Exercise as Medicine – Fighting Arthritis with Triathlon

February 24, 2014 on 4:56 pm | In Athlete Profile, Charity, Community, Giving Back | No Comments

This blog brought to you by Helgi Spencer Olafson, Amateur Triathlete and Arthritis Warrior with Ankylosing Spondylitis. Check out Helgi’s website, join his Race For a Cure team, donate and follow him on Twitter – @HelgiOlafson.

I often ask myself… “why do I keep adding more and more to my plate?”…and then I think to myself, “if only there were more hours in a day… yeah, that would be awesome!”

But this is reality!!

The earth will always turn at a pace which conducts time.  We have no control over time.  What we DO have is control over how we spend that time.  YOU have the power of CHOICE.

Is it selfish to take the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Or is it something that can be used as an example for others to follow with the hopes of getting this world out of the rut that we are in where everyone is searching for the magic pill?

The "Magic Pill"

Here is the bottom line:  EVERYONE suffers from hardship and challenges at one point or another in their lives.  Some people have it easy and some don’t.  It is likely that each of us can’t know exactly how it feels to be in another person’s shoes.  We are genetically different from one another and it’s just not the way genealogy works.

What is important is that we continue to use the lessons from our personal experiences and education, as well as the history recorded by countless visionaries over the many centuries that humans have roamed this earth.  Believe it or not, “Visionaries” are people just like you and me.  I have Ankylosing Spondylitis, and I AM a visionary for many.  For them I carry a torch, which also stays lit in my heart.  I will lead the way, while learning, teaching, growing, and respecting the knowledge that history and experience has provided.

Harness the thoughts that you produce in your mind.  They can move mountains!

Triathlon as Medicine for #Arthritis

Since competing as a runner for a relay team in my first ever triathlon, which was the 2012 Lavaman Waikoloa Olympic distance triathlon, I was hooked.  I knew that this was the answer.  I was tired of living my days with a back, bones, and joints that hurt because I wasn’t taking the best possible care of myself.  “But I have autoimmune arthritis, and it makes it hard for me!”  No, Helgi!! THAT is even MORE the reason why you should be held accountable for your health.  No more giving the jet plane regular unleaded for fuel. It was time to figure out how to manage my arthritis, and help others by leading the way.

I found that if I maintain a good combination of swimming, biking and running, as well as functional strength, core work, and a proper stretching routine to maintain flexibility, I am currently almost invulnerable, aside from the common daily creaks and cracks, to the autoimmune disease that may eventually cause my spine, hips and other joints to fuse together.  This fusion, or ankylosis, is caused by severe inflammation and pain.  The autoimmune arthritis I have is called Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS.  40% of the world’s population will suffer from one or more of the over 200 types of arthritis at least once in their lifetime.

I Have Ankylosing Spondylitis

Triathlon is great for arthritis!  I am not a Rhuematologist, or even a doctor, but I am my own maker, and I know that triathlon training works for me.  It can also work for others, but those of us who have arthritis know that our bodies and bones don’t really react very well to sudden changes.  This is why it is important to ease into triathlon and be sure to use each discipline regularly to improve overall fitness and core strength, while maintaining a proper plan with the help of a coach that understands your personal limitations from arthritis.  A strong core helps maintain the integrity of my joints.

Of course it hurts!  I AM human…but I think I am on to something here.

I put my music on and run the trails of the lava fields, valley-laden coastline, or the rain forests of Hawai’i.  Give me a day cycling the hills in the Pacific Northwest, or the flats of Florida.  There is nothing like jumping into the water for a training swim at the pier in Kailua Kona, which also happens to be the start-line for the Ironman World Championship event that takes place each year to crown the best Ironman  triathletes in the world.

Talk about motivation all around me.  Here is the deal.  There is no “Magic Pill.”  There may never be a “Cure.”  What does exist is #Hope.  Raising awareness by word of mouth and through networking is a key element in reaching the extremely large number of arthritis patients, doctors and interested parties all over the world.

