AVON — Three weeks ago at the Dunk-n-Dash duathlon, pro cross-triathlon athlete Josiah Middaugh wasn’t looking so good.
He was suffering with three broken ribs, and had not been doing much training for a sport that requires a lot of it. Locals John O’Neill and Brad Zoller beat him by quite a bit in the casual race — a one-mile swim and 5-kilometer run which takes place weekly in Avon.
“The first Dunk-n-Dash went really bad,” Middaugh said. “That was my first swim back with the broken ribs and it was terrible, I was hurting real bad, but I just decided I needed to get back in the water. I can’t go without training. I had to suck it up, take some ibuprofen and just get out there and suffer a little bit.”
On Saturday at the Xterra Mountain Championship — the premier event in high-elevation off-road triathlon competition — Middaugh didn’t look to be suffering. Defeating the pro field by more than five minutes, Middaugh said the race went better than expected.
“Sometimes when you’re hurting a lot, you think you’re going to have a so-so day and it ends up being a great day,” he said. “So, I’m really excited about it.”
THE ZOLLER IDENTITY
Now living in Eagle County once again, Brad Zoller, the man often referred to as “the other pro Xterra racer in the Vail Valley,” claimed a top-10 spot after taking a few years off professional competition.
“It felt really good to be back and in the top 10,” Zoller said.
And it should.
Zoller left Avon a few years ago to follow a job with Spirit Airlines as a pilot. But the adrenaline junkie couldn’t stay away from extreme sports, and he started pursuing ski jumping in his spare time. Until his crash.
“I have no memory of what happened,” Zoller said. “But the coaches said I went off the jump funny.”
His wife, Tina, said Brad’s recovery from head injury was frightening.
“We would have the same two-minute conversation over and over for nine hours” she said. “I was like ‘Is this going to be our life?’”
Brad Zoller is now back to full cognitive function, and a conversation with him is a real pleasure. But the Federal Aviation Administration still has him grounded from flight, so the pilot found himself free to set his sights on other destinations.
“We thought, ‘Let’s come back,’” Brad Zoller said. “We love it here, and we really love this race.”
‘IT WAS ROUGH’
Zoller was among the first group of racers out of the water at Nottingham Lake.
For Middaugh, who has won three of the last four Xterra Mountain Championships, it was not unusual to find himself beat by several other competitors in the swimming portion of the triathlon, his weakest of the three disciplines. But Middaugh caught the other racers, “sooner than usual,” said Zoller of the mountain biking portion of the race, and it was pretty much over from there.
“I was surprised how fast I caught the rest of the group,” Middaugh said. “There was some really strong swimmers with Mauricio (Mendez), Branden Rakita, Ben Hoffman and then some ITU guys like John O’Neill.”
O’Neill, a local pro on-road triathlon athlete, was participating in his first of the off-road variety. He crashed three times in the mountain biking section.
“It was rough,” he said with a laugh following the competition.
But no one knows the difficult side of the Beaver Creek Xterra course better than Middaugh.
“I’ve had the lead before in this race and crashed into a sign post, I’ve tacoed my wheel, blew my finger up and had stitches, so you gotta stay focused and stay on,” he said.
Middaugh heads to Europe next for International Triathlon Union Cross races in Czech Republic and Germany.