When Ironman champion Meredith Kessler mentioned to me that her key training partners–a group of talented class-act guys in the San Francisco Bay Area–smell really good, I did the only logical thing I could think of and lined up an interview with one of them. It turns out there’s a reason the guys she trains with are exceptionally well-groomed, despite the endless hours they spend swimming, cycling, running and sweating. They’re members of the all-men’s Team Every Man Jack, the title sponsor of which is a high-quality men’s hair and body care product line (Everymanjack.com).
The 50-member strong nationwide team, founded in 2012, features men ranging in age from 22-52, and they’ve racked up a resume of impressive results. Team EMJ athletes own the overall amateur titles at Ironman Lake Tahoe (2013), Ironman Arizona (2013), Ironman Texas (2014) and Ironman Coeur D’Alene (2014). Their overall amateur Ironman 70.3 titles include Vineman, St. George, Boulder and Kansas, and they scored the top four amateur spots at 2014’s Escape From Alcatraz. Twenty Team EMJ athletes competed in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant (scoring 1st M40-44, 3rd M50-54 and 4th M20-24), and 13 of the team’s 15 Kona qualifiers will toe the line at the Ironman World Championship.
I chatted with Ritch Viola, team founder and a top performer (aforementioned first-place finisher in the men’s 40-44 age group in Mont-Tremblant) and the creator of Every Man Jack to learn more about the team and how he personally achieves life balance as a triathlon Age Group World Champion, husband, father and successful entrepreneur. Viola, a former all-American swimmer at Cal Berkeley and a triathlete since 2008, is currently preparing to travel to Kona where he’ll race the Ironman World Championship before enjoying an end of season family vacation with wife Emily, daughter Abby (10) and son Zac (7).
Triathlete.com: First, I’m curious about your life balancing skills. You obviously have a lot on your plate, so tell me how you manage it all. What does a typical day in your life look like?
RV: I guess I would say I am good at multi-tasking! I do have to be incredibly efficient with my time. I only train in the morning. I’m usually done by 7:30 or 8:30 depending on whether I am taking the kids to school that morning, so my days start early with a 5:00 a.m. alarm. My office is only 10 minutes from my home so that also helps by eliminating any commute to work. When I get home from work around 5:30 p.m. it is family time–dinner, homework, bedtime, etc.
Triathlete.com: What’s the most challenging aspect in terms of juggling all of your priorities?
RV: The most challenging aspect of this lifestyle is ensuring that you are present at all times–trying to only think about work while at work, family when with family, triathlon when training. When weeks get hectic, that can be challenging. We have started a “no electronics” rule in our house from 5:30-8:30 p.m., somewhat successfully. That really helps ensure I am one hundred percent present with those that matter most.
Triathlete.com: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
RV: I guess just the fact that I feel I am living a very full life. I’m doing things that I want to do, yet always ensuring that the priorities are in line. If I have a long ride on Saturday and my kids also have a swim meet, the swim meet always wins. I would much rather watch my kids swim than ride my bike for four hours.
Triathlete.com: I know that you and Meredith Kessler are frequent training partners, and I imagine you’ve learned a ton in the time you’ve spent with her. What are one or two of the most important lessons you’ve gleaned from her?
RV: Meredith is a great friend and a huge supporter of Team EMJ. We have spent many training hours together, as we line up perfectly in swim, bike and run. I have learned many things from her but a few things stand out from the rest. One would definitely be her ability to always look forward. If a workout doesn’t go how she wanted it to go, she doesn’t waste any time or energy over-thinking it or worrying about it. She just gets ready for the next session. And second, how she carries herself and treats others in the sport. She is one of the best in the world yet she’s so humble and so generous with her time. It is a refreshing and contagious attitude.
Triathlete.com: You’ve had a fantastic season, winning your age group title in Mont-Tremblant and qualifying for Kona. I imagine you aim to win in Kona as well, but aside from the obvious, what makes a race successful for you?
RV: I want to care about the end result until I cross that line. And that doesn’t mean I have to win–it just means being “in it” mentally until the finish. So much hard work goes into performing well at these races, and you just want to be engaged mentally and believe in yourself until you cross that line. That feeling hasn’t happened very often in my races–in a 70.3 I usually stop caring around mile eight of the run. But at Mont-Tremblant and in a few races last year (Vineman and Ironman Tahoe), I was all in until the last stride. That feeling is so great, regardless of your time or your place. You feel as though you are fighting and bringing out the best in yourself until the very end, and that is really all you can ask for.
Triathlete.com: In terms of Team Every Man Jack, what are the attributes that you look for in potential team members and when will applications open for the 2015 season?
RV: We will have applications in late October (post-Kona) and we will grow the team in 2015, looking to add more athletes outside the San Francisco Bay Area. However, we won’t grow too big, because then it will be harder to maintain the culture that we all love about this team. As for athlete attributes, of course we want fast athletes, but more than that we want good guys. We have created a culture on the team that we’re very proud of and we want to keep it that way. Our guys are great ambassadors for our sponsors and for the sport of triathlon. “Elite, not elitist” is the phrase we use; if you think you are better than other people because you swim, bike and run fast, please don’t apply to this team.
Triathlete.com: Do you receive requests from women wanting to join the team, and if so, is it something you’ve considered?
RV: We have received many requests from women to join. Every Man Jack recently purchased a women’s-specific line of products (ownbeauty.com) and we are working on the relaunch now, so who knows if we will have a women’s team down the road. But the all guys team works. It has been really fun, everyone gets along so well and we really motivate and inspire each other.
Triathlete.com: How has the team’s involvement in triathlon benefited the EMJ brand?
RV: The team has definitely helped build awareness of the EMJ brand. As a company our investment in the team has been rewarding, but we need to continue to connect the brand to the team. Many people in the sport have heard of the team, but have no idea what the brand is–that is not good! In 2015, we will try to increase our samples and event driven marketing at triathlons. Our best event in 2014 was Vineman 70.3, where Team EMJ sponsored post-race showers. They were pretty incredible, I must say. I don’t think there is anything you want more after finishing a triathlon than a hot shower!
Triathlete.com: Do you have anything new planned for the team for 2015?
RV: We have some new sponsor stuff in the works for 2015, and we’re also looking at new training camp locations. We also need to figure out a great team race to do together. We had 20 guys race Mont-Tremblant, but next year 70.3 Worlds will be a little more challenging to get to in Austria. We have a major focus on community involvement and that will continue to grow. For example, this year we raised nearly $10,000 through organizing a Challenged Athletes Foundation Charity Century Ride, and our CAF ride will be much bigger next year. And who knows, maybe we’ll make a 2015 calendar–although a group of pro men already did that last year!