While he’s not serving his constituents in downtown Jersey City as a ward councilman or making plans for a run at the mayor’s office next year, Steve Fulop has an interesting and lesser known sideline.
Fulop has become a triathlete.
And he’s a legit one at that. This weekend, Fulop and some 2,000 others will compete in the Aquadraat Sports United States Ironman Triathlon Championships, an event that will run through both New York and New Jersey.
The race will begin with a 2.4-mile swim in the Hudson River, followed by a 112-mile bike ride along the cliffs of the Palisades Interstate Parkway and conclude with a 26.2-mile run over the George Washington Bridge, ending at 81st Street in the heart of Manhattan.
This will be the 35-year-old Fulop’s first triathlon and he’s doing it for a cause.
Fulop is looking to raise money for the Reserve Aid organization.
“We give money to families who have soldiers in military reserve,” Fulop said. “Reserve Aid does a tremendous job and it has served as a motivation to keep me more focused. People have to realize that military members have made tremendous sacrifices and their families are under financial duress.”
Fulop knows what happens firsthand, because he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve after the Sept. 11 tragedy.
“I spent six months in Camp Pendleton [in California], then I was deployed to Iraq,” Fulop said. “I went from specialty training to deployment.”
Fulop spent eight years with the Marine Corps, four years in reserve and four in inactive duty, completing his reserve commitment in 2010.
So the military cause is something that hits very close to home.
“It definitely does,” Fulop said. “I know what these families experience. When a member gets deployed, it happens so fast. It happens all in one day. There isn’t a lot of time for planning or anticipation. You get your assignment and you’re gone. It’s upsetting to those who have families.”
So Fulop decided to do something to help and it comes in the form of this triathlon.
Fulop was asked if fundraising for an event like this was different than fundraising for his upcoming campaign for mayor.
“I do approach different people,” Fulop said. “It’s much easier to raise money for a cause than political fundraising and it should be. Everyone should be able to appreciate this cause. With fundraising for politics, there’s ideology that comes into play. With this, it doesn’t exist. It’s easier for people to say yes, because they know it’s something good.”
Fulop has been training with a group based out of Hoboken called the Gold Coast Tri, a group of athletes, sometimes 25 or so strong, that bike together twice a week.
“It’s a very legitimate and competitive group,” Fulop said. “Sometimes, we bike 110-to-120 miles up to Bear Mountain and back. I’m up and out at 4:30 in the morning.”
Fulop was a soccer player at J.P. Stevens High School in Edison and at the University of Binghamton. When he was in the Marine Corps, he got into running.
“They sort of pound that into you,” Fulop laughed.
He has run a few half marathons and the New York City marathon in the past.
“But this is my first foray into triathlons,” Fulop said. “I started to train more aggressively with the bike and with swimming this year.”
When he decided to give triathlons a shot, he began swimming regularly at the Pershing Field Pool.
“That was the hardest part,” Fulop said. “When I started swimming, I couldn’t do two laps. Now, I’m doing my two-and-a-half miles at a good clip. The running has been the easiest part. I’m in my mid 30s . I’m your typical triathlon stereotype.”
Here’s just a glimpse of the training Fulop did in the past week, prior to the race. On Saturday, he took a 20-mile run. Sunday, it was a 110-mile bike ride that he did in just under seven hours. Monday, it was in the pool for two miles. Wednesday, he did a 30-mile bike ride. Thursday, it was time for a two-mile swim, followed by a five-mile run. Saturday, it was 44 more miles on the bike, then Sunday, he combined the bike and the run, running a total of 10 miles.
Yes, the man is definitely dedicated.
“It’s been like 18 hours a week, three hours a day of some activity,” Fulop said. “It’s definitely not easy.”
Fulop was asked about his emotions before the race.
“I’m a little bit nervous and excited,” Fulop said. “I’m excited, because I put a lot of work into it. I’m nervous, because I don’t know how my body is going to react. I’ve been told that it acts in a strange way, that once the race starts, you say to yourself, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ It’s a mental thing that you have to push through.”
Competing for the cause definitely helps. It’s also motivated him to do more triathlons.
“I definitely have a different perspective now,” Fulop said.
Another local competing in the U.S. Ironman Triathlon Championships is Whitney Handy of Hoboken.
Unlike Fulop, Handy, a former field hockey and lacrosse player at the University of San Diego, is a full-time triathlon competitor.
Although the 24-year-old Handy is a former college athlete, her background is in swimming.
“I grew up swimming and I’ve been competing as a swimmer since I was about five,” Handy said.
A few years ago, while she was finishing up her undergraduate studies at San Diego, she was in Guadalupe, Mexico for a semester and watched her first triathlon.
“The logic was that I knew how to swim and I could ride a bike,” Handy said. “I figured it couldn’t be that bad. That’s how I rationalized it. For me, the running was the hard part.”
For her first triathlon, Handy competed in the New Jersey State Triathlon at Mercer County Park in 2008.
“I was hooked,” Handy said. “It gave me such a sense of accomplishment.”
Since then, Handy has competed in approximately 10-to-15 triathlons per year.
“I usually do one or two Ironman triathlons,” Handy said. “This one is special, because it’s close. I have family and friends who don’t get a chance to see me compete. This one is swimming in the Hudson River. That’s a challenge.”
So will be competing in the heat and humidity.
“I did one recently where it was 115 degrees in Palm Springs, so I’m kind of acclimated to working out in those conditions.”
Handy is a full-time special education teacher in San Diego these days.
“I’m so excited about this one, because I get to sleep at home,” Handy said. “I’ll get to see a lot of my high school friends. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I don’t feel like I’m getting any faster, but I do think I’m getting stronger.”
How dedicated is Handy? Well, she just finished competing in a triathlon in California on Sunday and now she’s flying back to New Jersey for this event.
“At least I should be ready,” Handy said.
Until she has to dive into the mysterious waters of the Hudson River.
“Ah, that should be interesting,” she said.
For more information about the charity Fulop is competing for, log on to www.reserveaid.org. At press time, Fulop had raised more than $17,000 and his goal is $20,000.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.