The founder of Germany's largest triathlon club, Eintracht Frankfurt, has some surprising insights into the country's take on tri.
Germany’s Georg Heckens raced Kona for the first time Saturday and finished in a respectable 10:47:36, a time that assumes he showed up with his top-of-the-line racing bike. You would be wrong.
“That bike is very expensive. I only use it for racing [qualifying],” he told me before the day before the championship. “I’m here to have fun.”
Instead, Heckens finished the bike on his 10-year-old Specialized.
The 50-year-old IT manager is also the founder of the largest triathlon club in Germany—1,150-member-strong Eintracht Frankfurt. Before the race, I kept prodding him, asking why Germany has such a big tri community, but he doesn’t see it that way.
“I try to explain to my family, friends, ‘you know, you swim, you ride your bike, then you run,’ and they don’t get it,” he says. “Soccer is Germany’s sport, not triathlon.”
But he admits the Deutsche Triathlon Union works hard at growing multisport by visiting schools and offering nationally sponsored youth programs. “They do quite a bit with kids for sure,” he says, agreeing that such an effort is important for tri’s future.
Heckens believes very few Germans watch the Ironman World Championship. When I ask him which of his compatriots he thought had a shot at the podium, he says he doesn’t really follow triathlon’s who’s who. “I don’t have time,” he explains. Between his full-time career, his 20-plus unpaid hours at Eintracht Frankfurt, and his workouts, his schedule is pretty chewed up.
Heckens has another passion, however, and you can see it emblazoned on his racing kit. Logos of non-profit organizations the club supports are displayed—they don’t pay him. “I’m very careful,” he explains, to choose orgs that focus on environmental sustainability and humanitarian issues. The United Nations’ Zero Hunger Project is one of his favorites.
Building international partnerships is also on Heckens mind. He’s visited tri clubs in Israel, explaining, “I think because of the Holocaust it’s the right thing. It’s good when people are friends from different countries.”
This outreach shows up at Eintracht Frankfurt too. Adult members—no matter their tri experience—pay a monthly $20 membership fee and have unlimited access to training sessions offered by state-licensed triathlon instructors. The fee for kids is $8 per month, and families who cannot afford to pay don’t. There are about 60 different weekly training sessions; the club even has 60 tri bikes (“pretty good ones,” Heckens says) for members to use. Although there is no actual brick-and-mortar facility (bike and run sessions are meetups) the City of Frankfurt ensures the club has free access to community pools.
“Fairness and health, in life and sports,” Heckens says, “that’s what’s important to me.”
I didn’t get to see Heckens cross the Kona finish line, but when I saw his time I knew he must have been happy. He had wanted to wrap under 10:20, but told me a finish before nightfall would be fine, and so was midnight: “As long as I finish.”