Athletes seek out triathlon-tested trainer

Former professional triathlete Jim Ettenger works at Gold’s Gym with Kristina Kittelson of Fruita.

Kristina Kittelson was told she should do other activities besides bicycling after having knee surgery, so she tried swimming.

The 42-year-old Grand Junction nurse would run on the treadmill at Gold’s Gym. Soon, she began thinking it would be fun to try a triathlon.

“It was recommended that I do some other things, so I thought swimming would help,” Kittelson said. “Working out here over the winter, I started on the treadmill and realized I like running, too. That’s when I was told about Jim (Ettenger).”

Kittelson trains twice a week with Ettenger and plans to compete in her first triathlon later this year.

Ettenger knows a thing or two about triathlons.

The Tucson, Ariz., native competed in them for 10 years, four of those professionally, and was ranked as high as 13th in the nation.

“I love the sport,” Ettenger said. “It’s definitely mental, physical and sort of spiritual as well. You have to have the right mindset.”

Dan Rubenstein was looking for someone to train with when he started working out at Gold’s.

“I joined the gym when I started to do (triathlons),” the 38-year-old lawyer said. “I went through two trainers, then one day at 5 o’clock in the morning, I got a phone call from Jim. He assumed if I’m a triathlete, I would be up at 5 a.m.”

Rubenstein started competing in sprint triathlons a couple of years ago. He endured his first Olympic-distance triathlon last year and is preparing for his first half-Ironman this summer.

“It’s amazing the difference having a good trainer,” Rubenstein said. “The swim is my biggest improvement. It was taking me 26 strokes to get to the other end. Now, I’m at 13. My time has improved and I’m doing half the number of strokes. It’s truly amazing to do that.”

Ettenger trained with some of the best triathletes in the world when he was a professional.

“When I was in Boulder, I had the No. 1-ranked Olympic distance triathlete, Bill Braun, who won the national championship that year in ‘93, as my training partner,” Ettenger said. “We’d train together and go to Memphis and he’d say, ‘You’re going to kill me this weekend and beat me.’ “

Ettenger coached the Junior National Development team for two years before moving to Grand Junction with his wife a year and a half ago to be near his mother-in-law.

“Some people don’t have a background in anything,” Ettenger said. “Some people I train are already good triathletes, but are trying to get to better levels. We try to get them up to speed so they know what will happen in a race.”

Ettenger is working with about a dozen people training for events ranging from sprint triathlons to full triathlons.

“As the season progresses, more people will come back or sign up,” Ettenger said. “It’s hard to get motivated when it’s cold out.”

There appears to be enough of an interest in triathlons that a club, Grand Valley Tri Club, is being formed by Chris and Amy Reed.

“The Western Slope is great,” Ettenger said. “You have the mountains. You can ride up the (Colorado National) Monument. You can ride up to 7,000 feet. You have altitude training and a relatively low population with less pollution. It’s a good community of people.”

As interest in the sport grows, Ettenger said he suggests 12 weeks of training for sprint triathlons.

“Usually people get hooked when they start triathlons,” he said. “You’re always trying to improve on all three disciplines, so there is always something to work on. Once they do one, it’s still a guessing game.

“Kristina did a bike ride this weekend and her legs were sore. It’s different than biking (on a stationary bike). After meeting with me, they’ll look at the schedule to see when’s the next one.”


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