Mike Buenting loved to ride his bicycle as a youth. When friends started showing up with mopeds or scooters, Buenting stayed true to his 10-speed Schwinn bike.
In high school, he competed in cross country and track, finding much success. Buenting later got into marathon running. That’s when he found triathlons some 12 or 13 years ago.
To date, Buenting, of Chanhassen, a world championship triathlon racer, has completed the Boston Marathon nine times. He said he’s “addicted to pain.”
“I love to swim, bike, run and push my limits. The competition, the quest to get better and always improve and to inspire others drives me each and every day! I learn so much about myself through this process and simply without waking up each day to swim, bike or run, I’m one grumpy dude!” he said.
Recently, he, along with his daughter, Bella, 16, a junior at Minnetonka High School, competed for Team USA in their respective age groups at the World Triathlon Grand Final in Australia.
Along on the trip to the Gold Coast was wife and mom, Shannon Waggoner, an accomplished marathon and duathlon competitors.
“I am in awe of their athletic ability! I am very proud of their hard work and accomplishments in this sport. I love spectating and being a supporter when they race,” Shannon said. “I think I am a typical mom when it comes to Bella racing; I am nervous until I see her get out of the water and then off of the bike, but once she is on the run it is all excitement. I run and bike, but I don’t swim, so I am always impressed with anyone who does triathlon.”
Eric Kraushar: What got you started into triathlons, and what made you keep competing after you completed one?
While at the gym one day I met a guy promoting a triathlon training class and I joined it and signed up for the Minneapolis Triathlon (Olympic distance) at Lake Nokomis. I swam for recreation, not competitive, so it took me awhile to teach myself how to swim and get going and be able to swim the 1,500-meter distance.
The cycling was not an issue, and neither was the running, but I was also 40-45 pounds heavier than I am now at this time! When I moved into the sport of triathlon and marathon running I was coming off being a professional bass fisherman and guide on Lake Minnetonka with a very unhealthy diet. I fished tournaments all over the country, ate fast food and gained weight. So coming into the sport of triathlon and marathon was humbling and tough, but I shed 40ish pounds, went from size 34 waist to a size 28 waist and became the athlete I am now!”
Kraushar: You’ve run high school track and swimming, how much did those sports aid in your interest to follow in your parents’ footsteps?
I started competing in 5K running races at age 6 and in triathlon when I was 8 years old, so really it all started before my high school sports. Swimming for Minnetonka Club year round was my first sport and I continue to swim club after the high school season because I love it and it helps me train for triathlon. The high school sports are great for aiding me in my training. I run track in the spring to get ready for tri-season in June. I have loved the sport of triathlon since an early age as I competed in Ironkids races for many years before I was old enough to move into the adult races.”
Kraushar: Do you have to be great at all three parts of a triathlon as a beginner?
You don’t! To start triathlon you just have to be disciplined. You have to have a commitment to the sport and train to just complete the distance and never give up or stop. I think triathlon can scare people because they get intimidated, but truly it does not need to be scary. You just have to be dedicated! No cheating in life and certainly no cheating in multi sport. ... I’m proof that you can be really good at one or two of the disciplines and average at the other and still be a strong and good athlete.
Kraushar: Do you have a favorite section of the race? Least favorite?
Swimming is my favorite for sure. I love the bike as well. Running is my least favorite right now.
Kraushar: A junior in high school, racing a world triathlon in Australia while classmates are back home going to school, doing homework. Did you have to pinch yourself at all?
Yes, it was hard to believe we were halfway around the world! I did do homework on the plane, at night, and while I rested for my race. Missing the second week of junior year isn’t easy — I am still making up work.
Kraushar: How much of all of your training and competitions was about being a role model for your daughter?
: It’s a huge factor. Bella means the world to me! Love that kid so much. But as much as I want to inspire her, she inspires me. I’m a pretty good athlete and a really hard worker but that kid can be and kind of is so much better than me. I stay dedicated, focused to my goals and training because I don’t want to show weakness or quit to her yes. I want Bella to be proud of me and I want her to, yes, see my work ethic and be inspired and motivated by it. I use triathlon as an analogy with her all time, how it teaches us a lot about ourselves and that if we can endure all we have to do training and racing triathlon then we can apply that to anything in life. School, work whatever.
Kraushar: Was there one moment that stood out from the Australia experience?
Man, so many moments. This trip was amazing. Outside of the 26 hours of travel to get there — a 14-hour plane ride is tough! But trying to pick one moment besides how Bella raced, and handled herself as the little one, young in among bigger, older more experienced serious athletes. The way she raced with confidence was awesome! Her run was really impressive! I mean she is running 5K after a 750-meter swim, and 20K bike faster than most the Minnetonka cross country varsity team.
But I would say on the Wednesday morning before her race on Thursday. Bella and I got up and met about 150 athletes on Team USA of all ages. And the two of us led them on a bike course tour ride, showing everyone the course and teaching them about it. Watching her take command at the front of the pack, having her know the directions and call out the turns of the course with me and chat and talk with the other athletes and make new friends was really pretty cool! The older athletes really took to her and embraced and supported her that was heartwarming for me to see.
Kraushar: What was your favorite moment of the trip?
The race was wonderful. It was so much fun being a part of Team USA and I am honored to have qualified for this level of competition. Crossing the finish line in an event like this is amazing, but I have to say cuddling a koala bear was probably my favorite moment!