Jim Irvine racing in the IRONMAN Lake Placid last summer.
SLICE OF RYE
For Athlete Jim Irvine, the Challenges Never Get Old
BY MELISSA GRIECO
During a restful night’s sleep over two decades ago, Jim Irvine had a vivid and specific dream. The lifelong athlete and longtime Rye resident dreamed that he was surfing the waves rolling onto a Hawaiian beach at age 93.
Like many children growing up in rural upstate New York during the 1960s, Jim spent his summers outdoors covering his newspaper route by bike, climbing trees, swimming in lakes, and pitching for his Little League team.
By fourth grade, he was a young wrestling protégé having bested his entire class, including kids much larger than himself, during elementary school competitions. At age 18, he received an invitation to and attended the USA Olympic Wrestling team training camp just prior to the 1976 games in Montreal.
Although Jim traded wrestling for competitive downhill skiing in college, he consistently pushed himself as hard as he could no matter what the sport or activity at hand. Traumatic knee injuries and other accidents never held him back.
Circa 1997, Jim glimpsed a poster advertising the Rye-based Westchester Triathlon. Despite pushing 40 and with no formal training whatsoever, he registered for the event. On the day of the race, the newbie triathlete swam at full threshold for 100 yards and broke a toe kicking a nearby swimmer’s head before realizing he had to hold back and pace himself.
Adhering to his overriding mantra to “gut it out no matter what”, Jim crossed the finish line in near collapse but was not in the least bit deterred. In fact, he was hooked!
Since that milestone race, Jim has gone on to enjoy a long and highly successful triathlon career. He is a multiple time qualifier for the coveted Ironman World Championship event in Kona, Hawaii, and has podiumed at a variety of race types and distances.
Reviewing his athletic career thus far, what surprises Jim the most and imparts the greatest sense of accomplishment is that his most successful season to date transpired in 2012 when he was 55. That year he broke personal records by logging his best full and half Ironman times and running his fastest ever 5-mile Rye Derby, finishing in 31:04 (an average pace of 6:13 per mile) despite having just returned from a 60-mile bike ride.
While conventional notions and current theories dictate that athletes get slower with age, Jim has deftly defied these expectations. He believes that this school of thought actually does a disservice to older athletes, often leading them to prematurely retire or step back from athletic pursuits unnecessarily. Instead, Jim believes one’s body continually adapts to the physical challenges it’s presented with.
At 62, Jim is busy discovering new challenges, activities, and sports to partake in. He states, “I love new challenges and fun things to do. Getting older does not detract or deter me from that.”
In 2019, he competed for the first time in a “winter triathlon” held annually in Breckenridge, Colorado. The grueling event entails riding a bike from 9,000-10,000 feet elevation, continuing from 10,000-13,000 feet on snow skins, and skiing back down to 9,000 feet.
Despite racing on a borrowed bike and never having “skinned” before, Jim enjoyed every freezing minute and describes the experience as a “lung-busting good time”. Besides, he declares that the free beer at the finish line made it all worthwhile.
He’s also trying his hand at gravel biking and recently participated in the Belgian Waffle Ride in Southern California. This event has a cult following amongst bike riders and consists of a 133-mile course; 46 of which are in dirt, along with 12,000 feet of elevation gain.
Jim encourages people of any age to become and stay active due to the multitude of positive benefits it confers including health, social, and mental wellbeing. He has made many lasting and strong friendships through the sport of triathlon, with a special shoutout to his longtime Rye-based training and racing partner Kevin Cunningham.
Jim and Kevin have logged countless miles by each other’s side and push each other when the going gets rough, which it inevitably does during endurance training and racing. They’ve also undertaken some extreme events together, including the Casco Bay Swim/Run in Maine, which requires being tethered to your race partner while swimming to and running across small islands in the bay.
Jim considers himself fortunate to be healthy and fit enough to take on new athletic challenges and continue to pursue old ones. He acknowledges that the very fact he is healthy and fit enough to do so at his age can most likely be attributed to his being so physically active his whole life.
While sports-related injuries are always a possibility, Jim tries to manage the risk by maintaining flexibility with stretching exercises and classes. He is a fan of Bill’s Sunday proprioception movement class at the Wainwright Yoga Center. He doesn’t adhere to any particular diet other than the ‘see food’ diet, because he’s able to consume most foods with impunity given how active he is.
Jim doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. He doesn’t consider there to be an expiration date on his athletic career. While realistically he knows that setting future personal records out on the triathlon and run courses might not transpire, he has never lost sight of that dream twenty years ago. Jim fully expects to find himself on a Hawaiian beach with surfboard in hand at age 93, seeking out the next ride.