For this triathlete, the toughest -- most rewarding -- race is against himself
"Winners must have 2 things: definite goals and burning desire to achieve."
That slogan is emblazoned on a poster of a mountain biker silhouetted against a dreamlike sunset, making his way up the red rocks of Colorado. It adorns Chris Thomas' windowless office at Personal Training Professionals of Southport.
Thomas, on a recent day, rattled off a laundry list of his professional certifications in the fitness field and his athletic achievements.
But the poster's mantra, perhaps, best sums up what Thomas is all about.
On first impression, it is obvious the man has "definite goals."
"I want to do this as long as I possibly can, as long as I'm capable," he said, referring to competing in triathlons.
And he certainly has a "burning desire to achieve," as shown by his weekly regimen of 13 hours of cardio-vascular training in swimming, biking and running, as well as the strict diet he follows.
Thomas' long list of accomplishments boils down to this: He is a winner.
A few of the highlights on Thomas' triathlon resume include: He has qualified for and finished three Ironman World Championships ('03, '04, '05) in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, where midday temperatures are known to be over 110 degrees. Competitors face an arduous test that includes swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles across a lava desert and running a marathon of 26.2 miles.
Thomas was named the 2009 Amateur Athlete of the Year based on his five first-place finishes in half-distance triathlons. Most recently, he placed first among amateurs and ninth overall in the Buffalo Springs Lake half-distance triathlon with a time of 4 hours, 8 minutes and 19 seconds, earning a coveted invitation to the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, which will be aired on cable TV in October.
But Thomas' professional life did not always revolve around fitness.
He worked 14 years on Wall Street at Deutsche Bank, a career that now, according to the gym owner, "seems quite distant." He was being pulled in two directions, between his love of fitness and the financial security of his banking job. For example, how many Wall Street bankers wake up at 3:30 in the morning, as Thomas did, then take a train from suburban Connecticut to the 125th Street Station in Harlem, run 10 miles to his gym in Manhattan, shower and stroll to the office before starting the workday?
Aside from chhis unbelievable daily schedule, Thomas at the same time worked as a personal trainer out of his house and devised personal workout routines for clients.
It was only a matter of time before something had to give. When deciding whether to continue working on Wall Street or change his career to the fitness field, Thomas said, "I wanted to be able to help people. [Fitness] is my passion. I always wanted to go into my passion."
Thomas also wanted to have a good answer when his sons, Ryan, 7; Spencer, 5, and Connor, 3, ask him how his job helps others. Now, as a personal trainer, Thomas feels that he can give a legitimate response, saying he improves peoples' lives by making his clients healthier.
As for Thomas history in amateur athletics, he traces it back to his first 10-mile road race at the age of 12. He ran competitively until sophomore year in high school, when he switched to devote his time to hockey. At 175 pounds, he played four years of varsity hockey for Fairfield University, but when that stint ended, he began "looking for an outlet" to channel his fiercely competitive nature. A friend suggested triathlons, and after completing his first "sprint" triathlon -- 0.47- mile swim, 12.4-mile bike and, 3.1-mile run -- Thomas was "hooked instantly."
In 2002, Thomas completed his first half-distance triathlon and the following year, he finished his first full-distance triathlon.
Now 38 years old, Thomas has cut his weight down to 145 pounds of lean muscle, the perfect body for long-distance challenges. He credits his great physical shape and consistent improvement not only to cardio training, but also to a diet of all-natural, low-calorie, "nutrient-dense foods," such as Ezekiel bread, almond butter, organic eggs and chicken.
Comparing the challenges of playing varsity hockey for Fairfield University with his achievements as an amateur triathlete, Thomas finds the greatest difference to be between the team versus solo nature of the two sports. He relishes the inner battle that takes place in triathlon training.
"Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's you against yourself," he said. The daily struggle of pushing his body beyond its natural capabilities has prompted Thomas to reflect. "You learn a ton about yourself. You visit the depths of who you are."
But between the "highs and lows" that Thomas has experienced in triathlon training and competitions, he has discovered much more about himself -- and about life.