He’s known almost as much for his story-like race reports as for his triathlon prowess. The reports are usually many pages with a lot of details, but always with a CliffsNotes version at the beginning for those not patient enough to hunker down for a good read. I still have the first race report from him about the 2003 New York City Marathon, titled, “NO WALL!”
GERALD JACKSON greets everyone as a long lost friend, especially the day we photographed him for this story, an openness expressed by his enthusiastic and boyish smile, and an out stretched hand. He is taut and firm, especially for having just turned 45 years old the week before. But as a grandfather no less (“I have 3 granddaughters; Karisma, Samara and Bristol from my daughter Jessica and son-in-law, Tyson.”), Gerald is one of the good guys. “He is a phenomenal athlete, amazing coach, good friend and above all a quality person with a strong sense of character and morale,” says training partner JULIE WILLIAMS.
Gerald’s reputation among the triathlon and running community is one of genuiness.
“Gerald was one of the fastest learners I ever coached in swimming,” said SCOTT EDER, Gerald’s first swim coach. “It’s typically very difficult for adult[s] to change their stoke and change the way they approach swimming. Gerald was able to re -think his approach in a matter of a few months’ time. Quite an accomplishment. This is a mental process that has obviously served him well the past ten years in all aspects of triathlon training.”
“He was my first official swim coach for my first Ironman in 2000. [Gerald was 36 when he started swimming, which is late for a swimmer.] The tips he gave me back then were not big in the overall big picture, but compared to where I was, it was huge. I was also not eating enough food back then. I was falling asleep at my desk. He asked me how much I was eating and it turned out I was not even covering just day to day activity. I am still in touch with Scott on a regular basis.”
Gerald says he trains in swimming for a “desire to be competitive in my age group and to someday qualify for Kona.”
The athletes he trains speak highly of him, as well. KRIS HORNER says, “He is the most positive person I know. When I started working with Coach Gerald, I was struggling to complete sprint triathlons.” In November 2007 she completed her first Ironman.
As you can read from above, very few have ever seen him say a harsh word. Instead, he’s up-beat with a “can-do” spirit and gushes with compliments to all he greets. It’s always about the other person, even when doing this story about him. He puts others first, a rare quality among the Type A set. Sure, he’ll talk about his PR’s, his last race, or race to come, but only after talking about you first; your dreams, your goals. Then he’s likely to only talk about himself in terms of strategy, timing, or workouts that will help reach a latest goal, not how wonderful he did. Humble, through and through.
“Gerald is a real gentleman,” Ironhead Race Productions owner, JACK WEISS, said. “Always pleasant and positive. From what I have seen he always works hard for his athletes and really enjoys his work. He does many of our events and he drives a lot of his clients our way, for that we are always grateful.”
“Jack is a great name in the triathlon community,” Gerald replied. “He has been very instrumental in it. He runs a great safe race and I love that.”
When he began volunteering for a triathlon training club, he showed he had a heart for helping others. Though he has a kind heart in his relationships, he also races with heart, digging deep, and giving all he has. All who have raced against him know they saw the best of Gerald that day.
Born August 24, 1964, he’s the oldest of a sister, Lisa, and a brother, Louis. Dad still works in the IT industry as a programmer. (He has worked with IBM in the Pentagon and on the Shuttle project when it first started. He works now for BMC software as a problem analyst.) His mom was a home maker, then an administrative assistant before retiring. Gerald has two children of his own, Jessica and Daniel.
He grew up in Seabrook, TX (South of Houston’s Clear Lake and NASA area) with his constant companion, Droopy, an Irish Setter. “He was my pal back then.” Gerald enjoyed Boy Scouts and wanted to be the next Spud Web of basketball, having played the sport from as early as he can remember. He also played baseball very well, too, until his freshman year of high school. Gerald always had a lot of friends. People liked him. Though he considered himself not shy, he was didn’t feel he was out going, either. “I was afraid of the dark until almost high school. Don’t really know why, but was.”
