Fit To Be May Spotlight - John O'Neill May 9, 2014 16:42



We love hearing the stories of athletes who are working towards specific goals. Runners, cyclists, triathletes, CrossFit fanatics...the people who are working hard and training diligently  for something special. Every month, we are featuring someone who inspires us and motivates us to be strong. To be fit. To be fast. To be better. Welcome to our "Fit To Be" series.

THIS MONTH: We are featuring John O'Neill! 

John grew up skiing, kayaking and trying to play ball sports. In high school, he decided to go out for the cross country team instead. A stellar senior year landed him a spot on the Colorado State University Cross Country team where he ran four years. It was at CSU that he realized his potential as an endurance athlete. A year after graduating from CSU, he entered his first triathlon with almost no swim or bike training and finished fourth. John was then accepted into the USA Traithlon Collegiate Recruitment Program, and later invited to live and train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. John’s first year of triathlon contained races as professional domestically in several states, as well as races in Barbados, Brazil, Switzerland and Hungary. John’s philosophy is to work hard every day, and have some fun along the way.

John is currently in China where he is competing in the 2014 Chengdu ITU World Cup

Our Q&A with John: 

Hometown: Vail, Colorado

Profession: Professional Triathlete, Entertainment Organizer

Primary Sport: Triathlon

Describe yourself: Tall, skinny, curly hair, glasses. Just kidding! I am a highly motivated person who is always trying to reach for something higher and striving to be something better. To a “T” I am an athlete.

Upcoming (current) Events: ITU World Cup in Chengdu

Tell us about your “Triathlon” journey. How did you get started? What draws you to this sport? What are some of your short-term and long-term goals?

I got into triathlon by mistake truthfully. At the the time of my first triathlon in 2012, I had just finished running collegiately at Colorado State University for four years and was doing my best to quit competing and start enjoying all the things I had missed out on while committed to running. Only, I realized after the triathlon, I realized how much I missed competing. I started training for triathlon and casual training sessions quickly turned into two, three and often four training sessions a day. Since then my life has been mostly training and racing in locations all over the world – Europe, South America, Latin America, the Caribean. I’m writing this right now from China.

I guess I fell back in love with competing through triathlon in a new way. The three sports of swimming, biking and running adds an entirely different angle to racing. There is always a way to be getting better and I love that.

Short term goals would be to rock this World Cup in Jintang, Chengdu, China and continue having great performances at World Cup events. It seems like long term goals could be endless. I’d like to be an Olympian, but triathlon is so much more than just the Olympics. I would like to make this my life’s work and be remembered as a great racer.   

Most of the triathlons that you participate in are in different countries. What inspired you to race outside of the USA? Do you find traveling to distant countries and competing overseas nerve-racking, exciting, or _______ ?

My discipline of triathlon, ITU draft-legal, is the most competitive type of triathlon in the world. Therefore, you have to chase races around the globe. Usually I don’t think about going overseas as a big adventure in a foreign land; rather, I get on the plane with a job to do. I like to get around and see the sights when I can, but it is much more enjoyable to be overseas when you’ve been on the podium!

Racing overseas does present some challenges, though. For instance, I am right now in China with one other American girl and two Hungarians. Other than these few people, nobody speaks English. Doing anything is difficult – ordering food, going to the grocery store, working out. Not to mention riding (bikes) in foreign countries can be a bit scary when you don’t know the local traffic rules. But it is exciting. I have gotten to see the world and will continue to have that opportunity so long as I keep racing well. It is an experience that is truly unique and I try not to lose that positivity when I try to order chicken and they bring me pig’s snout instead!

You’re currently training/competing in China.  How long will you be there for?  How/why did you decide on this specific destination?

I arrived April 20 and spent a few days in Hong Kong to readjust after the long flight before flying to Zhenjiang. I stayed in Zhenjiang for a race on April 26, where I finished third, my second time on the ITU podium in my career. I flew the next day to Chengdu where I will have two weeks to prepare for the Chengdu World Cup on May 10. Then back to the states on May 12. This is a long time to spend in Asia racing, but I have made the most of it. 

