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ST: I finally get to interview you, so maybe it is time for me to retire.
Matt: Well hopefully not. I mean if you retire, who will interview me in 30 years when I’m 72 and hopefully not on the side of the run course still slinging salt.
ST: You are usually busy in the expo at IRONMAN events, but you also swim, bike and run. Can you elaborate how much you train?
Matt: Train. That’s awesome - not nearly as much as I wish. I train a lot in the winter in Boulder. I swim with the awesome Julie Dibens crew at Rally. I ride a ton indoors. But wow. Once the crazy Ironman Expo season starts, we are on the road at 33 events each year. It’s super tough to keep up with training.
ST: And how often do you usually race a year?
Matt: In 2018, I will do a total of 8 races.
Indian Wells 70.3
ST: About a month from now you will have a very busy weekend, with Saturday at IM Maryland and Sunday IM Chattanooga. But you won’t be occupied as an exhibitor at either venue. Is that a fair statement?
Matt: Yes, for once I will not be dealing with expo stuff at a race. Will hopefully be nice to go into a race without being on my feet all day in the heat. Expo’s are long and tiring. They wipe us out.
I love it though. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I get to see all of my friends at the races. Help athletes with their nutrition. And then a lot of times jump in and race as well. Heck, I’m already there, so why not have a little fun on the course.
ST: And you are not doing this alone.
Matt: No sir. I met the most amazing girl at St. George 70.3 in 2016. She joined me at Vineman later that summer for the first time. She loved it. And she has since travelled to tons of them with me. Now she attends every single one of them with me. We got married in March and it has been amazing ever since. And better yet, we have a little bun in the oven. So next year will be interesting.
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ST: Congrats and congrats, but I actually meant your 2 IRONMAN events in one weekend. Aren’t there others who will join you and what in the first place inspired you to do this?
Matt: Well, regarding this Double Ironman Challenge. It started over Christmas when my sister was telling me her foundation (Forrest Spence Fund) was going to be opening a division in Chattanooga to work with the Erlanger Children’s Hospital. Brittany asked me how the Fund could connect with Ironman Chattanooga.
My initial response is the typical race an Ironman and raise money for a charity but in my mind that has been done numerous times. I wanted to do something better, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.
Until Lake Placid. While we were out on the run course passing out BASE, The IronFan Randy and I were chatting, and he told me about his plan to race both of them and make the drive. He just was having some tough times with logistics and Ironman. My wheels started turning. I remembered Luis Alvarez doing this in 2014 with Jeff Jonas after doing IM Mallorca on Saturday and then flying across the Atlantic. So I knew it was possible - just difficult.
All challenges are meant to be difficult.
So here we are. Ironman has been amazing through this. Randy and I have put it together. Luis Alvarez has joined us. And 2 other friends, Simon Shurey and Rebecca Fink who will be the only female to ever attempt this.
Our team of 5 is going to work together and try to pull this off.
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ST: Tell us about what happened to Forrest.
Matt: Brittany had a healthy pregnancy and delivered Forrest at 36 1/2 weeks along. Shortly after birth Forrest developed complications from Group B Strep and was transported to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. He was placed on ECMO which is a heart & lung bypass machine and on day 5 the doctors found a grade 3 brain bleed. He was then moved to a oscillator and then ventilator and for the next 55 days he went through numerous surgeries, infections, and had many set backs. The Spences also had some wonderful days with him where they held him, sang to him, and loved on him as much as they could. Unfortunately when he was 52 days old he took a turn for the worst and his little body couldn’t handle it anymore. He lived for 3 more days and passed away when he was 55 days old in the arms of his mother with his father by her side.
The weekend Brittany and David knew he was dying the vision and dream for the Forrest Spence Fund was born. They started working on it the day after he died and have continued on that mission for almost 11 years.
ST: How are your sister and her husband doing today?
Matt: My sister and her husband dealt with some low points in their lives for sure. But in remembrance of Forrest and what occurred, they created the foundation in his honor. Which continues to do amazing and wonderful things for families who have critically and chronically ill children throughout Tennessee, which is where we are all from, and surrounding states. And since then, they have the most amazing kids. Austin, Miller, and Maggie. They will be the best older cousins to Finley come February
ST: As athletes we often feel invincible, but we sometimes get woken up harshly from that dream.
Matt: I would totally agree. This terrible scenario with my nephew occurred the week before I was heading to race Kona in 2007. I was leading a blind athlete through the race, Charlie Plaskon. We were there working with NBC. Doing all of the events and interviews. While the entire time my sister and her family was in and out of the hospital hourly trying to spend time with Forrest. It was the most difficult races I have ever had to push myself through.
