In 2008, Greg Tyler was riding his motorcycle to attend his first year at California State University, Sacramento. Growing up, he was a three-sport athlete, involved in baseball, football and wrestling. But in a split second, as he was riding down the street, a car suddenly turned in front of him, completely changing the course of his athletic career.
The collision left him with 15 broken bones, two collapsed lungs and resulted in the loss of his left arm and leg. After spending two weeks in the intensive care unit and six weeks in intensive physical rehabilitation, Tyler returned to his home in Mission Viejo to continue recovering.
But throughout his rehabilitation, he made a discovery – the activities he was doing mirrored the components of a triathlon. First it was treading water in a pool, then it was swimming laps, then riding on an adapted bicycle and later a traditional bike. When he was well enough, Tyler began training for the real deal.
“It took forever, but I made it through,” he said of his first triathlon, the San Diego Mission Bay Triathlon in October 2009. “Since then, I’ve done 30 triathlons.”
Tyler is now a senior computer science major at Chapman University and he’s aiming to share this passion he’s developed with others. In May, he established and became president of the Triathlon Club at Chapman, helping students prepare themselves for races of their own.
“We train together all the time; I post my workouts, then if the members show up, I adjust it to their ability level,” Tyler said. “We’ll work with them on the events they don’t know how to do.”
The club began as a nucleus of students exercising together, embodying the community feeling amongst triathlon athletes. At first, it was just Tyler and Vice President Sebastian Ayala exercising together on the stationary bikes in the Julianne Argyros Fitness Center.
Gradually, they both upped their intensity – from 15 minutes to an hour, before Tyler then persuaded Ayala to join his swim class. From there, their focus on training specifically for triathlons developed. Soon, the two began to organize group rides, meeting at the Keck Center for Science and Engineering and driving to Newport Beach to coincide with their own individual training.
“I thought, ‘If we can get a group of people to go with us, we can train together,’” said Ayala, a senior economics major. “Triathlon is a very community-oriented sport. You drop your thousands of dollars’ worth of gear off and you expect it to be there when you get back.”
Now, as part of the Triathlon Club, athletes prepare for a half-mile swim, a 12.4-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run. Sprint triathlons are generally the emphasis for members of the club, with shorter distances. However, Tyler said that many of the 87 current members have never run a race like this before.
“We have total beginners, probably a third of our membership,” he said. “Another third are single-sport athletes; they swim or run or are cyclists. Only a handful of us have done triathlons before.”
While the Triathlon Club may not be emphasized on campus like the football or soccer programs, Tyler said the athletic rigor is comparable. The club trains six days per week. Additionally, the weekends are full, with a day dedicated to a four-hour group bicycle ride and the other reserved for group swims at the beach. As a result, Tyler carries the mentality of a student-athlete just as if he was a member of an official Chapman team.
“I’m a full-time student and a full-time athlete or triathlon; I’m training for three sports,” Tyler said. “If you’re not working at least six days, you’re regressing. It’s a balancing act and it took me a long time to figure that out.”
While the nature of triathlons are hard work, Tyler makes sure the members are well-equipped for the challenges found in the races. Tyler has set an example for members by not only proving his work ethic, but also serving as a symbol – he believes that finishing his first triathlon was a signal that he could once again live a normal life. Despite the myriad of setbacks he’s faced, Tyler maintains a positive outlook as motivation for others.
“I lost my arm and paralyzed my leg,” Tyler said. “But if you can swim, bike and walk, you can do a triathlon.”