He had just lost his shoe after a 1,500-meter swim in the Thornapple River in Grand Rapids, Mich., when Ocean View’s Lance Fargo looked up to see his wife, Paula Fargo, holding up four fingers.
It was that number 4 — signaling the four triathletes ahead of him headed into the bike portion of the USA Triathlon Clydesdale national championships on Sunday, June 11 — that would give Fargo the motivation he needed to eventually bring home the fifth national title of his career.
“When I saw her holding up four fingers, I knew at that point that the pressure was on,” said Fargo. “With my shoe falling off, I knew I needed to go out there and really lay it down on the bike to take the lead.”
The mounting mishap had cost Fargo nearly 40 seconds on what has historically been his strongest event. But, despite the setback, he still managed to set a new personal record and more than make up for the lost time by the time the bike segment’s 40K was through.
“I must have been riding angry,” said Fargo with a laugh. “I was trying to really hammer the bike even more than usual, because I knew that it was my best chance for a comeback.”
Then, after a this-time smooth shoe exchange headed into the 10K run, Fargo found himself alone, left to battle only the elements on his way to his “one for the thumb” national title — no one left ahead of him, no more fingers left to hold up.
“At that point, it was just like, ‘Let’s just go out and finish this,’” he said, noting the high temperatures and heavy winds in Grand Rapids on Sunday. “I was definitely feeling the heat toward the end of the race on the run segment — it was probably the most challenging of my three trips out there, in terms of conditions.”
He’d eventually clock in with a time of 2:23:26 in the Olympic-distance triathlon to earn a gold medal and take the top spot on the podium for the fifth time during his career and third title at Grand Rapids.
After falling short of a national title in 2015, Fargo had used his disappointment as fuel to train harder on his way to his fourth championship and selection to the USA Triathlon All-America team in 2016. This year, however, he was even more determined to come out with a victory, after dedicating the race to his friend and owner of Nicola Pizza in Rehoboth Beach, Joan Caggiano, who recently passed away.
“The Caggianos are like a second family to me,” said Fargo. “I was so very sad when I learned of Joan’s health struggles. Her desire to get better, the strength she showed throughout her illness was a real inspiration to me.
“When I competed in this national event, I wanted to channel some of that strength, perseverance and good karma, and you know what? It worked. I felt her presence with me on race day, encouraging me to go on and do the best I was capable of.”
Upon returning home to Delaware, Fargo was looking forward to finally getting to break his diet and enjoy some post-race fajitas — as is tradition with his wife (“the better half of “Team Fargo”) after big races.
He’ll be back to work after that, however, gearing up for the New York City Triathlon next month and Vineyard Triathlon in Martha’s Vineyard and Bethany Beach First-Responders Triathlon in September.
Then it’s on to gun-dog season, where Fargo and canine partner Sargent “Sarge” Von Reiteralm will be aiming for a second national-title at the Weimaraner Club of America’s National Amateur Field Championship in December.
As for his potential sixth national title next June, Fargo said he didn’t know what the 2017 USAT championships will hold, but he did know that, after his fair share of victory fajitas, he’d be back and ready to battle for the gold yet again.
“There’s always some element of doubt heading into it,” he said. “But when you look back at all the workouts and all the goals you’ve set for yourself and met during training, you realize what you’ve been working so hard for come race day.”