Jordan Rapp is making the most out of his second chance.
Looking at that scar on his neck, you'd think that Jordan Rapp would be happy to just be alive. He sure is, but he's also determined to make the most out of the fact that he's still here.
On March 23, 2010, Rapp was in the midst of his early season training. This was the year he was going to head to the IRONMAN World Championship. Just months before he’d won IRONMAN Canada and IRONMAN Arizona. He was one of the sport’s brightest stars.
While training from his home in California, Rapp was in the midst of a hard bike ride when he was hit by a hit-and-run driver. It was only thanks to the heads-up actions of naval officer Tom Sanchez that Rapp is still alive. Sanchez rushed to Rapp’s side as blood was pouring out of the IRONMAN champ’s neck, reached inside and put his hand on the pulsing artery. Had he not, Rapp would have bled out on the road. (Read my Ironmanlife column from November, 2010 with more details on Rapp’s accident here.)
It took months to recover from those injuries, but later that year Rapp came back to Arizona and finished a remarkable fourth. Less than a year later he took another IRONMAN Canada title and then took the ITU Long Course World Championship. In May of this year he claimed his fourth IRONMAN win thanks to an astonishing run that saw him overcome a twelve-and-a-half minute deficit off the bike.
Despite the huge scar on his neck that serves as a reminder of what he’s gone through, this guy isn’t just happy to be alive. He’s trying to be better than he was before.
“It’s less about being just happy to be here versus the cliché “if you were given a second chance, what would you do with it?” he says. “Would you be happy you were given a second chance, or would you try and capitalize on it? I remember my coach saying: ‘After accidents like yours, people are either better or worse. No one is the same. I guess we’ll find out what happens to you.’”
Based on his last year or so of racing, it looks like Rapp has answered that question. If anything, he’s a much more balanced triathlete than ever before. The Princeton grad came originally from a rowing background and, for years, seemed to be renowned for his biking prowess. (Which makes sense from a guy who was banging on the doors of making the US national rowing team.)
In winning the ITU worlds last year Rapp quietly showed the world that he was no slouch when it came to the final leg of the race, too. He outran the rest of the competition there by three minutes and was the only man to go under 1:50 for 30 km. That’s 2:36 marathon pace – plenty fast enough to run with the best in our sport, for sure.
In May Rapp proved once again that he’s the real deal, running down Mathias Hecht and breaking 2:50 on tough, hot Texas course. Last Saturday Rapp finally caught up to early race leader Paul Ambrose at about the 90-mile point of the ride, but it was his run that truly separated him from the rest of the field. On the brutally tough New York course, Rapp was the only pro to go under three hours.
We’ve all been wondering when we finally might see Rapp line up in Kona. It looks like this might be the year. Thanks to his win in New York, he’ll have enough points to join the big show. After his impressive race in Texas in May, he says he ran out of excuses not to head to the Big Island. Even a few hours after the tough day in New York, he was looking forward to his first go at the IRONMAN World Championship – well, sort of.
“That was very, very hard,” he said of the IRONMAN U.S. Championsip. “When I first saw the clock, I thought ‘maybe today will be the day that I break eight hours.’ Then, about halfway through the bike I thought ‘maybe I’ll just set a PR, this will be the race when I break 8:10.’ Then, when I made the first turnaround on the run, ‘maybe I can just hold it together and win and just finish.’ By the second loop I was thinking if I could just break three hours that would be awesome.”
During that run I was thinking ‘this is very hot and humid. Kona is very hot and humid,’” he continued. “During that run course I came up with a whole list of excuses not to race Kona.”
Those will no-doubt be quickly forgotten, though, as Rapp gears up for the race in October. Whether he likes it or not, he’ll arrive as one of the great American hopes for a podium finish. While he’d like to finish in the top-10, he’s realistic, though, about what it will take for him to succeed.
“I have no delusions about I swim – or don’t swim,” he says. “Weather is also a factor. Windy conditions will make a higher finish more of a possibility.”
Yeah – that’s right. The harder the day, the better his chances. Makes sense. This is a guy who has thrived on overcoming what would stop the rest of us mortal beings in our tracks.
He really has answered that question, hasn’t he?
You can listen to my pre-race interview with Jordan here.
Listen to my post-race interview here.
You can reach Kevin Mackinnon at email@example.com