Gerald says he started running in 6th grade, looking forward to all the Field Day events. He says he seemed better at longer distances compared to his friends. But the moment of truth came when he was cut from the basketball team his freshman year. It was a blessing in disguise because he then ran a 5:15 mile for the PE exam. “The coach asked me what I was doing in PE. With a sad face I said, ‘I got cut from basketball.’” Gerald’s destiny was then written. He says it was there that he became the Gerald you see today. (Note: He would start biking in a few years, but he wouldn’t begin swimming for another 22 years.)
“When I started running…well I was on the team in 8th grade. I did not really run, and it showed, because I finished last in the mile of about 20 kids at the beginning of the season. Many people don’t know that. When I tell them they just laugh. At the time it was the end of my world. I remember the conversation with my dad like it was yesterday. My parents told me I shouldn’t be a sprinter, instead a miler. I had court speed but not sprinter speed. I was an endurance person. None of my friends could ever keep up with me on longer things. So I chose the mile.
“With my eyes filled with tears, my dad then shifted, and told me if I wanted to get better I would have to work at it like I did my studies. It then clicked on me that I was just on the team and not really working towards anything but a status. Well I redeemed myself and ended up 5th at the district meet that year. I did not run my freshman year in high school until I got cut from basketball. There are so many times where his words have stuck in my mind that make me who I am today.”
“I ended up doing the 800 meters and the mile. I did the two mile from time to time, along with cross country.”
He began biking, while attending Clear Lake High School, to get around town, to and from school.
“Yes, in high school it was more of a way of transportation to save on what then was enormous gas prices of $1.25 [per gallon] with a car that got just over 10 miles per gallon. [It also helped me] pass time when I was too tired to run. I rode everywhere on my Nishiki 10-Speed. It was the ticket. I continued to ride that bike in college. My college buddies and I decided to do a triathlon my freshman year in the spring of ’83.”
He graduated from UT – Austin, 1986, with a degree in computer science.
Gerald was 19 when he did his first triathlon, an Olympic distance event (1.2 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 10K run) with an open water swim. “It was at that time I started spending all my spare pocket change to get shorts, helmet, and such. …Wow! What was I thinking? It took me 50 minutes to complete 1,000 meters. The canoe guy chased me down. I was headed out to sea, well, lake. What a mistake but I did it and was hooked. People ask me, what was I doing? My reply, ‘I was drowning and no one would save me.’ I can now do that same swim in 15-17 minutes.”
Seven-time Hawaiian Ironman qualifier AHMED ZAHER described him this way: “Gerald is one of the nicest people I know. Ten years ago I ran a 15K at the lake and that is the first time I saw Gerald. He was coming back when I was still way behind heading to the turn round. I thought, ‘Wow, this guy runs beautiful.’ Ten years later, I still say the same thing every time I see him running. He’s a great guy. I will be happy for him when he beats me. I say when because his work ethic will get him there and much more.”
“Ahmed has challenged me,” responded Gerald, “in so many ways I thought I could not handle. His knowledge is overwhelming. His friendship is special because we are in the same age group, we talk trash and shake hands at the end of the day. One of the people I look to for advice.”
He remembers the first time he shaved his body down to race. It happened in 2004. The year before, he remembers placing in his first triathlon ever. He had placed in running events before, but at the 2003 Tom Landry Triathlon he won 3rd in his age group. That was the start of the inspiration to “shave down.” In 2004, he felt he had to take the next step, “to get all that hair so I could be faster.”
“I bought a special girly razor for the task. I actually still use the same type today. It did not seem like a big deal, but it took me forever. I did it in the shower and after the first leg and a few nicks, I proceeded to the second leg with a bit more experience under my belt. Wow, what an ordeal! Ladies, I am sure it is a task. But, nothing like the barbed wire on my legs.”
Next was his chest, which was simple he says because he didn’t have a lot of hair. “It felt very weird the first time I shaved my head as well. Very smooth and as the air passed over my skin, it was very cooling. So out of the shower and in the light, I could see I did not do a very good job around my knee and shin areas. There just is not much meat on the bones to get the hair trimmed easily. All in all, it was not too bad. I was excited because of the speed I would gain. That is how I justified it to myself, even if it wasn’t true.”
