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Saturday, October 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Whalen family gatherings center on triathlons

Whalen family, left to right: Tammy, Chris, Patrick and Michael are all competing in the Ironman triathlon Sunday in Coeur d’Alene. (Colin Mulvany)
Whalen family, left to right: Tammy, Chris, Patrick and Michael are all competing in the Ironman triathlon Sunday in Coeur d’Alene. (Colin Mulvany)

At most family reunions, the hard work is getting there.

After thousands of air miles, the Whalen brothers haven’t even warmed up.

But Pat, Mike and Chris Whalen had no trouble warming to the subject of the Coeur d’Alene Ironman, which has brought them together again – even if it doesn’t put their toes in the pool and their rear ends in an easy chair.

Come to think of it, they will take a dip Sunday morning in Lake Coeur d’Alene, then sit on a bicycle seat for a spell before running back to the easy chair – if such a thing exists in their lives.

For the Whalens, keeping in touch means keeping up.

“It’s a great chance to get together as a family,” said Chris Whalen, of suburban Chicago, who liked his first Ironman so much that he convinced his wife, Tammy, to give it a try this year.

“It looked like fun,” Tammy said of the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile run.

What began as a pre-emptive strike against middle-age spread has become a full-fledged family affair. At 57, Mike is the eldest of eight children, who were raised mostly in Tennessee. Half of them have embraced extreme sports and he’s the biggest extremist, competing in his 14th Ironman.

“I was always a runner, a jogger,” Mike said. “Then at the age of 37, I decided that now was the time to decide what kind of shape you want to be in when you get older.”

So, he took up cycling and swimming, then put them together as a triathlete.

“I got hooked,” he said. “Now I only train five or six hours a week, but I used to do a lot more.”

That’s right: He’s downsized to ultramarathons.

Mike won’t claim the lead dog’s role in pulling the others into the sport, saying only that they must have hit “a similar age and decided to shape up.”

That includes 51-year-old Pat, of Post Falls, who’s competing in his third Ironman, and his many hours of training, include time on the new bike course the others haven’t seen.

“Home advantage?” asked Mike, who flew from Southern California two days earlier.

Pat nodded.

That leaves 42-year-old Chris, who brought his whole family here. That includes his wife, Tammy, 38, a Coeur d’Alene native who is coming home, albeit to unfamiliar territory. Everyone offers her some advice: Stay comfortable, don’t go out too fast. Tammy says her goal is merely to finish.

“I just hope I can keep up with her in the swim,” Chris said.

For Chris and Tammy, the race is part of a 10-day vacation. Their two sons are staying with her parents but won’t watch the race. But they’ll compete later this year in a youth triathlon event back home.

Competitive as they are, there’s no trash-talking before the race, Mike said.

“But lots of excuses if we don’t do well,” he added.

Mike already has one: He reaches for a sore ankle as the others look on skeptically.

More family reunions are down the road. After Coeur d’Alene, the Whalens will get together later this year for a marathon in Minnesota. Another brother, Jeff, will play host for that one.

Then there’s Super Bowl Sunday in California, a great chance for some flag football in the sand.

Not for the Whalens, who will run in the Huntington Beach Super Bowl marathon.

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