Father and son share bonding experience through triathlons

Tom Lowery and his son Blake, 16, recently competed in the World Triathlon Grand Finals in London.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 7, 2013 at 9:55 p.m.

The bond between fathers and sons in sports is often well defined.

Former Major League Baseball outfielder Ken Griffey introduced his son, Ken Griffey Jr., to baseball clubhouses throughout the country. Griffey Jr. then went on to star as an outfielder with the Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds in a career that is destined for the Hall of Fame.

Last March, Hall of Fame Reds shortstop Barry Larkin watched his son, Shane Larkin, excel as a college point guard at Miami and help lead the Hurricanes to a Sweet 16 appearance.

Locally, Tom Lowery and his 16-year-old son, Blake, are creating a similar bond of excellence in competitive triathlons. Both qualified for the ITU world championships in London, held a few weeks ago. Tom Lowery finished sixth in his age group (50-54) and was the second-highest American finisher at 1:10:38. Blake, meanwhile, took 47th in his age group (16-19) at 1:11:02.

“As an athlete, it's very cool to be able to do something like that with your son,” Tom Lowery said. “It's kind of special to train with him. So I really enjoyed swimming and biking with him.”

Tom Lowery is a veteran of triathlons, having competed in his first one in 1986 to find a rush to replace the competitive team sports he played growing up in Mississippi. He introduced his son to the swim-run-bike endurance events when Blake was just five years old. Blake competed in his first adult triathlon when he was 13.

“It was tough,” Blake said. “I had a picture of me and I had a pretty good grimace on my face.”

But eventually, Blake warmed up to the sport. He qualified for the ITU World Championships in London when he was 14 at an event in Burlington, Vt. A sophomore cross-country runner and basketball player at Gainesville High, Blake said the sport is an excellent way to keep in shape.

“If you're out there cycling 5,000 miles a year and doing all of your swimming and running workouts, that will keep you in shape for basketball, for sure,” Blake said.

More importantly, the sport gives Blake a chance to spend some quality time with his dad. Tom Lowery recalled when his son first finished ahead of him at an event in Crystal River. The race was dedicated to a Gainesville triathlete who was ill with cancer. Following the race, Blake and his dad helped the cancer-stricken triathlete load his bike back in the trunk of his car.

“I asked Blake, 'So what was the highlight of your day. Was it beating dad? Or getting second place overall? Or getting up on stage?' and he said 'You know, I think it was helping Mr. Jerry load his stuff up into the truck,'” Tom Lowery said. “That's the kind of kid he his. He has a heart to help other people and that meant a lot to me that he was sympathetic and empathetic enough to reach out to someone who needed help.”

Said Blake: “I'm sure I'm going to look back on this when I'm older and it's going to be something I can look back on and smile. I mean, that's my dad. To be able to connect with him that way, it's something special.”

The London event has been the highlight of the father-son bond so far. Both made the trip out a week early and were able to get in some sightseeing. But the triathlon itself had some up-and-down moments. Tom watched his son, Blake, go first. He was concerned about some of the sharp 90-degree turns coming down hills that Blake had to encounter on the bike course through Hyde Park.

“I watched people crash, and it kind of worried me more for him, than myself,” Tom Lowery said.

Tom, meanwhile, had been limited in training for the run portion of the race due to an Achilles injury. The 51-year-old was concerned about re-injuring his ankle during the 5-kilometer run, but opted to push himself as hard as he could. Tom was thrilled that his foot held up and didn't bother him.

“I knew I was pretty high, and when I came in on the bike, there was nobody in my wave ahead of me, so I was the first in,” Tom Lowery said. “I was just hoping to hold some people off. A few passed me but overall I was pleased with how I did.”

Tom admitted that his son was “a little disappointed” that dad finished with a better time this time around. But he knows it's only a matter of time before his son will start to beat him consistently.

Blake said he intends to stick with the sport of triathlons as long as he can.

“I kind of see it as a lifestyle,” Blake said. “It's competition against yourself, to see how fast you can get.”

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