TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the opportunity recently to talk triathlon with TCSD member Guto Antunes. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know this great guy who has learned to balance family, a challenging career in the banking industry and a challenging career as a professional triathlete.
Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?
Guto: Since I was very young, my parents gave me the opportunity to study at a school (Colegio Santo Americo) that allowed me to experience a bunch of sports like soccer, basketball, swimming, track & field… You know, Brazil is a very different country compared to the US: We grew up playing soccer, so mainly that was my “A” sport. But I didn’t like much to be involved on team sports, I was a very selfish boy. I had to discover a sport that training and racing results would rely on my own efforts. Triathlon came late in my life, once my father couldn’t afford all the equipment that I needed for the 3 disciplines.
Craig: What was your first triathlon like?
Guto: Oh man… Seems like yesterday! It was the 2000 “Trofeu Brasil de Triathlon” (Brazilian Triathlon Trophy) in Santos – Brazil. I didn’t have any specific equipment (no wetsuit, a simple bike and heavy running shoes.) I suffered like hell. But that day I discovered that I like to suffer and still have fun. I just wanted to finish the race to say “I did a triathlon” for my friends and family. I was in my early 20’s, so my friends were calling me to go party and asking why I was doing that and losing my life. At that race, I crossed the finish line and the got the answer. I was so happy and felt so accomplished. After the race I was heading back to the hotel and heard my name being called to go to the podium. I said: “What???” I was 5th overall in the age group division. From that moment on, I was hooked! Bracing the suck made me feel like home.
Craig: What was your business career like during your early days of triathlon?
Guto: Before being a pro triathlete, I was studying business administration and got an internship job at a bank (trading floor), dealing with FX Derivatives. At that time, I gave up training for a while, once I thought it would be impossible to cope with everything. It was a VERY stressful job, I could win/lose millions in the blink of an eye. One day I left the office stressed and feeling empty. I remember saying to myself: “I’m done”. I was heading home and had a “deja vu” about my first race. How training and racing made me feel less stressed and happy. I needed that again. So, I started training very early in the morning for 1:20 hours, only to lose weight again. I perceived that working out in the morning made me feel less emotive while dealing with stressful situations at work. After a month, I started swimming to leave my stress in the water and started going after work, to get back home happy and fresh!
Craig: What was the process like to become a professional triathlete?
Guto: That’s a great story . After I started training again, everyone (work partners, family, friends) were saying I was crazy (at that time, I think I was the only financial market guy to have that hectic training routine). They were always asking: “Where do you wanna go with all these crazy trainings, boy? It’ll be bad for your banking career”. But one day I was running and felt a hard pain in my right foot toe. I had a terrible ligament injury and had to do a surgery never performed before by the doctors. My dad went with me for the final appointment, and I heard from the doctor that probably I would never run again in my life. I was devastated. I got into my dad’s car and cried like never before. He looked at me and said: “Nobody can tell you’re not running again! You’ll do it even if you have to go crawling to the finish line, but you’ll do it. Stop crying and fight”. That was a wake up call. A week after the surgery, I went after my coach at that time and long time friend (Ademir Paulino – “Miro”) and asked: “Miro, do you think I can go pro?” He didn’t hesitate: “If there’s someone I ever knew that can do it, that’s you.” From that day on we started to train very hard. I wasn’t running much (as the doctor predicted, I had a lot of pain). 3 months after the surgery, I said to “Miro” that I would go for one of the main draft legal races in South America (2004 Caioba International Triathlon). He said that probably I would not be able to finish it (due to the foot/toe pain). Right after crossing the finish line I’ve called him, crying like that day in the car with my dad: “Miro, we won overall dude!!!!”. To our surprise, I won the overall sprint distance event (only for age groupers) and got my federation allowance to race as a pro.
Craig: From the short time I have known you, it sounds like you led a double life during your early years as a professional triathlete. You kept your business career in 1 corner and the triathlon world in another corner and neither world knew the other existed. When and why did you finally start letting your colleagues at work know about your triathlon life and vice versa?
Guto: Yes, you’re right. I was afraid of my boss saying I wasn’t into the banking career and my sponsors in triathlon pretending that I did not need the money to race because I had another job. You know, there’s a lot of prejudice on both. So I kept the “secret” only for close friends. One day I had a bad race because I was very tired from work travels and my wife said: “It’s not fair, you have a real life story and nobody knows the truth! You need to tell them! You have such an inspiring overcoming story!” I was still concerned of its effects, but decided to follow her advice (girls are always wiser than the boys!). I called one of the main triathlon media groups in South America (Mundotri.com) and told the publisher the truth. He made me the cover magazine guy telling my story: “The Triathlete in a Suit – Find Time to Train!” To my surprise, I never received so many messages, phone calls and interview requests. I became the local hope that, even with a hectic working life, you can reach your sports goals.
Craig: What have you learned over the years by balancing family, career and triathlon?
Guto: That they all need to work together! I discovered that being a triathlete made me a better banking professional and also a better husband and father. I can see things faster and wiser, not losing time with those emotional riots that we have to deal with when not training. Obviously, the opposite is also true: My banking job taught me a lot how to respect and fix my limitations. I always say that probably I found the Greek’s concept of “Source Mind, Source Body” applied to a real life.
Craig: What have been some of your most gratifying accomplishments as a professional triathlete?
