Recalled: That Time Jennifer Lopez Did a Triathlon

Triathlon made it into the mainstream when superstar Jennifer Lopez tackled swim, bike, and run at the 2008 Nautica Malibu Triathlon.

Photo: Jason Merritt/FilmMagic

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In August of 2008, Self magazine proclaimed Jennifer Lopez as their “Most Inspiring” woman of the year. The story inside spoke to her ability to seemingly do it all: Sing, act, dance…swim, bike, and run. Yes, just six months after giving birth to twins, Lopez was giving new meaning to “triple threat.” She was training for her first triathlon.

And not just any triathlon. It was the 2008 Nautica Malibu triathlon, which is arguably the most glitzy event on the tri circuit, complete with a celebrity category. Aside from Lopez, the A-list start list that year included Lopez’s Wedding Planner co-star Matthew McConaughey, plus William H. Macy, Eliza Dushku, and Anna Kournikova among the stars covering the  ½-mile swim, 18-mile bike ride, and 4-mile run course. 

Lopez’s desire to do a triathlon was initially sparked by her desire to shed some baby weight after having her twins, Max and Emme. And, ever the professional, she wasn’t about to just wing it–or panic train for this challenge. Instead, she teamed up with Gunnar Peterson, the trainer to the stars during the aughts, who built her sprint triathlon training plan and whipped her into a lean, mean endurance machine. “I don’t expect to win this race; my goal is to finish,” Lopez said before the race. “I’ll probably end up crawling across the finish line, but I’ll do it!”

On September 14, 2008, on a fog-covered Zuma beach on California’s southern coast, Lopez, then 39, rolled up in a black SUV surrounded by an entourage which included her then-husband Marc Anthony, her sister, her assistant, and a few beefy bodyguards, who stuck by her side all morning. With large, wrap-around sunglasses covering most of her makeup-free face, Lopez high-fived fans, flashed peace signs, and cracked jokes as she set up her transition area, saying “pray for me” when asked how she was feeling.  

When Lopez joined the wetsuit-clad mass gathered on the beach for final race instructions, she blended in while nervously fidgeted with her goggles and wetsuit.  There’d be no VIP area in the angry, 64-degree Pacific ocean. Once the gun went off, Lopez was just another swimmer in the crowd. 

Jennifer Lopez is surrounded by photographers as she makes her way to the swim start. Photo: Jordan Strauss/WireImage

After emerging from the water clearly exhausted (but resolutely fist-pumping), Lopez hurried to transition, only to realize many triathlete’s worst nightmare: Some of her gear was gone. Whether it was moved or stolen remained to be seen, but Lopez had to scramble before getting on her black Specialized bike as Petersen tossed her an oversized white t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and another competitor gave her sneakers to use for the ride (her shoes later reappeared in time for the run). Unfettered, Lopez stayed the course and completed the race in 2 hours, 23 minutes, and 28 seconds–fast enough to land a podium spot in her division, all while raising more than $100,000 for charity for her efforts. (McConaughey, meanwhile, finished in 1 hour, 43 minutes, and 48 seconds, a few places back from Andy “The Bachelor” Baldwin, who won the celebrity division for the men in 1 hour, 30 minutes.)

At the awards ceremony emceed by supermodel Cindy Crawford, a clearly delighted Lopez beamed, clutching her fifth-place medal like she’d just been awarded a Grammy. “I feel great,” she gushed. “Well, mostly great that I finished…and I made it out of the water!” 

Although she showed promise in multisport, it appears that the triathlon bug didn’t quite bite Lopez. As far as we know, Lopez never entered another race. 

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