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It’s the awe-inspiring locations, not the races themselves, that I remember most about my racing career.
“How did we get here?” I asked my wife, Nicole, as we stretched in bed and stared out the window that perfectly framed a glowing, smoking volcanic peak. I was in awe.
I asked myself the same question standing on the black-sand beach the next morning before the start of the race. U2’s “Beautiful Day” was pumping through the transition area, the perfect soundtrack to the day. One of the other professional triathletes saw me gazing at our surroundings, and gave a quick smile, “Not bad, eh mate?”
It wasn’t just me either. There were more competitors appreciating the landscape than pumping up tires. There was more dancing than warm-up jogging. There were more smiles than game faces. That is what I remember about racing in Pucon, Chile.
Sure, I did a challenging race that day, but I don’t remember what place I finished and definitely not my time. (I never remember my times.) When people ask about it, I never talk about the 20-plus hours of travel to get there with three flights, a bus ride and two more hours in a car. I don’t mention Nicole bursting into stress-filled tears at the airport after our white-knuckle drive through the hills around Santiago, with a driver who thought he was Tony Kanaan at the Indy 500.
I remember Pucon. I remember hanging out with legends Mark Allen and Ken Glah. I remember eating giant 1-pound hamburgers at 11 o’clock the night before the race—because that’s what you do in Pucon!
After 20 years of traveling the globe to different race venues, what I remember more than anything else, are the places and the faces, not the races.
I tell people about the beautiful hills and pristine waters in Klagenfurt, Austria. I talk about driving to Venice, Italy, and hobbling around the city on post-Ironman legs. I show people the painting that my host family gave me to remember my travels there. I never mention losing to Jürgen Zack by less than a minute.
I reminisce about my solo travels around the South Island of New Zealand as a naïve 24-year-old, and years later, my return visits to one of the most beautiful places on earth. I share how my homestay family there became an extended family of my own. I’ve highly recommended that friends explore the various wonders of New Zealand without ever mentioning that I raced in Wellington, Auckland and Taupo.
I love laughing with my friend and pro motorcycle racer, Ben Bostrom, about how I was racing in the hills around Nice, France, as he unexpectedly drove by in a convertible and wanted to have a conversation during the race. Sitting next to an actual rock star, Beck, and his band at dinner, and clumsily jogging through the topless beaches on the Riviera also top my list of France highlights. I absolutely never talk about being disappointed with my result at that event.
Driving across Europe to follow the Tour de France, the week after racing an Ironman, is what I recall about going to Frankfurt, Germany. Magnificent Mount Fuji is what I picture from my many trips to Japan. The authentic food, cheering school kids, and beauty of James Bond Island far outshine any races I did in Thailand. And my favorite event of all time, the Norseman Extreme, introduced me to the wonder of Norway. It checked every box for me, and it’s the place I speak about most.
I am incredibly lucky to have traveled to so many breathtaking places on this planet while doing something I love. It’s unlikely I would have discovered even half of these special places if racing were not the catalyst. I definitely never would have heard of Pucon, Chile!
Toward the end of my professional racing career, I made the decision that I would only compete if, when and where I wanted. I didn’t have to (or want to) go halfway around the world to race anymore. However, if I did decide to put on a race bib again, I made one rule. It is a rule I still follow today: I have to be in awe.
Tim DeBoom is the 2001 and 2002 winner of the Ironman World Championship, and the last American to win in Kona.