In 1997 Chris Lieto saw the Ironman World Championship on TV and decided to start training. Three years later, he became a professional triathlete. Over the past decade he has won the 2002 Ironman Wisconsin, the 2005 Ironman Canada, and the 2006 Ironman Japan. Now, sponsored by Oakley, he lives with his wife and kids in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, where he trains and works on his charity, More Than Sport. We caught up with the one-time mortgage broker to talk about technology, charity, and the importance of a healthy diet.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
The first thing that came to my mind is how to change a tire on a car or a bike.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
The hardest physical thing I’ve ever done is pushed through an Ironman when I felt like I was going to pass out and die. The walls started closing in on my vision. I felt like I was gonna pop just because of the heat here in Hawaii. Pushing through the heat and the pain, the quad muscles feeling like they’re tearing off the bone every stride…that’s hard.
Q. What are you working on right now?
I’m putting a lot of time into my passion, a charity called More Than Sport. My goal is to use my influence and my platform to raise awareness for causes around the world. I’ve spent the last six months developing a new website that’s going to launch in two months.
What keeps me going is putting goals out there that are big enough to keep me moving.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
Probably right now it’s my phone. Technology allows me to do everything I need to do while still enjoying life: I can bike, run, drive, and go surfing with my son, all the while being able to answer emails and take calls.
Q: Who or what influences you?
I’d say the biggest place of inspiration for me — or the place that I continue to go back to learn — is the Bible. I look to it for answers, and it inspires me to keep going.
Q. What are you reading right now?
I wish I had time to read. I want to write a book, but I don’t even have time to sit down. I listen to a lot of podcasts. Music too, but I try to learn as much as I can. One of the apps I use is a Bible app, so I don’t read the Bible that much, but I listen to it. I also listen to business or entrepreneurial podcasts.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
I don’t keep a lot of secrets. I guess that’s the way life is, being your own brand and having everyone in your grill. But I guess a lot of people don’t know that I have a passion for surfing. I would have loved to be a professional surfer, but I wasn’t nearly good enough. I’ve also talked to my wife about adopting. It’s not the right time for my family, but we’re open to it.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
Sushi — I love it, my son loves it, we can’t get enough of it. So sushi for sure for the meal. And for the drink…I used to hate beer, and I used to drink only red wine, but I’ve learned to appreciate a good beer and I’ll drink it every now and then. I’d never acquired a taste for beer, but in the last month or so I’ve really enjoyed it. It tastes a little more refreshing than wine.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
My friends and I were talking about this, and we would have told ourselves that the girl you like right now, you’re not really in love with her, and you shouldn’t waste all your time and money on her. I also would have told myself to take risks. My only regret is that I waited until 25 to start training, and then I started with no cycling or running experience at all. It’s been a great late bloom, but what could I be doing if I had started two or three years earlier?
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
I want people to remember me as a caring person and a family guy. I want to help those in need and inspire people to find fulfillment.
Q. At one point you were also working a regular job. How did you manage that with your training?
I was a mortgage broker in the banking world. When I first got involved with training, I’d tell my wife I was going to work, drive two blocks away, and take down my bike. Underneath my suit I’d have on my cycling gear. I had to learn to balance time — it meant getting up early to get in a swim before work. And then, at work, I prepared everything early so that I could just sit down, execute, and then go off for a run. That’s where the phone came in, like I’m doing right now with my headset — I used to close deals while biking up mountains in Northern California.
Q. What would you tell people about diet?
When you’re young, you can kind of eat anything and get away with it. But your body is your engine, and you don’t want to put crappy oil or crappy gas in it. So you gotta make sure that you’re getting the foods you need. You have to look at supplementing. Of course, doing Ironmans is different than if you’re just running a 5k or 30 minutes every day, but you still have to focus on building a strong body from the ground up. Don’t just drink coffee or caffeine which will boost you up and give you a false sense of energy.
Q. Is your work ethic something that you’ve always had or did you work on that and train yourself the same way that you train for a race?
What keeps me going is putting goals out there that are big enough to keep me moving. So the work almost comes easy. I don’t think about the work, I don’t think about the day to day — I think about the goal that’s down the road. If it’s a race, if it’s a world title or national title, it’s focusing on what I need to do every day to make that dream a reality. Just waking up every day and saying, “If I’m a world champion, what would a world champion do today?” And then I do it, because that’s what I want to be.
Q. Do you have any wisdom for some of our readers who are cyclists?
Pick the brains of guys that you look up to. I live in an area where there are some amazing cyclists and on group rides I’m always okay to say, “Hey, could someone help me?” or “If I do something wrong, let me know.” I’ve noticed in the past couple years that things have changed a little bit in that sometimes I’ll point something out and people will get offended and think that they know a lot. Not that I know everything, but I think in cycling you can always know more. If someone says you’re doing something wrong, take it in. They may not be right, but absorb it and think about it.
Q. What’s next for you?
I want to start offering custom VIP clinics and camps. If you come down here with your family on vacation and you want to get in a great ride, look us up at Endurance Hawaii
and I’ll show you around. Biking here is amazing outside of the Ironman course. There are a lot more rides here that no one gets to see.