As the 7th annual Nation’s Triathlon wound down in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 9, a man riding a Capital Bikeshare rental bicycle emerged near the race’s finish line. A volunteer staff member quickly stopped the rider and informed him the street was closed for the ongoing race.
The biker then pointed to the number on his shirt, which prompted the incredulous volunteer to burst out laughing and exclaim, “No Way!”
Meet Jefferson Smith, the intrepid 41-year-old Falls Church man who decided to lug a 40-pound, 3-speed Capital Bikeshare rental to his first-ever triathlon. The risk management professional and television/film actor says he hasn’t owned a bike since he’s had his driver’s license, admitting he meant to buy one for this race but never got around to it. He figured using a rental would add to the fun and give him a better workout anyway.
“I don’t know which was more awkward, riding it or walking it around through the transition station,” Smith said. “I didn't regret using it, but during the race, it definitely added to the challenge. Whoever said that trail was flat should try riding it on a Bikeshare.”
Smith’s main motivation for participating was to support the cause promoted by race organizers. The event raised $1.3 million to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, making it the only triathlon in the U.S. dedicated to finding a cure for blood cancer. A friend of Smith’s lost a child to cancer, so he looked at the race as a way to help fight the disease.
After getting through the 1.5-kilometer swim on the Potomac River, Smith faced the daunting task of grinding out a 25-mile ride through the city before embarking on a 10-kilometer run to close out the race. That alone is enough to frighten most novice athletes, not to mention the fact that a Bikeshare bike weighs more than twice as much as most racing bikes.
Needless to say, others were taking notice.
“People were doing a little bit of a double take,” said Dan Cruz, public relations director for Competitor Group, which sponsored the event. “They were going, ‘Is that a Bikeshare bike?’ As organizers, we did not know he had entered with a Bikeshare bike. Most people come with your standard triathlon bike or 10-speed, but we don’t have any stipulations on what the requirements are for the bike, as long as it has two wheels and a pedal and you’re able to complete the distance.”
When his fatigued body began to stir thoughts of doubt and regret, Smith was lifted up by the smiles and comments he received from competitors and spectators along the way. Ringing the Bikeshare’s little bell was his way of saying thanks.
“They took photos and were encouraging,” Smith said. “I rang my little bell every time another cyclist passed me by. They got a kick out of it. I think they could see that I was struggling. Later, I passed a few of them who had flat tires.”
Not exactly looking to win the race, Smith was content just to cross the finish line. He did so in more than four hours, behind the first-place finisher’s time of 2 hours, 4 minutes and 45 seconds. The cycling portion took him a little more than two hours to complete, meaning his average speed on the rental was 11.7 mph. The winner’s average speed was 24.2 mph.
When all was said and done, his Bikeshare rental fees added up to $101 — which the District’s Department of Transportation refunded the next day.
The only question left to be asked: Will he do it again next year?
“I like to keep my options open, and wouldn't rule it out,” Smith said.