The Associated Press
He’s 55 years old and stands just 5-8, but he’s amazingly fit.
The Associated Press
PHOENIX – Here are numbers on Dave Alexander, triathlete.
Since June 23, 1983, when he did his first at age 38, he estimates he’s finished 276 triathlons in 37 countries.
In a recent super-triathlon in eastern Hungary, he swam 9.6 miles, cycled 448 and ran what he calls “a hundred-and-four-point-eight-mile Bataan death march.” His time, he said without hesitation, was 85 hours, 46 minutes, 38 seconds.
Those are pretty remarkable numbers. But Alexander has a few more: He’s 55 years old, 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds.
“I am fat,” he said. “I was born a big boy, and I’m always going to be big. But I’m healthy.”
Alexander attributes his great shape – corroborated by his doctor and others – to persistence.
He said he competes at a furious pace, sometimes in two triathlons in a week.
He sleeps about 4 1/2 hours a night so he can put in the long hours he needs to train and conduct business at the oil company he co-owns.
Like many men his age, Alexander’s silver hair is thinning. His bright blue eyes are going bad. His barrel stomach is getting bigger. Other triathletes often mistake him for a race organizer.
“I’m a great bar bet,” he said, laughing. “I don’t look like I can walk across the street, let alone run a triathlon.”
But experts say he’s just what the world needs: someone who doesn’t let weight get in the way of physical fitness.
Steven Blair, senior editor of the Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, said a surprising number of people are both fit and obese.
In a recent study of obese men, Blair said that 45 percent had zero or only one of the major risk factors for an early death – smoking, bad eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle, a history of heart disease. These men, despite their obesity, had no increased mortality rate.
“Most people see an obese person walking down the street and they think, ‘This guy’s a time bomb.’ It’s not necessarily so,” said Blair.
Dave Alexander is an extreme illustration of this paradox. While technically obese, his body performs at the highest levels.
“Here’s a guy that when you see his build and body, you say, ‘How can he do this?’ ” said Andy Dzurinko, director of Arizona’s Council on Health and Physical Fitness. “But he not only does it, he does it consistently. Inside that body mass, he’s incredibly fit.”
Dr. Craig M. Phelps, Alexander’s doctor for 15 years, said “Dave is one in a million.
“And I say that statistically,” Phelps said. “I haven’t known of anyone his size who can do the swimming, the running, the cycling, at the ultra-distances Dave competes at. To be able to put all those things together at Dave’s size is truly unique.”
Alexander is wary of being called a role model.
He knows his training schedule – in a week he’ll usually swim 5 miles, run 30 and cycle 200 – could kill another 260-pound, 55-year-old man.
“You don’t tell someone a hundred pounds overweight to go out and run triathlons,” he said. “I’m unusual in the amount of exercise I’m capable of.”
Alexander didn’t start exercising at all until 1983, when friends dared him to do a triathlon to lose weight.
“I was 38 years old, and these guys questioned my male ego,” he said. “I did it, and the bug bit me.”
Countless marathons, biathlons and 276 triathlons later, Alexander is a sports ambassador. Several times a year he folds his bicycle into a compact suitcase and, at his own expense, flies overseas to race.
He sees his body, and the things it does, realistically.
“I’m a solid fireplug,” he said. “All our bodies break and have problems, and mine’s no different, but I’m a very strong man.”
Blair urges a society obsessed with thin to remember that nearly half the obese men in his study were physically fit.
“People like Dave Alexander can be fat and still be healthy,” Blair said. “I am confident that there are many obese people out there who are eating a healthy diet, who exercise regularly, who don’t smoke, but who are still fat. I say lay off these people.”
For his part, Alexander sits back in his office, surrounded by the antique maps he collects, and marvels at his current popularity.
He’s been featured in documentaries, supermarket tabloids and recently as the June pinup in a sports calendar.
“I don’t care what people say about me,” he said. “As long as it inspires them to go out and exercise.”
PHOTO CAPTION: The Associated Press
He may look like an overstuffed couch potato, but 5-8, 260-pound Dave Alexander trains hard as a triathlete.