Tri tri again: Tinker lieutenant trains to be the best

  • Published
  • By John Stuart
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Second Lt. John Dalrymple remembers when he hit the wall.

He tried to hang with the cycling pack, legs churning, heart rate almost at red line and a side stitch pricking him like an invisible needle.

He never finished that Washington state cycling race in February 2006. But it was more than just being out of shape early in the race season. As Dalrymple dropped out of the pack and glided to a stop, he could tell that it was something more serious.

Dalrymple has always been an athlete. Getting his start in team sports, he was a standout baseball player at his Burlington, Wis., high school. He was always a runner. The fast guy on the team.

Before college, he'd never given endurance sports much thought. But, as it happened, that would all change. Nudged into the world of triathlons by his older sister, Dalrymple did his first race during his sophomore year.

"I was young and stupid and would take on any challenge at that time without thinking twice," Dalrymple says jokingly of his foray into the sport. "Well, it ended up being a bigger challenge than I'd anticipated, but I fell in love with the sport."

And that could be a rather momentous understatement.

Today, almost eight years since that first triathlon involving swimming, biking and running, Dalrymple has about 40 triathlon and duathlon (run, bike, run) events under his racing belt. More than an idle interest, it's an endeavor the Air Weapons Officer approaches with a thoroughness that's equal parts nit-picky precision and unbridled competition. His racing is now an integral life pursuit, just behind his wife and three kids -- his true "top priority."

A day after the 2006 bike race, Dalrymple got the bad news from his doctor. With the bulk of triathlon race season in front of him, the diagnosis reverberated throughout his sickly body. He had his sights on competing in the Best of the United States triathlon qualifier race in August. The state's elite amateurs would be putting it all on the line to represent Washington state at a national level and he wanted a shot at the podium. But, sitting in the doctor's office chair that day, his diagnosis slapped him in the face.

Infectious mononucleosis.

"I went to the doctor the next day and he said 'you've got mono,'" Dalrymple says. "It was incredibly discouraging."

So Dalrymple had a choice. End the season in infectious defeat or, drudge on, through the frailty. For him there was only one option. Though the race season was off to a wobbling start, Dalrymple climbed back on the bike -- literally -- and resumed his training only two weeks later.

It was February 2006 and the then 25 year old was weak. But, just six months later, he clawed his way back and won Best of the US for Washington state. It was a complete turnaround season for Dalrymple, and one he couldn't have expected.

"Crossing the finish line and realizing that I'd won and would be representing the state at a national level was kind of a defining moment for me," Dalrymple says.

The race remains one of his most memorable to be sure. But today, the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron air battle manager has his radar on a similar target. In June, Dalrymple will compete in the Route 66 Triathlon in El Reno. There he hopes to win the race as the top male elite amateur in Oklahoma, thus representing his Sooner state at the Best of the US national race in August.

"I do feel I have a really good shot at (winning)," Dalrymple says. "I think I'm one of about four competitive people who will be racing for first."

Although he's hoping for first place, Dalrymple learned some things about competition as a result of getting mono.

"The biggest lessons from getting sick is a reality check in understanding how blessed I am to go out and do this every day and perform at the level I do injury free," Dalrymple says.

That aside, Dalrymple won't leave any questions unanswered in his quest for being the best in Oklahoma come June. He'll go head to head with some of the state's best, including Christian Ballard, last year's winner. The two are good friends and train together often. But Dalrymple expects he'll edge out Ballard this year, thanks to an improved workout regimen.

But more than an intense hobby to which he devotes 15-20 hours per week, it's a lifestyle for the lieutenant and his family -- who he says are his biggest supporters.

"My wife and I both want to be example for our daughters," he says. "I want them to learn that taking care of your body should be enjoyable and fun and a lifestyle you embrace. They see me at an extreme level competing, training all the time, but when it comes down to it I want them to know that working out and staying healthy is the right thing to do."

Dalrymple runs with his wife and their young daughters. This year he has hopes to do a kids triathlon with his 5 year old daughter.

And he's not alone on base. More and more athletes are getting into the addictive three-pronged sport. Even at Tinker there's a healthy corps of triathletes. The presence of these athletes on base should make the Tinker Triathlon an increasingly exciting annual event, Dalrymple says.

Dalrymple's story is one many endurance athletes can relate to. One of solitude in training. One of winning or losing by your merits alone. And one of struggle and defeat, growth and success.

Simply put: "It's a lifestyle that gives you more energy and lets you be a better person, a better worker, a better family member," Dalrymple says.

He could've quit back in 2006 when he got sick, but he didn't. Now, in 2010, he's taking yet more ambitious goals head on.

So if you don't see Dalrymple on his bike, or out running or in the pool around base, keep looking. It's a lifestyle activity that he doesn't plan to quit anytime soon.

"I want to be the 90-year-old guy at Ironman Hawaii who's trucking along, the oldest guy to ever compete in the race kind of thing," Dalrymple says.

If at first you don't succeed, tri tri again.