Spreading the word

If you support arthritis and exercise as medicine, and you would like to help this cause, please support our mission and consider a donation. Perhaps you would like to join our team and race with us in support of arthritis research and programs to help people with arthritis?  All levels welcome! You can learn more about our team here, and learn more about me here.

TriSports.com supports the Helgi Olafson Foundation…use coupon code HOF14 to donate 15% of your purchase directly to the Helgi Olafson Foundation. Code cannot be combined with any other offers. Sale items and items designated as non-discountable will not be included.

Who are YOU Tri-ing for?

January 21, 2014 on 4:03 pm | In CAF, Charity, Community, Giving Back, Random Musings | No Comments

Races use to be just that…races. But training for races is a lot of hard work, and quite some time back, some one (not sure when, not sure who) came up with the idea that as long as people are training, why not train for a cause? In my mind, Team-in-Training was the one that really put this kind of racing on the map and, since it was founded in 1988, they and untold other charities have benefited from people racing for dollars. What has been amazing are the people from all walks of life who are brought together for a cause, people who may never have even run a 5K, let alone a marathon; never done a sprint triathlon, let alone an Ironman, yet they are willing to toe the line to raise money for research to beat down the disease that took their brother, their mother, their daughter, their best friend. The causes are numerous, but the goal the same…raise as much as possible for the cause that speaks to you.

The popularity of racing for a cause has skyrocketed

I have done this before, raising money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, an organization that does amazing things for people with disabilities – they give them the freedom to get out and participate in athletics by providing prosthetics, training, travel and more. I did my first event with them in 2003 and have participated most years since then (a fire in SD, a couple of pregnancies and our store grand opening had me miss a few), and I don’t even know at this point how much money we’ve raised for them doing their San Diego Triathlon Challenge, Million Dollar Challenge and Race For a Reason over the years. I’ve made great friends and memories to last a lifetime!  I’ll always continue to race for CAF because I truly believe in what they do, and the people who run it are amazing!

Top Corporate Challenge fundraisers for CAF back in 2004

We have become involved with another amazing organization, this one local to our Tucson community, called Tu Nidito (means “Your Little Nest”).  Over 19 years ago, some incredible people saw a hole in the support system for children who had been diagnosed with a serious medical condition (and the adults who care for them) or who had suffered the loss of a loved one, and so they created Tu Nidito to fill that hole. Today, Tu Nidito serves around 900 children and their families, providing ongoing support for grieving children, and helping families who have a seriously ill child all the way from diagnosis to either recovery or the bleak alternative. Just visiting and touring the facility brings tears to my eyes. The staff there is so strong to face these families and the losses they suffer on a daily basis. They do all of this at absolutely no cost to the families, and so fundraising is super important for them. They have had their “Ride for a Child” program for years, pairing a cyclist competing in El Tour de Tucson with a child. The cyclist rides for that child and raises funds for Tu Nidito.  This year, they are launching their “Tri for a Child” program, and have partnered with us to try to help get the word out. They have spots for sold out IRONMAN Boulder, as well as the challenging IRONMAN Lake Tahoe. Sure, you could go get an entry for Tahoe at regular price, but by racing for Tu Nidito, you’ll get so much more, and I’m not talking about the tangibles, though those are pretty cool (ever heard of Jimmy Riccitello? He’ll be your coach). You don’t need to be a local Tucsonan to believe in what they do, so check it out, and consider racing for them…there are many children who will be very glad that you did!

Projects at Tu Nidito

A Step at a Time

December 3, 2013 on 4:22 pm | In Charity, Community, Giving Back | No Comments

This blog brought to you by TriSports Champion Polly Jansen. Although this took place earlier this year, we thought it a good one to share during this time of thanks and giving. Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter – pjansen!

As a member of an athletic community, I have learned from some amazingly gifted people, but the thing I appreciate most in my friends and fellow competitors is their eager willingness to give back to the sport.  One such example recently popped up when I attended a training class for my new job.  As participants, we were asked to introduce and tell something about ourselves.  One of my new colleagues, Awolu, shared how he had come from a war-torn area of Ghana and never owned a pair of sneakers until he graduated from high school because his village didn’t have access to them.  Awolu went on to explain that he has been in the United States for nine years and periodically purchases used sneakers to ship back to his village in Ghana.  He is taking a trip there to work with a middle school in July and plans to send a shipment of shoes at the end of June.

