Posted On April 1, 2007 By In Interviews And 1098 Views

Sting Ray

He has swum a mile in 16 minutes and change; biked 25 miles during a triathlon (after a swim, without drafting) in “about 58 minutes,” he says; and run a 5K in 16:20 (5:16 per mile average pace). He won two consecutive overalls at the now defunct Tom Landry triathlon, was 2nd overall at the elite Memphis in May triathlon in 2000, finished 20th overall at the Boston ITU Pan-America Qualifier (a prelude to the Olympics), and won almost all of the triathlons he has done in the last three years. “Not really, anything too special,” he comments. He is on the short list of DFW’s fastest, most talented triathletes.

Ian’t Slow!


Swim: 100 yds – 47 seconds; 500 yds – 4:40;

1650 yds – 16:12

Run: 10K – 33:45; 5K – 16:20

Bike: 40K Time Trial – 58:00

Olympic Distance Triathlon (1500 meter swim, 40K bike, 10K run): 1 hour, 48 minutes

IAN RAY is intelligent, good looking, and single, his swimmer’s body taught, lean and relaxed when hanging with fellow competitors, talking about races or admiring the attractive brunette on the pool deck.

At 5’9” 155 lbs, he’s “one crazy, dude,” he told me wearing a Cheshire Cat grin. (After someone insulted the honor of a girlfriend, he “head-butted someone at a bar in Florida. Broke his nose, and the skin on it ripped the width of his nose.”) He jams to the band Sublime and enjoys Kobe’s Steakhouse. but appreciates most rock, classic rock, and country music, along with dining at Louie’s Pizza and Chuy’s Mexican restaurant.

Shy as an eight year old boy, it seems all he knows how to do in the company of strangers is smile. The attractive brunette admiring him as we take pictures doesn’t seem to mind, however.

Born in New York City, March 25, 1976, he was schooled locally at Greenhill and RL Turner high schools, graduating two years before one “Robert Matthew Van Winkle,” otherwise known as rapper “Vanilla Ice.”

His dad, a re-modeler, and his mom, author of “Super Women Do It Less,” Ian also has a sister, Pam, who is a year older. She works for Blue Cross Blue Sheild, now, and lives in Carrollton. Together they grew up in Farmers Branch, participating in tennis (“I lacked concentration.”) and swim meets. His fun days were spent skiing in Colorado or water skiing on nearby lakes. (He started water skiing when he was just four years old. “I swam summers from six yrs., on.” He began swimming with a club from the time he was 12 and upwards. I learned very young.”)

Though he did a lot of sports as most boys do, he says he wasn’t interested in the stats of players like others. He also spent a great deal of time reading and was a budding artist. But he harbored his greatest fear. “I was afraid my parents would die. Pretty gruesome.”

Ray’s dad and mom were his big influences, as well as a swim coach named “Mook.” “My dad always made everything really fun and was always there. We used to go to the club father-son race and put on matching Speedo’s on the 4th of July.” As was then, his dad is still his biggest hero, even though his great-grandfather was once the prime minister of Australia. (Sir Edmund Barton, 1901 to 1903; “[Barton] retired in September 1903 after being appointed a Justice of the High Court. He remained on the bench until his death, ruling on the constitutional validity of much of the early federal legislation and generally judging so as to promote a balance between federal and state power. He was knighted in 1902.”)

Growing up, his quiet and shy ways got in the way, he says. He ran a landscaping business that “helped bring me out of that,” he says with another nervous smile. “I am kind of a loner, of sorts.”

By eighth grade, he began running for the school. “I just wanted to try it out. I did well, but swimming took too much time, and school was too intense.” As a kid, he did the Azalea 10K and the Turkey Trot. “I used to ask my dad when I could go run with him, and he used to tell me, ‘when your legs are as long as mine.’”

About the same time, he also began riding his bike around town. “But I did not know about clubs, teams, and training.” But he did enjoy the bike. “I liked to ride out into the country. I also really liked the bikes, themselves. All the neat parts. I would have quit the sport if I had not bought a bike.”

By 12 years of age, he had done a few triathlons. “I did a couple but saw that I was slow at swimming. I figured it was the hardest thing to be good at. So I joined the club team.” Ray began to bud. His favorite race was at a high school swim meet where he went 10 seconds faster in the 500 yard free style, coming in at 4 minutes and 40 seconds.

