Running away with life

Shawn Hnatko, P.T. ’98

Photo: Shawn Hnatko, P.T. '98, on a run.Shawn Hnatko, P.T. ’98, is giving new meaning to the phrase “dad on the run.” Since his final year in the physical therapy program at Pacific, he has competed in more than 50 triathlons around the globe. Now living in Okinawa, Japan, he is combining his athletic passion with fatherhood.

Hnatko first began considering competing in triathlons as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, but it wasn’t until 1998 that he was able to work it into his schedule. After his first race, a sprint distance triathlon, he became hooked. With more than
40 of the sprint distance races on his resume, Hnatko has also completed in approximately 15 Olympic distance races, eight half-Ironmans, seven Ironmans, and nine marathons. The Ironmans, the most recognized triathlons, consist of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon, according to Hnatko.

The Ironmans have taken Hnatko around the globe from Japan and Malaysia to Hawaii, New Zealand, Canada, Utah, and California. His favorites, however, have both been in the U.S. The pinnacle of his racing was the 2003 Hawaii Ironman World Championships. “Every year this race is held on the Big Island of Hawaii and is considered the ‘Super Bowl’ of Ironman racing. It has always been a dream of mine to race there. It has to be your favorite when dreams come true.” In addition, he said, the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco, Calif., is spectacular. “Swimming across the San Francisco Bay in 55-degree water looking at the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline is incredible.”

When competing, Hnatko said, finishing is always his first goal. “During the long day of an Ironman so many things can go wrong that finishing is a huge accomplishment.” His most recent race, the 2004 Ironman Japan, however, was also his best time, finishing in 10 hours and 38 minutes.

Living in Japan, Hnatko said he has been able to compete in triathlons he had only dreamed of before. He and his wife, Crystal, moved to Okinawa in 2002, where she is stationed with the U.S. Air Force as a family practice physician until August 2005. “We have enjoyed learning about the culture and customs of the Okinawans,” said Hnatko. “The people are very friendly and the island is absolutely beautiful.” Although he said he has not been practicing physical therapy since their move, he is now balancing being a stay-at-home father for their daughter, Emma Amari Hnatko, who was born in August, with training and a new business. “I like to say I am ‘retired,’” Hnatko said, “but I have started my own business as a certified triathlon coach and personal trainer. This allows me ample time to train and be a dad.”

Hnatko, though, said he has no plans of retiring from triathlons. “No way! I want to do triathlons as long as I can still stand upright!”

Hnatko said combining his physical therapy skills with his triathlon training has helped him avoid injuries. “Due to the sheer volume of training, a very common pitfall of Ironman racing is overuse injuries. I am able to recognize and treat those little aches and pains before they become problematic.” His rigorous training schedule involves swimming, biking, and running. When preparing for an Ironman, he said, “I typically train two or even all three disciplines per day, six days a week, plus weight training and plenty of ‘core’ strengthening exercises.” This distance quickly adds up: 10,000-12,000 meters per week in the water, 450-550 miles per week on the bike, and 70-80 miles per week in running shoes – keeping him always on the go.

By Gabrielle Williams