Imagine for a minute what a 3,200-mile bike ride would be like. Could you handle it? Santa Barbara resident Thomas Jessop is determined to prove he can. Here’s the kicker: He’s 14.
That’s right: fourteen years old and already just a few days into a cross-country journey that started June 6 and will take him from Santa Barbara to St. Petersburg, Florida.
Jessop is embarking on this trip to raise money for Half Homeless, a charity that offers solutions to those who live in their cars; New Beginnings, a counseling center for those of all ages that helps to guide people through troubled situations and relationships; and to promote the “Let’s Move” program that aims to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity.
“Well, a few times we had to depend on charities to put food on the table,” Jessop said about why he is going on the mission. “I wanted to give back.”
Jessop clearly has a good head on his shoulders, but to make this mission even more impressive and admirable, Jessop is competing in five IronKids triathlons along the way. “I can do it (the trip) in a month, but because I’m doing the triathlons and because of the race schedule, it will take longer,” Jessop said.
Jessop’s father, Lynn, said that his son’s interest in triathlons began about two years ago. “We were flipping through the channels and saw the Ironman competitions on some sports channel,” said the elder Jessop. “He said, ‘I want to do that.’ And I just said, ‘Okay, why not?’”
Shortly after, they went to a 24 Hour Fitness and got Thomas a membership. From then on, he was doing push-ups, pull-ups, running, yoga, and various other activities. “We found that preparation to be a lot more than what most people do, so he’s a lot stronger than most kids his age,” Lynn said.
An IronKids triathlon has participants ranging from ages six to 15 and offers age-appropriate distances for different age groups. Because Jessop is 14, he qualifies as a “Senior” in the competition and will partake in a 300-yard swim, an eight-mile bike ride, and a two-mile run. Jessop competed for the first time May 23, 2010 and finished 42nd of 60 participants in his age group. The five IronKids competitions will take place in Avon, Colo., Boulder, Colo., Oklahoma City, Okla., Alpharetta, Georg., and St. Petersburg, Fla. After the final competition in St. Petersburg, the city also hosts the IronKids National Championships on October 3.
When deciding on how to get from one competition to the next, the concept of Jessop riding his bike across the country seemed like a reasonable method. “We were sitting down trying to figure out how he would get to all the IronKids triathlons,” Lynn said, “and we just decided he that could ride his bike.”
Jessop’s trip will take him through 11 states or so, and he said he hopes to get 70-100 miles covered each day. Jessop will be followed by his father and his 13-year-old brother, David, in their bus and they will act as his support group. In preparation for the ride, Jessop has been training with former Olympic cyclist Rory O’Reilly and with the Echelon Santa Barbara Cycling Club for the last three months. “Twice a week he’s been going out and training, working on his riding skills, building his muscles, and different kinds of drills and techniques with Echelon,” Lynn said. “And three days a week, they would all go on longer rides.” Despite all the training, “his coach still thinks he’s a little crazy for doing this, though,” Lynn said with a laugh.
Not only is Jessop in pristine physical condition for his age, but he is also very intelligent. Thanks to a certified computer-based program, Jessop was able to earn his high school diploma by the age of 12 and it only took two years to accomplish. “He just sailed through it,” his father said.
Unfortunately, Jessop will not be allowed into a junior college until he is 16, so until then, he has to make the most of his time. For this summer at least, Jessop will be donating his time to help charity and spread awareness of being physically fit. And Lynn said that his son’s work ethic is one to be admired. “He’s the first one started in the morning, and he’s the last one to quit,” his father said. “Nobody is going to work harder than him. If you tell him to go move a mountain, he’s not going to stop trying until he collapses or until the mountains move.”
In addition to speaking highly of Thomas’ work ethic, Lynn said that both of his sons always make him proud to be their father. “It would be hard to be more proud,” Lynn said. “Both my boys are just amazing. They make me the proudest dad I could be. And Thomas — he’s hard working, he’s smart, and he’s got a big heart. What more could a parent ask for?”
If you would like to follow Thomas on his trip or donate to his cause, you can do so on his website: TTAA.us.