Health & Fitness

Swim, Bike, Run: A Family Affair

Jose Font Sr. trains in the water off Dania Beach on Sunday September 7, 2014 for the upcoming Miami Escape Tri-atholon.
Jose Font Sr. trains in the water off Dania Beach on Sunday September 7, 2014 for the upcoming Miami Escape Tri-atholon. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

For his 50th birthday, Jose F. Font climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in five days, ran a half-marathon in Tanzania the next day and then after traveling 18 hours to get back to South Florida, he competed in a triathlon.

While that may sound grueling — or maybe even a bit crazy — to some, for Font, a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, it was a matter of testing his limits.

“It’s amazing what your body can handle,” said Font, who works at Palmetto General Hospital, Hialeah Hospital and Palm Springs General Hospital. “I realized that you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Now 72 — his birthday was Wednesday — Font is testing himself again. Despite having his right hip replaced and having survived lung cancer about 10 years ago, Font will compete Sunday in the 2014 Mack Cycle Escape to Miami Triathlon, an arduous competition that involves swimming, biking and running.

Font won’t be going at it alone. He will compete in the shorter race, relay-style, with two of his five adult children, kicking the team off with the .25 mile swim along the shoreline in Biscayne Bay.

“I don’t want to push it,” said Font, who lives in Cooper City and still works full time. “It’s something we can do together and enjoy.”

Font got the relay idea about three years ago for his 70th birthday. His daughter, a children’s pediatric emergency room doctor, and his son, a lawyer in Broward County, were quick to oblige. Now it’s become a tradition.

“This is what he wanted,” said Ann Marie Font, 41, who works in the pediatric emergency room for Northwest Medical Center in Margate. “I think it’s good for all of us.”

His son Jose P. Font, 37, said he knows how much it means to his dad for them to do this together.

“He doesn’t ask for much,” he said. “This is the least we could do.”

The Escape to Miami Triathlon, which began 10 years ago, takes competitors anywhere from about two hours to more than four hours to finish. The Fonts will compete in the shorter, Sprint category, where athletes swim a .25mile swim, followed by a 13-mile bike ride over the Julia Tuttle Causeway into Miami Beach and then back and a 3.1- mile run over the MacArthur Causeway to Jungle Island and back.

Those competing in the Olympic course will have it a bit tougher. They will be ferried from Margaret Pace Park off Biscayne Boulevard to an island in Biscayne Bay. They will swim back to shore, about .9miles. When they get out of the water, they will hop onto their bikes for a 24.8-mile bike ride over the Julia Tuttle Causeway to Miami Beach, crossing it twice and going over eight bridges. They then will run a 6.2-mile race, crossing over the MacArthur Causeway to Star Island and back.

The race draws more than 2,000 people, of all ages and abilities.

“People, nowadays, are finding all different ways of staying healthy,” said Race Director Javier Sanchez. “It’s great to see people of different ages compete.”

On a recent Sunday morning, Font and son and daughter trained at Dania Beach Pier, where the elder Font generally swims between one-quarter and one-half mile.

Donning his black bathing suit, goggles, his watch to time his swim and a medical ID bracelet, he easily made his way into the choppy water. He said he always gets an early start — at about 6 a.m. — and is generally home early enough to spend time with his wife of more than 40 years.

“I’m always busy, so I have to fit it in,” said Font.

Font, who was born in Guatemala, moved to Mexico City with his family when he was 5. At 23, he graduated from medical school and went to New York for training. From there he went to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he met his future wife, Athina. The couple married in 1971 and in 1976 they moved to South Florida when Font landed a job at Mercy Hospital. Three months later, he switched to his current hospitals.

When they moved to Miami Lakes, he joined a running club and liked it. In the 1980s, a nurse who was into running introduced him to triathlons.

His first triathlon was in 1982. He has since participated in more than 40 triathlons and 14 marathons, including the original marathon in Greece and two half-Iron Man competitions, a long-distance triathlon that covers about 70 miles through, running, bicycling and swimming.

He’s managed this schedule despite having some health setbacks. When he was about 60, he went in for a routine check-up and the doctor told him something didn’t look right in his X-ray for one of his lungs. So Font ordered his own CAT scan. Turns out the lung in question was fine, but he saw a spot on the other lung. He ordered it removed, even though other doctors said there was no need to worry. It turned out the spot was cancerous. He caught it before it had a chance to spread.

“I got very lucky,” said Font, who didn’t undergo chemo or radiation because he caught it so early.

Several years later he began working more hours after his partner retired and he started to feel pain in his hip. None of the tests showed anything, but Font stopped running and only swam or road a bike. At 68, he had his right hip replaced. Within 48 hours he was walking and slowly got back to swimming and cycling.

“I have always been very active,” he said. “So I didn’t let it stop me.”

Font’s longtime fitness routine has slowed down his aging process, said Dr. Mark Caruso, who practices general medicine for Baptist Health Medical Group.

“Staying active keeps you young, we preach that all the time,” Caruso said. “I say go 100 miles per hour as long as you can.”

But there has to be balance, he said.

“Your orthopedic system gets the wear and tear,” he said. “We advocate more moderate exercise.”

The fitness director at the University of Miami, Tony Musto, said moderate exercise for 30 minutes, five times a week, is enough to reap the health benefits.

He said the most important thing is to “listen to your body.”

“People make the mistake of thinking more is better,” he said. “That’s not always the case.”

Ann Marie Font said she grew up watching her dad be active.

“This is all we saw growing up,” saying she remembers seeing him run in the New York City Marathon when she was 13. “I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

In high school, she ran track and started doing triathlons when she was about 19. In college she was involved in the triathlon club at the University of Miami. She has run in marathons, triathlons and obstacle courses. Doing the triathlon with her dad is another way to make memories.

“I can tell how happy it makes him,” she said before taking a jog.

Font’s son, also named Jose, competed in triathlons and bicycling races throughout his life. Before he was 13, he was named one of the best triathletes in Florida for his age. He said his parents always took them on adventurous vacations, including to Costa Rica and Africa.

Today, he fits cycling into his busy work schedule as a civil defense attorney, a lesson on balancing he learned from his dad: “He is a great role model.”

Resources

For more information about future Mack Cycle Escape to Miami Triathlons, visit escapetomiamitriathlon.com

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