What’s different about training/racing in China- any funny stories to share? How does it compare to running/racing in the USA? Any trip highlights thus far?

There aren’t many westerners or white people in Jintang, Chendu. Everywhere I go there is a crowd that follows and takes pictures. It isn’t rare to have 30 or more people watching me workout at the pool. Everywhere I go people just stare. Also, the traffic over here is nuts. Almost unexplainable. There seem to be no rules, everyone just honks and blazes through intersections. It makes for interesting cycling!

What are some “must-have” items you brought with you on this trip?

As with any long haul trip, my must have packing list includes all my racing and training gear and some other essential items like:

-Action Wipes – for when showers aren’t available on long haul travel days

-Peanut butter




-A few good books

-Potable Aqua – the water over here is not safe to drink and instead of buying bottles all the time, I can purify with this

-Enso Roller 

For those who are planning on (or thinking about!) racing  internationally for the first time, what advice or tips do you have for them?

You really have to go with the flow. In Europe, it is easy to travel and train – often easier than in the USA with a larger endurance sports base over there. Other places, like Asia, you have to focus on what you can do instead of on what you cannot do in terms of training. There will be crazy times and lots of good stories to tell when you get home.

As you’ve prepared for this triathlon season, have there been any injuries or setbacks along the way? How have you coped/dealt with them?

I have had a pretty solid lead up. Some small things have bugged me since the start of the season like sore shins and some hip flexor issues after a bike crash in the early season. But I have a good team to help me heal up from these things. I take my health as my number 1 priority in the lead up to a race and have been fortunate to avoid major sickness or injury.

Is there any triathlon/training gear you can’t live with out?  (include links if they have websites)

I am pretty basic when it comes to training, way more basic than most. I don’t generally train with power on the bike or heart rate, so my most trusted tool is a cheap $30 watch. I would be lost without it! Otherwise, my roller is my top recovery tool and Powerbar is my top choice for nutrition.

How have you incorporated the enso adjustable roller into your training/recovery process?

I use it all the time after training, before and between sessions. Triathlon demands so much from your body and I use the enso to make sure my body is ready to give triathlon all it can. The enso is great for digging into those sore muscles in my back, calves, quads and, gasp, IT bands. Getting those muscles loosened up and fresh blood to sore areas is crucial.

What’s next after China?

I am toying with the idea of going down to Mexico for a race, but it would be a week after I got back and a week before a big race in Dallas Texas. So, either Mexico or Texas for me.

Are there any triathlons on your bucket list (or already on your race calendar) that you’re excited about?

I really want to improve to the point that I can race WTS London. I was in London between the Olympics and Paralympics and I stumbled on the triathlon venue on one of my runs. One of the guys cleaning up asked if I ever did a triathlon. At the time I hadn’t, but I thought about it on the rest of that run. It would mean a great deal to toe the line and race at that same venue.

When not training, how do you unwind/relax? What are some of your other activities/personal interests?

I have always enjoyed skiing in the winter and kayaking in the summer. Those two sports are maybe the only ones I can do without the pressures of competition, and I love it.  I don’t have internet or TV in my apartment at home so I watch a lot of old movies on DVD to wind down. This summer I can’t wait to take my girlfriend camping and enjoy the great Colorado outdoors.

Do you have a favorite motivational/inspirational quote or mantra that keeps you going?

There is a quote by Shel Silverstein that I really like. I might butcher it, but it goes something like: “Listen to the mustn’ts, child, listen to the don’ts, listen to the could have’s, should have’s and wont’s. Then listen close to me, child, anything can happen. Anything can be.”

I also listen to lots of rap music when I workout. Nothing like hearing Jay-Z rapping about being a billionaire to get me motivated!

Life Beyond Running- Flash Round:

Beer or wine? Beer

Coffee or Tea? Tea

Summer or Winter? Fall?

Salt or Sugar? Sugar, unless we’re talking margaritas, then definitely salt.

Poached or Scrambled? Scrambled

Twitter or Instagram? Twitter (@johnnystretchum)

Cat or Dog? Woof

Beach of Mountain? Mountain

Sunset or Sunrise? Sunrise