By Dan Brown
One of many perks of being an age-group warrior, as Dr. Robert Plant has been described, is that the calendar resets each few years. Subsequent 12 months, Plant will flip 80. As a triathlete, he can hardly wait to really feel younger once more.
“I’m going to be the infant within the group,” he says with fun. It will likely be a bonus. At Plant’s age, it’s the youthful athletes who sometimes acquire the sting, notably in a sport that requires a mixed 139 miles of swimming, biking and operating.
For now, he’s having a heck of a time keeping off just a few of the plucky children on the low finish of his 75-79 age group. Sheesh — children today.
Nonetheless, Plant stays powerful to catch for nearly anybody. The longtime Redwood Metropolis dentist is continually on the transfer, whether or not swimming, biking and operating, or brushing, flossing and drilling. In each instances, his endurance is staggering (that is his 51st 12 months as a dentist).
In all, he’s wound up with a profession for the ages, particularly in his sport. Plant, who bought a late begin as a triathlete, will probably be enshrined within the USA Triathlon Corridor of Fame throughout a gala in Milwaukee on Aug. 4.
Plant’s profession age-group résumé contains seven nationwide triathlon championships. He additionally gained a pair of titles in 2018: The famed Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, and the Triathlon World Championship in Australia.
Discovering it Exhausting to Imagine
“I used to be not fairly accepting of it at first,” the unassuming Plant says of his Corridor of Fame choice. “However then all my buddies have been saying, ‘You deserve it, blah, blah, blah.’
“So, I lastly accepted it. And I lastly have form of embraced it. I’m simply blissful that it’s not a posthumous award.”
This 12 months’s four-member induction class contains two multi-time Olympians (Gwen Jorgensen and Laura Bennett) and two athletes who did their greatest work after getting their AARP playing cards (Plant and 76-year-old Lesley Cens-McDowelllof Pennsylvania). However the coronation shouldn’t be mistaken for a end line. Plant might be out coaching at this second. Possibly he’s pounding out hilly miles at Sawyer Camp, biking alongside Cañada Highway or swimming at one of many three health golf equipment to which he belongs. Triathletes within the 80-84 class ought to take into account themselves warned.
Incomes Respect from Different Athletes
On a flight again from an Ironman championship in Kona one 12 months, Plant sat subsequent to a different competitor with longtime Peninsula ties, somebody additionally recognized for his day job. However Plant didn’t know that when he noticed his hyperkinetic fellow passenger jiggling his foot up and down, stretching from his seat and propping his foot up on the armrest.
Plant lastly launched himself and discovered it was Redwood Metropolis native Eric Byrnes, the previous Oakland A’s outfielder turned endurance athlete. And similar to that, a mutual admiration society was born.
“Bob is a GREAT man and an unbelievable triathlete,” Byrnes replied through electronic mail when requested to verify the story. “He’s the quickest dentist alive.”
Born in 1943, Plant grew up in Redwood Metropolis and went to grammar college at Our Girl of Mount Carmel and highschool at Serra in San Mateo. Again then, his hometown endured the derisive nickname, “Deadwood Metropolis.” Plant says there was little for bored teenagers to do apart from “cruise up and down El Camino in your sizzling rod, when gasoline was 25 cents a gallon.”
Over time, Plant found he didn’t want a sports activities automobile to go quick. He competed in monitor and discipline at San Jose State throughout the so-called “Pace Metropolis” period underneath coach Bud Winters.
Plant ran alongside future Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos, greatest recognized for his or her Black Energy salute on the medal stand on the 1968 Video games in Mexico Metropolis. Plant remembers a enjoyable little bit of trivia; he says the explanation Smith and Carlos raised one gloved fist apiece is that they’d forgotten the second pair of gloves again on the lodge and needed to share.
Plant began at SJSU as a long-jumper (the occasion was referred to as the broad bounce in these days) earlier than shin splints compelled him to transform to the quarter-mile (now the 400 meters).
