practically forty days straight, overlaying three,608 miles and a staggering 118,853 ft of elevation acquire. It might be a bucket listing merchandise for many two-wheel aficionados (and it was for him), however it was truly the third such dream journey in a turbocharged six months of journey. In mid-July, Lea spent 11 hours and 47 minutes tangling with jellyfish whereas swimming throughout the English Channel, solely 43 days after he stood on the summit of Mount Everest. Oh, and in the course of all that, he married professional ski mountaineer Caroline Gleich, who dropped to at least one down-clad knee and proposed to Lea the earlier fall whereas the 2 stood atop Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak on the planet.
Earlier than he set out final spring, mates prompt to Lea that the bike journey could be clean crusing, by far the simplest a part of what he dubbed the Final World Triathlon. However these lengthy hours within the saddle have been truly the hardest of the complete endeavor as he pedaled a century journey day-after-day, dedicated completely to stretching the outer limits of his thoughts and physique. As soon as deposited on the fringe of the Atlantic, an completely depleted Lea waded in, his neon pink Specialised steed thrust overhead in a victory pose as his eyes crammed with tears.
“It’s laborious to type of put into phrases what it felt like. There have been positively occasions that I questioned my very own sanity,” says Lea. “It was a brilliant emotional second once I lastly completed.”
Lea has at all times dabbled in athletic extra. As a child in Park Metropolis, Utah, the place he nonetheless lives, he backpacked, swam, ran cross-country, and tooled round on a mountain bike. “I distinctly recall, once I was six years outdated or one thing, my of us telling me I needed to give up one sport trigger I used to be in, like, eight totally different sports activities,” he laughs.
His assorted pursuits all however assured Lea would turn out to be enamored with triathlon. Actually, throughout one in all his first races as a teen, he snagged first place, single-handedly edging out each relay crew within the lineup. Lea went on to swim on the College of California Davis, and logged his first Ironman at 19 years outdated. By 2012, he’d turn out to be the Males’s World Champion within the Half Ironman for his age group.
Lea would have gone professional if not for a duo of accidents—one to his knee, one other to his ankle. When his physician instructed Lea to give up working, not less than competitively, a thought flashed by way of his thoughts: I want a brand new aim. And simply as shortly, one arrived—swim the English Channel. The endeavor is also known as the “Everest of swimming,” and there’s limitless debate over which of the 2 is extra punishing. Lea, who added mountaineering and backcountry snowboarding to his repertoire after assembly Gleich, thought that maybe he’d try each—and end the feat inside a yr, which nobody had ever achieved. Ever the triathlete, he couldn’t depart his bike by the wayside.
Along with becoming a member of him for the Everest climb and supporting the opposite two legs of the Final World Triathlon, Gleich impressed Lea to dedicate his efforts towards selling gender fairness not solely within the open air, however far past. By means of their Large Mountain Goals Basis, the 2 would share anti-bias supplies and launch a social marketing campaign selling their endeavors as #climbforequality and #triforequality, hopefully sparking dialog about enhance the dismal statistics surrounding girls’s participation in journey sports activities, and their illustration on the highest ranges of the outside trade.
However first, Lea wanted to plan. Two-and-a-half years earlier than he’d don a Speedo on the British shore, he employed an formally sanctioned boat pilot for the Channel swim to order his slot, however he didn’t actually decide to the Final World Triathlon till after the Cho Oyu climb, lower than a yr out from his eventual begin date. He skied and climbed, notched numerous exercises, and spent a variety of time shivering by way of ice baths, constructing his chilly tolerance for the Channel. As soon as he returned from Everest, nevertheless, Lea’s coaching derailed, consisting principally of stuffing his face to achieve weight—and insulation—after the punishing climb. By the point he straddled his bike on August 30 in Anacortes, Washington, Lea had solely taken it out a handful of occasions.
“I’ve a reasonably brief time period reminiscence of the ache, in order that’s why I believe I like a few of these forms of adventures,” says Lea. “I believe there’s in all probability additionally a component the place though I let you know it was actually laborious, I type of needed it to be laborious in some bizarre means. I needed to maintain testing myself.”
We spoke with Lea about his Final World Tri, his drive for testing private boundaries, and the significance of males becoming a member of the dialog about gender fairness.
What have been among the most difficult conditions you confronted throughout these six months?
It was principally low-grade struggling. Caroline wasn’t feeling effectively initially [on Everest], and it was laborious to have her sick and marvel how the remainder of the journey was going to play out. Then, once we obtained excessive on the mountain, we have been type of skunked with the climate. After we obtained to Camp Two, we have been going to do a fast push to the summit and again; then we determined that it wasn’t time for us to go, so we needed to spend an additional day at 25,000’ sitting within the tent. Despite the fact that we knew that it was the correct name, it was a very powerful choice for us to make. Finally, I’d have a lot somewhat achieved that than be caught within the crowds that occurred on Might 23rd, however that day at Camp Two was in all probability one of many hardest days mentally, watching everybody else go and questioning if we have been going to get our window the subsequent day or not.
