Damon Taaffe Birthplace: Florida Current home town: Washington, D.C. Profession: I’m a lawyer (litigator). I was with the Department of Justice for ten years before moving this year to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. How did you first get into endurance sports? Back in 2005, I was an associate at a law firm with a background in soccer but no endurance ambitions. I randomly read an article in Outside Magazine on the ten toughest endurance events in the world, which listed and discussed the Ironman (triathlon). I’d never raced a triathlon of any distance, nor did I know anyone who had. But I thought that an Ironman was a ridiculous endeavor that would give me something to obsess over, so I signed up for an Ironman a year out, bought a bike, running shoes, and a “teach yourself to swim freestyle” DVD by Total Immersion, and went to work trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. Key to this was joining the Potomac Pedalers, where I got comfortable riding on roads and around other people, and I fell in love with spending weekends on two wheels. The next year (2006), I competed in two half-Ironman races and then took second place in my age group in the Chesapeakeman full-distance race. I was hooked, particularly on cycling, and I competed avidly for the next seven or eight years before focusing on cycling more recently. Tell us about some of the epic events you’ve participated in, or plan to. I’ve been having bad ideas for a long time, so it’s tough to narrow the list down, but a few stand out. The Big Wild Ride, in Alaska, was my first 1200k brevet. I rode pretty much the whole thing solo, sleeping for a total of 3 hours, and there are few things as spectacular as riding through Denali National Park at sunset. (Also: having the first turn at mile 374 is sheer delight.) In terms of competitive events, the hardest was the Race Across Oregon, which was 510 miles with about 45,000 feet of climbing; I finished in about 32 hours. At one point, after grinding up what seemed like a never-ending hill for over an hour, I asked my crew how much further it was to the top, and they said: “About 14 miles.” But shorter stuff can also be plenty spectacular. I’ll never forget competing in the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe: it was 28 degrees at the swim start; the icy 55-degree water was steaming; and there was snow on our bikes when we climbed out of the water. I wondered exactly what series of terrible decisions had led me to that situation. What advice would you have offer to those just getting into endurance sports? Set a goal that’s a little terrifying, then enjoy the process of getting there. Most endurance athletes I know love the training process more than the race itself. Finally, it helps to be a massive introvert. What has been the hardest part of any endurance challenge (your lowest moment) and how did you get through it? In Ironman Lake Tahoe, in 2008, a biblical rainstorm struck 5 minutes into the swim, and it dumped rain for a solid 14 hours. Early in the bike course is a 6-mile descent, and I quickly realized that my rim bakes were going to be useless given the grade and conditions. I hit nearly 55 mph in the aerobars, with visibility of no more than a couple of feet and the knowledge that I had literally no control over whether I lived or died in the next several minutes. If there had been any object in the road, or if any other rider had had a mishap, it would have been curtains. I’ve never been so terrified on a bicycle. I got through it only by breathing deeply, and trying to relax in the knowledge that my fate was not in my hands. And in contrast, what have been some high points? Completing my first 1200k brevet in Alaska, after riding for 67 hours almost entirely solo, and with only three hours of sleep in the midnight sun was something I’ll never forget. The utter massiveness and magnificence of those mountain ranges is impossible to convey, and there was a deep sense of being lost in the world in the best possible way. What gets you through these types of events mentally? An extremely odd sense of humor, and a soundtrack featuring more boy bands than is strictly justifiable. Rando riders sometimes quip that you don’t ride through endurance events – you eat your way through them. Tell us about your nutrition during training and racing. I eat anything during training rides, including ice cream and as many Bugles as I can find at the 7-Eleven. In races, though, I basically crave salt. Anything under 12 hours is a mix of Coke and drink mix, but beyond that and I turn to croissant-and-cheese sandwiches (with salt), pizza (with salt), chips (with salt), and Coke (with salt tabs). These events do nothing good for my teeth. What single piece of encouragement would you offer to a young person experiencing homelessness? Find something in life that excites you — that your mind goes to constantly — and make that thing as central to your life as you can.