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A new spin on triathlon training

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Scott Schlesinger gave the 55 people seated on spinning bikes before him fair warning.

"If at some time during this you don't feel like giving up, you're not putting enough into it," Schlesinger, a team spinning master instructor out of Miami, told the doctors, lawyers, teachers, housewives and general health nuts pedaling away on their indoor cycles.

Some two hours and 15 minutes later, after participating in Schlesinger's unique Kona Ironman triathlon simulation, the participants who came to Tony's Gym on a Sunday afternoon to be a part of the event walked away with a feeling of accomplishment.

"I made it," Lawson Swan, a manager with the national Stryker Orthopedics firm, said. "I hurt my back working out about a year ago, and it's kept me from doing anything seriously. It's been about six months since I've been through a spinning class, but this is one of those events I felt like I had to do. I wanted to challenge myself."

It was the challenge that brought fifth-grade teacher Tina Caldwell to Tony's, too.

"I love the mental aspect of spinning," Caldwell, who teaches at Live Oak Elementary School in Dougherty County, said. "This is an activity that's 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical for me.

"(Local instructor) Barbara (Hoots) is such a motivational instructor; she made me realize what a stress reliever spinning is. And since I'd never done anything like (the Kona simulation), I was ready for the challenge."

Schlesinger, who trains spinning instructors for Mad Dogg Athletics, supplied the challenge. A former football player who became an avid bike rider after his playing days were over, the master instructor was invited to give spinning a try shortly after "Johnny G" Goldberg came up with the concept in the early '90s.

Schlesinger was immediately hooked.

"I took a spin class at a friend's suggestion because there really weren't any (bicycle) trails to ride in Miami," he said. "It was the funniest thing, but I found that I had the knack instantly. I loved the whole concept.

"You could just close your eyes, get lost in the music and disappear."


Schlesinger was bitten by the spinning bug in 1996, and he's since made his living traveling the world and teaching the activity for Mad Dogg. He's also used it to train for his new passion, the triathlon, perhaps the greatest test of athletic endurance ever conceived.

Ironman-level triathletes swim 2.4 miles, ride bicycles 112 miles and finish with a complete 26.2-mile marathon.

It was his fascination with triathlon competition, in particular the Kona Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, that led him to develop the simulated ride in his spinning classes.

"A triathlon is a mental chess match," Schlesinger said, "and the sport has become my fascination. I've watched all the races and read everything I could about them, especially what the athletes go through to train for them. The evolution of the Kona simulation ride grew out of my desire to offer a glimpse into the world of the triathlete.

"The idea is to ride alongside the athletes as they swim, bike and run, to peer at them as they compete. It's about feeling the intensity, about the human spirit.

When you walk out (of the simulation), you just feel magical."

While Schlesigner is one of only a handful (144 worldwide) of master instructors in an activity that is only now starting to expand rapidly -- thanks in large part to individuals like Hoots, who has designed spinning facilities for colleges, health resorts and U.S. military installations around the world -- he admits that there are often "lulls" when his level of passion falls off.

"When you do something like this for 14 years, there are going to be times that the interest wanes," he said. "But you have to find ways to reinvent what you do. I still love this, but when I find myself in a lull I'll go and sit in on other master trainers' classes. I find that when I ride with them I get the inspiration to go back and do what I do with the same intensity I had when I started."

Those who know Schlesinger are not at all surprised by his dedication and determination. After all, he earned poster boy for athletic/human spirit status at a recent half-ironman in Miami.

"I trained all year for this event and came in in the best shape of my life," he said. "I had a phenomenal swim -- for me -- and made a great transition onto my bike. Biking is my strong event, so I felt really good about the race. We were about halfway through when we came to a roundabout where the riders kind of bottlenecked coming out."

That's when disaster struck.


"The guy in front of me went down, and we were so tightly packed, I ran into a curb avoiding him," Schlesinger said. "When I hit the curb, my tire exploded. It disintegrated. I was literally in tears; I'd trained so hard for this event.

"I called my wife, who was waiting at the finish line, and told her what happened. Then I sat on the curb to wait for her. This part of the course was in a neighborhood, and this guy who was out jogging saw me and asked if he could help. I showed him my bike, and he asked if I needed a tube for my tire. I told him I needed a new tire."

The jogger went to his home and came back with a tire ... that was too small for Schlesinger's bike.

"It had been about 45 minutes, and they have a cut-off time at each event, so I knew if I was going to finish I had to get back on the road," Schlesinger said. "The tire that guy gave me was too small for my bike; the brakes didn't even touch the rubber. But I was so afraid I was going to miss the cut-off time, I took off with no front brakes.

"To make matters worse, there was no water at the water stations, and I rode so hard that by the time I finished the bike ride I was dehydrated and cramping like crazy. I thought there was no way I would finish; I could hardly stand. But I finished, and when I did I was a train wreck. But it was the most invigorating thing I've ever been through."

That's the kind of intensity and passion that makes Schlesinger a master trainer. And it gives him the drive to take 55 Southwest Georgia indoor cyclists on a two hour-plus ride ... and have them end up loving every minute of it.