Nathan athlete Max Fennell is now the first African American pro triathlete in the U.S. after receiving his pro card just days ago. But, it was only after a knee injury prevented him from pursuing his dreams as a soccer player in 2011 that he stumbled into the sport of triathlon ... in a coffee shop of all places. A year of racing and he was hooked.
More than that, though, he's been dedicated and disciplined, and fully set on making his dreams come true. He says he writes down 10 goals every morning. One of those, of course, was becoming a pro triathlete. "It is the most amazing feeling to accomplish a goal you have been striving to achieve for so long. The realization of a dream and the confirmation that you will achieve it when you put in the work, gives you unshakable faith you will attain your dreams!" (Good advice, Max!)
Becoming a pro is just the beginning for Fennell. Not only does he have big plans to win multiple World Championships in the next decade, but he also has just as much vision to help introduce others into the sport.
He says, "My hope for the future is to see more African Americans participating in the sport of triathlon and to help foster the next generation of kids that will have the aspiration of competing in triathlons at the highest level."
Inspiring, indeed. We are psyched we got the chance to catch up with him yesterday so that we could share more of his story with you! Herewith, that interview:
You came into sport through soccer, correct? Did you play any other sports growing up? Yes, I did. I grew up playing elite level soccer as well as lacrosse, wrestling and track and field.
You received your first bike in 2011. How did that exchange come about? Had you already been interested in triathlon? In 2011 I had been training to try out for a local semi pro soccer team. One evening during a pick up soccer game I suffered what would have normally been a career ending sports injury: I tore my MCL.
At the time, I was working at a Philadelphia suburban coffee shop and one of our regulars Brian Sullivan saw me limping around the shop. He asked what happened and what my plans would be since I would clearly not be able to try out for the team. I told him I had heard about Ironman through an NBC special on the Ironman World Championships and that I wanted to give the sport a shot. Brian informed me about a local triathlon, now the Tri Rock Philly, that would be taking place in a few months and that he'd be willing to coach me and lend me his old Elite Bicycle. ... And so, he did.
I placed seventh in my age group in the Sprint race. Brian continued to mentor me throughout my first season, which ended with my first age group win! I've been hooked ever since.
You are big on promoting the sport to African Americans. Can you talk more about this and what your hope is for the future? Based on a 2009 study initiated by USA Triathlon and conducted by the TribeGroup, African Americans make up only 0.5% of participants in triathlons! A group of us have made it our mission to grow those numbers.
We have plans to develop triathlon programs (and continue to develop the already existing programs) to help introduce the sport to those who might not normally be drawn in. In particular, I want to inspire the African American youth to swim, bike and run.
Triathlon is a sport that allows you to live a healthy lifestyle, develop character and in order to be successful, it requires cultivating a level of discipline that will impact the rest of your life in a positive way.
My hope for the future is to see more African Americans participating in the sport of triathlon and to help foster the next generation of kids that will have the aspiration of competing in triathlons at the highest level.
You're pro now! What does it feel like? I write down 10 goals first thing every morning. It is the most amazing feeling to accomplish a goal you have been striving to achieve for so long. The realization of a dream and the confirmation that you will achieve it when you put in the work, gives you unshakable faith you will attain your dreams!
What is your favorite Nathan Sports product and why do you love the brand? I am big into trail running. I love going for long run adventures through the woods of Valley Forge National History Park. I love wearing the Zelos for when I plan to get lost so I can pack extra nutrition, a small first aid kit and some elastic sports wrap in case I trip and fall.
When I decide to hit the pavement and run the famous 5-mile Valley Forge Loop twice, I use the Speed Draw Plus Insulated.
When your hydration needs are met the fear of "the bonk" is nonexistent, which allows you to fully execute your training plan. I love that Nathan products have allowed me to push my potential and help me achieve my dreams so I can run longer, stronger.
What's your favorite post-workout food? My favorite post workout meal is a glass of chocolate milk and a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich on a French toast bagel.
In your opinion, which part of triathlon is your weakest link and how do you work to strengthen your training in that area? I come from sports that have always required me to rely on my speed, strength and power. I am still learning how to pace myself through all events to finish a race strong. My coach has me training with a heart rate monitor and I recently started using the Garmin Vector Power Meter Pedals. This has helped me to gauge my energy output to better accurately understand how my body handles the stress of a two- to four-hour race.
Where do you see yourself in two years? 10? In two years, I am a complete well-rounded triathlete that has finally understood what it takes to continually produce the results I desire. I am standing on a podium at a World Championship.
In 10 years I am a multiple time World Champion and I have started a foundation that supports up and coming athletes allowing them to reach their potential in and out of triathlons!
Twitter, Instagram: @MaxFennell