Students in Ghana

Intrigued, I had to meet him afterwards.  “Awolu,” I said, “do you really PURCHASE the used sneakers?”  He assured me that he did, but confirmed that he would also take donations.  I said, “Don’t purchase anymore shoes right now.  You will have your whole shipment by mid-June!”

That evening I messaged Dan Gordon, founder of the Wissahickon Wanderers, a trail running club in Philadelphia that I have been a part of since 2004, and pitched the idea of collecting shoe donations from club members.  We decided that since the Wanderers are holding informal trail races each Thursday in May and also helping to put on the Wissahickon Trail Classic 10k on June 8, that we would encourage the runners and volunteers to bring their used shoes to go to the students in Ghana.

This past Thursday we collected our first round of donations and will continue to do so through June 8.  I really appreciate the support so far from the athletes in my community and it’s refreshing to see everyone come together when there is a need and they have the capacity to help.  It seems like such a small thing because everyone has used running shoes laying around, and we are so happy to be able to share something of ourselves that we often take for granted.  I thank Awolu for this opportunity and hope the students feel renewed energy as they lace up these kicks and put their best feet forward!

First box of donations

Team Ariana

November 28, 2012 on 9:25 am | In Athlete Profile, Giving Back, Sponsorship | No Comments

We recently partnered with a new charity, Team Ariana, and I was curious about the amazing girl spearheading the foundation. I was able to send her some questions so we could get a better feel for the organization and the girl behind it. To learn more or to give to a great cause, visit the website or Facebook page.

How did you get started in triathlon?

When I was younger (Age 7 in Second Grade), I had tried sports like soccer, basketball and softball.  I just could not find the right fit for me.  Then, two of my friends’ (boys) dads told my dad about these kid triathlons they were participating in.  My dad asked me if I wanted to give it a try.  I did and the rest is history.   I was hooked!  My earlier years were spent learning about all three sports, nutrition, gear and competing in many local and national championship races.  Two years ago, I decided that I wanted to start racing in adult triathlons, but only if my dad would do it with me.  Now we do them all together!  This year I competed in approximately 15 duathlons and triathlons, including two Olympic distance races.

What made you decide to start racing for charity?

As I progressed into the adult triathlons, a lot of attention was being placed on me.  I was usually one of the only kids racing and I was beating most of the adults.  I decided that I wanted to shift this attention away from me and onto a cause that was more worthwhile.  I created Team Ariana last year and kicked it off at the beginning of the 2012 racing season.  I united my sponsors and created a web site, a full Team Ariana race wear line with my awesome sponsor Champion System, and provided a way to raise more awareness and badly needed funds for the Vogel Alcove.  The story on the Vogel Alcove also goes way back as my younger sister, Gabrielle, deserves all the credit for introducing it to our family.  The Vogel Alcove is a special place which gives young homeless children and their parents a start at a second chance in life.  They provide schooling and healthcare for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old and case management for the parents, which helps them prepare and find work, and ultimately a real place to call home.  Twenty one different local homeless shelters, domestic violence facilities, etc. feed into the Vogel Alcove.

We started helping Vogel by donating all our birthday presents to them, creating donation drives and visiting the children to bake cookies, do art projects and play.  But that just did not seem like enough.  I wanted to do more.  Once my sister and I realized that these sweet children don’t even have a bed to call their own, not even their own pillow, I knew I could make a difference.  Team Ariana was the answer.  When I am racing and pushing as hard as I can, I find a way to push harder knowing I am doing it for these children.  I have so much and they have so little.  I can endure a few hours of pain for them.  This year alone, Team Ariana has raised over $37,000 and we are not slowing down one bit!

Do you participate in other sports outside of swim/bike/run?

Yes, I participate in volleyball at my school!

Have you inspired any friends or family to participate in triathlon?

