Dr. Greg Gaitan - Triathlete

by Nicole Young | Jan 11, 2018
Dr. Greg Gaitan TriathleteWhen Sansum Clinic pediatrician Dr. Greg Gaitan donned the Team USA uniform at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in September, it was a day he had worked years to achieve. The 52 year-old physician, a three-time All-American, qualified for the world competition with a solid finish at a race in New Orleans last year. Held in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, the course included a 750-meter swim along the Maas River, a 20-kilometer bike ride over amazing bridges and a 5-kilometer run through the second largest city in the Netherlands. Dr. Gaitan chose a “draft legal” race after learning that format benefits strong swimmers like himself. The designation means he was able to exit the water, hop on a road bike and ride with other athletes in a pack for a competitive edge.


Dr. Gaitan caught the triathlon bug back in 2009 when some colleagues invited him to join their relay team for an event in Carpinteria. They felt his swimming experience would boost their chances and Dr. Gaitan welcomed the chance to delve back into fitness. “I had a blast in that race. I learned what it was all about, the excitement, the energy, the vibe,” he explains. In 2012, he branched out to do entire triathlons himself,
working up to an intense exercise regimen necessary to enter the high-level competitions. “In an average week, I do 12 to 15 hours of training. That’s anywhere from 4 to 5 bike rides, 4 to 5 runs, 3 to 4 swims, 2 strength sessions and one yoga class.” When Dr. Gaitan’s mother was diagnosed with central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma in 2015, he skipped racing to help with her care. When she learned the cancer had returned last fall, Dr. Gaitan nearly missed the qualifying race. “It was a great joy to go straight to the hospital upon returning and share the news with her that I had made Team USA,” he shares.

A summer training camp in Bend, Oregon gave Dr. Gaitan an opportunity to meet other triathletes and learn about the enjoyment and awe of representing your country. His triathlon training is fueling discussion on physical exercise and healthy diet with patients and their parents. When families or children see him on a run or on his bike, that speaks more than any recommendation he could offer about staying active, according to the physician. “Doing triathlons is more than achieving a certain time,” he says. “It’s about striking a life balance. The balance of those three disciplines carries over to balance in life.”

Dr. Gaitan joined more than 500 Team USA members and placed 42nd among 99 athletes in his age group. Dr. Gaitan describes the experience of a lifetime in his own words.

"Hearing my name announced as a member of Team USA was the realization of a goal I set when I learned three years ago that the ITU World Triathlon Championships would be in Rotterdam, Holland. I wanted to race on Team USA after hearing about how thrilling an experience it was from SB Tri club members Fred Maggiore and Kyle Visin. I chose to qualify for the Sprint draft legal race because being a strong swimmer, I would have a solid chance of getting into the lead pack on the bike. This would allow me to work with other riders in the pack to gain more separation from the rest of the field. Draft legal racing differs greatly from nondraft legal racing in that aero bars and disc wheels are not allowed. I made the team at a qualifying race in New Orleans in 2016. To prepare, I rode often with the local roadies and added more short, high-power interval
workouts on the trainer.

I arrived in Rotterdam a few days before the race with rain in the forecast. The poor weather unfortunately made it tough to do much preparation. I had never had such little training leading up to an event but took solace in realizing that it allowed me some extra rest.

On race day, the weather was cool but clear! The Standard (Olympic) distance race was in the morning and the Sprint race was in the afternoon, making my start time 1:40pm. Given the cool weather, heat wouldn’t be an issue racing so late in the day. My wave would be the second to go following the 45-49 year-old age group. We were to report to the holding corral 10 minutes prior to our launch. It was such a thrill to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with nearly 100 men from all over the world who had also qualified for this race. After the first wave was launched, we were led out to the pontoon as our names were announced. When I heard my name, I waved out to my wife and uncle and gave a big thumbs-up. With a minute before start time, all went quiet as we were told by the starter to jump into the water and put one hand on the pontoon as we waited for the horn to blow. And we were off! Being a strong swimmer, I was out in front for the first half of the swim and remained near the front throughout. The swim was in a cove which made for no significant issues with the current.

I knew the run to the first transition would be long (approximately 500 meters) and would include stretches of cobblestone. It felt like I was running forever in my wetsuit and I was gassed when I got to my bike. Taking my wetsuit off was like peeling off skin! The run to the mount line was about half as long, but was easier sans wetsuit.

The bike portion was the highlight of the race and a complete blast. For the first few minutes, I was in no man’s land trying hard to reel in a rider from Ireland to no avail. Fortunately, a USA teammate caught up to me and we then worked together to bridge the gap and pass Ireland before coming upon a pack of three riders from Great Britain. We rotated pulls varying in time from 30 to 180 seconds and did a good job of communicating the sharp turns ahead. Save for a bee sting on the arm, the ride was as good as I could hope for. We were never passed, caught many others including riders from the preceding wave, and my dismount was smooth. Then, it was off to the run.

As I started, my legs felt like limp noodles and sadly I had nothing left in the tank. Rather than get frustrated, I was determined to give it my best and take it all in, enjoying the fact that I was racing at the World Finals. I got passed by quite a few uber-fast Europeans and USA teammates. When the finish line approached, I saw the USA team manager in the chute handing out U.S. flags. I was probably passed by a few more while grabbing the flag, but it didn’t matter. I was happy and proud to be representing my country. This was beyond a doubt the best race experience of my life!”