Hey Everyone, my name is Mark Jones representing Team Zoot Mountain. I currently reside just outside of Boulder, CO, a triathlon mecca, and wanted to share my story with you all. My hope and the reason I’m sharing my story is to inspire others to get involved in the great sport of triathlon, to persuade people to live an active lifestyle and to encourage people that may be facing a hardship in their life journey.
A little about me – Pre-Triathlon:
Growing up, I had the opportunity to live in several locations across the United States because of my Dad’s job. At the young age of 3, I took up the sport of golf and had dreams of being a professional golfer when I grew up. Even though I was a decent golfer for my age, being a professional was not in the cards for me.
I spent most of my formative years in Northern Virginia where I eventually met my wife. One of the things that attracted us to each other was our enjoyment of working out and challenging each other during our workouts. Unfortunately, this eventually faded away as grown-up life took over and we settled into marriage. Fast-forward about 15 years and 3 states later, I weighed in around 250lbs and couldn’t even run a mile. We were both out of shape and not happy with where things were headed.
Journey back to health:
In 2017, we had the opportunity to move to Colorado. We immediately jumped back into an active lifestyle and began losing weight. I got back into biking and met a guy in our small group that had the same passion for cycling. He had competed in a few triathlons and suggested we find a race that we could do together. We decided on Tri-the-Boat in Steamboat Springs; he would do the 70.3 and I would do the sprint. I knew how to swim, but had zero swim endurance. I also didn’t really enjoy running. The bulk of my running was done in the Marine Corps where it was more or less forced upon me. Sounds like a perfect recipe for going into your first triathlon. Luckily, I connected with the race director, Heather Gollnick, who is a former professional triathlete and coach to work with me on a training plan. I went into the race with one goal….to finish. Imagine my surprise when I crossed the finish line with my wife and coach cheering me on, only to realize that I had placed first in my age group. Holy Crap!! I podiumed in my first triathlon.
2019 was the most athletic year of my life. I ended up completing 4 triathlons of varying distances and multiple other running and biking events. I had found something that motivated me and that I really enjoyed.
Boom Goes the Dynamite:
In October 2019, 2 weeks after completing a 15k race, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. This was immediately followed up with 2 surgeries and an intensive, 9-week chemotherapy routine that started on Dec. 16, 2019. I had already signed up for Ironman Blue Ridge 70.3, so I was concerned about being able to continue my training. I quickly realized that chemo was going to take everything out of me and I barely had the energy for short walks. In Feb 2020, I finished up my last chemotherapy treatment and received the all clear later that March. I started feeling better and immediately jumped back into training. Unfortunately, I had lost all stamina and struggled to put together a mile run.
2020 and Beyond:
While 2020 was a rough year for everyone with not being able to race, it allowed me the opportunity to freely focus on rebuilding my strength and endurance without the added pressure of an event to prepare for. The virtual races provided some great motivation to keep pushing and I ultimately completed the virtual Kona race this past October. In November, 13-months after diagnosis, my wife and I decided to run our own half-marathon to celebrate life and recovery. This was the first time I had ever run a half-marathon and it gave me a great sense of accomplishment.
Next year, I’m signed up to race Ironman Wisconsin 70.3 in September with numerous others on my radar. I hope to also compete at Tri-the-Boat again and retain my age group title. If everything goes well, I’ll be looking to complete a full Ironman in 2022. From there, who knows.
Why Team Zoot:
After beating cancer, I wanted to celebrate with custom racing gear that paid homage to my coach and others that helped me on my road to recovery. I tried out a couple of different brands, but the Zoot tri-suit stood out as the best among them and the custom process was very easy to navigate. When I saw the applications open to be a part of Team Zoot, I immediately knew I wanted in. I love the fact that I get to associate with other, likeminded individuals that have similar goals that I can also train with (eventually). I love the fact there are athletes of all levels that I can not only learn from, but hopefully inspire as well. Zoot’s philosophy of Ohana couldn’t be truer from what I’ve experienced so far being a part of this awesome team.
Mark is a member of Team Zoot Mountain. Follow him @mark_jones_triathlete to hear more about his story of recovery and journey to become an Ironman.