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Triathlons a way of life for Evergreen Park man

Jeff Sabbath Evergreen Park said he has competed more than 100 triathlons. | Supplied photo

Jeff Sabbath, of Evergreen Park, said he has competed in more than 100 triathlons. | Supplied photo

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Updated: September 22, 2014 11:52AM



Going the distance has been Jeff Sabbath’s goal for 30 years as a competitor in the Chicago Triathlon.

The 55-year-old Evergreen Park resident plans to do it again Sunday, competing in his 31st event — and counting.

“I’ve done every Chicago Triathlon that they’ve had,” Sabbath said.

He first competed in 1983, coming to Chicago from his then-home state of Iowa at a time when the Ironman Triathlon on Wide World of Sports popularized the event. A national series of races put together by the U.S. Triathlon Federation made the competition “more attainable” for the average athlete and drew enough people to make it a profitable venture, Sabbath said. He remembers the first Chicago event drawing about 1,000 people.

“I did well. I was very happy with it,” Sabbath said. “I finished in the top 50.”

He said both the run and the swim portion of the triathlon were longer when the event first began in the 1980s, but the distances were eventually shortened to encourage a greater number of people to enter.

“Swimming is the biggest hurdle for most people,” Sabbath said. He said it is now the shortest event “because if you’re going to (hold a) race, the object is to get as many people there as possible.”

Sabbath said he’s never had to push himself to compete.

“Doing the Chicago Triathlon for me is a reward for training,” he said.

His training routine is solo — “I tend to do a lot of my training alone,” he said — and flexible.

Biking isn’t practical in Chicago in the winter, he said, so when the weather clears up, he makes up for lost biking time, sometimes along Lake Shore Drive.

His work in commodities allows him a flexible schedule for training.

“I do something every day of the week or six days a week,” Sabbath said. “During the summer, I’ll do a couple of them together.”

Sabbath said he has “a high degree of confidence” about competing because of his years of training and experience. He was a high school swimmer and is not intimidated by the open-water swimming in Lake Michigan’s Monroe Harbor, he said, but his favorite part of the triathlon is the 10K run.

“I like running the best just because you get the most high from that ... and it’s the most demanding,” Sabbath said.

Sabbath said he is one of about 5,000 people who compete in the Chicago Triathlon, an event he believes has “a great history” in a city that “works very well to accommodate a lot of people.”

The Chicago Triathlon isn’t Sabbath’s only competition.

“I don’t even know how many total triathlons I’ve done,” Sabbath said. “Well over a hundred. When I was younger ... that’s kind of what my summers were.”

Sabbath said that changed when he started a family. He and his wife Sherrie have a blended family of five children, now all in their 20s, and Sabbath said each of them has participated in triathlons. He said one of the family favorites is sponsored by the La Porte, Indiana, YMCA, where three generations of family members sometimes divide the relay events.

That includes Sabbath’s 81-year-old mother, Carol Mae Osborn, who also participated in the bike relay in the Chicago Triathlon two years ago and has a long history of successful competitions.

“I’ve got good genes. I’m blessed,” Sabbath said.

Any advice he might give to those interested in triathlon competition would start with a question, Sabbath said.

“What are your goals?” he said.

To Sabbath, just finishing the event is “certainly a badge of honor,” he said.

“People are proud of that and they should be,“ he said. “It’s certainly an accomplishment.”

As for Sabbath, his goal is to simply enjoy himself.

“If you’re going to do something for 30 years, you have to enjoy the process,” he said.

And as long as that is the case, Sabbath will continue building on his personal record.

“It’s not something I do,” he said. “It’s something I am.”



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