When I was 14 I was given my first triathlon magazine in a Christmas stocking.
The centre page spread was an article on Julian Jenkinson, the only professional triathlete in the U.K. (according to the tax man). Jules had one foot on a gallon drum of sports drink and was holding onto a yellow Peugeot bike; a pair of Bloc sunglasses perched on his head and he wore a Speedo one piece. Julian made triathlon look cool; he made me want to be a triathlete. Julian had written the article himself and I later discovered his monthly 220 columns. Julian wasn’t the only person trying to be a professional triathlete; he was the only person smart enough to make it work.
In my first year at University I went with the squad on a training camp to Tenerife; Jules came along, this might have had a lot to do with the PHD student who all the boys fancied and of course, who he was seeing. Chris Volley couldn’t believe Julian Jenkinson was there, he added to the legend by telling us he had refused to ever let his parents clean their toilet seat again after Jules had visited his Isle of Wight bathroom.
I was too star-struck to know what to say to Jules. I was the annoying kid who smashed the start of the reps, desperate to keep up. I got in everyones’ way before blowing my doors off. I was the idiot who I dread turning up to a session these days. I ran reps clipping Jules’ feet and trying to cut up his inside on the corners. He could not have been nicer.
Jules would head out on the bike with us and add on a loop of the island to come back with a 100 miles for the day. He showed me the climb up the volcano. I was dragged to the bottom of the mountain at a pace that left me seeing stars; he said he’d meet me at the top. Half way up I had completely bonked and was lying at the side of the road trying to drink from a spring and licking a banana skin in the hope of finding an extra carbohydrate or two. Jules span back down with a grin on his face to pick me up.
Jules would visit Bath regularly. I remember him turning up for a murder mystery party as a rowing toff, complete with flannels, a panama hat, a waxed and pointed moustache and a 7ft oar in his hand. He was the only one who guessed who the killer was.
Julian seemed to have time for me; he was the British Ironman Record holder and a regular captain of the British team. He still is, I believe, the only person to have represented his country at elite level in Duathlon, Sprint, Olympic and Long distance triathlon. I wasn’t particularly talented but he went out of his way to look at my cleat position, to tell me to raise my saddle, to bang me on the head when bounced up and down on the bike. I remember him sitting on a wall for at least an hour one summer evening answering the questions of an over enthusiastic kid who didn’t have a clue how to train or how to get by in the sport. Jules knew it all, but he didn’t preach at me. I was buzzing around him like an annoying fly but he didn’t make me feel like that. It turns out Jules did this for many young athletes.
I saw Jules at Chris Volley’s wedding a few years later; I had been to train with a pro squad abroad, I’d been sent home by the coach. I wasn’t good enough to make the grade. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was skint and wasn’t making any money. I thought the athlete dream was over and I was scared of the real world. Jules chatted to me, a few days later I got a message saying he had a job that would let me train if I wanted it.
Julian was clever, funny, down to earth and an incredible athlete. He was, at one stage, the most important figure in the development of triathlon in this country, but unlike many others who simply weren’t as good as him, he didn’t hang about when injury put a stop to his career, he went on to other things and to be an incredible success at those.
I’m sad Jules has gone and although he wouldn’t have cared, I’m sad triathlon didn’t realise quite how much we owed him.