The spotlight from the swim was positively the jellyfish. I knew that I used to be going to get some, and in some bizarre, sadistic means, I used to be trying ahead to it. I assumed—effectively, it will wake me up, give me one thing to consider. I imply, it’s type of like getting stung by a bee or one thing; it offers you a bit zing and an adrenaline rush—and I did get that for a few them. However I believe there have been extra jellyfish than common on my swim, so I in all probability obtained stung over 100 occasions. I obtained two direct blows to the face. These have been tremendous painful and you’ll’t even inform somebody about it, as a result of you may’t actually speak—you’re within the water. So that you’re going by way of all this ache after which simply should maintain swimming, doing all of your factor, and pushing by way of it.
You speak about eager to “check” your self—what does that imply on a deeper stage?
I a hundred percent take pleasure in doing all of these items, like, I take pleasure in the great thing about being out on my bike, however I additionally take pleasure in testing my physique’s and thoughts’s limits on what’s truly doable; that’s type of the entire essence of this triathlon within the first place. I might have achieved [the legs] in three consecutive years and it will’ve been a completely totally different problem for me.
There’s one thing about how I prefer to deliver myself to the journey, to the problem; it’s normally not at full bore, however I wish to guarantee that I’m pushing my physique and thoughts as a lot as I can alongside the way in which. I believe that’s what makes it rewarding, when on the finish, you knew that you just laid every part down.
What have been among the most rewarding moments of the entire challenge?
It was such a curler coaster journey that each time I had a low second, I type of had a excessive second coming. Attending to the highest of Going-to-the-Solar Street in Glacier [National Park] on the bike was in all probability a kind of moments, as a result of I knew that I used to be by way of the North Cascades and mainly by way of the Rockies, and actually trying ahead to some flatter terrain the place I assumed my legs would get well—though they by no means actually did.
I’d additionally say, simply sharing the experiences alongside the way in which with Caroline; she was there for just about all of it. My mother was with me for the center a part of the bike journey and to share a part of the journey together with her was actually particular, as effectively. On the journey, we stayed with a few the those that we climbed Cho Oyu and Everest with. You at all times do these expeditions and get tremendous near folks over, like, a 40-day interval, and you are feeling like they’re nearly your greatest pal—after which generally you by no means see them once more. So it was very nice, lower than six months after, to not solely see them, however keep of their properties and type of return to Everest in a way, and relive a few of these reminiscences as I used to be ending up the bike.
Why did you undertake a message of gender fairness for the Final World Triathlon?
Within the three years I used to be planning this entire factor, I noticed a variety of occasions when Caroline would run throughout these gender equality points. It was proper in entrance of my face, so it was simply type of pure for me to speak about it.
I’d been snowboarding my entire life and I’d achieved some mountaineering, however once we first began relationship, the backcountry snowboarding factor was fairly new, and Caroline’s clearly knowledgeable ski mountaineer. After we would exit into the mountains and different folks would strategy us, they’d mechanically come to me and ask questions on what we have been doing, about circumstances, and people sorts of issues the place she is clearly the professional—I imply, to me, she’s clearly the professional, however to not different folks; they’re simply coming to me as a result of I’m a tall, white male. I don’t assume folks imply to try this, however it’s type of this implicit bias that exists.
On the bike, I’d have both a superb day or dangerous day. Sometimes the great days could be once I had some type of tailwind; then the subsequent day, I’d have this horrible headwind. I assumed loads about how that’s a superb metaphor for all times for ladies that typically have this sort of headwind that they should work in opposition to; as a white male, I in all probability have that tailwind type of pushing me by way of life a bit bit. It’s not honest to anticipate a girl to attain the identical issues, but give her a headwind whole time—and it might be a bit headwind or an enormous hurricane.
I believe that guys should be a part of this dialog and be advocates for ladies. I’ve had a bit little bit of backlash, like “This isn’t your struggle to struggle,” however I additionally assume it’s my accountability, if I’ve a voice, to speak about it.
Wanting on the massive image, how would you prefer to see gender fairness manifest within the outside trade and journey sports activities?
I believe the primary factor we have to see is extra girls as position fashions. Meaning you need to put into feminine athletes, you need to spend money on girls, making it so that girls could make a dwelling within the outside house the identical means males can. Clearly that’s not at all times simple for males, as effectively, however there’s an enormous disparity within the sum of money that goes into girls’s outside journey and males’s.
You’ve mentioned that your massive takeaway was realizing that we’re all able to greater than we expect; what do you hope different folks take away from the Final World Triathlon?
This may sound humorous, however I believe that to a sure extent, the Final World Triathlon half may get type of misplaced or forgotten, however what I need folks to go ahead enthusiastic about and having conversations about is the gender equality half. That’s one thing that may dwell on. And that’s one thing that really makes a distinction. images courtesy Rob Lea & Caroline Gleich