"Use it or lose it”

Timothy Lavelle is still glowing from placing second in his age group at the 2023 Santa Cruz Triathlon in California. At age 75, he’s lost track of how many triathlons he’s entered but wagers it’s over 200. As he mulls his next event, Tim reflects on how he was drawn to triathlons before the sport even existed.

Tim started cross training as early as high school. Much to the chagrin of his cross country coach, he also joined the swim team because it fed his competitive spirit and gave him an edge over athletes who only specialized in one sport.

I fancied myself a multisport athlete at a time when triathlons didn’t exist"

After high school, Tim attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and remained in the Army an additional five years.

During this time, Tim participated in military pentathlons. These events involved running and swimming through obstacles, firing machine guns and other military weapons, orienteering, and performing other military skills, such as throwing dummy grenades to determine accuracy. Competitions led him to England, Norway, France, and across the U.S.

The military’s “boot camp” training structure has remained an integral part of his training program to this day. It helped him run the Boston Marathon in 2:39:30 in 1978, and also led him to try out for the U.S. modern pentathlon Olympic team.

Named “modern” because it was included in the “modern” Olympic Games that resumed in 1896, this event featured running, swimming, shooting, fencing, and riding on horseback. Tim, however, was stymied in his efforts to make the team, thanks to an uncooperative teammate.

“The horse and I didn’t get along,” he says dryly. “I could tell that it wasn’t going to be my sport.”

Tim and his family settled in Silicon Valley near San Francisco, where he established a career in semiconductors and e-commerce before co-founding a data security company.

In 1978, a friend regaled Tim with stories about competing in “something called the Ironman.” Consisting of a 2.4-mile rough water swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon, today the Ironman is considered one of the most grueling one-day endurance events in the world.

Tim completed his first triathlon in 1979. “I became hooked right away because I was an OK runner and an OK swimmer, but this gave me an opportunity to be more successful,” he says.

Tim passionately embraced the sport, but his race times didn’t earn him a spot at the podium until he was 40 years old.

“It took 10 years to get good enough,” he says. “Then I started having a lot more success.”

Tim traveled nationally for triathlons and qualified for the national age group team several times. He participated in his last world championship at 60.

Tim was especially drawn to triathlons that featured a one-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride, and 10-kilometer run. These gave him a challenging range while sparing his knees from the demands of running too many miles. He watched as this format would evolve to become an Olympic sport in 2000.

Before most races, Tim would don a pair of socks on which he wrote the words “Why you train” as a reminder to keep pushing. He especially liked to compete as he got older, proudly displaying his age on the back of his leg as is customary in the sport.

I enjoyed the wow factor,” he says. “I would pass someone 30 years younger and they would go, ‘Wow!’

At age 68, Tim stopped doing triathlons. His wife had died and his knee was bad. It was time to take a break. He supported the competitive spirit of his three adult children, two of whom met their spouses at triathlons.

Six years later, at 74 years old, Tim returned to the sport he loved. “I got tired of saying I used to be a triathlete,” he explains wryly.

He trained for the Santa Cruz Triathlon in 2023 and “kinda plodded along and finished,” placing second out of nine in his age group.

Tim’s impressive longevity is something BellSant aspires to achieve for all clients. Through regular diagnostics and assessments, BellSant provides personalized recommendations anyone can make to improve their lives and slow down the aging process.

Tim has since remarried, and he and his wife keep busy attending activities for their combined grandkids. He’s unsure if he wants — or needs — to continue with racing. Now, his motivation is guided by a “use it or lose it” desire to be fit, live well, and stay alive.

When I was in grammar school, I was the last guy chosen on the team. Now, it’s kind of my sweet revenge,” he says. “I’m the guy who’s still fit and while so many of them aren’t.

Tim is also guided by something bigger, a deep appreciation for the strength and health of his body.

“I have a gift, I guess, and one of my feelings all the time is that if you have a gift, you should use it,” he says. “But I tell you, it’s never easy doing exercise.”

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