Weighing in at roughly 150 pounds, and standing only 5-feet-4-inches tall, few would expect biology Professor Gary Rhodes, self-proclaimed “dinosaur” of Penn State Altoona, to be the big man on campus. The 77-year-old Altoona native, however, has been competing in triathlons for 30 years.
Rhodes earned his Bachelor of Science and Master’s Degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in Indiana, Pa. For 55 years, Rhodes has taught at Mount Union Junior High School, Keith Junior High School, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School, Hollidaysburg High School, Saint Francis University, and Penn State Altoona, all found within or around Blair County. When he is not teaching, Rhodes is training; he trains as much as he can, all year round. Rhodes says that he has competed in 850 different races dedicated to charitable causes, such as cancer and heart disease. For the past five years, Rhodes has been the spokesman for the Arthritis Foundation, running for those who, like himself, suffer from arthritis.
Rhodes says he has competed in three kinds of triathlons: Half Ironmans, Olympic Distances, and Sprints. A Half Ironman is a race involving a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. Rhodes said that he has competed in 246 Half Ironmans, placing in 225, and winning four Olympic Distances involve a .93-mile swim, a 24.8-mile bike ride, and a 6.2-mile run. After developing arthritis, Rhodes began competing in sprints, which involve a .5-mile swim, a 12.4-mile bike ride, and a 3.1-mile run. He said that he typically competes in the Great Buckeye Challenge, the Portage Lakes Triathlon, and the Deer Creek Championship.
Rhodes’s attitude towards his competing is a casual one. He said that he competes simply because he enjoys it. His proudest moment, he said, was his first victorious Ironman. His endurance was put to the test that day, because, as he stated, the temperature was about -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and the windchill brought the temperate down to about -50 degrees Fahrenheit. He said that nothing amuses him more than when he wears his age on his back, and young runners tell him “I hope I’m that good when I’m that old.”
Rhodes’s advice to Penn State students interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle is “You have to keep moving,” and “Pick a sport that doesn’t require a team.” He recommends sports that build muscle and bone: Weight lifting, swimming, running, biking. He says that the more a person moves, the less a person has to worry about dieting.
For any students interested in competing within the area, Rhodes suggests looking into the Happy Valley Triathlon in July (www.ymcaofcentrecounty.org/races/happy-valley-sprint-triathlon), the Canoe Creek Races hosted by the Hollidaysburg YMCA (hollidaysburgareaymca.org/raceseries/canoe-creek-races), and the Janney and the Y Triathlon, found in Pittsburgh (www.active.com/allison-park-pa/triathlon/races/janney-and-the-y-north-park-triathlon).