ST: That day with Charlie Plaskon was not the only time you were involved with blind athletes. Can you tell us more in terms of how that started?
Matt: Honestly, those 10 years of guiding blind athletes were some of the most enjoyable years of racing I have ever had. I had the honor of being the first person to lead a blind athlete through Escape From Alcatraz in 2003 – and that was Heidi Musser. Then we brought 4 blind athletes there in 2004. Then in 2005, I brought 5 blind athletes to Ironman Coeur d’Alene where Mike Reilly called all of us across the finish line. Talk about an amazing experience as my athlete finished in 16 hours, 51 minutes. She has lived in total darkness her entire life.
Once triathlon became a Paralympic sport, my guiding days kinda got pushed behind me. I still guide at least once every year and love doing it. We really grew the blind triathlete sport into what it is today, which is truly inspirational.
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ST: I hear you loud and clear, but now back to that challenge. Do you have a time goal for these 2 IRONMAN events? Or does it only matter for the first one?
Matt: Honestly, I am now 42. I don’t think I will ever be as fast as I was 10 years ago. But my goal for Maryland is to finish around 9:30 – 9:45 ish. Relax for 2 hours while the others finish. Then hit the road. As for Chattanooga. My plan is to use the swim as an active recovery. Bike for fun. And just love the run. All of my BASE team members will be out on the course and I’ll get to see them 4 time. My wife, sister, mom, brother, and the 3 kiddos will all be out on course. I’ve never been at a race before where they are all there. So I am going to soak it all up. Play with the kids a little on the run course. My run is my weakness, so that second marathon is gonna hurt. But it will be worth it.
ST: What if one of you has a really bad day and needs 14 or 15 hours in Maryland?
Matt: Well, wouldn’t be the first time. At IMCDA in 2017, I opted for Chipotle for dinner the night before. It came roaring back at about mile 80 on the bike. I was like 3rd out of the water, about 10th off the bike. And then had the absolute slowest run of every single athlete entered in the race. But man did I have fun. So yeah, it can happen. We will roll with it if it does.
The plan is to have the RV roll out no later than 7:30. That will get us to Chatt about 6 AM. If someone is still on the run course, we will take their bike and have it ready for them. They can try to catch a flight from Baltimore or DC to Nashville or Atlanta if they want to continue, but the RV can’t wait.
ST: How can folks help?
Matt: For starters, we created a custom training kit which athletes can purchase. This is the most comfortable kit they will ever put on. We priced them low. $100 for the cycle top. $120 for the bibs. They feel amazing. The FC Cancer and the Forrest Spence Fund logos are on the kits. We will give 100% of the profits back to these two organizations.
Aside from the cycle top and bib shorts, we are also offering men and women’s tri shorts for those who don’t want to wear bibs.
These will deliver just before Christmas, so they will make a great present for someone.
I am terrible at asking for help. But if people really want to, we set up a fundraising page through the Ironman Foundation. The funds will be split 50/50 between the Forrest Spence Fund and The FC Cancer Foundation.
If someone would prefer to write a check directly where 100% of the funds go directly to one of those organizations, they can do so and ship it to me at:
6880 Winchester Circle
Checks made payable to the organization. Not to me and not to BASE.
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ST: Talking about BASE, you have a very large team of 776 athletes. What takes up more of your time now, the brand or the team and is that work reflected financially?
Matt: I have an amazing support crew who helps out with the team. Between my rock star wife Lauralee, Danny Freeman, LJ Stephens, Collin Smith and Russell Caffey, we have an amazing crew who have really stepped up. We wouldn’t be where we are today with both the team and the awesomeness of BASE without the years of help that Tony Demakis provided. The brand and the team seem to go hand in hand. As a goal, we have always put people first, product second, and profits last. My goal is to create a community of friends who are loyal and amazing.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Matt: As I said at the beginning. I finally feel legit in the triathlon world. I love reading all of the articles on Slowtwitch. I’ve been following for years. Did my first race in 88. So this is awesome.
Hopefully my IM Maryland is better conditions than compared to what I sent you in 2016. The video of me walking through knee-deep water on the run course.
ST: I remember that well and wish you and all other athletes better weather on both days.
Matt: Thanks so much. The greatest memories are often from the craziest of days. “That’s a horrible idea, what time?”
Thank you so much Herbert for the opportunity.