Off the Record (OTR)

OTR Exclusive: Max Fennell

Max Fennell is the first and only licensed black triathlete in America. He trains and lives in Palo Alto, California, but was born and raised in Philadelphia. Fennell trains hard and represents not only black triathletes, but the growing sport of triathlons as a whole. He played soccer most of his life, including at Delaware Valley College, but tore his MCL right before semi-professional soccer tryouts. Down, depressed and working in a coffee shop in Philadelphia, he met Brian Sullivan. Sullivan, who was a local businessman and semi-competitive triathlete, inspired and helped train Fennell to compete in his first triathlon. Fennell came in 7th in his age group and for the next four years continued to podium and dominate on the local level. In 2014, Max Fennell qualified for his professional license.

Here is Tony Bonanno’s official OTR exclusive interview:

First of all, you and I are huge Eagles fans. So I have to ask you, when and how did you start following The Birds?

I honestly can’t tell you when I started following the Eagles. Born bleeding green and raised outside of Philly, it was a no brainer. I have a Randall Cunningham playing card somewhere!

We hung out at The Maddbacker Celebrity Basketball Game in Sacramento. You were on Terrell Owens’ team. I saw you get an assist from T.O. Can he ball or what? Or was dude just another headache for an Eagles fan?

Growing up I was a huge T.O. fan so I was pretty excited when I saw I was on his team. The dude can seriously ball and I scored off that assist. My night was made from that play. I’m one of the few Philadelphians that can say they got an assist from T.O.

What does a triathlon consist of?

Swim, bike and run. Triathlons are most notably known for The Ironman Race in Kona, Hawaii. I run the Olympic distance for one mile, swim 25 miles and bike 6.2 miles.

What does it mean to be a licensed triathlete? How do you qualify?

To be a professional triathlete means you actively compete for a prize purse. You often are the first wave of the event and also have sponsors that pay for you to compete. In return, you represent them on an international level. There are a few ways of qualifying for your pro card. I went to a pro qualifying race that had a prize purse of over $100,000. I placed 3rd overall in the amateur division.

How long did it take you to get licensed?

It took me quite some time, about four years, since I did not come from a swimming background. I’ve had to put in some serious work in the water. This sport is growing fast, so people that might have qualified for their pro card in a year or two, probably would not be able to do that today with the level of talent coming to triathlons from other sports. It’s way more competitive than when I first started.

What does the San Francisco Bay Area have to offer as far as your training?

The Bay Area has everything that an endurance athlete or triathlete could need. If I want to get some open water swimming in, I can head to either Santa Cruz or Half moon bay which is a 30-minute drive from me. I live at the foothills, so all of my runs are through the redwoods. This area also has a lot of former professional endurance athletes, I often find myself riding with a former pro cyclist or former world champions. For me, this is the area to grow and truly develop into the triathlete I know I am.

What’s it like swimming in the SF Bay versus on the East Coast?

The East Coast is completely different than the West Coast. Being from Philly, I grew up going to the Jersey Shore and that’s where most triathlons are at on the East Coast. The water is definitely colder in California, but I’ve already adapted to that. I’d also say the waves are different. The first time I biked to Highway 1 and saw these amazing barrels and waves breaking up against these high cliffs, truly left me in awe and excited to start surfing!

How fast is the sport of Triathlons growing?

Triathlons are growing so fast. Articles are constantly coming out showing how this sport is like the new golf. More people are riding bikes and competing in triathlons than ever. It has also become a women’s collegiate sport and there will be high school national championships.

What do people need to know about Triathlons?

Triathlons are a long-term sport. A lot of people get into triathlons with the idea of doing an Ironman and I always suggest starting small, joining a triathlon club, working with a coach and having a three-year plan to accomplish your Ironman distance goals.

You grew up with ADHD and used sports as a coping mechanism. What’s your affiliation with CHADD and what are they about?

Yes, I was diagnosed with ADHD at a very young age, my mom quickly found out that athletics help me manage my ADHD. I represent CHADD, who is the largest non-profit ADHD organization. I am one of CHADDs champions, people who grew up with ADHD but later became successful–despite the adversity they faced with growing up with a learning disability.

What Tri’s are you preparing for now?

I am currently getting ready for the Lifetime New York on July 24th, then The Oakland Triathlon Festival on July 31 and The Malibu Triathlon on September 17.

You can see Fennell here:

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