Triathlon World Championships, Pontevedra, Spain.
On September 24, 2023, Lee Logan, Treasury in-house lawyer and 68-year-old father of two, found himself careening down a Spanish mountain on a skinny racing bike at 40+ miles per hour as a member of Team USA.
Surrounded by fellow triathletes from around the globe, Lee channeled his inner Michigan flatlander to attack the terrifying high altitude climb and descent, hitting 25 speed bumps and multiple roundabouts as he flew toward a finish line.
A day earlier, Lee, his USA teammates and all of the other Worlds’ competitors had marched in a Parade of Nations through the streets of Pontevedra as part of the Championships’ opening ceremonies. Hundreds of townspeople lined their entire route, clapping and chanting “USA! USA!” when Lee’s team appeared. Marching into the stadium, the band broke into Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and Lee savored a moment that was actually born of his own determination and resilience, and against all medical odds…
Lee spends his days working for the Bureau of Investments in the Compliance & Corporate Governance Division at Michigan Dept. of Treasury, reviewing documents and providing counsel to the Investment staff and officers. His ‘other job’ consists of training to be a world-class triathlete; it takes many, many hours of swimming, biking or running to shave a few seconds off personal best racing records.
He wasn’t always this dedicated to the sport. When he was 60 years old, his daughter’s boyfriend challenged Lee to a triathlon. Not letting a young whippersnapper outdo him, Lee took the challenge, joined the “Try a Tri” training team at Lansing’s Oak Park YMCA and prepared to run.
A triathlon encompasses many different types and levels of races. People are most familiar with the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii that includes a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon run. But the World Triathlon Union also organizes triathlete races that ratchet down to the Half Ironman, to Olympic (or standard) Distance triathlons, to Sprint and Super Sprint triathlons, and include both Elite and Age Group athletes.
After attending Louisiana State University years ago on a full swimming scholarship, Lee wasn’t worried about water endurance. Being comfortable on a bike and now feeling competent as a runner, he signed up for his first ‘Sprint’: the Lansing Hawk Island Triathlon.
Lee entered the race feeling very, very scared, but finished doing very, very well, taking gold in his age group and beating everyone in the two younger categories beneath his class. Lee finished the race with a medal, but his physical recovery was slower than expected and his energy level was low.
Training to survive
Chalking it up to needing more training, Lee worked out longer and harder that summer to improve his times. Two months later, he was swimming early morning laps in a hotel pool at a conference in Chicago, when he noticed sudden pressure on his chest and numbness in his left arm and shoulder.
“I thought, you know what, I think I’m having a heart attack,” says Lee. “I got over on the lane rope and held on as tight as I could. The last thing I wanted to do is die in a swimming pool.”
Calming himself down, Lee pulled himself to the edge of the pool and waited. He began to feel a little better; the pain disappeared, his heart rate went down, and to prove he was good to go, he got out of the pool and ran a mile on a treadmill to see if it would happen again.
“It didn’t,” Lee adds, shaking his head. “But I was in complete denial.”
Two days later, Lee was in a Lansing hospital, undergoing a heart catheterization. The 35-year-old hotshot doctor performing the procedure was a competitive triathlete himself, and when he found out they had both participated in the Hawk Island race — and that 60-year-old Lee had beat him by six seconds — the news spread gleefully throughout the entire cardiac department.
The news that Lee and his family received was not nearly as entertaining.
“I needed a quadruple bypass,” Lee admits. “That’s how close I was to keeling over. I was 95% blocked in one artery and over 70 to 75% blocked in three other arteries. The doctors were amazed that I was even alive, much less doing triathlons. Apparently, what had happened was all the training and working out that I had done had caused the blood vessels to create alternative paths around the blockages, saving my life. I ended up having immediate surgery. My doctor said, you’re gonna be taking it easy from now on, right? And I said, no, just the opposite. I’m now challenged to overcome this, and the quadruple bypass is my motivation to come back stronger!”
Lee spent several days in the hospital recovering and was walking a full mile around the unit by the time he was discharged. He was determined to not let this setback dictate his plans for the future.
With clear arteries, Lee began to train and regain lost ground. His YMCA teammates began to talk about a thing called ‘National Championships’ for age group triathletes. He learned that to participate at Nationals he had to be in the top 10% of finishers in a sanctioned race — and suddenly, Lee had a brand-new goal.
His 2017 second place finish at the Grand Rapids Triathlon was good enough to earn an invitation to the 2017 Age Group National Championships. Due to other circumstances, he was unable to make that race. In 2018 he took 1st place in his age group at the Grand Rapids Triathlon, qualifying him for the 2018 Olympic-Distance National Championships in Cleveland.
He finished 123rd at Nationals and was determined to break into the top 100 the following year. Lee had another great racing season in 2019 and earned another invitation back to the National Championships. He met his goal of breaking into the Top 100 by placing 94th, but also ended up in the Emergency Room following the race with an ultra-low blood pressure reading of 45/35!
Quickly recovering from the blood pressure scare, Lee began to rethink the whole ‘triathlon’ idea. The race that put him in the hospital also injured his Achilles tendon, forcing him to either give in to discouragement or make a decision to move forward on a slightly different path. Lee chose to remain in the sport as an Aquabike athlete. ‘Aquabike’ requires the same swimming and biking distances as a triathlon, but without the running portion.
Lee was ecstatic to qualify for the World Championships in 2021, placing 10th in the nation in Aquabike at the Multisport National Championships in Sebring, Florida. The World Championships to be held in Edmonton, Canada were derailed by COVID-19, and once again Lee had to decide if it was time to give up or keep training.
To further complicate matters, Lee was in a bad biking accident, resulting in a broken shoulder and five broken ribs. He worked to regain the use of his left arm and by May of 2022, he was ready to compete at the National Championships again. He placed 13th and requalified for the World Championships, officially earning him a spot on Team USA and taking him to the race he completed in Spain in September 2023.
Lee’s wife, son and daughter were with him at Worlds, and he found it both emotional and inspiring to race by them as they waited on the sidelines with a banner, wearing their “Logan Strong” t-shirts, and yelling “Go, DAD!”
Mindset over matter
Stunningly beautiful, the town of Pontevedra is in northwestern Spain, right off the mountain range that plummets down to the Atlantic Ocean. The race’s uphill cycling was extraordinarily challenging; Lee admits to being passed by international cyclists going twice as fast as he was.
“I’m not a bad cyclist, but now I know what I need to adjust when I return,” Lee says, already calculating his next training goal (likely somewhere precipitously steep). “I was happy to get 19th in the world in my age group, but I would like to have done better and I’m determined to come back.
“I remember watching the Olympics as a young boy and thinking how awesome it would be if I was ever able to represent the USA like Mark Spitz. When I was a teen, swimming gave me a vision of what I could accomplish and what a proper mindset can do. I want to be on the podium and wave our flag at World Championships, but I realize that if I want to be on the podium tomorrow, I have to train hard today.”
Training hard means two hours a day after an eight-hour workday, Monday through Thursday, with another four hours on Saturday. Competition does not get any easier for older triathletes; Lee and his teammates consistently compete at the level of people who are 25 years younger.
Revealing a mind-over-matter training secret, Lee adds with a smile: “If I keep telling myself that I’m still 20-years-old, I’m hoping the rest of me will respond!”
If anyone could make this wishful magic work, it’s the man who dodged death, refused to give up, fought a mountain and whose daily commitment to a dream has already made him a champion. Lee Logan is unstoppable. ~