Please welcome today’s guest poster, Gabe Gunnink. Gabe lives in Grand Rapids and graduated from Calvin two months ago with a Bachelor’s degree in secondary education, a major in Spanish, and double minors in English and writing. Since then, he has routinely struggled to get out of bed at 9:30 a.m., watched a lot of Netflix, and written at least one very promising poem. He hopes to secure a teaching position in the fall so that this does not become his life.

Having now passed through Calvin College without snagging a significant other to speak of, I realize that the task of acquiring one becomes more complicated. With all of the engagement pictures and relationship “upgrades” filling up Facebook, it sometimes feels like it would be easier to strap on a Velcro suit and skydive through the summer Grand Rapids air without accumulating a single cottonwood seed than it would to graduate Calvin without accumulating a lover of some label.

But despite the unlikelihood, many others and I have conquered the odds and accomplished this feat, and, believe it or not, some of us are not too distraught. However, I do realize that any future soul mate searches will need to be conducted with a bit more ingenuity. So, if you find yourself sufficiently loverless, I have a scouting report just for you.

In addition to be romantically unaffiliated at the moment, I am also an avid athlete and have spent the past few summers training for triathlons. There is something fantastically bizarre and wonderful about a herd of spandexed bodies splashing, pedaling, and lurching themselves along for hours on end while others spend their Saturday mornings reading, idling at the beach, or not vomiting. But, before you dismiss the concept entirely, let me say that triathlons are the single best venues I have ever happened upon to find potential partners, and let me tell you why.

First and most obviously, when surveying a field of triathletes for objects of affection, it becomes clear that almost all options are healthy and supremely fit. There is even a Clydesdale category for men and Athena category for women meeting certain height and weight requirements if you prefer a more robust, muscled frame. Also, as previously mentioned, triathlons are one of the few public settings where near-nudity is encouraged, so little will be left to the imagination.

Second, all triathletes are conveniently marked with any information that would be helpful in evaluating or pursuing a potential courtship. When a triathlete arrives to the venue in the morning, he promptly reports to a race official who takes one of those extra-fat art class markers and labels the competitor’s right calf with his age and event (“T” for triathlon and “D” for duathlon, which includes only biking and running). These markings will immediately signal to you if a given athlete is within an acceptable age range and whether or not he can swim, if buoyancy is something you look for in a partner.

In addition to this information, each triathlete is also labeled with a race identification number on her upper arm that will be used to record her results. This means that when milling about the awards area after the race, all you must do is memorize the ID number of someone who catches your eye and type it into the results website later that day, and that person’s name and city of residence will unfold clandestinely before your eyes. From there, the romance is just a brief Facebook stalk away from reality. Finding a new mate becomes as simple as selecting the correct variety of pepper on the self-checkout touchscreen at Meijer!

But before I objectify my fellow triathletes (and myself for that matter) any further, I would also like to note that triathletes prove to be quite a chummy bunch. Something about almost drowning each other and then slowly frying in the unyielding July heat together brings a sort of mutual respect and camaraderie that leads to ample fellowship after the race. It also helps that most people are so thoroughly exhausted upon completing their race that they have little choice but to languish in the finish area and talk to various passersby, making post-triathlon chats perfect opportunities to approach a particularly promising and immobile competitor. What’s more? You don’t even need to worry about what to say! Simply ask your admiree how his race went, how he trains, and where he trains so that you can plan an encounter at a later date…or perhaps for a first date.

Finally, if you have been convinced that triathletes are the most attractive, accessible, and amiable romantic prospects on the planet but now feel intimidated by their seeming perfection, worry not. Instead, simply stand at the end of a race and watch the straggling string of competitors hobble, flop, and fling themselves through the giant inflatable arch marking the finish line. Something about watching an otherwise elegant woman drooling on herself or a normally pleasant man elbow his way past a septuagenarian competitor can be very soothing and remind you that even the most sculpted and respectable individuals are still human.

So, dust off your old road bike, strap on some new tennis shoes, and buy some arm floaties if you need to! There is still plenty of time to prepare for your summer triathlon and secure the love of your life. And if you are happily single, contentedly wed, or find yourself in a similarly vulgar sentimental state, I suppose you can come along too. I guess that opening up the arteries, making a few new friends, and being reminded that we are all beautifully and frustratingly human are things that we can all use now and again, no matter the number on our calf or who’s waiting for us at the finish line.


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    This is delightful. I did a triathlon twice — my training partner and I affectionately called it our “tri-harder triathlon” due to the embarrassingly short distances involved, but it was a lot of fun.

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    So true and so hilarious. Gotta love having one’s age sharpied to one’s calf as a sixty-something-year-old or fourteen-year-old steams by and through the chute.

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    Wonderful honest assessment of the triathlon scene. Certainly some folks can take it a bit too seriously but for the rest of the us, it feeds a competitive lust that other sports don’t quite fill. As for finding a mate, I can’t say. My dear bride just chuckles when I bring home another goofy finishing medal and hopes that the tri shirt is acceptable in appearance since I’ll be wearing a bunch in the couple months post race. Tri-it!

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    I trained and completed one traithlon with my partner John and his brother Matt. It was a great accomplishment, and I remember the marker they used to number us. I watched as ladies the age of my aunt(I could see their age written on the back of their calves) passed me in the run like I was standing still! LOL. I was impressed. Great article and description of the triathlon competition, Gabe. The partner that finds you wil be incredibly lucky.


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