Gerald’s dad was his biggest influence, and he calls OJ Simpson his hero while growing up. “I wanted to play football but my parents would not let me.” He summarizes the circle of life in explaining his dad.
“It goes way back. I did not realize it until I was an adult. It is funny how that works. My kids are telling me the same things. My dad coached all of my sports teams growing up. Basketball, baseball, Boy Scouts. I always saw him working, but somehow he was still there for me. As a kid you don’t realize how much this means. It was not until I was older and doing the same things for my kids that I realized how much it had influenced me.”
His heroes now? The physically challenged (“It reminds me of the many blessings passed to me every day.”), and the armed services. “I love our troops that protect us. It is through their protection that [we have] the freedom to do the things we love. I do not have a concept at all what they go through for us. My grandfather was in the military. I tell them thank you every time I see them.”
Although he thinks Dallas has some great athletic talent and races, he says his favorite triathlon is Shreveport’s River Cities. “It is so festive and fun. Even while being fun there is a lot of competition there to race against. Not to mention all the SWAG you get.”
“I think Dallas is very competitive. It has grown tremendously over the years. I know other areas produce some very good talent as well, but I like the talent mix in Dallas. Its [support] could be better. Dallas is so fast paced. Everyone is in a hurry; they don’t consider the runners or cyclists doing their thing.”
Gerald’s longest ever training days show his predilection for endurance and his love of training to be his best. His longest swim has been the 2.4 miles at Ironman distance races. Gerald’s longest bike ride is at 120 miles. The most miles he runs in a week is 60.
On April 5 of this year, he set a PR at the Lonestar Half Ironman Triathlon (1.2m swim/56m bike/13.1m run) of four hours, 44 minutes, a fast time. Later, June 24, he went 4:48 at the Kansas 70.3 Half Ironman Triathlon, pr-ing his half marathon run at 1:27. The Wisonsin Ironman was Sept 13. After that? “I’ll sprinkle in some Olympic triathlon distance races and most likely run the half marathon at The Dallas White Rock Marathon.
A typical week for Gerald is:
track workout, 5-6 miles
bike one hour recovery/easy ride
bike intervals or hill repeats, 1-1:30 hr
run 10-30 min
tempo/fartlek run, 6-8 miles
an evening recovery ride
bike 2-6 hours
run 10-30 min
Gerald lets loose philosophically. “At the most basic level, working out – swimming, biking, and running, means good health to me. They just happen to be the parts of triathlon, but I value my health. I value being able to keep my body healthy by cross training. The combination of the three is a very nice balance for the body. It is great therapy for me. When I am done training, my mind is clear. It provides time for me to sort out issues on my mind.”
Usually, he’s thinking of “family, friends and life,” he says. “I am very competitive and lay out very aggressive goals. While it is very strenuous, I still maintain the balance and enjoy it. It’s fun. Or, what I call, ‘Sick Fun!’”
“He believes in his stuff,” says CHUCK HOBBS when asked about Gerald’s coaching, “which is critical, as long as that stuff is well-grounded. I don’t know if anyone is really tireless, but he will take the time to work with folks who are not as far along in the sport as he is, which is the real measure. Any sport only has durability as long as beginners feel welcome and can progress in a positive environment. Some people shy away from working with these people and some gravitate towards them. To quote a fine (there is no other kind) country song ‘That’s the measure of a man. Gerald’s a straight shooter, may be nice to a fault. Well grounded, solid. It’s hard to be a good family man and be a jerk. His longevity speaks for itself, and is as big a deal as his excellent race results. What most fail to see is how much work goes into getting results. No matter the sport, it never fails to amaze me how people want to credit genetics for the success of others and blame genetics for their lack of the same. It’s not. It’s work. So kudos to anyone willing to put in the time to meet their goals.”
“Chuck stood up for me,” Gerald said, “when some stuff happened. He is a great person. I still keep in touch with him from time to time.”
Though KHAI HARBUT is one of his race buddies, his training partners come from the racing team he’s assembled, Negative Split Racing (NSR, negativesplitracing.com). “It is very rare I am out training with just a few.”