Ray graduated from SMU on a full academic scholarship in 1998 with a mechanical and environmental engineering degree. (His studies included a lot of research on global warming. “It is definitely occurring,” he says.) No easy feat. While in school, he guesses he swam as much as 20,000 meters a day, lettering all four years, 1994-1998.

Then he moved to Florida, near his folks, training, racing, and working for the next year and a half.

With all of his athletic talent, Ray applied and was accepted to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “At the recruiting camp, I out swam everyone. On a ‘brick’ workout [of three times biking 10 miles and running two miles], I went 4 minutes, 42 seconds at the end [for the last mile].” His place was secured. He was at the OTC from March 2001 to September 2002.

Though it was a great experience, he says, “The training center was a strange world.  Not a lot of interaction with the outside world. All the triathletes were pretty cool. They were not that into it, but they were really good. We trained three or four times a day and every 10th day we would only have to swim for 2 hours.”

The following year, 2003, Ray turned professional, racing a lot of the big races nationally and internationally. He also gained a sponsorship contract with Brooks shoes. “I thought that was pretty cool,” he says of meeting some of the biggest names in triathlons. “I have met a lot of the big names. I also dated some of them. I also got my [butt] kicked by some of them. I beat the living crap out of some of them while swimming in tri’s.” He gave up his professional license last year. “I was pro for 4 years.”

Ray met MARK ASHLEY, 29, a runner, in the fall of 2003, through Terry Jessup’s running club, the METROPLEX STRIDERS.  “[Ray] and I used to run a lot together, mostly around White Rock Lake. We still jump in with Terry’s group on Tuesday nights. Ian knows how to work hard at training across three different sports. He’s a tough competitor when he wants to be, but quick to share helpful tidbits on training, injuries, etc.  He’ll help anyone. Absolutely anybody. It doesn’t matter. I feel like he knows a lot about fitness, swimming for SMU for four years, then living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as a Brooks triathlete. Most importantly, Ian’s just a good guy to loop the lake with on a Sunday morning.”

Besides liking the area’s races, “I think there are some really top notch athletes, in all sports and triathlon combined. Lots of competitive people having a good time. The courses are nice, but nothing like when I lived in Florida or Colorado. I think there is a lot of area support [for swimmers, bikers, and runners]. For a city where everyone likes to stay inside the mall and drive in AC, there are a lot of athletic people.”

Ray’s greatest fear was realized a few years ago when his dad died of a heart attack while, of all things, swimming. “A defibrillator would have helped.” Since then, Ray’s mom has raised money to put defibrillators in every sport facility in St. Petersburg. Last summer, one of those defibrillators saved an elderly man at the same pool where Ray’s dad died. “He was my hero. He joined a triathlon club when they moved to Florida. I flew in to surprise him at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon race.” Also a carpenter and remodeler, he was “a super tough, really nice, guy. I think, when my dad died, I kind of faded a little mentally in sports. He was probably one of the few people that I cared about their opinion.” With his eyes, Ray looks like his dad. He got the opportunity to work with his dad immediately after college, installing kitchens. “It was one of the best 18 months of my life.” One of the results of the death, Ray admits, is inability to plan. “I don’t plan a lot of stuff ahead of time any more. I don’t know why, but I’m not as into [training, racing] as much.”

In 2007, Ray would like to do a half Ironman triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run).

In any given week, Ray swims 15-16 miles, bikes 200 miles, and runs 50 miles. It’s a chance for him get outside, he says, “appreciating the freedom to move.” To help keep his self motivated, he reads books about the sports that interest him; swimming, biking, and running. Once out the door, Ray usually doesn’t wear headphones, especially for his runs. “I have an Ipod shuffle and take it on the bike sometimes.” He prefers to concentrate on his form. During races, he says, “you have to focus on the tasks that you can control, not the end outcome. If you do everything right, you will win or go for a PR.” His regular training partners include KEITH PILLERS, MARK ASHLEY, TERRY JESSUP’s group, and until recently, ALISON SEMRAU, whom he used to date.

