Endurance: Tim DeBoom

Tim DeBoom: The making of a hero

November, 13, 2012
This article was originally published in the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

I did not watch the Super Bowl or the World Series growing up. As blasphemous as that might sound in America, I thought they were boring. I could, however, be totally consumed by the Masters golf tournament, Wimbledon and the Indy 500. But in the end, nothing could ever compare with the Olympics.

Triathlete.comTo Tim DeBoom, success on the Olympic level remains a gold standard of athletic achievement.

I watched every Olympic Games -- winter, summer, it didn't matter. Swimming, track and field, gymnastics, skiing, hockey. Hell, even figure skating. Everything was captivating, simply because it was the Olympics. It's real-life drama, with tragedy, triumph and everything in between.

I remember a hotel room full of Speedo-clad swimmers huddled around the television in between sessions at the 1984 Midwest Regional Swimming Championships, trying to catch a glimpse of Rowdy Gaines winning the 100-meter freestyle. He was one of many heroes that year, and heroes are what the Olympics personified to me. Not superheroes, but heroes nonetheless to a 13-year-old boy.

I did not dream of becoming an Olympian back then. I was a realist, even at that young age, and I knew that my swimming ability was never going to take me to that level. That understanding did nothing to abate my love for the Olympics, though. Ironically, that would happen much later, when the Games became a real possibility through the sport of triathlon.

I was still racing in the age-group ranks when triathlon became a real contender to be added to the Olympics. I knew that I had the potential to be one of the best in triathlon and could represent my country if triathlon were accepted.

First, triathlon itself had to undergo a transformation to even become an Olympic event. Essentially, it had to be transformed into a spectator sport that could be easily televised. Enter draft-legal racing. Yes, I considered it a deviation from the pure, true sport of triathlon that I loved and excelled at, but it wasn't a deal breaker. I was willing to play that game.

My hopes of becoming an Olympian began to fade when the qualification procedures were outlined and implemented. The chase for points around the world was on! Athletes traveled to the globe's farthest reaches with hopes of accumulating points to solidify their rankings and then possibly be eligible to participate in the Olympic trials.

It was quite different from how the sport of swimming operated, which was what I was familiar with while growing up: You swim an Olympic trials qualifying time, you race at the trials, and the top two represent the USA at the Olympics. Swimming is decisive. If you are "off" during the trials, if you have a cold or a family issue, too bad. It all comes down to one day, one race.

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