Perhaps it is fitting with the PTO 2020 Championship at CHALLENGEDAYTONA®, Iconic Daytona International Speedway® later this year that one of triathlon’s biggest celebrity participants is motor racing legend Jimmie Johnson.
Also known as ‘Superman’, Johnson is just one of a long line of world-famous celebrities from all walks of life to have been drawn to the sport.
It could be the ability to really test themselves to the maximum both mentally and physically which is the lure for people who are naturally used to the highest levels of pressure. Or maybe it is the community feel which triathlon exudes, allowing all ages and abilities to mix together.
“With triathlons, you’re either completely obsessed and want to try every distance and do it over and over, or you do one and you’re like, ‘The hell with it – I’m out,’” Johnson told USA Today’s For The Win.
The seven-times NASCAR Cup Series Champion was absolutely all in as he built a real love of the sport, and the unique challenges it presents.
“I’m good at endurance sports and having so many challenges – like the mental challenges of a 70.3. The run I’ve always been able to fight through when the brain’s telling me to stop.”
Former F1 world champion Jenson Button meanwhile admits he took up triathlon initially to prepare himself physically for the gruelling strain which Grand Prix racing would place on his body.
But it became much more than that – in fact it was love at first sight when Button, already reasonably adept on the bike and in the water, eventually took the plunge.
Jenson proved so talented when he took up multiple disciplines that he won his age group at IRONMAN 70.3 Santa Rosa in 2017 to qualify for the 70.3 World Championship.
The intoxicating mix of competition and fun was a win-win, with Button telling HuffPost: “Whether there are amateurs or pro-triathletes, there’s always a really good atmosphere there, so over the years I decided to train more and more, and race more and become more competitive.”
The Malibu Triathlon is known for giving off a celebrity feel, and in 2008 it enticed one Jennifer Lopez to make her first attempt at the sport.
Writing about the experience in her book ‘True Love’, JLo remembered: “Now, understand, I had never done a triathlon before. I had run a 10k when I was 12, but never anything close to a triathlon. On the morning of the race, as I was standing there surrounded by a thousand paparazzi, about to jump into the ocean, I realized that this probably wasn’t the best idea I ever had.”
Despite those misgivings, Lopez duly completed the race, and reportedly raised more than $100,000 for a children’s hospital in Los Angeles.
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is another star name to have fallen in love with triathlon, getting multiple benefits from one of his favourite pastimes away from the kitchen and the TV studio.
Not only did Ramsay credit triathlon with helping him maintain the fitness required for his career, he also loves the family element the sport provides for him and his children.
He told the BBC: “Meg did the London triathlon with me three years ago. Tilly did one. Sometimes we do relay where I’ll do the bike, Tilly will do the swim and Jack will do the run. You’d be amazed how much fun there is to have. And it’s not about winning. It’s about competing in that atmosphere.”
Another celebrity “bitten by the bug” and loving that community feel is Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm.
‘Mel C’ took up triathlon in 2011 and quickly overcame the fear of the unknown that such a tough physical challenge provided.
“I love the range of people there. Women of all ages, all shapes and sizes, all fitness levels,” she told The Guardian.
These are just some of the examples of where celebrity and triathlon mesh together, and there are many many more (including the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Alexander Ludwig).
As the PTO looks to widen the appeal of the sport, it is likely to be a connection and a story which will run and run.