Barry Siff is Going to Give Southern Arizona a Major Tri

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

The arrival of Barry Siff in Tucson marks more of a welcome evolution than a revolution in the local triathlon scene.

 Siff, who is the USA Triathlon board president, a member of the International Triathlon Union executive board and a veteran of the famed Ironman events, recently moved to the Starr Pass area with his wife, Jodee. They relocated from Boulder, an endurance sport hot spot, after several years of being snowbirds who found themselves staying in Tucson for increasingly longer period stays.

Siff, 59, is hoping to build off the robust outdoor scene in southern Arizona, having already held a “Try a Tri” meeting in Oro Valley, while helping to organize the TriZona Triathlon at Starr Pass on March 29 and the Sahuarita Triathlon on May 2.

 “We’re definitely looking to increase participation and just have people engaged in the sport of triathlon. Definitely not focused on a competitive group,” Siff said.

“In fact, the triathlons that are going on in Tucson are just that – much more participatory vs. highly competitive. I came from a very competitive area in Boulder, Colorado. The races we put on there definitely were highly competitive. You had some of the best athletes in the world on the professional side and the age-group side.

“I don’t think you have that as much here. I don’t think you have the preponderance of highly competitive people as much as people who are looking to just participate and increase their level of fitness.”

Shaking hands with elite men’s winner Javier Gomez of Spain on June 29, 2014, at ITU World Triathlon Chicago. Paul Phillips/Jonathan Phillips/Competitive Image/USA Triathlon

Shaking hands with elite men’s winner Javier Gomez of Spain on June 29, 2014, at ITU World Triathlon Chicago.
Paul Phillips/Jonathan Phillips/Competitive Image/USA Triathlon

The cross-training aspect of triathlon is always an appeal – swim, bike, run – and Siff’s message to newcomers includes knocking down the intimidation factor for anyone whose exposure to the sport mostly consists of watching the grueling Ironman – a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon-distance run of 26.2 miles.

Siff tells the story of talking to a young server at his favorite local juice place after she learned of his involvement in triathlon.

“She said, ‘Oh, I just did my first mini-triathlon. It wasn’t really a triathlon. It was really short,'” Siff recalled. “I said, ‘There’s no such thing as a mini-triathlon. If you did a triathlon, you’re a triathlete.'”

That was the message at the Try a Tri event in January.

Siff said about 60 people came to the meeting to learn more about triathlon, a turnout he considered very good.

“More important,” he said, “right about half the people had never done a triathlon and came to learn about a triathlon, which is really our No. 1 priority for the event. It was very good exposure for some new people. And it was just nice to get the community together. We had a great follow-up from a lot of the people.

“From our vantage point, the striking demographic was that it was an older group. It was people definitely in their 40s and 50s, as opposed to their 20s and 30s. And it was what looked to be not a competitive group, but a participatory group who was looking to do something different, mix it up a bit.”

One mistake, Siff said he made was bringing his high-end bicycle to the meeting, something he thought would be cool to show off. However it ended up running counter to his “Don’t be intimidated” message.

“I had to spend a lot of time apologizing, saying this is not what you need,” Siff said.

“People see Ironman on TV – these expensive bikes and really-fit bodies — and they do tend to get intimidated. Both myself and USA Triathlon are trying to really focus on getting back to our roots. In the ’80s, you’d throw on a Speedo, put on some running shoes, jumped in a pool and you did a triathlon on your 10-speed or your mountain bike.”

In the spirit of fun, the event at Starr Pass begins with a slide into the Marriott’s Lazy River. A short swim is followed by a 15.6-mile bike ride and a 5K run. The Sahuarita Triathlon consists of a 1,500-meter swim in Lake Sahuarita, and then a 40K ride on the bicycle and a 10K run.

“The lack of open water inhibits us a little bit, but that’s why I am so excited about the Sahuarita Lake race,” Siff said. “It is open water, and it is a beautiful setting. We’ll have an amazing experience and turn a lot of people on to tri.”

In Tucson, Siff gets rejuvenated with picturesque rides up to Gates Pass or on the McCain Loop or up to Dove Mountain. He wants to spread the love of the sport (and its supportive culture) all over the region, emphasizing participation while making it clear that various age classes and weight groups allow an entry point to anyone interested in competition.

“I think there is a lot of room for growth here and to get the momentum of the sport going,” Siff said. “I think the mojo is starting to jell a little bit.”

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