ProFile: Dan Hugo

We catch up with the XTERRA athlete and talk about his bike crash, traveling, and enjoying the finer things in life.

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In June 2012, XTERRA athlete Dan Hugo unintentionally pounded the pavement when a dog intersected his path as he pre-rode the course of Ironman 70.3 Mooseman, meant to be one of Hugo’s rare road triathlon appearances. His injuries, which included several cracked vertebrae and a shattered collarbone, left Hugo with a collection of hardware: a plate and 12 screws in his left shoulder. But one year post-accident — prior to which Hugo had an uncanny string of 12 second-place finishes — the 28-year-old South African proved he’s back on track and better than ever with wins at May’s BEast of the Southeast and June’s XTERRA South East Championship — and a fresh perspective on life.

Here’s what Hugo has to say on a variety of issues:

“The first split-second on the tar I had a flash: ‘This could be it.’ And that’s enough to recalibrate, whether you want to gauge those sorts of emotions or not. It can be liberating to run that full process. ‘If this is the end, how OK am I with that?’ And if you’re not OK with that, what are you willing to do to get to the place of being OK? And if you are OK with walking away, what would that look like? I think these are all really good processes, and so for that, I’m grateful for the crash. I’m trying to be really respectful of that journey. And I get to define it, so to me this year is a bit more about traveling and probably not taking high performance quite as aggressively as in the past.”

“When I got back into the gym it was a focus to do a couple pushups even — I was that weak. I am still a bit weaker on the left, and the shoulder’s not popping in the swim stroke as much as I would like it to, but my back feels fantastic. The longer comeback is the emotional and psychological side — finding your balance and your mojo and your confidence. I’ve been aware that that’s taken a moment.”

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“One of my first travel races this year was in the Philippines. I must have gone at race pace past a hundred dogs that day, so I certainly managed to get over whatever fears I had. But I’m certainly not any closer to dogs than I was before.”

“When I was running in Tennessee [at the BEast of the Southeast] and I came off the bike with maybe a five-minute lead I thought, ‘OK, what is going to happen? I mean something has to happen, right? I know I’m not going to win, so this is going to be interesting!’ Eventually the finish line approached and I felt a bit awkward. ‘Shall I do it? Shall I not?’ I almost didn’t know which step to go to on the podium because second was so engrained.”

“As a traveling athlete, I live a double life. I almost have two identities. And I find it very refreshing to do so — to live like a swallow, like a lot of animals in nature that migrate. When I really get into life in Boulder I have a different phone number, I remember different street names, different people’s details — and then one day I just leave and become immersed in a different life. When I’m home in South Africa I’m always sad to leave and when I get to Boulder I’m so glad to be there, and vice versa.”

“I’m a pretend foodie. I enjoy everything down to the detail in the restroom of a restaurant. The two really fun hobbies within that have been coffee and wine, and both I’ve been fortunate to pursue to quite a high level. I’m really spoiled to have an incredible espresso machine back home — the best money can buy for home use, La Marzocco GS3. Not that it’s exclusively mine, but I get to use it. Every morning it’s a little ritual and a gift. I enjoy the making as much as I enjoy the drinking, and getting to share that with other people. That’s the morning, and then you’ve got to have something else for the evening, so wine is secondary to that. And wine is perhaps similar to triathlon. People don’t choose it for wealth reasons — a lot of the best winemakers live a very humble, very connected, very earthy life. They’re passionate — truly passionate — and they have a story. They have a purpose.”

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“I view what I do as freeing, because there’s a lot of self-discipline and accountability and responsibility, but if I don’t want to get up tomorrow, I don’t have to get up tomorrow. I cherish that and I try to explore it. I try to not run the same route twice. To me that is youthful. At some point I hope I’ll be wanting and willing to change that, but I’m certainly not in the mind-frame of dependents or calming down now — in fact I want to accelerate and taste more. In that sense I feel like I’m just beginning, just about to get traction. But I wouldn’t find it at all offensive if you called me an old soul. I’d probably thank you.”

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