May 2017 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Ages: Julia, 20; John, 52
Occupations: Julia: Junior at University at Buffalo, majoring in pre-med; John: Science educator and triathlon coach
Residence: Averill Park
Family: Kathy, wife/mom; daughters/sisters Caroline, 18, a rising sophomore at Boston University and Ruby, 13, middle schooler.
Primary Sports: Triathlon
Secondary Sports: Julia: ski racing, lacrosse; John: snowboarding, alpine skiing and coaching, hiking
Julia and John Slyer
Father-Daughter Head to Kona for Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience
By Christine McKnight
Julia Slyer was all of three years old when she announced she wanted to do an Ironman. The year was 1999, and she was in Lake Placid, watching her father, John, complete the inaugural Ironman Lake Placid on what was to become one of the most iconic courses in the Ironman realm. John and his wife, Kathy, didn’t take Julia too seriously at the time, but she pursued her goal with a startling determination, and crossed the finish line in Lake Placid for the first time in 2014 in a time of 13:07. It was one month after she had reached the required participant minimum age of 18.
In all, the father-daughter duo has completed Ironman Lake Placid together three times, in 2014, 2015 and 2016. And they’re returning together again this year. In 2015, Julia unexpectedly won her age group in 11:53, edging out a competitor by two minutes with a strong end-of-race surge.
With the victory, Julia claimed her first berth in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, where she raced to a fourth-place podium spot. She was 19 at the time and the youngest female qualifier at the race that year. “Getting there so early was kind of crazy,” Julia admitted. At Kona, she said, she learned “not to be limited by my goals.”
“About halfway through the bike, I felt great. I said, you know, I’m just going to go for it,” Julia recalled. She finished in 11:17:44, with a 1:12:59 swim, 6:12:58 bike (18 mph average), and a 3:44 marathon (8:32 pace).
This year, Julia will be heading back to Kona for a second time, having qualified at Ironman Maryland last October. But what will make it the experience of a lifetime is that her father will be competing with her under the Legacy Program, which rewards athletes who have completed at least 12 Ironman races, but have never qualified for Kona.
“I am so excited that Dad’s going to be joining me,” said Julia, now completing her junior year at the University at Buffalo. “It’s going to be really awesome. So far, he’s beaten me in every race, but I really, really want to beat him. This is the first race where I have the advantage of experience, having already done Kona, so there’s a chance. My goal is to have my greatest race ever and to beat him by exactly 15 minutes, so we can cross the finish line together.”
John, who has completed a total of 13 Lake Placid Ironmans, missed qualifying by three spots last year. It was Julia who encouraged him to apply for the Legacy berth. “She’s probably going to rock me at Kona,” he laughed. “But I don’t really think of us as competing against each other. We do our best and have fun. There’s a lot of banter.”
Cheering both of them on will be wife and mother, Kathy, the self-described family sherpa-in-chief, office manager, and preparer of healthy meals and treats. This will be the first trip to Kona for Kathy, who is a family and consumer science teacher in the Averill Park school district. In one memorably busy stretch last fall, she accompanied Julia to Ironman Maryland one weekend, and John to Ironman Louisville the following weekend. Her watch told her she walked 17 miles on each of those days.
“I cheer, I fill in the gaps so they can get in the training, I’m the administrator and the behind-the-scenes person,” she said. She is also a dedicated athlete herself, and a half-marathon devotee. On May 21, at Kathy’s urging, Julia, John, Kathy and middle daughter Caroline will all race a half-marathon in Mystic, Conn. “I signed up for the race and then I asked them to join me,” Kathy said. “I needed the motivation.”
Eighteen-year-old Caroline, a student enrolled in ROTC at Boston University, recently completed the Tough Ruck Marathon in Concord, Mass., the Saturday before the Boston Marathon. She did it carrying a rucksack that weighed 46 pounds. The race, which is affiliated with the marathon, honors fallen service members, policemen and EMTs. Daughter Ruby, is an eighth grader, a young triathlete herself, and also active in soccer, ski racing and lacrosse.
Originally trained by her father, Julia is now coached by Andy Ruiz of Ruiz Racing, who designs workouts around her school schedule. She swims with UB’s club swimming program, but otherwise trains on her own while at UB. When she is home for school breaks and during the summer, she and her father train together, swimming in local lakes and riding and running the roads around hilly Averill Park.
“Her consistency with training week-in and week-out is impressive,” said Andy. “Her ability to execute the workouts correctly, and her laser focus on the big picture have been real assets. Her ability to recover between workouts is phenomenal!”
Julia’s training schedule six weeks before Ironman Maryland, October 2016 – Monday: two-mile zone 2 run; Tuesday: four-hour bike, mostly endurance; Wednesday: 10-mile zone 2 run, 3500 yard open water swim; Thursday: three hour bike, low end endurance; Friday: six-mile zone 2 run; Saturday: 90-minute bike with tempo intervals, six-mile zone 2 run; Sunday: 20-mile zone 2 run. Total rest: once every 10 days.
For Julia, who is thinking about a career as a doctor, school and training are her two top priorities right now. “Obviously, school is a little bit higher.” After that come socializing and chilling, and she appears to thrive on it all. “If I have free time, I just get bored. At this point in my life, I don’t know any other way. I’ve been training for Ironmans throughout my entire college career.” Her GPA: 3.87. She plans to take a gap year after graduating from college.
As a tune-up for Kona in October, John and Julia both plan to compete again at Ironman Lake Placid. Along with everything else on their agendas, John and Kathy, both USA Triathlon-certified coaches, run SkyHigh Adventures, which offers weekly multisport camps for kids during the summer. SkyHigh Adventures also stages a popular, long-running, XTERRA (off-road) triathlon and companion Kids’ Tri at Grafton Lakes State Park in July. A former skydiver, John founded SkyHigh Adventures in 1996 as a skydiving videography business.
Julia’s long-term triathlon goals are to keep getting back to Kona and to get better and better.” Thoughts on going pro someday? “It could be a possibility. Obviously, I’m not there yet, but I hope to keep improving.”
John sees triathlon in his life for the foreseeable future as well. “I find triathlon very satisfying,” he said. “It’s almost like meditation. But you have to put your family first and make the training work around your family schedule. There are years when I’ve done Lake Placid somewhat undertrained, but that’s okay.”
Christine McKnight (email@example.com) is an Ironman triathlete who lives in Gansevoort.