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Three weeks after being born, professional triathlete Jordan Rapp went for his first open water swim (sort of) in the waters of Lost Lake in Brewster, NY. Fast-forward 18 years and he took the first strokes of a different kind–in a rowing shell–on Princeton University’s Lake Carnegie, marking the start of his endurance career.
In 2003 Rapp was injured training to make the U.S. National Rowing Team. But with the doggedness of an endurance junkie, he clipped a pair of aerobars to his road bike, used his first post-graduate tax return to buy a set of wheels, and never looked back–except to occasionally take a peek at the competition.
In late 2011 Rapp hit a career-defining moment by winning the ITU Long Course Triathlon World Championships. He’s also three-time Ironman winner and demonstrated his range as an athlete by besting pro fields from short but intense sprint distances to the ultra-long Epicman 250. Sporting endeavors aside, Rapp holds a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University, became a father in 2011, and possesses unbridled passion for bacon.
Swim, bike or run—which is your fav?
I would say running. If you asked me the one that I think I’ll do forever and which I would have the hardest time giving up, that’s the one. It’s not the one I’m best at – that’s cycling – but running is the one that I’ve come to love the most. A pair of sneakers, and you can run. Swimming is equally nice from a required equipment standpoint, but you need a pool. You can run anywhere.
Best thing about the sport?
Being outside every day. My office is, really, anywhere I want it to be. I can run to the ocean, and that’s work. But I think the best thing about the sport “in general” is the drive to excel and achieve. Everyone is there to prove something on the race course – to him/herself or to someone else – and to do it the hard way. There are no shortcuts, and I think that’s what draws people to races. And the vibe from everyone being there knowing that there aren’t shortcuts and being there because of that? It’s electric.
The athlete—not necessarily a triathlete—who was most inspirational to you?
Simon Whitfield, who is a triathlete, but more than that, he’s my closest friend. No other athlete has had as profound an impact on my life as he has. Most it was just was just the day to day of training with him, but his silver medal performance in Beijing was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen in any sport.
Bigger accomplishment: winning a world championship or graduating from Princeton with a “super smart guy” degree?
When I got my diploma, I spent the rest of the day telling everyone I was invincible. But the World Championship took more years of preparation. I think maybe my degree, if only because that was (at least for now) the culmination of my academic career. While I might someday go back to graduate school, I wasn’t planning on it when I graduated. So in that sense, it really represented the end of the line. Winning a world championship was another step – albeit a big one – on what is hopefully a very long career path. There’s no real definitive conclusion to a career in any field, I don’t think. Certainly nothing like a graduation. So I’d say I certainly felt more of a sense of finality after leaving Princeton. Is that the same as accomplishment? I dunno.
A 112-mile Ironman bike leg takes you about 4.5 hours. What are you thinking about for all that time?
I’m not sure. If you added up all the Ironmans I’ve done – which is over 60 hours of racing – I probably have about 60 seconds of memories. Mostly I think about staying on my pace and remembering to eat and drink. I don’t actually remember doing that very often, but I know that I plan to do that and can remember thinking about it often enough, apparently, to win a few of them.
Speaking of meats, best bacon recipe:
I think you’d be pretty hard pressed to beat the classic bacon-and-eggs. Two rashers, which is a fantabulous word, and two eggs. Doesn’t get much better than that. I’ve had some of the crazy bacon food – chocolate covered bacon (with sea salt, which is delicious), bacon caramel popcorn, etc – but I still wouldn’t trade it for the “real” thing. I don’t really get the idea of “bacon-flavored” stuff. If I want something that tastes like bacon, I’ll just eat some bacon. It’s one of those things that doesn’t need anything added. Bacon and eggs is pretty much perfect. Two ingredients without any additional needed.
You’re a reigning world champion. Your wife is a former pro athlete, and now you have a very, very, very young member of the team. How do you fit it all together?
My wife is awesome… In all seriousness, we make a very good team. I think we share responsibilities well. Plus, having been a professional, she understands the physical and psychological demands of training and racing. And she gets that when I’m gone on my bike for five hours, that’s being at work. And, most thankfully, she gets that sometimes when I need to take a nap because I’m exhausted from being on my bike for five hours, that’s work too. For my part, I try to remember that the world won’t end if training doesn’t go well on the day. And I’m pretty good about being there to give our son a bath (almost) every night. That helps to keep me grounded and centered. So it’s an adventure, as I think it is for all new parents, but we are – I think – doing a pretty good job of finding some balance.
How would you describe your music tastes?
Eclectic. By way of example, I have a mix that I used to train to that started with the Cypress Hill song, “Rock Superstar” and finished with the 48th Highlanders Pipes & Drums playing “Amazing Grace” on bagpipe.
Rocky had Eye of the Tiger as he beat up slabs of beef. What’s your theme song as you beat up (metaphorically speaking) competitors on the bike?
I’m not sure I have one. I suppose I could slot in one of my favorites, “Bring the Pain,” by Method Man. But I actually prefer to listen to Chopin before I race.
Check out Jordan’s Rhapsody playlist here.