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Closing The Loop: World Champion Triathlete Winston Allen

Warren Miller

Winston Allen is, is in his own words, a “triathlete for life.” He started working out at age 9 to keep bullies away. Today, at 85, he’s a world champion triathlete who’s getting ready to defend his title.

Allen is from Columbus, Ohio.

“I started taking care of myself when I was about 9. I realized I was smaller than my peers. I’m only 5 feet, 6 inches now. We had a guy in our class named Joe Brown. He was 12 years old in the third grade – he’d flunked three times! – and he was a bully. My coping mechanism was to exercise: push-ups, pull-ups, lift bricks and stuff, because I didn’t have weights then. The word got around that I was scrappy, and I never had a problem,” he says.

Winston found that he liked sports.

“In high school, I swam, and then I went on to college and became a diver. I was a finalist in two Olympic trials, in 1952 and 1956, in 10-meter platform diving,” he says.

Winston graduated from college during the Korean War and was drafted. He became a military criminal investigator, and when he finished his enlistment, there was a job waiting for him as an auditor.

“When I got out of the service, the IRS wanted to hire me. They wanted me for my investigative experience,” he says. “I learned a lot in the IRS.”

Winston eventually left government work and became a private asset manager for some years.

“When my last client died, I dropped out of that. I couldn’t sleep nights. When you’re responsible for your clients’ life savings, it’s a big responsibility,” he says.

He retired when he was 60. About that time, a new challenge appeared.

“My son did the Ironman Hawaii in 1982. He came back and said, “Dad, you could this.’ I did my first triathlon in 1983, so I’ve been an active triathlete for 33 years. The first one I finished, it was an Olympic distance: a mile swim, 25-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run. Then I went back the following year, leaned into it competitively, and I finished third. I’ve done 13 Ironman Hawaiis.”

You’ve probably figured this out already … but Winston Allen is a very competitive person.

“Oh, yes. Yeah, always. Anything I take up, I want to be good at,” he says.

And what he likes most about triathlons is that he takes an early lead and tries never to give it up.

“Well, I’m a swimmer, so right off the bat, I’m in front of everyone out of the swim. Nobody in the world beats me out of the swim. It’s mine to lose. I’m the defending world champion, and I’m going to defend that championship this September in Cozumel, Mexico,” he says.

He says the head-to-head aspect of competition has gotten easier over time.

“At 86 years old, I don’t have too many in my age group around,” he says. “I’ve been blessed, genetically. You take a person who’s genetically put together and you apply yourself, you’re gonna be a champion.”

Not many people in their mid-80s are likely to pose a serious challenge to Winston in the triathlon. But, he says, there’s still time for anyone to try.

“It’s never too late to start! Remember, I didn’t start Ironman until I was 61. You can do anything you want to do. If you can picture yourself doing it, you can do it,” he says.

And the beauty of triathlons, he says, is as soon as you complete one, you’re a lifelong member of the club.

“You’re a triathlete for life,” he says. “Those are your bragging rights.”

Warren Miller is a writer and financial executive who lives near St. Augustine, Florida.