In 2011, Paul Urbanowicz took his 8-year old son Joe on a hike with some other fathers and their sons.
“They all wanted to go fishing,” said Paul. “But I wanted to take Joe to see a waterfall.”
The pair started out walking, but soon, Joe began to run. “We ran about a mile and a half to the waterfall and Joe wanted to run back too,” said Paul. “I thought, ‘I gotta get this kid into trail running!’”
Today, Joe Urbanowicz is 14, and he and his dad are on their way from their home in Atlanta to XTERRA Oak Mountain in Pelham, Alabama.
“My dad and I did the Trail Run at XTERRA Nationals in Ogden, a few years ago, but I really liked watching the off-road triathlon,” said Joe. “I had been on the swim team until I was 11, and I knew I could run. I really wanted to try mountain biking.”
Today, Paul can’t even ride with his son. “I can’t keep up with him anymore, which is why the XTERRA community is so great. Last year, when we went to ride the course at Oak Mountain, I reached out to XTERRA and they hooked us up with Casey Fannin,” said Paul, referring to Mr. XTERRA 2010 and the three-time XTERRA Age Group World Champion. “I didn’t even know who Casey was at the time. I rode with Casey’s wife and Casey rode with Joe and talked to him about racing and training. Joe was thrilled.”
Paul puts a lot of his energy into healthy living and training for XTERRA races, but he puts more energy into being a dad. An accountant by training, Paul started his own manufacturing company and sold it two years ago. Because Paul’s wife also has her own company, the couple decided that Paul would be the stay at home parent once Joe was in middle school.
“I’ve done a lot of things,” said Paul. “And being a dad is the thing I’m best at.”
Joe appreciates having a dad to ride with after school. “It’s kind of a luxury,” he says. “Other kids’ dads want to hunt so they have to hunt. But I want to ride, so my dad says he will ride with me.”
There are other benefits as well. “My dad has to do all the chores and get the food,” says Joe, “But since he started staying home, the garage is finally clean and organized so we can get to our gear faster.”
The two already have camping and biking trips planned for this summer, and Paul is thrilled to have this time with his son. “When you’re 10 miles out in the middle of nowhere and it’s quiet and you’re on your bike looking over a ridge,” says Paul. “You aren’t thinking about regular life and you aren’t thinking about school. It opens things up so you can have the conversations you might never have if you were back home, doing what you always do.”
“We like to talk,” said Joe. “We talk about camping and mountain biking. Sometimes we disagree. I like bikes to be lighter and faster and he likes things to be more durable. Like, he’s riding this $700 bike that’s so slow and I want him to get a new bike. I’m as concerned about him getting better and faster and stronger as he is of me.”
XTERRA Oak Mountain will be the biggest race Joe has ever done, both in terms of distance and number of people. But his dad knows he’ll be fine. “The first time you see that little face scrunch up, it’s hard,” says Paul about encouraging our children to do hard things. “But those little trials prepare them for life. Before every race, I just say, ‘Be smooth, be smart, be safe.’”
“Oh man,” says Joe. “That 1500 meter swim will be brutal. I’m 14 and have a limited fuel supply so I’m going to have to pace myself. But I know I can do well on the bike, and the run is kind of my thing.”
“I never want to be that dad who overwhelms their kid,” said Paul. “But Joe seems to love it. I just want him to know that when a door opens, you should at least look through it, so you don’t miss anything.”