Professors or Ironmans?: An Inside Look At PLNU’s Ironman Training Crew

Photo of (left to right) Milian, Gibbs, Koudelka and Daichendt on a bike ride. Photo courtesy of Nathan Gibbs.

On Sept. 10, professor of biology Kris Koudelka became an Ironman. After seven months of training, he completed his first full Ironman race in his home state of Wisconsin. 

“It was pretty phenomenal,” Koudelka said.

But Koudelka isn’t the first, nor the second, Ironman to belong to Point Loma Nazarene University’s staff. In fact, there’s a group of people who are PLNU employees by day, Ironmen and triathletes by night (or more likely, early morning).

According to Koudelka, the group’s main players are Nathan Gibbs, Jim Daichendt, David Carlson, Marvin Milian, Johnny Capra and himself. Milian, who is the director of operations of the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Natural and Social Sciences, said the group continues to grow as the current members rope more PLNU employees into it.

“We’ve made an effort to find runners and make them into triathletes, find cyclists and make them into triathletes and find swimmers and make them into triathletes,” said Milian. “We’re even recruiting spouses.”

Gibbs, a professor of media communication, said he has seen this work in action.

“It’s Johnny Capra’s first semester here, and they got him in already,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs himself is only entering his second year of teaching at PLNU, and he has his first full Ironman scheduled for Oct. 22 of this year.

It was from this triathlon group that Koudelka received close to 100 encouraging messages during his race. Gibbs said he and a few others of the group followed Koudelka’s progress throughout the race.

“We tracked Kris and left encouraging notes for him about how he was doing,” said Gibbs. “I also pulled up the livestream of the finish to watch him cross the finish line.”

Even though Koudelka didn’t get to read his colleagues’ encouraging words until after the race, he said the thought of them still helped him keep going.

“When you’re in a lull during the race, it’s nice to remember you have support,” Koudelka said.

Koudelka added that this type of support is something the group does every time someone is competing. 

“We have our own little cheering section,” Koudelka said. “We’re watching each other, knowing what people can do and being like, ‘Oh man, they crushed that swim,’ or, ‘Oh, that swim wasn’t as fast, it must’ve been a little bit rough. I wonder why that is. I hope his calories are on.’ We’re just equally excited for each other and for people to do stuff they couldn’t do before.”

This thought of doing something you haven’t done before, or something you don’t know if you can do, is part of what motivated Gibbs to start training for Ironmans.

“It’s partly to answer the question, ‘Can I do this?’” Gibbs said.

The group’s generosity has helped Gibbs start to answer this question.

“Everyone in the group is generous with their time and resources,” Gibbs said. “When I ask questions, they’ll send long messages and links to help. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie.”

Gibbs explained that this camaraderie is not only found within their group, it can also be found throughout San Diego as a whole.

San Diego is the birthplace of the triathlon; the first one being held at Mission Bay in 1974, according to USA Triathlon. Gibbs said he runs into Ironman veterans while training occasionally, and some of them provide him with tips.

Milian has been in the Ironman community for nearly a decade, but he said the triathlon culture of San Diego still helps motivate him.

“When I see people swimming or cyclists, it reminds me that there’s no excuse to say you can’t train,” Milian said.

This training often demands months of two one-hour-long sessions on weekdays and four- to seven-hour-long sessions on weekends. The commitment and dedication training takes are why Milian appreciates the PLNU triathlon crew even more.

“Oftentimes, in the academic world, whether it is professors or staff or students, there’s this underlying assumption that we don’t have time to invest into these longer, really life-changing events, like triathlon, like Ironman, but that’s not necessarily true. You can always, in yourself, find something that you did not know was there,” said Milian. “The cool thing is that a lot of the people here at Point Loma really embody that passion to just push themselves to the limit, so you’re surrounded, whether you know it or not, by Ironmen.”