In 2013, 45-year old Jim Dandro volunteered at XTERRA Whitewater. He had never competed in an XTERRA race and was curious about what it entailed. What he found there humbled him.
“I thought, look at all these fit athletes. It totally bothered me that I was middle aged and not athletic.”
His experience at XTERRA Whitewater lit a fire in his belly. He started running and taking swim lessons. He bought a $500 bike and found some trails. In the process, he lost 50 pounds and gained enough confidence to sign up for XTERRA Key Biscayne in 2014.
“I didn’t want anyone to know I was racing,” he said about his first XTERRA experience. “So I just registered and went by myself.”
Before the race, he waded into the water with his fellow competitors and was surprised by what happened next.
“Standing in the water while they played the National Anthem, I had never felt so patriotic,” he remembers. “I was so nervous anticipating the race. But by the time I finished the swim and ran out of the water, I thought, ‘I don’t know what the rest of the race has in store for me, but I’m definitely doing this again.’”
Even though, in his mind, Dandro could “barely swim” that first year, he did five XTERRA races in the Southeast region and attracted the attention of former Mr. XTERRA and current Southeast Regional Champ Marcus Barton, who took Dandro under his wing.
“Marcus helped me so much,” said Dandro. “The XTERRA Southeast is just a great group of athletes. In 2014, I went to mountain bike races where we would all get together afterwards for a beer. I loved going to different states and seeing the same, familiar, friendly faces.”
Beer is a common thread between Dandro’s life and XTERRA. The former IT professional was laid off in 2015 and realized he didn’t want to go back. One of his hobbies was brewing beer, and he decided to create a bricks and mortar brewery in Belmont, North Carolina with some of his friends.
“We all share a love of paddling, outdoor adventures, and beer. So Riverman Brewery was formed.”
Because the brewery grew out of a love for water sports, it was natural for Dandro to host runs from the brewery as well. “People come up all the time and want to talk about this XTERRA thing,” said Dandro. And he is happy to share both his experiences and his encouragement. “Jen Bartell did XTERRA Myrtle Beach for the first time last year. I’m trying to get her to go to Hawaii now.”
2018 marks Dandro’s fifth season in XTERRA and a move to a new age group.
“This year I’m in the 50-54 age group,” said Dandro. “It’s my first season without Marcus Barton in my age group and I have every intention of winning the regional championship title so I can qualify for XTERRA Worlds. I know how hard it is to earn that spot, but I’m going to Maui. I’ll go out west to race if I have to. I might not ever get on the podium, but I’m going to do what it takes.”
Jim Dandro’s dedication is marked on both his heart and on his skin with a new tattoo that depicts a bicycle gear, all three XTERRA sports, and a few drops of blood.
“I had the artist put some blood on the tattoo because I’ve been to the ER so many times for stitches. Last year was the first year I didn’t get injured in an XTERRA race.”
“Jim is a ball-o-fun,” said Barton. “And he loves everything XTERRA. It’s been a blast to see him get faster and faster over the years and he’s made huge strides in his fitness and racing skills. His age group better watch out. This guy loves racing a lot.”
Not only is Dandro putting it all out there on the course, but he’s doing the same thing in his life. He traded in his old $500 bike and bought a Gary Fisher with front suspension. He recently got his wife excited about fitness and bought XTERRA Southeast Regional Champ Amy Carver’s bike for her.
“It’s contagious,” he said. “Once my wife saw what XTERRA did for me, she got healthy too. Now 50 looks like the new 35.”