Definitely!  My dad was my number one equipment manager before I started doing adult triathlons.  Now, he does all my races with me and even completed his first Ironman this summer!  More importantly, I think I have opened up other kid’s eyes to the reality that they, too, can make a difference.  I have heard and seen other kids finding a way to give back to their communities by finding something they believe in and going after it.  Some do it through triathlons, and others through sports they love.  The main thing I want to get across to other kids is that I am proof that one kid CAN make a difference.

What does a typical training week look like for you?

Well, I typically have 3-4 hours of homework every night so a typical training week during the school year is a little different than a training week during the summer.  Also, my training changed when I began focusing in Olympic distance tris versus sprints.  First off, my coach is awesome.  Coach Steen Rose has always made sure that my training is balanced with my other obligations.  More importantly, he makes sure I am always having fun.  After all, I am still a kid!  During the school year, each week I will typically balance 2 runs, 2 swims, 2 bikes, resistance training and yoga.  My coach changes up my schedule, but the weekends usually involve longer bricks and more endurance work.  We also use Training Peaks which really helps me in my weekly and monthly planning.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? ,


Looking at your results, it’s easy to see that you’re a fierce competitor. Do you have any dreams of racing as a professional some day?

Absolutely!  I would like to (1) complete my first Ironman before I finish high school and (2) become a professional triathlete sometime in my career.

Who is your favorite triathlete (both male and female)?

Hunter Kemper and Sarah Haskins.   I got to race with them both in the Toyota US Open Championships!

What is the toughest subject in school?


What is your favorite subject?

English, Spanish, Math, and Science

How do you decide what your goal is for how much money you want to raise for Vogel Alcove, and does that goal change from year to year?

This is my first year of raising money for the Vogel Alcove.  When I started earlier this year, my goal was $10,000.  We hit that so quickly that I raised it to $20,000.  Once we passed that I raised it to $50,000!  It has been so great to see so many people and companies help support me, Team Ariana, and the Vogel Alcove.  This really is an awesome sport with a phenomenal support group.

How do you spend your down time (what’s your favorite non-athletic thing to do)?

Playing with my friends (sleepovers, movies, fun sports) and doing fun activities with my family (traveling, cooking, etc.).

What’s the hardest part about triathlon training?

The hardest part about triathlon training is usually not the training itself, but finding a way to structure my schedule so I can fit it in.  I have found that taking breaks from my homework to train really allows me to recharge and focus more on my studying.

Are your friends into triathlon as well, or do they think you’re crazy?

I met my best friend (who lives an hour away) through triathlon racing.  She is my BFF and I wish I could see her more.  My other friends don’t race, but are supportive.  Some have come to see races, but many don’t like getting up that early and they generally think I am crazy!

TriCats Splash and Dash

February 29, 2012 on 12:22 pm | In Giving Back, Sponsorship | No Comments

By the TriCats

Sunday, February 27, 2012 marked the date of some major competitive events for our country: there was the Oscar Awards, the Daytona 500, but most importantly, this day marked the 4th annual TriCats Splash and Dash hosted by the University of Arizona TriCats.

The TriCat Splash and Dash finish line.

The TriCats put on this aquathlon every February in order to raise money for their upcoming trip to the Collegiate Triathlon National Champions.  The race is an 825-yard swim followed by a 5-kilometer run on the University of Arizona campus.  Plenty of local Tucsonans as well as collegiate athletes from U of A, Northern Arizona University, and Arizona State University come out to race this fast-paced aquathlon.

This year, TriSports offered a new twist on the event and agreed to give a $500 gift certificate to anyone who beat the fastest TriCat racing the event.  Since most of the TriCats had their hands full setting up the event, only three of our athletes raced.  Beat three collegiate athletes.  Sounds easy right?  Wrong.  Among the three TriCat’s  was Ben “The Newt” Kanute, a freshman sensation from Chicago with high hopes of winning Collegiate Nationals this year.

Competing in the event alongside Kanute were two Canadian elite triathletes, Andrew Yorke and John Rasmuseen, who are in town for some warm weather training.  Yorke and Rasmussen, are both high quality swimmers and can hold their own on the run course and Kanute was sure to face a challenge.  In addition, The Newt was assigned to swim in lane number 1, the farthest lane from the transition area meaning he would have the longest run coming out of the water.

