By Justin Jarrett | LowcoSports@gmail.com
Jack Felix drives a 2002 Ford Explorer with a cassette player and 200,000 miles. He owns one cassette – Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Greatest Hits.
Not exactly the lifestyle expected of a professional athlete.
Welcome to the world of professional triathlon, where even the best of the best are scraping out a living and riding the wave as far as it will carry them.
“I know I can’t do this forever,” Felix recently wrote on his blog. “All I know is I can do it now, and I’m damn sure not leaving this to do something miserable for a few extra bucks. I’ve got a few dreams I’ve got to chase first.”
Felix, 23, stumbled onto this particular dream after his collegiate running career came to a close. The former Hilton Head Island High School swimming, track, and cross country star was at the end of his career at Clemson when a friend coaxed him to give triathlon a shot. It was an obvious choice for Felix, who also raced for Hilton Head Cycling as a junior and comes from a good pedigree – his father, Nick, is an accomplished triathlete.
The USA Triathlon Development Team recruited Felix into its program, and he quickly showed incredible potential. In his first draft-legal race – the format used in the Olympics – Felix placed third overall in the Collegiate National Championships and qualified to apply for his professional license.
So he turned pro.
But there was no big signing bonus or seven-figure contract. USA Triathlon provides a small apartment in Carlsbad, Calif., that Felix shares with fellow team member J.R. Creekmore and provides performance-based funding, and he relies on prize money from races and funding from sponsors.
“The lifestyle is not glamorous, and I’m not like other professional athletes,” Felix said. “The money is short and the hours are long, but this is what I love to do.”
About those long hours … Felix spends from 15 to 30 hours per week training in the three disciplines, usually splitting his day into a morning and afternoon training session with at least five hours of recovery time between.
The hard work is paying off. Felix spent about a month racing in Australia earlier this year and won three of the four races he entered, finishing second in the other. In May, he returned from an injury to finish 20th at the Triathlon Confederation of the Americas (CAMTRI) race in Richmond, Va., and last month he won the San Diego International Triathlon, earning a $1,250 prize.
“My hourly rate is great, but I only work an hour a month,” Felix quipped on Twitter.
His next gig is at the Des Moines CAMTRI event on Sunday, where Felix has set his sights on a top-10 finish. Felix is trying to climb the world rankings in hopes of earning more opportunities to compete in major international competitions and hopes to race in two International Triathlon Union World Cup races later this year – Aug. 12 in Mexico and Oct. 7-8 in Sarasota, Fla.
As a newcomer to the professional ranks, Felix is still feeling out just how far the sport can take him. Someday he will need to put his Health Science degree from Clemson to good use and earn a normal-sized paycheck, rather than the gigantic ones he’s awarded when he wins a race.
Until then, he’ll keep driving his Explorer and pushing his body as far as they will go.
“I’ll get a ‘real’ job one day,” he says, “but today is not that day.”