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TUG OF SHORES By Allyson Marrs

To a select few, a challenge is a comfort.

Pushing past the limit, feeling weak and then pushing harder to gain back that strength is half the fun.

Member Eddie Switaj is a triathlete—a competitor. He's a pusher, and he recognizes that a life without a little discomfort is boring. "Challenge is important in all aspects of life," he says.

As he says it, he lives it.

Eddie began his athletic pursuits at the Bellevue Club as a swimmer on the Bellevue Club Swim Team. He was a distance competitor, and made waves swimming the mile, 1,000 free, 500 free and 200 fly.

At the University of Arizona, Eddie was part of an elite program—one that boasts Olympic medalists and world record holders among its alumni.

Yet, he became water logged after his sophomore year, so Eddie sought a new challenge. This time, one with two wheels. Once he took up cycling, he pushed himself further and adopted the interest in triathlons, which would combine two of his talents, while forcing him to train for something entirely new: running.

He began to compete his junior year of college. "I had done very little run or bike training prior to that, so the first year was mostly focused on increasing my fitness in those areas," he says. "Having a swimming background helped tremendously, and I quickly excelled, finishing toward the top of the field in several races throughout Arizona."

5 REFLECTIONSTugged in another direction, Eddie built his career in investment management, while taming his competitive impulse by participating in masters swim meets, open water swims and bike races.

Three years ago, his impulse became a driving force, urging him to do more. He began training 12 to 15 hours a week, on top of his work duties, with the goal to obtain his professional triathlon license.

In 2011, at the Pacific Grove Triathlon in California, Eddie received his license. He was a pro. Brooks Running Shoes, TYR (a sports equipment company), GU Energy, CycleOps, Litespeed Bicycles and Sports Reaction Center were all his sponsors.

"I was extremely excited," he says. "It proved that I can excel at sports in addition to my work, while still having a great family life." He and his wife Allie have a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

"Many of the other pro triathletes' primary focus in life is on training and racing; whereas, for me it will always be a hobby."

His long training hours consisted of preparing for the Olympic challenge distance during the triathlons—contestants swim one mile, bike 40 kilometers and run 10 kilometers. Top times are usually around one hour and 50 minutes, Eddie says.

"Unlike a more standard race format, the only thing that matters in triathlon and open water swimming is beating the person next to you," Eddie says. "It can create a very intense, competitive environment, but also allows for fun race tactics."

In June of 2012, as a professional, Eddie competed in one of the most popular triathlons in the world: Escape from Alcatraz. "It lived up to all the hype," he says.

"The course itself is brutal, with a very exciting start diving off a boat in front of Alcatraz for a 1.5 mile swim through the San Francisco Bay." Next, an 18-mile bike ride through Golden Gate Park, and then an eight-mile run through Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Not only is there morose lore associated with the former prison, but the course also stakes its pride in its less-than-perfect water conditions, rugged terrain and harsh climate.
Eddie finished the race with an impressive time of 2:19:25.

Later that summer, he won Seafair's triathlon, with a time of 1:47:03—just one of many local races in which he took first.

At an international level, Eddie raced at the International Triathlon Union Pan American Cup in Kelowna, Canada.

But races aren't without their difficulties. "I actually went through a barbed wire fence into a field of cows at one bike race, when I was forced off the road by a large crash right in front of me," Eddie says. He's also swum into a pylon during a race in Puget Sound, which left him holding a towel to his bloody face during the run that followed.

One consistent challenge is the last leg. After he dominates in the water and completes the bike ride, he must push through the run. "It's always painful. No matter what. I have heard many people talk about 'runner's high,' but I have no idea what they are talking about because I don't think running is ever easy, especially after swimming and biking."

On top of exhaustion, Eddie is literally looking over his shoulder during the run, since he usually has a lead after his stronger events. "But this is also what keeps me going—knowing that all I need to do is keep it together and hold my place to have a successful race," he says.

According to his philosophy, though, this pain is part of life—a great part.

He's now focusing his attention on open water swimming—he's won the Fat Salmon Open Water Swim the last three times he's entered—to devote more time to his first passion.

"I think it's important to never get too comfortable, and therefore one should choose paths and goals that will be continually challenging. From an athletic perspective, it's as simple as overcoming the urge to take it easy."

It's also about feeding your passions for you, not necessarily for anyone else.

"I really don't have a legacy that I want to leave behind. I just enjoy being challenged and love to race."

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