Each month, we spotlight people in our community who have inspiring stories to tell. Today, we are happy to feature Frank Schwartz. Frank is an endurance athlete who tells us an inspiring story about his journey to becoming a triathlete. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010, Frank now uses his experience to help other persons with Parkinson’s reap the benefits that endurance training has given him.
what made you interested in doing triathlons?
When I was 49 years old and working as a law professor and lawyer in Philadelphia, my father, who was also my best friend, died. I decided I wanted to do something in his memory that was as big as he was to me. So, I chose to do an Ironman Triathlon. More specifically, I decided to do Ironman USA in Lake Placid, New York, on July 27, 2000. This required me to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles in about 13 hours. I figured it would be an all-day event, during which I could think about my dad.
Had you done a triathlon before? How did you prepare?
I was a long-distance cyclist and former marathon runner at the time, but had never done a triathlon and had no idea how to accomplish it. I hired a professional triathlon coach who provided me with a daily eight-month training plan. I also hired a swim coach to teach me how to swim 2.4 miles efficiently.
My training plan followed a typical three-stage periodization. The first period was aerobic base-building to improve endurance using long and slow distance workouts. The second period was a build period to increase strength and speed by increasing the duration and intensity of the workouts. The final pre-race period was to establish an iron-distance race pace by further increasing the volume and intensity of training.
Two months into the plan, I did my first triathlon, and then three sprint triathlons every week thereafter. (Distances for a sprint triathlon vary, but a typical sprint is about a 750-meter or ½ mile swim, 20k bike, and 5k run). After three months, I completed my first of three Olympic-distance triathlons, feeling stronger and faster after each one. (An Olympic-distance triathlon is a 1500-meter swim, 40k bike, and 10k run). To complete my training, I wanted to complete a half-ironman. On my first one, I went out too fast and suffered a bit but learned a valuable lesson. After another four weeks, I did a second half-ironman and stuck to my planned pace. I was ready for Lake Placid.
Tell us about race day
On race day, I put my father’s US Navy dog tags around my neck and waited for the cannon to start the swim. During the bike and run stages, I could hear the dog tags jingling in the wind. It was as if my Dad was talking to me, encouraging me. It was an experience I never had before and one I very much wanted to experience again. My intention was to do only one Ironman in memory of my Dad. But since that first race, I have completed six additional Ironman races, always wearing my Dad’s dog tags.
why did you choose to become a TRIATHLON coach for others with parkinson’s?
I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010, and since then have completed several sprint triathlons. While I am not a professional coach, I think my knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm will enable me to help persons with Parkinson’s derive all the medical, emotional, and social benefits of endurance training.
What advice do you have for people with parkinson’s who are interested in becoming an endurance athlete?
Victory will be yours.
This spring, 2021, Coach Frank and Team DPF are launching their first virtual triathlon
training program, culminating in a virtual triathlon that you design on May 22-23, 2021. Interested in learning more about this program? Join Coach Frank and Team DPF for a “Triathlon 101” meeting on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, at 11 am MST.
To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHARE YOUR VICTORY
Each month, we spotlight people from our Parkinson’s community who embody living well today – what we call Moments of Victory®. Your story, like Frank’s, could be featured on our blog and Facebook page so others can learn from your experiences and victories.