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Multitasking comes naturally to the entrepreneur, which just might explain his success as an elite amateur triathlete. Viola, the creator of Every Man Jack, a natural line of men’s grooming products, has captured the highest honors in the sport for age-group triathletes by winning both the 70.3 and full Ironman world titles in the 40–44 division (in 2014). The San Francisco Bay area resident also runs the Every Man Jack elite triathlon team, which has grown to 70 members. This year, the father of two, ages 9 and 11, is targeting Kona qualification with the help of training partner Meredith Kessler while preserving a healthy life balance.
Initially, my triathlon motivation was all about getting fit. I signed up with my sister for my first triathlon. It was the 2007 Treasure Island Triathlon, and there was an oil spill in the [San Francisco] Bay the Wednesday of race week so they canceled the swim. They let all the bikers go in their same waves, but all you did was run from the swim exit to your bike, and it became a bike race. The course was several loops, and someone cut me off and I went flying off my bike and crashed and left the race in an ambulance. I said to my wife, ‘I don’t think this is the sport for me.’ She said, ‘You just spent $3,000 on a bike and wetsuit—you’re doing another one!’
I grew up in a very athletic family. I was the only boy and had three sisters who could do pretty much any sport that you put in front of them. I wasn’t like that and didn’t have any eye-hand coordination. Swimming ended up being therapeutic because it was a little bit rough growing up being the black sheep of the family athletically. I wanted to prove myself. I swam all through high school and at [University of California, Berkeley]. The 200 breaststroke was my best event and I did [individual medley] as well. My senior year I broke the school record and held it for six years—and I was a walk-on. It’s fun to do things when you surprise even yourself.
Doing a sport where your strength is the first leg is incredibly motivating—and humbling. It doesn’t take you long to realize that when someone says, ‘nice swim’ as they’re passing you on the bike, it’s actually a backhanded compliment because ultimately you need to be good in the swim, bike and run. That’s kind of how the first year went—racing from the front and getting passed a lot.
I think ultimately the success I’ve achieved is from finally getting a coach. I’ve been working with Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness. I don’t train any more than I ever did; there’s just a lot more specificity in the work that I’m putting in, and that has yielded stronger bike legs and definitely better runs in the 70.3. I’m going to be 44 in May and am not sure how many gains I’ll continue to see, but as you age up, being able to maintain speed and performance is a win.
It was at [Dixon’s] swim sessions where I met Meredith Kessler. We didn’t know each other but had done a lot of the same races. When we looked up our results, we realized we basically were the same athlete, with some of the same trajectory in improvement. Meredith moved nearby and it was easy to align all our training. She totally supports my get-up-and-go-at-the-crack-of-dawn mentality and we get the work done so we can get back to our lives. She’s a great friend and brings her A-game every day. We’ve been working on the three-hour Ironman marathon.
I created Every Man Jack around the same time I started triathlon. Getting into triathlon was a great stress relief. It allowed me to be calm in the midst of all the craziness from starting my own business. In 2007 we pitched the idea of an all-natural but reasonably priced men’s grooming line to Target. We didn’t even have a name, but ultimately the company was born out of those meetings. We went from paper concept to shelves in six months. We’ve been able to grow year after year.
I was in the sport and had a lot of friends in the sport, so I had the thought to start a team with Every Man Jack as the lead sponsor. We won’t grow bigger than 75. It feels more like a family than a big roster of names. We look for a combo of things: location, commitment to the sport, how well do you race—we have sponsors who want to see our guys on the podium—and community involvement and reach. When I first started in the sport I had some weird interactions with amateur elites whom I thought were arrogant, and I was surprised by it because this is just a hobby for us and we’re all out here for fun. Our internal motto is ‘elite not elitist’—we want to make sure we’re accessible.
The year I won in Kona, I couldn’t have cared less the last six to eight miles. It was such a dogfight and I was just physically and mentally exhausted. My goal is just wanting to care about the end result all the way to the finish. I don’t want to be out there and asking myself what I’m doing this for. I was so frustrated afterward because it was such a negative mental experience. You want to be in it mentally and feel strong until the end.
I’m good at multitasking. I feel like I just throw triathlon into that multitasking mix. I’ve got all these things to do in a given day, and they are all different—a sales call with Target, a marketing meeting about a new app we’re working on, testing new shampoo formulas and I’ll get my run in. It’s just one more ball in the air, but I’m able to juggle all of them. There are some negative aspects of it—if you saw my car you’d be horrified. Some people will ask if I’m living in it.