Endurance Test

Triathlon helps Air Force officer push his body to extremes

Photo by Anthony Mair

Photo by Anthony Mair

Eric Springer doesn’t need to compete in adventure races and triathlons to challenge himself. The Air Force major has served multiple tours in Iraq and this summer will deploy to Afghanistan for six months.

But the self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie” doesn’t take it easy when he’s not on duty. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Springer usually wakes up at 4 a.m. and drives to the gym, where he jumps in the pool for mile-long swim at least three times a week. He continues around lunchtime when he busts out his mountain bike and goes for a taxing ride. That’s followed by a lengthy run in the late afternoon or early evening.

And then on the weekend, when many people are taking things easy, Springer is conquering a desert trail (by foot and/or bike) at Red Rock or Boulder City.

All this just so the 34-year-old Air Force officer can be in tiptop shape to punish his body further by competing in grueling adventure races and triathlons.

“It’s the adventure, it’s the unknown that I’m drawn to,” says Springer, who has been stationed at Nellis Air Force Base since July. “Above and beyond that, it’s about continuously redefining your own boundaries and who you are. For me, that’s what it’s about—pushing myself further than I thought I could go, and then going a little further than that.”

Springer will be among more than 1,000 athletes competing in the XTERRA West Championship Triathlon at Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort on April 24-25. The triathlon—which highlights a weekend filled with a variety of demanding off-road sports events—encompasses a one-mile swim, an 18-mile mountain bike ride through the surrounding desert and a 6.2-mile trail run.

This will be Springer’s fourth XTERRA triathlon since 2007, but that doesn’t count the 20 or so adventure races he’s competed in since discovering the sport five years ago. In fact, on April 10, Springer and a Canadian Army soldier teamed up for the Desert Winds six-hour adventure race at Lake Mead. That journey involved kayaking across the lake followed by biking and running through the rugged adjacent terrain, all while trying to locate various checkpoints with little more than a map and compass. Springer’s team finished the race in six hours and seven minutes, beating nine other two-man teams.

If that’s not enough, Springer and another Canadian serviceman will return to Lake Mead next month to compete in a 24-hour adventure race.

“I’ve been a rock climber, a mountain biker and a runner my whole life, so I was always trying to find something that put all those things together,” says Springer, who has been in the Air Force for 17 years. “My first adventure race was about four years ago in Idaho, and I did it with a team of three guys. I was absolutely hooked.

“When I’m out there with a teammate in an adventure race, it’s just us against ourselves. How far can we go? How fast can we go? How far can we push ourselves? It’s not necessarily about how well we compete against everybody else. It’s about reaching your own objectives and your own goals.”

Springer, who lives at Nellis with his wife and two children, says that’s why he puts his 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound body through hell training for and competing in adventure races and triathlons. But there’s also an ulterior motive. During competitions, he and his friends—fellow soldiers from as far away as Australia and England—represent the Wounded Warrior Project, a not-for-profit charity that helps wounded servicemen resume physical activities they once loved, such as skiing or rock climbing.

“When I lived in Missouri, one of my adventure-race teammates was a guy who was injured in Iraq. He lost part of his hand, almost lost his leg and almost died,” Springer says. “But with help from this charity, he recovered to the point where he’s doing 12-hour adventure races. So it kind of became a goal for us to get the word out every time there’s a race.”

As for his personal goal for the triathlon at Lake Las Vegas, Springer says he hopes to finish in about three hours, but adds, “I never know going into a race how I’m going to fare or how it’s all going to work out. That’s part of the appeal. But I know I’m always going to finish, one way or another. And yeah, you kind of beat yourself up, but in the end, when it’s over, you sit there with your buddies and enjoy a cold beer. It’s a good day.”

No doubt it’s a beer he can enjoy guilt-free.

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