Hans Ryham doesn't quit. Ever.
In 2016 - his first year racing XTERRA - Ryham went off course in three of his six races, adding distance and time, but he always crossed the finish line. In XTERRA Gator Terra, his chain broke halfway through the course. This is a legitimate reason to drop out of a race, but Ryham ran the rest of the way in, carrying his bike.
"My first year was a good turn of events with a bit of luck as well," said Ryham. "It was important to me to finish every race. As a result, I had a whole bunch of learning experiences."
This tenacity helped Ryham win South Central Regional Champ his rookie year in the 35-39 age group, which earned him a ticket to the XTERRA World Championship. So last October, Ryham packed up his 10-speed hardtail with its rigid fork and three inch wide tires, and got on a plane to Maui.
"I thought it would be a three and a half hour race, so I didn't bring any nutrition except Gatorade," said Ryham, a civil and petroleum engineer. A longtime swimmer, Ryham came out of the rough water swim in the top ten percent, and felt good about his odds.
"I enjoyed the wild swim," he said. "It was exciting coming out of the water having done fairly well. In the transition area, I could see that most of the bikes were still there which was very exciting. But then it all went downhill from there."
The lack of suspension on his bike made for rough going on the course. The lighter front wheel and lack of lugs on his tires didn't help him gain traction in the mud.
"I overexerted myself in the first four miles," said Ryham. "I crashed in the mud and had to stop every 400 feet to clean the mud out of my wheels. I resolved to give up as soon as I was back to the transition area."
However, once back in the transition area, Ryham changed his mind. "I decided that I could do another hour. I could trot through the mud and finish."
While it's not common for rookies to win a regional championship, it's not unheard of either - especially for someone with Ryham's background.
"I've always been active running, biking, and swimming," said Ryham. "In my late teens and early twenties I was a keen triathlete but college took precedence."
Ryham ran on the cross-country and track teams at the Colorado School of Mines, but after graduation, his work and travel schedule made it difficult to train and race.
"In 2016, I had the itch to get back into triathlons," said Ryham, who entered the 2016 XTERRA Bluebonnet undertrained.
"I really enjoyed that first race. The camaraderie is great in the XTERRA Texas races, and we are always really glad to see each other and socialize beyond Facebook and Strava. XTERRA Muleshoe and the races at Pace Bend Park will challenge anyone. It's a great, great place to be racing."
The Texas triathlons are also know for their excellent athletes, such as Kyle Grieser, a 12-time Regional Champ. Last year, Grieser was in the 30-34 bracket, but this year, he aged up and joined Ryham.
"Kyle is such a fierce competitor," said Ryham. "He inspired me to train very hard just to get close or try to win a race or two. My strength is the swim but I knew I would lose out to Kyle on the bike. My running is strong but Kyle is faster."
This year, Ryham did all of the Texas XTERRA Off-Road Series as well as XTERRA Auburn, XTERRA Blackwater, and XTERRA Gator Terra. He was thrilled that his time at XTERRA Auburn improved by 10 minutes over the previous year.
"That showed me my training was working," said Ryham, who was 5th overall at XTERRA Auburn. "It helps that we are all fiercely competitive athletes. When the gun goes off, it's on for sure."
Another thing that's on? Ryham's return to Maui.
"After every race, my daughter asks me, 'Are we going to Hawaii yet? Now I can tell her yes.'"
Just like last year, the Ryham family will travel together and enjoy the island. As for the race, Ryham is better prepared with both nutrition and different tires.
"I'll take whatever it throws at me this time. I'm keen to take it on."