The All-Pro running back plans to be a full-time triathlete when he hangs up his helmet.
For a 5-foot-9, 217-pound compact mass of muscle, DeAngelo Williams is surprisingly quick. He has to be. This All-Pro running back for the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers relies on his speed to evade tacklers who can weigh 50 percent more than he does yet are nearly as quick—and tasked precisely with taking Williams to the turf.
But often those dreadlocks that spill out the back of his helmet are the last thing that NFL defenses see. Keeping his feet constantly going forward, he hits his offensive line’s hole at Olympian speed, and then has the core strength to hold off tackles, meaning his carries can often turn into 30-yard gains or more.
So you wouldn’t guess that a guy with such a specially tuned engine is into triathlon—a sport that tends to favor diesel motors over Williams’ heavy torque. Yet, he’s passionate about the sport, having participated on a relay team in the Nautica South Beach Triathlon on behalf St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for three years.
Williams got into triathlon as the result of a challenge: “One of the ladies for St. Jude kind of called me out—was like, ‘I’ll do it if you do it,’” he says. “I did the biking portion, and from that point on, I’ve been hooked.”
The demands of an NFL off-season conditioning program mean Williams has no time for swim practice, so for now he’s content taking on the bike leg. And, at 29 (an elder statesman by running back standards), Williams has already begun planning his second athletic career.
“When I’m done playing ball, I’m gonna be a full-time triathlete,” he says. “I’ve already got a bike, and I love traveling. So all I’d have to do is travel, pay my entry fee and go off. I’m staying in shape, and I’m having fun doing it.”
For now, while he’s still playing, he says cycling integrates well into his off-season workouts. It’s a chance to work different parts of his muscles than what he gets from endless hours lifting weights, running track workouts and enduring countless plyometrics drills.
It helps, too, that his girlfriend is also a triathlete. “She started this year, actually,” Williams says. “She’s one of those whatever-you-can-do-I-can-do-better people.” Which means that if Williams’ speed in his current day job is any indication, the rest of the race field should watch out for these two.
Williams has immersed himself in a hurry into the cycling component of triathlon and loves his carbon fiber Kestrel. Even he is surprised at his enthusiasm: “It’s kind of crazy because a year or two ago I’d just jump on a bike and go. And now, besides the components, I’m starting to know bikes.”
But for now he’s resisting the urge to upgrade. “I don’t want to go up in components; I want to keep training with the ones I have. Only because I’ve found that components can be more expensive than the entire bike—so I’m not gonna get into that!”