Inspired To Perspire: Wycliffe Couple Competes In Triathlons

Lois and Al Leon at the November 2022 World Championships in Abu Dhabi.

Lois and Al Leon, both in their early 80s, are not your average octogenarians. Yet they probably consider themselves no different than any of their age-group peers, or even people 30 years younger than them.

The Leons, who live in the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club, are a perfect example of the cliché that age is just a number.

The Leons dedicate many hours a week to staying physically active as they prepare for their next endurance race. Those races are usually a road race or sprint triathlon, which includes a 400-meter to 750-meter swim (a quarter to half mile), a 20K bike ride (13 miles) and a 5K run (3.1 miles).

Lois and Al have not always been serious exercise enthusiasts. But they are now, and they have been for many years.

For years, the Leons were no different than any other couple, while they lived and raised a family back in New York.

When they had time, they remained somewhat physically active, but they didn’t start competing in triathlons until they were in their early 50s. Al, who was a competitive swimmer in high school and college, tried a triathlon and liked it. Two years later, Lois also started competing in triathlons. Both loved the experience.

“Once she started, there was no turning back,” Al recalled.

Lois and Al are now committed to this physically active lifestyle.

The Leons don’t restrict their races to events in Palm Beach County. They have traveled throughout the U.S. and to Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, the Middle East and the Caribbean to compete.

To be able to start and finish these races takes preparation. From late October through January, the Leons will ride their bikes for 25 to 35 miles every Sunday. On Monday, they will do a run/walk for three or four miles, followed by a 500-meter swim. On Tuesday, they will have a strength and aerobic workout in the gym, followed by another 500-meter swim. Wednesday is a relatively low-key day, as they just do a Pilates class. On Thursday, they will go for a three-mile run/walk and a 500-meter swim. Their Friday workout is a bike ride of 20 to 25 miles, along with a short workout in the gym. Their Saturday schedule is more adventuresome.

“We run hills where we can find them,” Al said. “When conditions are good, we try to throw in a half-mile ocean swim, but that’s usually every other week.”

From February until mid-October, they increase the intensity of these workouts. “In season, we have a similar schedule with longer bikes, swims and runs with higher intensities,” Al explained. “We usually throw in sprint sessions with less gym work, and we add a swim session. We try to do each discipline [running, swimming and biking] three times a week.”

For the Leons, many of their races are on Sundays, which has its own demands. “We usually get up around 4 a.m. and have a light snack and water,” Lois said. “On the day before a race, we have our big meal at noon and a light meal around 6 p.m.”

In order for the Leons to do their best, they use state-of-the-art gear.

For running, they both wear Hoka shoes, specifically ones with high-speed laces made with elastic. In the pool, Al wears prescription goggles from Speedo, and Lois uses Aquasphere goggles. During training sessions in the water, they wear suits from Sporti. During races, they wear Zoot trisuits. When the water is cold, they wear wetsuits from Xterra. They both use the same Cervelo tri/time trial bikes and have done so for almost 20 years.

For Lois, that’s a major upgrade from her first bicycle.

“Initially, she had a fat-tire crossover bike with nubby tires and a wicker basket up front,” Al said. “Our grandchildren called it a granny bike.”

Besides getting in shape to compete, the immediate dividend for Lois and Al is staying healthy, and the pride that goes with being able to train for these endurance races. Lois also enjoys earning the chance to climb to the top of a podium after a race and having a gold medal placed around her neck.

“I love winning,” said Lois, who celebrated her 75th birthday by competing in the Miami Man Long Course Triathlon, which is a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a half marathon road run (13.1 miles).

For Lois, winning is habit-forming, as she has won four world championships: in 2012 (aquathlon in Auckland, New Zealand), in 2017 (triathlon in Rotterdam, The Netherlands), and two in 2022 (triathlon and aquabike in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates).

She has won seven U.S. national titles (four triathlons, two aquabike and one duathlon), with the first one coming in 2013 in the triathlon at the National Senior Games in Cleveland.

Al has also had success with one world title in the aquabike in Abu Dhabi in 2022 and one U.S. national aquabike title in 2017 in Miami.

While Lois and Al are passionate about competing and winning endurance races, they do have other interests. As residents of Wycliffe, they are getting introduced to bocce ball, pickleball and stickball. They also like to read, travel and eat.

“Lois likes to bake and cook great meals,” Al said. “We used to be active sailors, both racing and voyaging. I once sailed from Cape Town, South Africa, to Miami on a 44-foot sailing catamaran.”

While the Leons thoroughly enjoy their physically active lifestyle, injuries can happen at any time. In August 2021, Lois had a bike accident in Whitefish, Montana.

“She broke her left femur below the hip joint,” Al said. “It required three screws. A little over a year later, she won the two world titles in Abu Dhabi. She is one tough lady.”

The Leons advise their peers who want to duplicate their lifestyle to proceed with caution.

“Check with your doctor and start training slowly,” they advise. “If you are the competitive type, join a triathlon team or work with a coach. If you are just doing it for the challenge, stay healthy and don’t overdo it. If something hurts, don’t ignore it. Just enjoy the experience.”