Triathlons take center stage for EarlyWhen Nick Early arrived in Chicago in 2006 he sought to find a spot on a stage but what he got instead was a new career and passion.
By: Nick Gerhardt, The Republican Eagle
When Nick Early arrived in Chicago in 2006 he sought to find a spot on a stage but what he got instead was a new career and passion.
Early, who graduated from Red Wing in 1998 and originally moved to Chicago to pursue an acting career, found himself drawn to the world of triathlons.
“I’m a lot better at triathlons than I am at theater,” Early said.
Early swam in high school and college, ran cross-country in high school and picked up cycling while in college. That background suited him well when it came to triathlons. He’s turned all that into a career as a professional triathlete and trainer of potential Navy SEAL recruits.
Training for triathlons and training potential Navy SEAL recruits are intertwined for Early. One led to the other and both serve each other.
When Early’s ride to the “Memphis in May” triathlon fell through, a fellow triathlete, Rob Breakiron, offered a hand. It just so happened that the one giving driving Early served in the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant and suggested Early apply for a civilian contractor position training Navy SEAL recruits on how to swim more efficiently.
Early, who coached swimming in some capacity since he was 16 and is a USA Triathlon certified level one coach and an American Swim Coaches Association level two coach, applied and now teaches Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs program five days a week at the Great Lakes Naval Base, north of Chicago.
Early works as lead subject matter expert for the BUD/s prep program on swimming techniques designed to make recruits better swimmers. Those who train in the BUD/s do so in the hopes of becoming Navy SEALs. Around only 20 percent of the trainees become Navy SEALs
The BUD/s program features a test prior to training and another test following training. The initial test requires recruits to swim 500 yards in combat sidestroke in 12 minutes, 30 seconds, 42 push-ups in two minutes, 50 sit-ups in two minutes, six full pull-ups and run a mile and a half in 11:30. Recruits get a 10-minute break after the swim and a 10-minute break before the run.
After eight weeks of training, recruits partake in a final fitness test. The post-training fitness requirement consists of a 1,000-meter swim with fins in 20 minutes, 70 push-ups in two minutes, 60 sit-ups in two minutes, 10 dead hang pull-ups and a 4-mile run in 31 minutes. Recruits are given 10-minute breaks following the swim and before the run.
If a recruit doesn’t pass the test they have to go back to the fleet for two years before they can begin the process again.
“They come from all sorts of types of backgrounds,” Early said. “Olympians have gone through there, guys come from cycling, and some don’t have much athletic background at all. They come from all sorts of walks of life.”
Early and others teach the recruits flips and techniques to survive in the water with their hands bound, but they do not tie their hands in training.
“My job is to make them as fit as possible,” Early said. “It’s a pretty rigorous process.”
In order to train the recruits Early had to meet the pre-training testing standards, which wasn’t much of a problem for a man who trains six days a week by running up to 12 miles, biking 50-60 miles and swimming two kilometers in open water during workouts. Early will train in two of the three disciplines six days a week and does all three on Saturdays. His days begin at 3 a.m. sometimes to get all his workouts in and he does two workouts five days a week.
Early had a successful swimming career at Red Wing, where he still owns the school record in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:43.95 seconds. Early was a five-time state champion, four-time All-American, three-time state record holder and helped the Wingers win the state meet in 1998. Early went on to swim at the University of Minnesota and later transferred to Gustavus Adolphus, in St. Peter, Minn., for two years where he became a seven-time conference champion, six time All-American honorable mention and one time All-American award winner. He also participated in the state cross-country meet.
He stepped away from competition in college to pursue theater. He transferred to Minnesota State, Mankato after Gustavus and majored in theater. He acted throughout college and landed a spot in a play called “Boys in the Band” in St. Paul before moving to Chicago, where he thought he’d continue the pursuit. But he got sidetracked.
“It’s probably what I’m more passionate about,” Early said about shifting his focus to triathlons. “So in a way I maybe got sidetracked in what I’m passionate about.”
Early tried to keep in shape while he wasn’t actively competing and entered his first triathlon, a sprint triathlon in 2004 while in college. He showed up weighing 210 pounds and sporting a full beard. He ran the entire race in a speedo and admitted to being kind of out of shape. He still finished seventh.
“I usually recommend more than a week of cycling training,” Early said.
His passion for triathlons picked up once he got comfortable in Chicago.
Early participated in his first Olympic triathlon, which is a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike ride and a 10-kilometer run, in 2007 in Chicago and showed promise. He won his age group by five minutes and things took off from there.
The following season Early brought on a coach and qualified in his age group for nationals in 2008 in Oregon. He finished 15th in his age group at nationals and qualified for the Age Group World Championship in Gold Coast, Australia in 2009. That race didn’t go well and Early had his slowest Olympic triathlon time ever of 2:15.20 and finished 92nd out of 110. He was 14th after the swim, but was the third slowest on the bike. The poor performance stemmed from bike problems. In the transition to the cycling stage, Early bumped the brake on his bike and rode the entire stage with the wheel rubbing on the brake, slowing him down considerably. After he got off the bike, the back wheel could hardly move.
Early joined the Chicago Blue Dolphins, an aquatic fitness business that teaches state-of-the-art swim instruction and training, shortly after moving to Chicago. Through the Blue Dolphins he became acquainted with people who ran triathlons.
Early competes professionally as a triathlete in different series around the country. He will compete in nine races this year after competing in 10 last year. Early finished 11th at the Philadelphia Insurance Triathlon June 24, in 1:58:36. Early placed 10th in his most recent triathlon in Columbus, Ohio.
Early also started his own coaching business in February, E-Endurance, a Chicagoland area multisport coaching company. Early realizes he’s part of a small community as a professional triathlete, but he hopes to grow the sport through his business. He coaches around 20 people across the country by communicating with them over the phone or through email.
Early will compete again Aug. 26 in Chicago and will finish the season with the Elite Nationals Sept. 15 in Buffalo, N.Y. and the Toyota U.S. Open triathlon Oct. 7 in Dallas.