WATERTOWN — Andrew Keenan’s favorite sport growing up was swimming and his favorite hobby was riding his bike around the neighborhood of his William Street home in Watertown.
So four years ago when his mother, Bridgette, suggested he attempt a triathlon, Keenan thought it could be fun to try, maybe just that one time.
“I was like: ‘Yeah, whatever Mom. Sure.’ I didn’t really think about it that much,” Keenan said.
Keenan placed first in his age group at that race — the Lyme Sprint Triathlon in Chaumont — and the 19-year-old has since competed in 24 triathlons of varying distances.
“I didn’t really know what was going on, just got little tips from people here and there. ... As soon as I did that (first) one I was like: ‘Alright, Mom. Sign me up for more.’”
Keenan — a 2013 Watertown High School graduate — completed his first half-Ironman race in Syracuse on June 22.
He placed fifth of 74 in his age group (18-22 year-olds) and 171st of about 2,500 overall participants. He qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships on Sept. 7 in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.
The Syracuse race, which Keenan said was his most challenging to date, consisted of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.4-mile run.
“I sat down after and I don’t think my legs ever hurt more in my life than they did at that point,” Keenan said. “I don’t even know how to put into words how much my thighs hurt.”
Keenan joined the club triathlon and club cycling teams as a freshman this past year at Drexel University, where he studies civil engineering.
During one of his collegiate races in September, Keenan crashed his bike and shattered his collarbone.
He needed surgery that left him with a plate and six screws, and was out of action until mid-November.
During that time, Keenan said he rode a stationary bike and watched ESPN for hours on end, and thought of reasons why he wanted to keep racing triathlons.
“At first I just kind of did it because I thought it was fun and would be a good way to stay in shape,” he said.
“Now I’ll lay in bed and watch Youtube videos of the Ironman World Championships and just listen to people’s stories about how much it means to them and how much they overcome to do the races. So, I kind of think of myself as lucky to be able to race and be able to put that much time in it and that’s really why I do it.”
Keenan said he was initially drawn to the sport because of the welcoming atmosphere. He said he’s “never met a jerk at a triathlon.”
“It’s one of those things where you can just go out and try it,” Keenan said. “You’ll see people show up to the races with beach cruisers, and then you’ll see people show up with $15,000 bikes, and they’re all racing the exact same race. It’s very friendly to beginners and there are always a million people at a race willing to help you out.”
Among his favorite races, Keenan listed the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships this past April in Tempe, Ariz., partly because it was the first time he traveled west of Pittsburgh.
Keenan also said he enjoyed the “Escape the Cape Triathlon,” in Cape May, N.J. That race started with the 1,500 entrants jumping off the Cape May ferry.
“You jumped off the boat and raced to shore,” Keenan said. “That was a really unique race, really cool.”
Keenan works with Jason Kilderry, who owns a company called ETA Coach, which focuses on individual athletes. Kilderry is also an assistant coach for the Drexel club team.
Keenan said his typical training week consists of about 12-13 hours that includes about 250 miles on the bike, 15-18 miles of running and about five miles of swimming.
Keenan said he avoids fried foods and sugary drinks, but otherwise doesn’t worry much about his diet, other than ensuring he eats enough before each workout to avoid what triathletes call “bonking.”
“You just run out of energy and it’s probably the worst thing ever, you just feel like you can’t do anything,” Keenan said. “It’s kind of an ongoing process to remind myself to eat well before I work out so I have the energy to get through it.”
Keenan said he hopes to race a full Ironman event in the next few years and his ultimate goal is to someday race in the Ironman World Championships, held each summer in Kona, Hawaii.