This guy is the only person to participate in all 33 Chicago Triathlons. Evergreen Park’s Jeff Sabbath will try to make it 34-for-34 on Aug. 28.
In 1982, a young man from Iowa, Jeff Sabbath, had a passion for exercise and years of experience partaking in numerous triathlons around the country and traveled to Chicago to join thousands of others to participate in the city’s first swim/bike/run event.
Six years later, Sabbath completed his sixth Chicago Triathlon and moved to Evergreen Park and his family roots were planted.
Now, in 2016, the 57-year-old Sabbath will complete his 34th Chicago Triathlon on Aug. 28, and is scheduled to be the only competitor in the history of the race to run in all 34 events.
In 2013, Sabbath and Hampshire’s Bob Oury, 76, were the only two to run in all of the Chicago Triathlons but Oury did not run it in 2014, leaving Sabbath as the lone runner with perfect attendance.
The two were honored during the 25th running of the race.
“He was probably around 70 at the time, so I figure (I would have outlasted him),” Sabbath said lightheartedly.
There was one year, however, that Sabbath almost didn’t make it and this wasn’t lighthearted at all.
In 2000, Sabbath was nearly a scratch because of a family tragedy.
“I was widowed a few years ago due to my wife (Debbie) having cancer,” Sabbath said. “Right before the triathlon, my wife was getting really sick, and I almost skipped the race. But at the last minute, we decided I should go ahead and do it. It was challenging, but I did it. That was the year that almost wasn’t.”
Sabbath plans to continue participating in the Chicago Triathlon for as long as he can and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“Staying healthy is the most important thing for me,” Sabbath said. “I used to race competitively and set timed goals for myself when I was younger, but now it’s really just all for fun. I’ll do it as long as my body lets me,” Sabbath said.
Sabbath lends the diversified nature of triathlon training to his prolonged enjoyment of the events.
“The training is my favorite part,” he said. “I exercise every single day, and in preparing for a triathlon I get to ride my bike, go swimming, and run all summer. That’s the fun part for me. Exercise isn’t just something I do, it’s who I am.”
Over the years, he has run in more than 100 endurance events including the Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco and various Iron Man competitions in Hawaii, New York, and Cape Cod.
The Chicago Triathlon unlike many other triathlons, Sabbath said.
“This event is one of the only ones that actually takes place in the urban setting of the city. A lot of other triathlons take place in suburban areas, but this event allows me to swim, bike, and run in the heart of the city,” Sabbath said.
The Chicago Triathlon consists of a .93-mile swim in Lake Michigan, a 24.8-mile bike ride on Lake Shore Drive and under the loop on the newly rebuilt intermediate level of Wacker Drive before heading to the lower Randolph Busway, and a 6.2-mile run along the lakefront and around the city’s Museum Campus to total a 31.93 mile race, with the finish line on Columbus Drive.
Participants from all over the country come to compete – last year there was approximately 6,500 -- in the Chicago Triathlon, making it one of the biggest triathlons in the nation.
“The large amount of people is both good and bad,” Sabbath said. “I feel like people are drawn to this race because you have the lakefront and skyline right there, and it’s exciting to have such a big, energetic crowd. At the same time, the crowd makes the race course dense and a little crazy sometimes.”
This year, Sabbath is also participating in a triathlon in LaPorte, Indiana along with his family. “It’s very low-key and is about as opposite as the Chicago Triathlon a you can get, but it’s still a really great time,” Sabbath said.
As his 34th Chicago Triathlon swiftly approaches, Sabbath is ready and excited for another race.
“The Chicago Triathlon has just become a part of my life,” Sabbath said. “It signifies the end of summer, kids going back to school, the weather changing to fall – the triathlon is part of the seasons for me. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday.”