Ironman competitor in Sharp shape
It’s been a long time since Michael Sharp wore the kind of fluffy, baggy sweaters that hid his love handles.
He doesn’t need those sweaters since dropping from 200 pounds to 168. They’re probably rotting in the attic somewhere or torn up and used as utility rags to wash and wax the car.
The Michael Sharp of 1993 is far different than the one who is in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, to compete in Saturday’s Ironman Triathlon World Championship.
Why should his style be the same either?
Sharp, 44, from South Lake Tahoe, is anything but fluffy and baggy. His friends and family describe him as focused, ambitious, goal-oriented, and above all, a family man.
Hardly. If anything, those qualities might be why Sharp wouldn’t be Ironman material.
But with a personal record of 10 hours,19 minutes in the 2002 Ironman Canada, Sharp’s style has more iron than anything else.
“I was your typical overweight, smoking, drinking — just such a typical story that you hear all the time,” Sharp says of his transition from slightly overweight to Ironman triathlete. “I did all the terrible things and was overweight and decided to do something else.”
It all started nine years ago, when Sharp saw his friend Tom Henie, general manager of Kirkwood Meadows Public Utility District, running near Kirkwood.
Now Sharp’s boss, Henie remembers the 200 pound, nowhere-near-the-Ironman-competitor-of-2002 very well.
A father in his mid-30s, married, a smoker and a drinker, Sharp was looking for a lifestyle change, a way to blow off some steam, and hopefully, get in shape.
When he saw Henie running, he approached and asked if he could run with him sometime.
“The first few times he ran with me it was pretty pathetic, actually,” Henie recalls. “But one of the things I saw in Michael was the drive to do well in whatever he does. I saw that he wanted to beat his time from the day before.
“I was concerned about that because once you can’t beat your time you stop …,” Henie adds. “But his time kept getting better and better until he started beating me.”
Soon the two were running marathons together.
“He’s the type of person who, when he gets involved in a new sport, he wants to see how much better he can get. And he continues to do that,” Henie says.
At least, that was how Sharp was the last time Henie ran with him. He doesn’t anymore, not unless he has a rope.
But he’s watched Sharp improve through the years.
He ran his first Ironman, the Vineman Ironman, three years ago and finished at 11:43.
He’s down an hour and a half from there in the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run.
Crazy? To some, yes. But obviously that’s not how Sharp feels.
“That’s the impression other people get. I just totally enjoy the lifestyle, the fitness, the diet and the health. I just enjoy doing it. But I think a lot of people think I’m insane,” Sharp said.
“I’ve enjoyed the support of my family,” Sharp added. “And I ‘m not going to quit …. You have to win something before you quit.”
At one time, Kathy, Michael’s wife, probably hoped that win would come sooner than later.
But nine years later, after three years of triathlon training and five Ironman competitions, Kathy Sharp has seen that his dedication to exercise and competition hasn’t taken away from his role as a father or husband.
You might say it’s added to it.
“He’s made all his training fit in real well with the family,” Kathy Sharp says. “He gets up at 4 in the morning and goes to master swimming or goes spinning in the garage for two hours …. He’s been very aware of not imposing on his family life, and that’s one reason he’s gone as far as he has. If it were different, I’d probably put my foot down …. He’s maintained a good balance.”
The Sharp’s oldest son Alex, runs for South Tahoe High School’s cross country team. He just finished running one of the best races in his high school career at the Stanford Invitational where he ran the 3.1-mile (5,000-meter) in 16 minutes. It put him second on the team.
“It’s pretty awesome. I’m definitely proud of him,” Alex says of his Dad.
He says his friends just found out about the not so secret life of Michael Sharp. They think it’s pretty crazy, but that doesn’t detract from how Alex feels about it.
“You see guys crossing the finish line and they’re passing out or being carried away …. To see my dad going down the line is just amazing. It’s pretty great …. That’s my dad,” he said.
The two often run together. On long trail runs, Alex will ride his mountain bike and hang up water on tree branches.
Michael Sharp says Alex is faster, because that’s what he trains for, and that he has even taken an interest in sprint triathlons — races like the Ironman but only a fraction of the length.
“If he’s not my biggest fan, then he’s my second biggest fan behind my wife,” Sharp said. The Sharps have three children.
The family now chooses which of Dad’s races they will attend. There’s somewhat of a family atmosphere about them, Kathy Sharp says, the way everyone supports the runners as they stumble through the finish line, on the brink of complete exhaustion. That’s the kind of attitude she likes to see in her family.
“Alex kind of idolizes his dad,” she says.
She says Alex hopes to attend UCLA and be part of the track and field team.
“He’s got this clear path now and it’s all through running. It kind of set the tone for Alex to follow,” she says.
— Darin Olde may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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