Swimmer diversifies into Olympic triathlete

Andy Potts will racein the Philadelphia Triathlon on Sunday.
Andy Potts will racein the Philadelphia Triathlon on Sunday. (ERIC WYNN)
Posted: June 23, 2011

Andy Potts had been retired from swimming for the better part of six months, and his dream of splashing to a finish in the Olympics was dashed. Maybe that's why he decided to take his buddy's bet in the fall of 1999.

Who knew at that point that Potts would become the top-ranking triathlete in the top pro series in the country - the LifeTime Series - after earning three wins and one second-place finish so far this year?

Back then, Potts, a fifth-year senior at the time, had just finished his season as captain of the Michigan swimming team. His four-year career was over, and he didn't have many options in front of him. He was a six-time NCAA all-American, and he had traveled with the U.S. national team for three years. But this was the end of the line.

"There just weren't as many viable options for swimmers professionally," Potts said.

That night, Potts claimed he could join the track team. So his friend on the team challenged him to show up for practice the next day. He did, and he made the team. But . . .

"I was kind of a workout dummy," Potts said. "That was my contribution to the team, just someone they could beat up on, measure their improvement by."

On Sunday, in the seventh annual Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon, Potts will be the athlete against whom others measure their performances.

"This will be the closest to my old stomping grounds that I've ever raced," Potts, 34, said. "Hopefully, I can put on a good show."

Born in Hershey, Pa., Potts grew up in Princeton and was a swimmer all his life. He had a bike, but that was only to get to and from swimming practice. And his running experience was limited to workouts just before the start of swimming season.

During his time at Michigan, Potts met his wife, Lisa, who was the captain of Michigan's gymnastics team. After graduation, they moved to Las Vegas, where she became a trapeze artist for Cirque de Soleil and he an assistant swimming coach at UNLV.

That lasted a year. After that, Potts and swimming became strangers. He worked a sales job in Chicago and was briefly a construction worker.

During that time, Potts' weight ballooned to nearly 220 pounds, 45 more than he weighed in college.

"Then I found triathlon," Potts said. "I have no idea why, but kind of something inside me said, 'You need to get back into sports. You need to get back into shape.' "

Amazingly, it took Potts only 22 months to improve from beginner to Olympian, and he took 22d in the 2004 Olympic triathlon. The two previous years' world champions finished 23d and 24th.

The transition to becoming a triathlete, Potts said, was easy once he applied the lessons he had learned as a swimmer to running and biking.

"I've always known hard work. I'm not a stranger to it," Potts said. "And I was willing to put in the time, the dedication, and the hours."

These days, Potts said he lives "comfortably" in Colorado Springs, Colo., with Lisa and their 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. He said he trains 40 hours a week, which includes 250 to 300 miles of biking, 45 to 60 miles of running, and about 15 miles of swimming. He's also back to the 175 pounds he weighed in college.

Potts said he usually competes in 12 triathlons per season, which runs April through November. And recently he's been on a tear. He is approaching 30 career wins in close to 100 events after winning the Capital Texas Triathlon on May 31 in Austin.

Nine years as a professional have flown by, and Potts said he often thinks about what could have been had he not discovered triathlon.

"[Lisa and I] wake up, and we smile and laugh about it all the time," Potts said. "I'm in awe at how crazy it is that I'm a professional triathlete. . . . We can make a great living doing what we love and living life on our terms."


Philadelphia Triathlon Weekend

Saturday

Sprint Distance Triathlon and children's races

Starting line, transitions, and finish line: Martin Luther King Drive at Black Road.

Race starts at 7:30 a.m. The first male finisher is expected at 8:45 and the first female at 9.

Awards ceremony: 11:30 a.m.

Kids' duathlons and kids' fun runs: 12:30 p.m. to 2.

Who: More than 1,500 competitors are expected to swim half a mile, bike 15 miles, and run 3.1 miles in the triathlon. More than 200 children are expected to take part in the kids' events.

Sunday

Olympic Distance Triathlon

Starting line: St. Joseph's boathouse on Kelly Drive.

Transitions and finish line: Martin Luther King Drive at Black Road.

Race starts at 6:30 a.m. The first male finisher is expected at 8:20 and the first female at 8:30.

Awards ceremony: 11:30 a.m.

Who: More than 2,500 competitors - professional and age-group - are expected to swim nearly 1 mile, bike nearly 25 miles, and run 6.2 miles. This is the third race in the Life Time Fitness Series Race to the Toyota Cup.

Prize pool: $40,000, including $5,000 for the fastest swim, bike, and run splits. Winner gets $10,000.

Charitable beneficiaries: The Cancer Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Challenged Athlete Foundation, Cadence Cycling Foundation, and the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Parking

Parking on both Saturday and Sunday will be on the roads around the Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall in West Fairmount Park. From there, walk down Black Road to the transition/finish-line area.


Contact staff writer Tim Rohan

at trohan@philly.com or 215-854-4550.

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