– Triathlete, Coach, and Motivational Speaker –
“Chase your highest dreams… there are no limits to life.”
James Lawrence, best known as the “Iron Cowboy”, was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Married to Sunny who is the partner in their journey, is also a proud father of five wonderful kids: his daughters, Lucy, Lily, Daisy and Dolly, and his son, Quinn.
Above and beyond anything else, James loves fruit, angry birds, movies, sushi, travel, water sports and being with his wife and five amazing children.
Coming from a wrestling background, endurance sports were very foreign to him, he was undefeated on his senior year in high school, and ultimately won the provincial championships. At 23, he had a unique life changing event that led to the opportunity to move to the State of Utah in the United States.
In 2005, without any particular natural gift for endurance racing, James could scarcely run four miles without huffing and puffing. As he ran his first race, after he was challenged to do a 4-mile fun run one Thanksgiving Day with his wife, he was distraught to see people pushing strollers cruise past him, but failing made James know he could get stronger, and it catapulted him on a journey toward fitness.
That same year, at the age of 28, he transitioned into short distance triathlons, gravitating toward the bike discipline specifically, and began racing nearly every weekend. His first triathlon was a pool sprint distance, learning as much as he could on his own. He loved challenging himself and decided to set the bar higher by beginning to race Ironmans in 2008.
In 2010, James broke the world record for Ironman 70.3 events (1.2 miles swimming, 56 miles cycling, and 13.1 miles running) while raising money to build dams in Africa, naming his quest the “Tri and Give a Dam” project. That year, James completed 22 Half Ironman distance triathlons in 30 weeks through the United States and Canada; “It was a whirlwind tour and a ton of fun” he says.
By 2012, James was ready for a tougher goal to accomplish. He decided that he wanted to go for something bigger than what the previous world record. One day, he thought to himself: “Who wants to be the Half Ironman world record holder? I want the Full Ironman world record!”. He hadn’t felt truly physically challenged by his endeavors, and asked his wife if she’d allow him to do 30 full Ironmans in a year (each race involves 2.6 miles swimming, 112 miles cycling, and 26.2 miles running). She agreed, and after a family discussion with their children, they committed to the goal. James said his feat was physically hard, but the mental taxation he surmounted was even greater. His belief: “You have time for what you make time for.”
James Lawrence was already in the Guinness Book of World Records for having completed the most Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman) distance triathlons in the course of a year, and in 2012, he broke a new world record for the most Ironman distance races completed in one year: an impressive number of 30 races! In his quest to achieve what many thought was impossible, James Lawrence swam the distance from San Francisco to Los Angeles, biked the equivalent of crossing 2/3 of the globe, and ran the span of the United States. He averaged just under 12 hours for all 30 events, and raced in 11 countries!
When he completed that new world record, and in addition to a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records, James earned the nickname of the “Iron Cowboy” for always running the marathon in a colorful, patterned cowboy hat picked out for him before each race by his four daughters. It came about in his native country of Canada when his family said they had a hard time spotting him at races. James jokingly said he’d wear a cowboy hat so they could see him coming, but his kids loved the idea and a tradition was born.
James is a dreamer, always looking for the next adventure. So in 2012, the “Iron Cowboy” aimed for something even bigger: 50 Ironman triathlons, in 50 days, in 50 different states. That’s 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles on a bike and a full 26.2 miles marathon, every single day… a total of 120 miles swimming, 5,600 miles cycling, and 1,310 miles running in less than two months time!
Almost immediately, after James shared his idea with Sunny to do 50 triathlons in all 50 states, in 50 days, his entire family put up a map in the front room and it became a family plan. Simply planning the logistics of 50 races in 50 states was no easy feat. James spent almost an entire year mapping all of the routes for his swims, bikes and runs. He had people on the ground in all 50 states who volunteered to help him with the plan.
Once the plan was in place, James began training. During the last few months of training, James had moments of discouragement and frustration, so his wife enlisted friends to train with him so she could make sure he had companionship and encouragement as he faced the long, grueling days. May was unseasonably cold and wet, so he spent most days training inside, which made it even more important for him to have someone training alongside him.
The adventure began on June 6, 2015 in Hawaii. He trained knowing that he and his family would be moving from state to state and race to race in an RV, with little time to pick up or prepare meals along the way so he had to be sure his body was prepared to get through each race on “regular” food. He invited people in every state to join him on the last leg of the marathon, and most dinners and bike sandwiches were supplied by coordinators in each city. Lawrence didn’t have the luxury of relying on a highly specialized diet when so much of what he ate was out of his hands. Including wife, Sunny, and five children, accompanied him on his cross-country journey.
