Eric Lagerstrom came to us with no wheels on his bike. Literally. As a 20 year-old neo-pro triathlete, he was chasing his dream with no outside support. He shared a one bedroom apartment with two other athletes, slept on an air-mattress, ate discount spaghetti and was riding on borrowed wheels. A training partner, Trevor Wurtele rode for Rolf Prima and put him in touch with owner, Brian Roddy.
“I don’t even know why he gave me wheels, when I look back at it,” says Eric looking back on that first contract. “There was literally nothing in it for him. No one knew me, I was just some kid. When he gave me wheels I really think he did it out of kindness. Just to help a kid out. There was no way it was a good business decision.” Three weeks later Eric entered his first pro race and never looked back.
Eric grew up in Portland, Oregon. He has swam competitively since childhood and ran cross country in high school then found his way into triathlons. In 2008 and 2009 the World Triathlon Series (ITU) USA National Championship came to town so he signed up, taking 2nd place the first year and then winning in ‘09. He followed the path to the World Championships later that year, taking 3rd in his age bracket even though the swim – his strongest discipline – had been cancelled. “After that, I realized I should probably take this seriously,” he says.
Of course, the life of an aspiring pro wasn’t easy, and the schedule for ITU is particularly hard. With a long race season, huge fields and ranking battles just to gain race admittance, it’s a cutthroat life. “You get a call up to a race the weekend before. It’s like ‘hey, you got a call up, can you race?’ If you say ‘no,’ you’re likely not going to get called next time, so you really have no choice but to agree. You’re killing yourself to stay super fit at all times and living life ready to jump a plane to Europe at any minute.” Though he loved the high-paced, intense racing and head-to-head competition, that high pressure lifestyle takes a toll on the body and mind. “There’s a reason you don’t see many pros in that field over the age of 25,” he notes. “You just can’t keep it up.” He tells stories of jumping a plane to Spain with a day’s notice, entering races knowing he had tendonitis, breaking bones, starting races with no sleep, or while sick. Doing anything he could to make it happen. And knows his struggles were not unique.
He still found success amidst this chaos, though it took some time for it to be acknowledged. “People started noticing me after I won a race in Las Vegas in my third year as a pro. Everyone was talking about ‘this new guy on the scene,’ and it was sort of amusing.” At that point, Eric was a high ranking pro with nearly three seasons under his belt. Such is the nature of the sport; there are just a few top seats available, and notoriety can have as much to do with magazine coverage and sponsorship gigs as it does accomplishments.
Eric is careful not to complain. He loves that style of the sport, and speaks about that time of his life with enthusiasm. He also admits that he knew early on that the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable.
“You never want to whine. You’re doing what you love and living your dreams. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard, that you don’t sacrifice. Even if you’re absolutely killing it you earn maybe 20k in a year. The low pay is manageable, the lack of predictability and the wear on the body does you in.” Even though his career was young , he moved away from ITU.
Half Ironman distance is a different beast. The longer distance demands greater planning, pacing and recovery. To be successful athletes have to plan their seasons in ways that are sustainable. It’s an older man’s game. This suits Eric well, as it also means he gets to plan his own life. “These days, I race so much less, but I show up ready to go. I can really build up slowly and take care of myself.”
The notable thing about Eric, is that he simply loves these sports. He’s a fierce competitor, but even more so he loves to run, ride, and swim. Racing fewer times per season means more time for training, exploring and adventuring – often at the same time. He mixes things up with gravel rides, trail running and open swimming in the mountains. His training is about feeding his soul, not just hitting metrics.
This year—his tenth as a pro—will be another solid season. After a short 1 month off season he’s already ramping up the training and has a full campaign ahead of him. It’ll take him from X in April all the way to Y at the end of the year. We’re thrilled to be in on the ride.
“I feel like part of the family at Rolf Prima. That’s what it has always been about. To me, the brand equates directly to Brian Roddy. I’ve always just sort of viewed him as a kickass uncle. He supported me before there was really any reason to, and I never forget that. Being a part of companies and communities like that is what fires me up. Those things go way beyond the podiums or finish lines.”
Join us as we watch another year unfold for Eric, and stay tuned for another story here as we continue to track his evolution. For more, follow his Instagram, at his YouTube channel or his side project That Triathlon Life.