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60-year-old alum competes in grueling triathlon

One fateful August almost 30 years ago, Elie Hirschfeld '71 P'06 found the inspiration that would drive him to compete in over 75 triathlon races. While relaxing in his summer house in the Hamptons, he glimpsed a photograph of a runner crossing a race's finish line in the local paper.

Though Hirschfeld's running experiences had been limited to casual races in Central Park, the article caught his interest. Hirschfeld, a trustee emeritus of the Corporation, told his secretary to save the article and to give it to him in the spring.

Come spring, she returned the clippings, and one read was all it took for Hirschfeld to start his new fitness regimen.

"The article described a triathlon, and I thought ‘Oh my God, this sounds interesting,' " Hirschfeld said. "The sport was only five years old at that time. I thought, ‘I'm a jogger. Everyone can ride a bike. Now all I have to do is learn how to swim.' "

Hirschfeld was in his 30s when he found the article, relatively old to train for a new type of competition.

At the age of 60, his passion for triathlons is still alive and well — he was the oldest competitor in the Israman Negev Ironman Triathlon that was held in Israel on Jan. 29.

Hirschfeld has dedicated the past 27 years to the life of a triathlon runner, a lifestyle that requires grueling daily training sessions and the need to maintain a base level of fitness even when there is no upcoming competition. Though Hirschfeld competes in both triathlon and Ironman events, Israman Negev was only his second Ironman since 1990.

An Ironman triathlon requires its participants to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles — the distance of a marathon. To prepare for the triathlon, Hirschfeld said he dedicated at least 20 hours a week to his training.

"You have to make up your mind (that) it's something you really want to do," Hirschfeld said.

In those six months, Hirschfeld swam 2.4 miles and ran six to 18 miles twice a week, and biked on both stationary and outdoor bikes for four to five hours each day. Hirschfeld said his legs felt like bricks after the bike training, but that it was important to run right after biking so his body could get used to the transition during the race.

Despite the constant physical demands, Hirschfeld said triathlon races have changed his life for the better, and he is proud to be among the first devotees of the activity.
Triathlons "have grown into something of a following," he said. "I feel like I'm one of the originals. Some people do two or three and then they're done, but for me, it's a wonderful lifestyle."

The real estate mogul has turned triathlons into a family affair. He influenced his 29-year-old daughter Daniella to start competing, and she even ran with him in the first portion of Israman Negev.

Before the day of the race, the pair drove up to the course, and were stunned at what lay ahead of them. Hirschfeld said the course was the most difficult he had ever encountered, and described the 10-mile mountain climb as "hell." Even more daunting, the swimming portion of the race took place in the Red Sea.

Though the two are not able to train together because Daniella lives in Boston, they plan to tackle the Mooseman this summer — a half-Ironman in Bristol, N.H.

Though Daniella did not continue the Brown legacy — choosing to attend Dartmouth, instead — Hirschfeld's younger son, David, graduated from Brown in 2006.

Hirschfeld might have conquered the Red Sea and desert mountains in his most challenging triathlon to date, but a rest is not in his agenda. He's currently training for the Mooseman, and afterward plans to take on a triathlon in Paris on July 18, which includes yet another challenge — a swim in the Seine.


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