6-5-1 @ SPARTA: interview with Jordan Rapp


All of the people we have highlighted in our 6-5-1 @ SPARTA interview series have had remarkable stories.

But Jordan Rapp‘s journey is a lesson for all of us in perserverence & determination.

Jordan is a graduate from the highly esteemed Princeton University in the USA in mechanical & aerospace engineering who only took up triathlon in 2003.

In 2009, Jordan won both Ironman Arizona and Ironman Canada and was looking forward to racing at the Hawaii Ironman in Kona in 2010 when life took a significant turn. In March 2010, he was struck by a van while out on a training ride. Both of the jugular veins in his neck were severed and it was only the quick thinking of a US naval officer who saw the crash that saved his life.

By July 2010, Jordan was back on his bike & in November 2010, he returned to race at Ironman Arizona and – with the naval officer who saved his life watching on – Jordan won Ironman Arizona & defended his title.

Since then, Jordan went onto win the Leadman Epic 250km in May 2011 which consisted of a 5km swim, 223km bike ride & 22km run (!).

Jordan’s blog is a fascinating read and not just for his race reports. He regularly highlights BAMF performances (Google it if you don’t mind swear words); outstanding performances of challenged athletes & other gusty people.

On a personal note, Jordan’s wife Jill gave birth to a son only 2 weeks ago.

Welcome to SPARTA Jordan –

 1/. What is the biggest challenge to your motivation & how do you overcome that?

 I think the biggest challenge I face most regularly is the solitude of training. I actually prefer to train alone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t very often quite lonely. I like being able to focus on the task at hand, and I think that training solo allows me to get my best work done.

There are times, though, where it’d be nice to have some external motivators to help get me going. It’s a balance though. For quite a few years, I trained in more of a group environment, and then I did have that motivation of knowing that “we” were all meeting to swim, bike, or run at certain times. And that was great. But there were other challenges with that setup that I did not enjoy, and so ultimately, I’d say I’m happier training by myself, but it does mean that I’ve really got no one to rely on but me, and that can be a bit daunting at times.

2/.  Aside from training for the 3 disciplines, what other training do you do (eg, strength, stretching, core etc) and how important is it to your performance?

I first started doing some outside work in 2009, with Lance Barrett, of Corrective Kinetics out of Vancouver, who is a CHEK practitioner, and I’ve done exercises that he gave me to target to some weaknesses and imbalances. Then in 2010, I started working with Blair Ferguson, of SportFit Proformance, who is an MAT* practitioner and RTS** coach. And then, after my accident, I also began working with Dr. Kevin Jardine, who is a functional movement specialist and one of the best in the business.

So now I’d say that my “other training” is a combination of their advice/plans, which ended up being quite complementary. In each case, the goal has always been targeting specific weaknesses or imbalances. “Strength,” “stretching,” and “core” to me are all such vague terms as to basically be meaningless. It’d be like someone asking me what kind of swim training I do, and me replying, “I swim laps.” The specifics of what I do aren’t particularly important, I don’t think, because they are specific to me. I’m sure there’s some stuff that’s generally applicable to “most” triathletes, but I think the one lesson I’ve learned is that if you find the right person and get them to give you specific exercises to address an identified problem, then you will have success with it. Otherwise, you are just wasting your time and, likely, your money. 

3/.  What inspired you to (try to) return to high level competition after your accident?

 I didn’t want to not do something I loved because I was afraid. That and, ironically, fear of having to take a desk job… 

 4/.  Who is the person (or people) who have had the most influence on your sporting success?

Joel Filliol, my first triathlon coach, and Simon Whitfield, my first triathlon mentor. My rowing coaches at Princeton – Kevin Cotter, Greg Hughes, and Joe Murtaugh – also had an enormous impact on me. But it was really Joel and Simon who put me on the path to the success as a triathlete and a professional.

5/.  You studied aerospace and mechanical engineering at Princeton University.  If you weren’t a professional triathlete, what would you do and why? Are you likely to work in either field once you are no longer racing as a professional?

 I think I’d probably be building *something.* I wanted to work in Formula 1 out of college, but then I wasn’t sure I wanted to travel that much. Ha! In the immediate aftermath of the accident, I didn’t think I’d race again, and I thought about going to work for Zipp. It’s an incredible company with an amazing passion for both engineering and cycling. Though in addition to all the cycling stuff they do, there is a fair amount of “secret stuff” they do for various race car companies. I also think that Google would be an incredible place to work. Anywhere that encourages “free thinking” appeals to me. I think a desk is an okay thing to have, as long as I also have a workshop as well and don’t have to be at my desk “9-to-5.” 

 6/.  If you could go back in time & give one piece of advice to yourself when you were 18, what advice would that be?

Ask for advice and help. That’s what I learned in college – by not doing so. And thankfully I learned enough to ask Joel & Simon, and they were kind enough to give it. 

Thanks for your time!

(c) Photo credit & copyright – Stephen Bradley
* Muscle Activation Technique
** Resistance Training Specialist