One sport for all

Triathelete Jason Dean read Lance Armstrong's book "It's not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life," and determined he would return to normal life and intensify his precancer workout schedule. Heather O'Quinn / TMT

Malibu native offers triathlon training in partnership with city of Malibu. A cancer survivor says Malibu is a “perfect oasis” where he can train.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

The city of Malibu’s Parks and Recreation Department and professional triathlete and Malibu native Claire McCarty have joined forces to bring a fitness program and triathlon training to anyone interested in the sport.

McCarty, who grew up in Malibu and attended school here, said she is fulfilling a dream by being able to come back to her hometown. She also credits the city for providing the framework and the advertisement, and pool manager Sergio Cafaro for helping develop the idea with the Parks and Recreation Department.

“I am an ocean girl at heart. I grew up surfing,” McCarty said. “It’s nice to come back home and give something back to the community.”

McCarty attended UCLA on a volleyball scholarship and competed both in the U.S. and internationally in that sport. In 1981 two friends introduced her to the newly formed Hawaiian Ironman competition.

“I had been swimming and running to keep in shape, and biking was just something I did to get from point A to point B,” McCarty said. “I became competitive in all three of those sports once I got into it.”

McCarty started placing in the top 10 in various competitions and soon began winning races and started training fulltime. “As time went on I somehow developed a talent for it and started placing in the top three and winning races,” McCarty said. “I thought ‘maybe I am okay at this, and I caught the bug.”

After competing in triathlons and parlaying that talent into coaching around the world, McCarty settled back in California and currently divides her time between Malibu and a high-altitude training center near Mountain High Ski Resort that she is building with partner Mark Montgomery. McCarty is founder of Excel Specialized Fitness Training.

The triathlon is native to California beaches and Malibu seems to be the perfect locale for training. The sport was invented in 1974 by Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan, and sponsored by the San Diego Track Club. The pair wanted to develop a workout routine that was an alternative to the rigors of a single event, so they chose running, swimming and biking.

The first triathlon took place at Mission Bay on Sept. 25, 1974. In 1989 the official distance for a triathlon was set by the International Triathlon Union-a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 40-kilometer cycle and a 10-kilometer run. The triathlon was awarded full medal status in 1994 and the first Olympic triathlon took place at the summer games in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. The Nautica Malibu triathlon in Malibu held earlier this month marked the 30th anniversary of the sport.

McCarty says triathlon training is for all levels and the discipline is as much in one’s mind as it is physical. One Malibu regular agrees and has begun triathlon training as both a fitness regimen and a celebration of his survival of cancer.

Knoxville, Tennessee native Jason Dean, who lives in West Hollywood, fights traffic several times a week to visit Malibu, which he has dubbed “paradise” to train for two upcoming triathlons.

In July 2002, following a routine physical, the healthy 30-year-old Dean was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer where malignant cells form in the lymph system of the body. Dean’s first round of chemotherapy was five months of treatments, and after Christmas that year Dean learned that the chemotherapy had not been effective. He was then admitted to City of Hope Cancer Center and endured seven days of high dose chemotherapy and on the eighth day had a stem cell transplant.

“It was like the worst flu you’ve ever had,” Dean said. “[Before the diagnosis] I was generally healthy. When I was in college I was training for a mini-triathlon.”

Dean endured several more months of treatments and while in the hospital read Lance Armstrong’s book “It’s not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.” Dean was determined that he would return to normal life and intensify his pre-cancer workout schedule.

“After I was diagnosed, that was the first book I read. It’s just a great example that there is life after cancer,” Dean said. “We’re here to leave a legacy of love, and I felt like I needed to do something to celebrate my body and my health.”

Dean’s treatments and intervals between checkups have decreased, and meanwhile he is in training for two triathlons to raise money for cancer research. Since his diagnosis, Dean’s father-in-law, a close friend and his dog passed away with cancer and he has vowed to raise awareness by all means.

Dean’s training led him to Malibu, and he said once he started his training he felt better overall and he could tell his body was changing. “Malibu is a perfect oasis away from the rat race of L.A.,” Dean noted. “The people, the scenery are incredible. You can leave L.A. behind for a couple hours on the back of that bike.”

The day after Dean was released from the hospital he received an informational packet from the Team in Training organization that helps raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Dean was required to raise $1,800 to be eligible to race in the triathlon and amassed more than $6,000 in the first one- and a-half weeks. Dean and his wife, Kari, will be competing in two upcoming triathlons. The back of their T-shirts will bear the names of friends and family members who have died with cancer and the front will list the names of those currently battling the disease.

“It’s almost even more about your mind than about your body,” Dean said. “That’s what I told myself when I was sick. A triathlon is a more fun type of arena to practice that.”

For information on how to support Dean in his upcoming triathlons visit

The training sessions currently offered through the city and McCarty are at a discounted rate of $100 per month. The training sessions are for all fitness levels and they are ongoing daily Monday through Thursdays and a variety of times are available to attend, beginning as early as 6:30 a.m.