Winging it doesn’t win triathlons. That’s a fact three-time Ironman Champion Chris Lieto knows well, “You have to be dedicated. You have put the training and effort in to achieve your goals, but you also need balance,” says Lieto, who has scaled back his own training to focus more on his family and other passions. “Crossing that finish line wouldn’t mean as much if there wasn’t love, relationships, or serving involved,” he adds.
I caught up with the multi-sport champ after a surf session with his son. He’s showing his kids that life is about ebb and flow, using the ocean as a tool. “The waves were good today,” says Lieto. “My son Kaiden isn’t back in school yet, so I wanted to get out there, catch some barrels and have some fun with him. It’s awesome to teach him how to be an athlete and to be responsible.”
Lieto is full of life lessons these days. Here, he reveals what keeps him motivated and explains how everyone can tap into their inner athlete and achieve success.
You’re a 3-time Ironman Champion—wow! Are you still competing?
“I am not competing in Ironman as far as distance is concerned, but I’m still out there training, keeping fit, and participating in smaller races. I’m finding more balance in doing all kinds of sports, and spending more time with my family. I still love triathlon, but lately I’ve been incorporating more surf training and Crossfit-style workouts into my routine. I’ve also been showing members of my community how to live healthy, active lives. I go down to the beach and train around 35 kids and adults—we do fitness sessions and surf together. I love passing on the lessons I’ve learned through sports, and watching them get healthier and stronger.”
How do you convince people to get started and to stick with a fitness routine?
“Just going out and exercising is boring for me—I need to attach a goal to it in order to get excited about doing it, and to keep going. So that’s what I try to show others—you need to set goals and challenge yourself.
When I started triathlon, I was looking for a challenge. I came across the sport on TV—it looked amazing, and I made it my goal to challenge myself and compete at the highest level I could reach. I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to do this, I want to see how good I can get,’ and I literally went in with an attitude of pursuing excellence.
Some people are afraid to reach for certain goals because they’re afraid of failure. But when you believe you can breakthrough, and you challenge yourself to reach the highest level possible, it pushes you to stay with it, to try harder. That’s what I try to pass on to the kids and adults on the beach that I train. Start where you are, and push yourself to reach the next level—and then the next one.
I started participating in triathlons with a mountain bike. It’s what I had in the garage, and I figured it would be more of a workout for me to ride a heavier bike until I got a better one. I didn’t need to have the best to get started, I got on what I had and learned along the way.”
Still, someone could look at you and think, “He’s got it easy. He’s already athletic.” What do you say to them?
“I’ve had my fair share of failures and setbacks. And I get it—you could use those negative experiences to hold you back. But it’s so important to stay committed and to look to for support outside of yourself—look to your family, your community, for motivation.
Again, start where you are. But don’t be afraid to set the bar high. Find ways to encourage yourself in small ways—each workout can be a goal. And from there you can set bigger goals. I find the bigger the goal you set the more drive you have to accomplish it. I wanted to be Ironman World Champion, but I never became world champ—instead, I came in second. But if I didn’t go that big, I wouldn’t have gotten close.
The key is to take action right away. Do something today! Ask yourself right after reading this, ‘What can I do right now?’ Then go out and do it—and tell someone what you’re doing!”
It sounds like finding a support crew is pretty important for reaching health and fitness goals?
“Absolutely! There was a time in my training when I didn’t have the balance right, when I didn’t put enough focus on my marriage and relationships. But I learned from it, and realize now that having someone to lean on, having a family is the most important thing. It makes all of your goals achievable—and it makes you a better athlete.
I’ve always desired to live a balanced life—it’s something I’m constantly working on and striving for. If we strive for that, our life and our relationships will be more joyful and healthy. We find fulfillment through balance. If we put too much emphasis on one thing, when we reach that goal there’s an emptiness, because we’re out of balance with our relationships or other aspects of our life.
I’m realizing there’s so much more beyond the personal achievement in the sport of triathlon. And now I love being able to give back. I have two kids, my son is almost 11, and my daughter is 6, and I love showing them how sports and athletics can set you up for success in all areas of life.
I love showing people that anyone can be healthy. Coaching and training on the beach, and watching a 55-year-old lose weight, have more energy, and feel stronger than he’s ever felt is really fulfilling. The balance of giving back is really driving me to stay fit these days.”
Do you ever take a break or a vacation from your fitness routine?
“Yes, and no. It’s important to stay active and to keep moving, no matter where you are, but that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in a rigid fitness plan. You can explore and try new things—especially when you’re in a new place.
If you’re going on vacation, learn more about what your destination offers before you arrive—go for a hike, go sightseeing, just be active. Find out what the locals do and try to experience it with them, skiing, snow boarding, surfing—I tried spear fishing when I first came to Hawaii, and it was great!
That’s one of the reasons why I teamed up with ZOZI to help them develop active vacation adventures. If you’re active, and trying and enjoying new activities on vacation, it’s so much easier to get back into your regular fitness routine when you get back home—and you’ll be even more inspired to reach that next level of fitness.”
Learn more about how Ironman Champion and ZOZI Guru Chris Lieto and other athletes are using sports to give back by visiting More Than Sport. And click here for a chance to win a ZOZI Go Beyonder fitness-getaway prize package inspired by Chris Lieto!