By Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy , U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published October 05, 2010
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Forget about who's crazy enough to participate in a triathlon, who was crazy enough to come up with the over-the-top race in the first place? That's right, a Navy man.
In 1978, following a running race around the Hawaiian island of Oahu, participants were sitting around arguing about who were the best overall athletes: swimmers, runners, or something else altogether. Among those involved in the discussion were Navy Cdr. John Collins and his wife Judy. They came up with a race that will settle the score once and for all. They would combine three existing Hawaiian races to be completed in succession: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (112 miles, originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles).
Fifteen men participated in the first Ironman triathlon, with only 12 completing the race. On Oct. 9, Maj. Scott "Kidd" Poteet, an air officer commanding for Cadet Squadron 02, will carry the military torch lit by Collins when he competes alongside 1,799 other men and women at the 2010 Ford Ironman Triathlon.
Poteet, a former Thunderbird pilot with combat experience in Kosovo and the Middle East, was chosen to represent the Air Force alongside C-17 Globemaster III pilot Capt. Jamie Turner at this year's competition. Each military service gets a male and female position in the race.
"There's been military representation at this race since the beginning and it's great to have the opportunity to carry on that tradition," Poteet said. "Representing the Air Force actually makes me a little more nervous than I typically would be. There's a lot on the line and I just want to make everyone proud."
A runner while at the University of New Hampshire, Poteet gradually built his repertoire to include biking and swimming. He took up triathlons shortly after commissioning in the Air Force more than 14 years ago eventually evolving enough to compete in Ironman competitions more than 10 years ago, including races in Switzerland, Austria, Canada and the United States. This year's race will be his 10th and his second trip to Kona for the world championship.
And it's that experience that has helped him get better as the years have gone by.
"This is an older more experienced race" he said. "The people who win this are not the young pups. It's about experience; knowing how much your body can take. You're never going to go out there and feel great the entire race. The important part is having the experience to know to relax; the strength will eventually come back."
His last trip to Kona was in 2004. After joining the Thunderbirds, Poteet had a hard time finding the time required to maintain his competition endurance level and went on hiatus for a couple of years. But since arriving at the Academy in March 2009, he's kicked his training in to high gear and prepared himself to perform once again at a professional level.
"Typically in your first Ironman, you just want to finish," he explained. "From there, you want to continue to progress and qualify for the world championship. There are not too many other sports out there where you have an opportunity to compete with the pros. And I typically finish in the middle of the pros."
Where experience is an integral part of the package, Poteet wouldn't be able to complete such a grueling race without months and months of continuous training. He dedicates much of his free time to training which includes about three to four hours per day.
"On a typical week, I'll swim three to four times per week and each of those swims will be roughly 3,000-3,500 yards," he said, calculating the distances on his fingers. "I commute to work on my bike 8 miles each way to go along with the time I put in on my trainer at home that I ride before sunrise and after the kids go to bed. I also run anywhere from 10-24 miles on the weekends with an interval training session on Wednesdays that equates to roughly 10-15 miles. Then I do supplemental runs throughout the week."
If you're keeping track, all this equates to about 10,000-15,000 yards of swimming, 300-350 miles on the bike and 40-60 miles of running per week. Definitely not for those without a strong competitive will.
"To be able to compete at this level, there's a certain amount of training volume you need to accomplish," he added. "And to be able to do that day in and day out, that's what's difficult. When it's cold out, when it's windy and raining, you've still got to get out there. That's the hard part."
Despite his competitive nature and his desire to do well at this year's race, Poteet understands he doesn't have the personal time to set aside required to finish at the top with some of the best; his responsibilities lie elsewhere.
"My obligation and my duty is to the military," he said. "The pros typically train, nap, train, nap, eat, train and nap. And I just don't have the time or desire to do that."
Regardless, he trains hard and spends a lot of time doing it. And while triathlons are a solo sport, Poteet understands he just wouldn't be able to do it without the support of his wife Kristin.
The two recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. She has been with him since the beginning and understands not only what it takes to be able to compete, but also what it means to him on a personal level.
"I just try to encourage him to keep his spirits up whether he is injured or not feeling so well," Kristin said. "I just truly believe in him as an athlete and competitor and never doubt his success, which makes it easy for me to encourage him."
And sometimes that encouragement meets the road when she can find time to step away from raising their three kids: Lily, 5, Madeline, 2, and Logen, 7 months.
"When we are lucky enough to have a 7 a.m. babysitter, i.e. grandparents, then we'll usually go out for a run together ... we consider that in of itself a date," she said. "Raising our family is definitely a team effort, and whatever hours he takes to train for Ironman, I get back in date nights and training time for myself."
That includes some date nights on the Hawaiian coast. Kristin's parents are coming to Colorado Springs to be with Lily and Madeline while she and Scott take little Logen to Kona. Scott's parents will meet them in Hawaii to lend a hand where they can as well.
"The support is critical," he said. "You'll see a lot of one-timers in the sport who dedicate a year to compete in an Ironman. They train and they get the t-shirt. As far as dedicating a portion of your life to the sport, it takes a lot of understanding from the spouse. I've been doing this for 10 years now, and she understands how this affects me."
No matter how much support the major has from his family, it will come down to him and his determination to finish. Nobody can carry him across the finish line.
"It is a lifestyle," he said. "It's a passion to do this day in and day out. The race itself is not that healthy though. Out of the nine races I competed in, I've ended up in the medical tent in seven of them after the race."
Despite the race-day fatigue, Poteet says he spends much of his time helping others work on their fitness and adopt the lifestyle. It's something that sticks with him even more than his time as a Thunderbird.
"You have more impact as a Thunderbird with the flight suit and the aircraft than on a personal level," he explained. "Whether it's the sport or the lifestyle, it's contagious. If you live it and have a passion for it, people see that and want to replicate it. It inspires and motivates them. It's not something I'm intentionally trying to do, but I've seen it throughout my entire career. And that's a good feeling. That to me is just as meaningful as my experiences with the Thunderbirds."
Ultimately, Poteet is proud to carry on the military Ironman tradition. He will pick up the torch first lit by John Collins and carry it alongside nine other servicemembers across more than 140 miles of lava-encrusted coastline and proudly call himself an Ironman.