“And I wasn’t that very high-ranked on the crew,” he says. Even so, Plant as soon as bought to switch Smith on the anchor place for the mile relay.
“It shocked me,” he says. “I used to be so puffed up, man, as a result of Tommie had an ingrown toenail, and he couldn’t run. So, the coach got here to me and stated, ‘Hey, Bob!’ Are you kidding me? I had not practiced passing the baton, ever.
“And when the third man got here round, I simply blasted out. I nearly went over the boundary line, the passing zone. And it was the quickest I ran in my life, and we gained.”
Discovering a New Sport
Plant simply stored going. After school, he competed in leisure 10Ks and ran marathons. In his early forties, he clocked a personal-best 2 hours, 41 minutes on the Boston Marathon. That’s a powerful 6-minute, 9-second tempo for each mile.
His true introduction to triathlon competitors got here in 1989, when Plant volunteered as a timekeeper on the 1989 Ironman World Championships in Kona. It turned out to be the last word gateway race — an epic duel between two of the game’s all-time greats.
The battle between longtime rivals Dave Scott and Mark Allen turned generally known as the “Iron Warfare.” For greater than eight hours, the pair raced side-by-side at a document tempo. After 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of operating (a full marathon), Allen snapped the tape simply 58 seconds forward of Scott.
“I used to be on the end line, and I used to be so excited,” Plant says. “I assumed, ‘Wow, I gotta’ do that race.’”
Getting the hold of it took work. Sure, he might run. Sure, that cardiovascular coaching and leg power carried over into biking.
However Plant didn’t take like a fish to water.
“Principally, with swimming,” he says, “I used to be like a rock with arms.”
In that self-discipline, he needed to be taught that technical precision with every stroke was at the very least as necessary as health. It turned clear as Plant watched a lot older, a lot bigger, swimmers glide previous him throughout his coaching laps.
“I used to be taking a look at these women and considering, ‘Man, they’re simply kicking my butt,’” Plant says with fun. “It was all approach, proper? When you have awful approach, you’re not going wherever!”
Finally he figured it out, though swimming nonetheless ranks final on his listing of triathlon abilities. Nonetheless, he says he typically finishes close to the highest of his age group in all three levels.
When he gained the Ironman World Championship for his age group in 2018, he set a document for the 75-79 class by ending in 13 hours, 6 minutes and three seconds. How dominant was that? Fidel Rotondaro of Venezuela, his closest competitor, completed half-hour and 52 seconds behind.
“It comes down to only hanging in there mentally, simply breaking by way of the boundaries and attempting to only persevere,” he says. “It’s simply having that ‘don’t-quit’ perspective, even when the physique says, ‘Oh, sorry, I do know you don’t wish to give up, however we’re not going anyplace.’”
Going, Going and Going
It ought to be recognized to rivals in all places that Plant has no plans to cease operating — ever. His greatest triathlon recommendation —his “tri” tip — is solely to adore it as a lot as he does.
“I believe what actually drives the game is your interior ardour,” he says. “It’s not the hype. I believe it’s your interior drive.”
He’s operating in Abu Dhabi later this 12 months earlier than heading to Egypt for an additional race.
“I get round a bit bit,’’ Plant says, chuckling. “That’s a part of the enjoyable, too. I am going, ‘Oh, the place’s the World Championship?’ Effectively, I’m going to see if I qualify for that. And I wish to go to such-and-such place.’”
About the one place he won’t journey is on an ego journey. At his dentistry workplace on Arch Road in Redwood Metropolis, his workers needed to trick him into bringing in his medals and jerseys, which they framed with out asking his permission.
In planning his acceptance speech for the Corridor of Fame, he notes that he wished to thank the volunteers and race administrators. “As a result of triathlon is sort of a household,” he says.
However his modesty gained’t assist him escape the very best honor his sport can bestow. The quickest dentist alive is about to get his brush with greatness.