“He’s mildly eccentric,” say Pillers, 33, a cyclist and triathlete. “He’s a secret genius. Very self effacing. Ray doesn’t gloat.” Together, they hang out “regularly,” continues Pillers. “That often includes long rides, and occasional swims. I rarely run with him ‘cause I hold him back.” Pillers considers Ray a solid runner and swimmer, who’s good on the bike. “Balanced,” Pillers says. “Focused. He’s prime example of how hard work can trump talent. On the [SMU] swim team, he was a ‘walk-on’ who became an important part of the team. He has a lot of drive. He’s real good at multi tasking.” But as a friend, Pillers says, he’s down to earth. “I would describe him as disciplined, talented, as much intellectually as athletically, and modest. He’s not one dimensional. That’s ultra-important and refreshing as a triathlete. Our friendship doesn’t revolve around triathlon. Ian’s a great person.” As someone who spends a lot of time with Ray, Pillers says Ray losing his dad was a huge impact. “There are still reverberations. [His dad] was still young. Ian is Ian because of his parents. It’s hard for him to be committed to any one thing.” The two are considering a mid-June training excursion in Göteborg, Sweden.

One of his competitors who was habitually right behind was MARCELO DE SILVA. “Unfortunately, I can recognize his back better than anybody else’s.” Silva, 41, an elite swimmer and good triathlete, gave him a compliment. “He’s a great swimmer as well as very friendly to talk with after a race.”

Ray has a heart for the under dog (“I speak up about Bill Clinton.”), as well as admiringAll the athletes who don’t quite make a living, but keep trying.” Little does he know those who admire him and those whom he inspires to try harder.

Ian’t Got Time to Rest


Monday – easy run and swim

Tues – hard bike, hard run

Wed – long bike and swim,

Thurs – hard bike, hard run

Friday – run and swim

Saturday – long ride with a run

Sunday – long run and weights

His favorite races in triathlons include Boston’s ITU series, New York City Triathlon Pro Nationals, and St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, FL. His favorite moments are when he is riding in the mountains of Colorado, talking with friends, and racing on the Florida beaches. He complains to me that he is out of shape right now.

Being so active also has a price. Ray has endured broken fingers (14 yrs. old, doing the backstroke), broken hand (24 yrs. old, during an alumni swim meet), getting dehydrated, bleeding internally, inflamed IT bands, separating and tearing his shoulder and cars hitting him. “None, really,” he says. “Nothing really big.”

He was hit by a car that decided to turn right, instead of left, he says. “I smacked [his car] going 25 mph, completely dented the right rear door, separated my shoulder, and had a slight concussion. The guy was pointing his 70-year-old finger in my face. I kept yelling at him to bite [me].”

After getting his professional engineering license in Mechanical and Structural engineering, Ray has recently started his own business in carpentry, Green Building and Design,  www.evergreenstructr- “We do design, build, engineering, landscaping, and handyman.” They also do remodeling. “We have done some really good projects already.”

Outside of that and his training, he is still involved in his art, (“I like to paint the most, but I used to do everything.”), attending St. Mary Immaculate when he can. “I try to be a good guy.” He works at being close with his family as well as keeping his friendships alive.

Ray talks in fast, clipped sentences, all the while, still smiling. Possibly nervous while standing with the cute brunette, they have struck up a conversation after the pictures for this story were taken and introductions are made. They each briefly talk about their swimming times and experiences. Ever polite, Ray must excuse himself from her to start his swim practice with DAM while his buddies give him the eye and chide him for making the acquaintance of such an attractive woman.

Back in his element of water, he leads the number one fastest lane of swimmers, probably chasing the ghost of his dad, his hero.

Chris Phelan has written, laid out, photographed, and published The Phast Times News since 2001. He’s crisscrossed Texas on his bike three times, swam 5 miles across Lake Ray Hubbard three times, completed three Ironman triathlons, and has represented the US in completion three times, and run with the Olympic Torch. He maintained All-American status for five years and has also biked across the country, 3600 miles in 30 days. The running/triathlon coach has PR’s of 2:27 marathon, 15:40 5K, 3:55 at the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred, and 10:00:52 Ironman. Chris is the only person to have won overall and Master’s at Dallas’ Crosson Dannis road racing series, DRC road racing series, and the USAT/SMW duathlon series. In 1988 he began Dallas’ oldest track workout, 1998 started north Texas’ first treadmill class, and 2003 he founded the world-wide Ride Of Silence. He’s been twice nominated Master’s Road Runner of the Year, highlighted in a variety of magazines and is frequently asked to speak at camps and organizations about fitness. Outside of swimming, biking, and running, Chris has summited several mountains including Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro.