Tuesday, February 28, 2017: 7:28 am
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Racing Dad

Bloomington family makes triathlons a father-son thing

When Bloomington’s Bill Jerden does a triathlon these days, he often finds himself stretched between the opposing forces of time.

On one hand, the 64-year-old is pushing to keep the aging process at bay. At the same time, he is pulled along by his sons Alex, 25, and Scott, 22, former Bloomington North swimmers who also compete in the various versions of the swimming-biking-running events.

“It’s just really fun seeing him at races,” Alex said. “We sort of have this circle of encouragement. I’m pulling for Scott. Scott is pulling for me. Dad is pulling for both of us. And we love poking fun at him.”

The trio is in training for another St. Anthony’s Triathlon in late April in St. Petersburg, Fla., but this is an active family from top to bottom, with wife Rita, 50, a masters swimmer and regular at Royer pool, and youngest son Matthew, a 14-year-old 8th-grader at St. Charles, already posting times in the pool that would make him one of the better high schoolers in the state.

“It’s awesome,” said Bill.

And with both parents focused on staying fit, it’s not surprising the boys followed along.

“I’m grateful,” Scott said. “A lot of kids I went to high school with, they swam then, and now, they don’t do anything. When I was younger, I wanted to sit at home, now, (working out) is a part of who I am. It’s part of my daily routine. If I don’t work out, I’m grumpy.”

Bill was a competitive swimmer at Southport High School, then at Indiana State before moving to town to work at his father’s custom metal fabrication shop he now runs with Scott. It’s located alongside the B-Line Trail, which ironically enough, Bill has never used.

He joined the running boom of the early 1970s and when the Monroe County YMCA opened, started swimming, too. Exercising opened up a whole new social aspect for Bill, who found plenty of training and race partners, including Jerry Sluss, now 70, who got Bill started on triathlons.

“I like to race,” Bill said. “And it was a social thing. You find some friends and start training with them. Then you plan to go into a race together and you train together.”

Bill met Rita appropriately enough at the IU outdoor pool and they have been married the last 16 years. They have been through a lot together, but a triathlon is unlikely to be one of them as she is a steadfast holdout to running. Still ...

“She’s in the best shape of her life,” Alex said. “She works really hard and she’s always leading the lane. It’s fun to go there and see her in the pool.”

Bill has done hundreds of triathlons off all lengths and has qualified more than once for the Ironman world finals in Hawaii.

“Early on, it was to see how good I could get at it,” Bill said. “I ran the Boston Marathon, Memphis, Huntsville, Chicago. Over the course of many years, the idea was to try to get better.

“Guess what? I’m not getting any better. Now, the challenge is to see how good I can keep doing it each year that I get a little older and stay competitive in my age group. And it’s also, how high can I place among the 20s, 30s and 40s.”

“It lets him know he’s fighting the aging monster, if you will,” Alex said.

And Bill’s not doing so bad. At last year’s St. Anthony’s Triathlon, Scott completed the 1,500-meter swim, 24.9 mile bike and 6.2-mile run in 2:04:18 (fifth in his 20-24 men’s age group), with Alex at 2:11:13 (12th) and Bill 2:28:22 (sixth in the 60-65 men).

They are also regulars at local events that take place at Lake Lemon, Lake Monroe and Indianapolis.

Ironically, both older boys were reluctant to take up running and biking and vowed they’d never do a triathlon. It took a couple of years, but eventually they got faster than Dad.

“When I was younger, it was always fascinating to see that he was doing those races,” Alex said. “The joke today, when I was swimming at North, we said, ‘Dad, we’ll never do that.’ I could never run six miles. I could never bike 25 or 56. He never put any pressure on us, but he encouraged us. There was always something about just doing your best and having fun that we loved about his encouragement.”

Bill took a shot and invited Alex to do a triathlon with him in Evansville.

“It was a three-mile run and I’d done only so many 5Ks and that 5K was the most painful 5K of all time,” Alex said. “But I finished and I loved it and I was addicted at that point.”

Scott swam competitively when he was younger, but got burned out and quit part way through high school. Then Bill and Alex signed up to do the St. Anthony four years ago and Scott decided he’d like to go. And watch.

“But that didn’t sound like fun,” Scott said. “So I got a bike and trained for a month as hard as I could. I went down there and didn’t do my best, but that’s what got me started.

“It’s fun. I like it. Part of it is, it’s a family thing. Once or twice a month, all three of us are going to do a race somewhere.”

Bill said he’ll keep doing triathlons as long as he can, noting he knows an 82-year-old working on 20 straight Ironman worlds.

“It’s about continuing to have personal goals to reach,” Bill said. “What’s neat about it is that, on the day of the race, you get to find out just how good you really are at something.”

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