Sunny depended on the crew to take care of James so she could look after the kids. The two older girls participated in the events by selling T-shirts, running with James, and interacting with new people they met along the way. Sunny made sure the kids got to see things in each state so they experienced a little culture during their journey. There was always something new to experience every day. They got to meet different people everywhere they went, and they loved it. They would sleep during the long drives, waking up asking her, “What state are we in?”.
During 50 days, James averaged 15 hours per Ironman triathlon all on an average of four hours sleep per night. A support crew, which included Lawrence’s friends, sponsors, wife and five children, made up the caravan that tended to his physical, emotional and transport needs throughout the 50 days. The team helped James navigate a variety of obstacles, including a case of thrush, bike crashes, overuse injuries and emotional meltdowns. There were some frustrating moments along the way. James would be exhausted, almost delirious, and in pain. People around him were telling him he should rest.
The trip wasn’t easy. Lawrence biked and ran through some weather, including some heavy rain in Idaho Falls, and has been mentally and physically tested right to the very end. He suffered serious cramping and hypothermia during his final swim at Thanksgiving Point in Utah, which brought him to tears in the water. He pushed through as he has done many times during his journey with the help of his crew and his family.
Arizona and Tennessee where the most difficult states. In Tennessee he fell asleep, fell off his bike and crashed at mile 30 and had to finish the ride with a lot of nasty road rash. Each day was a challenging day. His feet were getting destroyed taking the most abuse of his body, where blisters were present in between his toes, and toenails were coming off.
On July 25, against all odds, James Lawrence, the “Iron Cowboy”, achieved the amazing goal on completing 50 Ironman Triathlons in 50 days in 50 states!. Beginning in Lihue, Hawaii and ending in Utah, Lawrence did just that. He could have gone from Seattle to Miami and back with still 430 miles left to go.
James said he thrives on helping others. He’s still racing, and gives motivational speeches about conquering obesity and leading an active lifestyle. “I want people to know that anything is possible, and to not let anyone else dictate what they think is possible,” he said. “Chase your highest dreams… there are no limits to life.” If you want James to speak at your event, you can book here.
Throughout the journey, they kept their focus on the goal to raise money for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and to create awareness for childhood obesity. To date they have raised nearly $100,000 for the foundation. The generosity and support from people in every state astounded them. James and Sunny are most proud of the fact that their children were part of that—they knew what they were doing and why. It was important to them that they felt involved and understood why they were doing it.
Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), together with James Lawrence, are working towards to gather the world’s experts in extraction operations and in anti-child trafficking efforts to bring an end to child slavery. O.U.R.’s Underground Jump Team consists of former CIA, Navy SEALs, and Special Ops operatives that lead coordinated identification and extraction efforts. Once victims are rescued, a comprehensive process involving justice for the perpetrators and recovery and rehabilitation for the survivors begins. It is time for private citizens and organizations to rise up and help.
James wants to continue to raise money for the charity and give as much back as he can. The goal now is to go around and speak to schools and continue to educate about childhood obesity and hopefully impact the next generation. For more information on how you can help James to raise awareness on the incredibly important issue of child obesity, please visit the following link, and support James and his cause: www.ironcowboy.com/charity.
James in his own words
How does it feel to be an inspiration to others? Did you ever expect to become an inspiration?
It is an honor. But that honor comes with massive responsibilities. It is fun but it also scares me some times. My goal was never to inspire. But now I hope to Empower. Inspiration to me is a fleeting thought or feeling that more often then not passes. But if I empower you I have moved you to action and that is my goal.
Why are Triathlons so inspiring? What makes this sport so special around the world?
Triathlons aren’t inspiring. The human spirit is inspiring. Facing your fears and doing hard things is inspiring. I think it is the challenge of mastering 3 sports and conquering yourself. A lot of people fear the water and conquering that fear is a special feeling. Crossing the finish line after all the work and sacrifice makes it all worth it.
When did you start participating in triathlons? Where was your first competition?
Over 10 years ago. In Logan Utah I did my first one – It was a super sprint. Won my age and was hooked.
What motivates you in life?
My wife and children. I want to show them it is ok to face your fears.
What would you say to other people with similar ambitions?
Do it. Take on life head on and stop listening to all the outside noise and influence. You know what your mind and heart is telling you. Just be smart about it.
Who inspires you? Why?
My wife Sunny. My daughter Lucy. My daughter Lily. My daughter Daisy. My daughter Dolly. My son Quinn. These 6 individual teach and inspire me daily. They teach me joy, patience, love, selflessness and so much more. They make me want to be better.
How did you deal with obstacles in your life?
You just do. You take action and keep moving. No magic pills. No secret sauce. Just action.
What do you like most about Triathlons?
The challenge of it. The journey and the struggle.
Mention major accomplishments in your life other than triathlons
Husband and Father.
Do you support or represent any Non-Profit Organizations?
Yes. Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.). People can learn more and donate here: www.ourrescue.org