Shared interests strengthen a marriage. It just so happens that Wendy and Jeff Fejfar of Olive Branch share an interest in one of mankind’s most grueling endeavors: triathlon. The Fejfars will be in the field together for the Memphis in May Triathlon this Sunday in Millington. (The Olympic-distance event features a 1.5K swim, 40K bike ride, and 10K run.) A pilot with FedEx, Jeff won his age group (35-39) at the MIM event in both 2012 and 2015.
You’ve been married 14 years. What’s the origin story?
W: I was in graduate school in Florida. I’d become the “International Sweetheart” for Sigma Chi Fraternity, so I’d travel to various colleges to work with the Sigma Chi chapter. I happened to be invited to Jeff’s alma mater [Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida] and we met through friends there.
Does this come up in casual conversation, at cocktail parties? “We compete in triathlons.”
J: We’ve been in the sport long enough now that a lot of our friends are triathletes of some form or another. With coworkers, people are just intrigued. It comes up, and it’s something that interests people.
What’s the most challenging component of a triathlon? And what’s your favorite part?
W: The run is the hardest part for me to do well, just being at the end. My favorite is the biking.
J: Same for me. The run is the most challenging.
You’re the first triathletes to tell me the swim isn’t the toughest part of a triathlon.
W: We’ve become good swimmers. I learned to swim when I was pregnant with my son, so I’ve only been swimming 10 years. I was 30 years old. Grew up in Buffalo, New York. I could swim for survival, but I’d never learned proper style. Learning as an adult was an advantage; no bad habits.
J: I’ve swum in races where there’s a lot of contact at the beginning. But it tends to spread out pretty quickly. Getting comfortable with the fact that there’s going to be contact is important. People can swim all day long in a pool. When a lot of people are touching you, it can be uncomfortable for some. There are people in kayaks out there to help you [if there’s any danger].
What about the Memphis in May course? Likes or dislikes?
W: It’s a straightforward swim. The bike course can be amazing in cooler temperatures; pretty flat. The run is harder than most people expect. There are some hills that challenge. And you can have that spring heat kick in.
J: I’ve always enjoyed the course. It was the first Olympic triathlon I did. It’s a very well organized race, but it still has a grassroots feel. Family-friendly. It’s an enjoyable atmosphere.
Do you train together?
W: We’ll do swim dates. But we’re coached by different individuals, so we do our own workouts. We never run together.
J: We used to run together a lot. When [our son] Dylan was born [10 years ago], we got a jogging stroller. Dylan would fall asleep in the jogging stroller if he was upset. We still ride together, when we don’t have specific workouts.
What about diet?
J: I’m not super particular. Wendy’s a little more diligent with her diet. I’ll eat some junk, so I have to watch it.
W: We don’t have a specific diet, but we try to eat healthy. My background is in cardiovascular health. Jeff’s father is type-one diabetic, so he grew up in a health-conscious household. I don’t eat a lot of red meat, so that’s probably the only thing significant in our house.
J: We try to eat whole foods. We’ll eat sweets, but everything in moderation. We’ll have a bowl of ice cream, but maybe just two small scoops.
On the morning of a triathlon, how do you fuel yourselves?
W: Oatmeal is pretty standard. You can make instant oatmeal anywhere. And we drink a lot of coffee.
Advice for someone competing in their first triathlon?
J: Focus on having fun, getting through it, and enjoying the experience the best you can. Don’t worry so much about performance the first time. As you continue to train, being consistent over time is important. If your goal is to get faster, it doesn’t happen overnight, or in a month. It varies for everyone, based on your athletic background. But everyone will progress if you stick with it. Stay diligent.
W: Just worry about what you can control, and show up ready. You can’t predict the weather or change what a day’s going to be like. Don’t stress over it. Have fun. We’re getting out there to do the best we can.
What have triathlons done for your marriage?
W: We’re both goal-oriented people. We make five-year goals together. When we started doing triathlons, it translated well. Jeff’s my confidant. Our strong marriage has made us strong triathletes.
J: Early on, we started doing longer races, but found that a little challenging, to have all that training going on. We’ve learned to balance things, and have more give-and-take. We’re supportive of each other with each of our goals. And we hold each other accountable. We’re vested in what we want to accomplish. For us, this is an outlet to relax.