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Nowadays, former Ironman CEO Ben Fertic can most often be found underwater with a speargun in his hand hunting for big fish.
The training is different now, but his fitness level just might be better than ever. Not many people can say this, but Ben Fertic weighs exactly the same as he did back in 1996 when he did the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. But Fertic, the former president and CEO of World Triathlon Corporation who retired at the age of 42 about a year ago, certainly can. His fitness comes from free diving near his home in Clearwater, Fla., and it’s become way more than a hobby for him. While we are chatting, he is deep into planning his trip to Baja, Mexico, in a few days to participate in the La Paz World Cup Invitational Spearfishing World Championship.
We’re not talking sitting on the deck of a boat, casting a line, hanging out with your buddies and having a beer (or 10) while dangling a hook in the water. Nope. Fertic will dive with his speargun and try to nab the largest fish he can and get it back to the surface. “It’s the best thing ever,” admits Fertic. “This type of competition is a cross between hunting and Ironman. I love it!”
He will be free diving to 80 or 90 feet—the deepest he has gone is 135 feet—shoot a marlin, tuna or wahoo and then return with his catch to the surface. He will need to hold his breath for more than two minutes during deep dives, and the catch that he will be coming to the surface with could weigh upward of 100 pounds. In the tournament in Baja, Fertic will compete for two days in a row, take a day off, and then compete for two more days before heading home.
Strength. Endurance. Swimming ability. Toughness.
His new sport definitely has similar demands to the Ironman, minus the wheels and the aid stations. “When I run now,” he says, “I’ll be anaerobic most of the time and try to keep my mouth closed while breathing through my nose.” He runs intervals, sprinting to one telephone pole full gas, and then easing off and recovering on the way to the next telephone pole before digging deep and sprinting for the next pole.
Besides holding his breath and possibly passing out underwater, there are a few other minor hazards Fertic has to be aware of. Just a week before our conversation, he had been diving and caught a fish. As he started to pull it in, a nine-foot bull shark decided to join the party. “He followed me back to the boat while I held on to my catch,” laughs Fertic. “That wasn’t much fun, but there was no way I was going to let him take it.”
When he is asked what he misses about his job as the president of WTC, Fertic says it’s the people and the excitement at the finish line. “It’s a really tough job,” he admits. “The only thing that ever really bothered me was when someone didn’t get the Ironman experience that they were hoping for. At the end of the day, Ironman is in the dream fulfillment business, and our No. 1 job was to help our athletes make their dreams come true.”
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