The Newt about to start the race!

Not surprisingly, The Newt completed the short swim with Phelps-like speed and was first out of the water.  Yorke followed close behind and it was clear that the race would be won by the strongest runner.  Yorke cut Kanute’s lead to a mere 22 seconds with just a mile to go on the run, showing a valiant effort and some all out guts.  Kanute, noticing his lead slipping, stepped up his game and showed why he is considered one of the best young triathletes in the country.  Coming across the finish line in a blazing 24:04, and The Newt took the title home for the TriCats.

The Newt and Yorke share race stories after the race.

The 4th Annual Splash and Dash was a great success and a lot of fun for everyone who participated.  The TriCats were able to raise some money for their upcoming attempt at winning a National Championship and provide a fun racing atmosphere for the Tucson community.

A great thanks to Trisports.com for all of their support and to everyone who raced and volunteered!

Want to help the TriCats go to Nationals? Donate here! Invest in the future of the sport!

Almost Done – Solar

January 12, 2012 on 7:50 am | In Giving Back, Solar | No Comments
Our solar project is almost done and, as with all construction, we have had a few delays; however our installer has kept us up to speed and in the loop. In a week or two we will be flipping the switch to our extremely impressive 128kW system. If you have missed the other updates, you can find them here: Solar Update #1, Solar Update #2, Fighting For Solar.
Please join us on January 30, 2012 at 4 pm as we flip the switch at our Solar Commissioning Open House!

Local Arizona steel workers begin erecting the large steel structure.

A steel worker working on a support beam.

One of the partially completed structures that will provide shade and hold many solar panels.

The completed steel structures anxiously awaiting the installation of 308 SunPower solar panels.

One of the first solar panels on the steel ground structure.

An electrician is busy putting some sweat into the install.

Almost done! Just a few more panels and some electrical to finish up.

Raising the Bar, or Seat

November 30, 2011 on 12:16 pm | In Announcements, Community, Giving Back, Random Musings | No Comments

We are once again raising the bar on what we feel a true triathlon store should offer in the way of amenities.  You must have an indoor pool (check), you must have a dedicated bike fit studio (check), and you must have a treadmill to do foot strike analysis (check).  Our newest addition – Port ‘o Potties.

Only at TriSports!

Seriously, how many of us practice using these things?  You really need to know the ins and outs of these giant plastic stink tanks. Sit or squat?  Use TP or run it a bit dirty?  Share or wait in line? These are all decisions we have to make when racing and we think it is important to practice every aspect of racing.  So, next time you are at a store that says they are a triathlon store you know what to ask them – Where is the pool, fit studio, treadmill AND Port o’ Pottie.  See you in line at the races!

Ironman Arizona – a group effort

November 17, 2011 on 6:00 am | In Community, Employee Adventures, Giving Back, Life at TriSports.com, Random Musings, Uncategorized | No Comments

This weekend is the 9th edition of Ironman Arizona and for all 9 of these, the TriSports.com staff, family, friends and loyal customers have been on the course volunteering and racing.  This year will be no different.  Our great customers from around Tucson, Phoenix and beyond come out in droves to support the TriSports.com aid station that is nestled under the 202 and Mill Ave bridges.  This aid station serves as a safe haven for volunteers, racers and spectators because of the built in “roof” above.  Along with volunteering, we have four great staff members, representing four different departments (customer service, accounting, buying and management) stepping up to the line representing the red, white and blue of TriSports.com.  All combined, over 40% of our staff will be involved with the event in some way, shape or form.

Retail manager, Erik Jacobson, volunteers at the 2010 Ironman Arizona.

I have to say that we are very fortunate to work in our facility because it really does feel like the entire TriSports.com staff is behind you.  They understand when you had a hard day on the bike, a great run or a meeting in the Pain Cave.  Most of the time when you see someone dragging in this building, it is because they just tortured themselves on some epic workout.  Why?   Because we live the endurance lifestyle, it is what we do, it is who we are.  See you up in Tempe!

