Monday, February 1, 2010

Farmer Athletes


Steve Ritter photo
Idaho Farmers Take Getting in Shape to a Higher Level
by Jake Putnam

Emmett--A little out of shape and approaching his 50th birthday, Vaughn Jensen decided it was time to change his lifestyle. So the Emmett farmer and his wife Lisa decided to tackle one of the most grueling sports in existence and it’s given them a new perspective on life.

Throughout her life Lisa has been an athlete interested in several sports. She was a good high athlete and was recruited to play basketball at Snow College in Utah.

But while growing up on a dairy Vaughn missed out on high school athletics. A little over a year ago Vaughn started noticing changes in his life and it bothered him. He was tired all the time and fretted over his fitness and a growing waistline.

"I was feeling my age and weight and decided that I wanted to get back in shape," he said. There is nothing unusual in that hundreds of thousands of people make New Year resolutions, but the farmer and Gem County Farm Bureau Board member chose the hardest road to fitness he could find.

The Ironman is the Holy Grail of fitness competition and is definitely not for weekend athletes. The race is an almost impossible test of strength and a grueling and a test of willpower.
Ironman Triathlons are a series of long-distance races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation. Events consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and then a 26-mile marathon run.

Triathletes run the Ironman without a break and all the events have strict time limits. Competitors must complete the events in just 17 hours or face disqualification. The races typically start at 7 a.m. in open water and they need to finish the 2.4 mile swim within 2 hours 20 minutes.

The racers spend the bulk of the morning and afternoon on the massive bike ride that has to be finished by 5:30 p.m. Then runners must finish the marathon by midnight.
Vaughn's goal seemed impossible at first, but with Lisa’s support he was able to put in the hours of training it takes to become an endurance athlete. The Jensen’s train together in all three events.

"He could do his farm work," said Lisa. "But he was getting out of shape and getting heavy and you just don't feel good and you don’t feel good about yourself when you get fat."

At first, the Jensen’s started jogging together and later bought road bikes and a membership to the Ontario, Oregon YMCA for the early morning swims. They also researched and studied their sport. More importantly they decided to make the journey together.

"We’re in an age of technology," said Vaughn. "And we don't get the exercise, especially the regular exercise we used to get in the farm community and we need it."

Together the Jensen’s got to work with early morning, noon and early evening workouts. They learned how to eat and compete all over again. They set goals and the first major one was to finish a marathon. Next came Vaughn's ultimate dream of finishing an Ironman event.

"He grew up working on his family dairy and wasn't allowed to play sports in high school," said Lisa. “Sports have always been a part of my life, I played college basketball.”

Later, the Jensen’s got a wake-up call. "When we first started swimming we couldn't even swim the length of the pool,” said Lisa. “We didn't know how to swim with our faces in the water." But together they persevered and kept practicing until the swimming became second nature.They learned technique and endurance in the water, efficiency and pace on the bikes, and how to overcome the pain during long runs.

"The knees start to ache about 13 miles into a run,” said Vaughn. “We run on our farm roads and I really like that. The bicycle is easier on the joints and Lisa does really well on the bike. I like the long bike rides because you have to focus on pacing and endurance. It also gives you enough time to take a break from the farm work."

Vaughn says triathlon training has improved his farming operation despite the fact that he has less time. "I do think the workouts help because when I’m running, cycling or swimming I think about things that are going on in my farming operation and I think it has given me renewed energy and fresh outlook on things. It’s helped me with goal setting.”

Listening to Vaughn talk, the word marathon pops up constantly in the form of metaphors. Building a farm is a marathon, creating and growing a family life is a marathon. The Jensen’s took the metaphor to a literal interpretation this past summer.

This past June marked Vaughn’s 50th birthday and he competed in the Boise 70.3 Ironman. After that he ran the Hermiston Marathon in October. He and Lisa have competed in the Emmett Olympic Distance Triathlon twice. Swimming presented the biggest obstacle for Vaughn during the Boise Ironman event.

"The water temps weren’t much of a problem,” he said. “I had a wet suit at Lucky Peak that protected me against the cold, along with head protection. It was windy, there were waves and the water was rough. I didn’t realize how rough until I got out of the water. The wave action affected my equilibrium and I staggered a bit.”

But after he got out of the reservoir it was smooth sailing, making an excellent time on the bike and did reasonably well in the marathon.

"I finished in about the 45th percentile for my age group," recalled Vaughn. "So I was in the middle. I’m looking forward to see what I can do to improve that time." Lisa also looks forward to the next test.

"When we did our first marathon our goal was to finish," said Lisa, fighting back tears of pride. "And we did. Whether you cross that finish line in first place or dead last, you still feel like a winner because you did it.” The Jensen's have proved that they’re clearly winners.

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