Guto: For sure, being a world ranked 70.3 Ironman pro triathlete and being able to race the 2010 World Championship in Clearwater, FL. The road to get the spot was rough. It was one of the most hectic moments of my banking career and I was not training for a half distance event. Me and my coach (Alexandre Blass) decided to race just two weeks prior to the event. Going to the WC was my longtime dream, more than going to the Olympics (especially because the 70.3 distance is not part of the program). But I knew there were better athletes to get the 3 Brazilian spots. The day before the race was a mess. My wife missed her plane and I went to the airport at 11pm to get her. I did not sleep much and my wetsuit broke the zipper lock just 5 min before race start (had to borrow one from a spectator). That race I faced all my fears. Was above the “red zone”, physically and mentally, for the whole race. I was 5th in a very tough international field (2010 – 70.3 Ironman Brazil). When I crossed the finish line, I was completely dizzy and did not realize I was the third Brazilian. Somebody came and said: “You got the WC spot!” It seemed like a dream. I collapsed to the ground and my wife came along. That was the best hug ever. Both of us, crying and happy. She asked me: “How are you feeling, you got it!!!” I just had the strength to hug her very tight and say: “Honey, we did it. We are in the World Champs!!!”
Craig: How has your wife, Claudia, helped you realize your dreams?
Guto: She loved me since day one. Claudia helped me understand the ghosts and fears I face everyday while dealing with that dual life. And getting the kids involved to understand that dad is not a superhero, just a guy that dreams big and fight for it – day in and day out. I really hope that my daughter, Luiza (6 years old) and my boy Antonio (3 years old), understands that we can face any challenge and be successful, doing it our own way. That will be the best legacy I’ll leave for them.
Craig: What is one of your most crazy triathlon travel stories?
Guto: The funniest was the first time I came to race in the USA. It was 2006 and I had a sponsor from LA which told me I had to come to race the Malibu Triathlon (they were the main sponsor for the race). The problem is that I had just started a new banking job, and couldn’t take vacations to travel (at that time there was only one 24 hour flight from Sao Paulo to LA!). So, I left the bank on a Friday at 6-ish pm, got a 3 hour traffic jam to the airport and almost missed the fight. I had a connection at NYC (JFK Airport) and my flight got delayed to the gate! So I had to run a 1 mile dash to not miss the plane connection. I arrived in LA on Saturday, 2:30pm and had to go straight to the pro meeting, but MY BIKE DID NOT ARRIVE! I told my sponsor that I would give up and only watch the race, that stress was too much for me. But he came up with a plan: Get me to Agoura Hills, rent a bike and all the necessary equipment. So there I was, at 7pm renting a bike that wasn’t set for my bike fit and going to the hotel to sleep. At 3am my phone rang and I thought it was my ride to the race site. The hotel receptionist said: “Sir… There’s a bag…a big bag for you here”. I said: “MY BIKE”! I went down, assembled it and left (late). Got into T1 almost by race start time (Malibu is famous for its pre-race traffic jam) and as soon as I arrived at the start line, they “shot the cannon”! I ended up being third and went back to my hotel (biking, 15 miles) to pack up my bags and straight to LAX. Got the flight back home and arrived in Sao Paulo on Monday, 6am and straight to work!!! When I sat at my desk, my boss asked the famous question: “Hey Guto, how was your weekend?” I told him: “You tell me” – LOL!
Craig: How did triathlon help you get a visa to move to the USA?
Guto: Triathlon gave me the opportunity to get what is called “an extraordinary ability visa” for all those things that I’ve achieved. My goal is to race and be within the community sharing my knowledge and passion, helping the sport to grow in the US. I arrived in June 2016, but on my first day in San Diego I had a terrible bike accident (broken collarbone + surgery) at an abandoned bike lane (El Camino Real towards Torrey Hills). Those first few months were terrible, I had to skip a lot of races and events on my calendar to focus on my recovery. But it was a good opportunity for the city to hear our requests. Everyone deserves to be safe while riding your bike.
Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?
Guto: I would love to see people doing it again for the sake of the challenge. That’s what made me start doing this sport. Now, it’s all about showing off in social media. We used to go to races to meet friends and laugh. Racing was not about winning or losing.
Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?
Guto: The 70.3 Hawaii Ironman, because Kona is Kona whatever distance you’re racing! It’s magical: the atmosphere, the pristine nature, the many challenges (wind, heat, grass) you face during the race. And, of course, Lava Lava’s Waikoloa sunset drinking a post race beer, watching the most amazing sunset in the world.
Then Santos International Triathlon, in Brazil: It’s my wife’s hometown and also for its almost 30 years of history that helped many of the Brazilian triathlon icons to rise as international stars.
Last, but not least: The Malibu Triathlon. My first race in US and also where my body always performs well. I still have that overwhelming feeling from the first hectic race day. Everytime I go there, even to get my kids to play at the beach, I feel an amazing vibe.
Craig: What is your favorite benefit of your TCSD membership?
Guto: For sure the barbecues! Not only because everyone has the chance to share their special recipes, but because that’s what makes triathlon special for me: Sharing experiences, no matter if you’re a pro or a newcomer to the sport. You get to know so many overwhelming stories. That’s what fuels my passion.
Craig: Who are your sponsors?
Guto: Forca Dinamica, Mormaii, Velofix San Diego and Join.
Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?
Guto: I always think that the best is yet to come. I want to go back to World Champs and also be among the top 5 in the main non-draft triathlon races in the world. And for sure: Keep inspiring people to keep doing this sport, even dealing with a hectic “real life”. As I like saying: Life is real, not ideal!
Craig: Guto, thank you for sharing your story. I have a feeling you’ll find success at anything you set your mind to. Brazil’s loss is San Diego’s gain. TCSD is lucky to have you among our members. Good luck to you!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.