2011 Ironman Arizona finisher, and Team TriSports athlete Matt Grabau.

Fighting for Solar

November 15, 2011 on 6:00 am | In Community, Giving Back, Random Musings, Solar | No Comments

There are three things in life I will fight for:

1)      My family and friends.

2)      My business.

3)      The environment.

This is a story relating to #3 on my list.

Earlier this year we made the decision to install solar on our building. By June we had selected a vendor (Technicians For Sustainability) and by early July we had started the permitting process. This also included submitting plans to our BOA (Business Owners Association – it’s like a Home Owners Association but for the area our facility is located – the Butterfield Business Park). Fast forward to October and all of the permits, structural drawings, etc. were completed, which included getting a variance from the city because one of the structures holding the solar will go a couple feet into the easement of our property. We were contacted by TFS that they were ready to begin, what an exciting time – STOP! The day before we were to start construction we were contacted by our BOA that the architectural review committee, headed up by a local architect here in Tucson, decided to decline the installation of our project.  Why? They stated a couple reasons, but mainly because you can see the solar panels from the road.

Yes, bureaucracy (and complete arrogance) at its best. Luckily the state of Arizona has a law that protects us – A.R.S. § 33-1816; however, it is a fight that I didn’t think we would have to address, especially considering the BOA had over 3 months to address the issue. Needless to say, we are proceeding with the project without the blessing of our BOA. This is for the environment, this is for my kids, this is for our future.

CAF San Diego Triathlon Challenge

October 25, 2011 on 11:31 am | In Community, Employee Adventures, Giving Back, Life at TriSports.com | No Comments
Cody McCasland, one of CAF’s Shining Stars
A few months back, I was given the opportunity to join a relay team for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) through TriSports Racing, TriSports.com’s charity arm. I had recently heard of this organization and thought to myself that this is a chance to participate in a triathlon that raises money for athletes with some kind of disability so they have the means to compete through grants and other assistance. What I knew beforehand about CAF were the cool running prosthetics, hand crank bicycles, and other high profile items. What this day meant to me was that I was going to San Diego for the weekend to check out some really cool hardware on amputees and get to also run beside them.
Tyler, Shari and Adam head out together on the run
On the day of the race, I was convinced this is not a race, but an event. What did that really mean? TriSports Racing had two relay teams during this “race” and I was to run on one of them. I had decided ahead of time to get a swim out of this day as well. After the opening ceremony, which had an unbelievable signer belting out the national anthem, and a parade of the challenged athletes competing, I scrambled to go to the bathroom and then put on my wetsuit. That is where I met Sean. He was in a corner with his girlfriend, trying to get on his wetsuit before the start. I was in my own world and was using this quiet corner to put down my wetsuit while I went to the bathroom. As soon as I put down the wetsuit and turned to leave, I did a 180 and asked if I could help. He replied back with “Yes, if you have the time.” That right there changed this day from a race into an event for me.
The “wheelies” prepare to start
Here is a paraplegic trying to get on a wetsuit to swim one mile in open water. Yes, I had the time. If you have ever attempted to put on a triathlon wetsuit, you know it is tough. For some people it takes 15-20 minutes, and that is with the ability to stand up and work the wetsuit up your legs and butt. Sean is a paraplegic in a wheelchair. He had to lock the wheels, use his arms to get his “trunk” off of the seat, lean forward for me to work the wetsuit up, and because he has experience in this, use his girlfriend as a stability device with his head as I jerk on the wetsuit to get it past his butt.
World Champ Chrissie Wellington accompanies some of the kids during their run
After a few attempts, the wetsuit was up far enough that he could get his arms in. A part of my job at TriSports.com is to help fit people in wetsuits. I could tell the wetsuit was not far enough up on his torso, but Sean’s swim start was in 5 minutes and he had to get from the cliffs of La Jolla Bay down to the water. As I was fretting with the fit, I realized that Sean has a lot more to overcome on this day than a wetsuit that is pulling down on his shoulders a bit. We parted ways and all I got was his name and a new understanding of what this event was really about.
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