After summiting Everest and swimming the English Channel, Parkite Rob Lea bikes across America, capping Ultimate World Triathlon
A crazy six months for Rob Lea came to an end on a sunny day over 2,000 miles away from Park City.
When Lea walked into Lewis Bay in Nantucket, Massachusetts on Oct. 7, he had just accomplished a goal he first came up with a mere three years ago. With his bike in hands, Lea plummeted into the letting the water cover every inch of him as he reflected on what he had just done.
“There was certainly a sense of accomplishment and celebratory elation, but there also this massive form of relief,” Lea said about climbing into the water. “A major part of it though was the relief and the weight that had just been lifted off my shoulders. Not only did I get done when I set out to do, I finally get to move on with my life.”
That day in October that ended with a cold bath capped off a six-month journey he called the Ultimate World Triathlon. Lea, with his now-wife Caroline Gleich, successfully summited Mount Everest in May, swam the English Channel in July and, most recently, biked across America over 39 days.
Where it all started
To understand what Lea had just accomplished, you must go back to the beginning.
Lea, an avid runner, was sitting in a doctor’s office in 2016 for an appointment when he was told he needed a procedure to remove bone spurs and reattach the stabilizing ligaments on both ankles — and, also, that he probably shouldn’t be running.
Lea knew he needed something to look forward to, and he came up with the Ultimate World Triathlon.
“I’m certainly proud of the athletic accomplishments, even though it was a little harder than I originally thought,” Lea said. “I found out in my own mind and body that I’m capable of more. That also goes for everyone else, where we are all a lot more capable that what we think. … You can’t be afraid of failure because there are any number of ways to fail, but as long as you put fears aside you can accomplish a lot.”
Bike across America
Lea’s biking journey began in Anacortes, Washington, on Friday, Aug. 30. That day, he traveled about 74 miles to Marblemount, Washington.
Lea traveled through 14 different states over 3,608 miles and 225 hours, 42 minutes and 27 seconds. He averaged 92.52 miles per day on just under six hours of bike time per day.
“The bike ride was a lot harder than I expected it to be, mainly because I wasn’t in great bike shape and had only ridden a half-dozen times going into it,” Lea said. “While I never thought that I couldn’t do this, I did think that I couldn’t do as many miles as was originally planned. There were times where I questioned what I was doing and if I have to go through this, but they were mostly fleeting moments, which was to be expected.”
To help pass all that time spent on the bike, Lea would listen to music and podcasts, relying on one playlist. created earlier on in his trip that consisted of 40 songs. The playlist was upbeat, but also allowed him to tune and let his mind wander, letting him take in the natural beauty of everything he was seeing.
To Lea, and Gleich, for that matter, this journey was about more than the athletic accomplishments.
When backcountry skiing with Gleich early on in their relationship, Lea was new to the sport, but that didn’t stop people from asking him what to do, where to go and all other types on information. Ironically, it was Gleich they should’ve been asking, as she’s a professional ski mountaineer and was showing Lea the ropes.
“That scene, with the implicit bias, plays in my mind where the people thought I was in charge when in fact she was leading me,” Lea said. “The implicit bias we have where people expect a man to lead and they have confidence in them, but they didn’t have that expectation of Caroline.”
Because of those experiences with Gleich, Lea wanted to promote gender equality along his journey. “Some of the assumptions we make as men, we don’t realize the bias we have and different ways we do that,” Lea said. “I’m not trying to lead the charge for gender equality, just want to help advocate for women and their equality. It’s not about standing up for women, but rather standing with them.”
Now, more than a month since Lea’s feet touched that cold water, he’s had time reflect on what the last six months meant to him. Not only did he complete the triathlon, he and Gleich got married in August, so now Lea con focus on what comes next in his life.
“Going into it, I really thought anything can happen with the weather, but I believed my biggest crux was going to be the swimming because I didn’t think I’d have a lot of time to train for it,” Lea said. “The bike ride was supposed to be a culmination of everything, but right now the bike ride felt like the hardest leg of them all. But everything is all relative, and as more time goes by it becomes more enjoyable until all that’s left are more of the good memories.”
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The former world champion and women’s ski jumping pioneer retired in March