On his web site, he says, “It is my goal to provide quality training and guidance as it pertains to the sport of triathlon. I love giving back to a sport that has been so good to me. While being a competitive athlete is a part of my DNA, my biggest accomplishments come from the athletes that I coach. Through coaching I have aided in more race finishes, personal bests, and world qualifications than I will ever achieve as an athlete.”
Gerald started NSR after leaving another team. “When I coached with Fit2Train, it was my intention someday to be coaching full time. Then an opportunity came that I could not pass up.” The name “Negative Split”, which means doing the second half of a single distance faster than the first half, was inspired by his dad.
The team, he says, “is for the athletes and, in return, for me. Again, I love giving back to a sport that has been so good to me.” Gerald also volunteers at events and speaks to groups and clubs. The team includes runners and cyclists, but is made up of triathletes mostly.
Gerald makes sure the athletes with NSR have organized workouts, will not be judged but encouraged, and will have fun while training. “If you don’t enjoy it you must evaluate why you are doing it. I love working out with the team and sharing my knowledge. I love seeing them get to the next level. I also learn from them by being with them on a regular basis. I know everyone’s name. We are still a smaller club but the personal touch is one I cherish and value.”
Currently, NSR has teamed up with two other triathlon clubs (Texas Triple Threat and Gorilla Multisport) to offer more group work-outs, camaraderie, and race simulations.
“I have known Gerald for a while,” TODD CODISH, owner of Texas Triple Threat, said. “He was in the Masters swim class I did at Telos. He was a late bloomer in triathlon. He did not swim very well, but was obviously a good athlete. I think his size and strength-to-weight ratio [Gerald is 5’8”, 152 lbs] was a big factor for him becoming as good as he had become. Of course, a crazy 60+ Vo2 Max does not hurt either! We’ve measured two over 60 in the past few years.”
“You have to know Todd,” Gerald continues down the list. “His methods are different then some. That is what makes him Todd. I get along well with him. Our friendship is very good.” And about your oxygen up take? “My VO2 is 62 on the bike. I don’t know if that is high…” Uh, yes, Gerald. It is.
His favorite moments describe the perfect day for him. “Roll out of bed before the sun comes up on a cool, crisp morning. Lake setting or wooded area. I love seeing the sun come up while I am running. Ideally about an hour and half run is best. Then add in a little rain to the mix. It is so peaceful to run in the rain. Very tranquil in my mind.”
His thoughts of training at White Rock Lake resemble this kind of day. “I absolutely love training at White Rock. I love to run and I do it for me. I miss being down there. I don’t get down there much anymore. I miss the mornings getting down there in the dark with the smell of nature all around. I could hear the birds waking in the morning. I would glance out at the lake and see the mirror reflection in the water on a glassy smooth lake. We would start out on our run to see the sun begin to peak above the tree line. It was always a good day. So I love training at the lake. I love racing around the lake as well. The Big D 30K is one of my favorites. It is a little smaller, but I love it.”
He also dreams of qualifying for the Ironman world championships in Hawaii. “I plan on continuing to race 70.3 events [half Ironman triathlons] all over the world. At some point I will need to do some events that have Kona slots to fulfill my goal. In time…”
But his future plans also include his team. “My business plan is to be coaching and/or leading my team full time. There are many variables that come into play for this to happen.”
On a more personal level, Gerald was crushed when he heard his favorite performer had died recently. He and his daughter almost cried over the phone with the news that Michael Jackson had passed away.
He has worked as a Senior Staff Systems Engineer “or something like that,” at Amdahl/Fujitsu for 19 years and attends Fellowship church in Grapevine.
When I asked him about hobbies outside of triathlons, he replied, “Is eating a hobby?” A grin appeared. He loves eating at Macaroni Grill. “I love to go camping or be outdoors.” Gerald recently finished reading LANCE ARMSTRONG’s book, It’s Not About The Bike. “I found it very inspiring.” Though he likes shopping in sporting goods stores, his favorites are “Luke’s and REI type stores,” he says.
I’m already looking forward to his next race report!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerald raced to a 12:05:46 at the Wisconsin Ironman he was training for during this story.