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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Blaze President Jason Jones, here watching his team play, learned to swim in order to be able to compete in the Ironman triathlon.

Over the past few seasons the Arena Football League has seen its once-unique Ironman players de-emphasized.

One place Ironman still lives, however, is in the Utah Blaze front office, where team president Jason Jones has gone from a former football player who didn't know how to swim to an annual competitor in what many consider the ultimate test of physical fitness and endurance.

"The speed of the road bike combined with the peace that comes from the swim and the natural high that I've always had from the run, those three," Jones said, "It's like an adrenaline cocktail for me."

Though he is not quite at the level of local triathlon stars like Dantley Young and Heath Thurston, completing Ironman has become a passion for Jones and he said his training is a perfect way to find balance in a stressful profession.

Jones, who punted for the University of Utah in the early '90s, has always been into fitness. He had completed numerous marathons when, while on vacation in Hawaii, he was struck by inspiration after watching Dick Hoyt train. Hoyt, a veteran of countless marathons and triathlons, competes with his disabled son, Rick — usually pulling him in a boat while he swims, pushing him in a wheelchair as he runs and carrying him in a special bike seat.

"I saw him with his son ... I watched him swimming and pulling his son," Jones said. "I watched him get out of the water and hop on a bike. And just seeing that so inspired me, but I couldn't swim."

Swimming — in Ironman competitions it's 2.4 miles in open water — is obviously an important part of what Jones wanted to do. And so he jumped in, quite literally, and taught himself.

"I came back from that experience and I got in a pool," he said. "I went every day for a month until I could swim 25 meters and then 50 meters and, it's ironic, because now swimming is the most enjoyable part of doing the Ironman."

Working around some of the strongest athletes in Utah can be intimidating. Jones, with his football background, can relate to them but he also finds himself at odds with his employees at times.

They are meat-and-potato, bench-press machines. He is a salad-and-pasta, slow-twitch-endurance guy. Every time he invites a football player to join him for a leisurely four-hour bike ride or a mile swim, they ask if he'd like to visit the weight room for a few 500-pound squats first. So far, Jones said, nobody with the Blaze has taken him up on his offer and he's not quite ready to hulk out with them.

Still, the mutual respect is there.

"That's something you'll never get me to do in a million years," Blaze coach Danny White said. "But we know what it takes to be devoted to something like that. We might not think the same way all the time, but we respect what he's doing out there.

"I'll never do it, though."

Polar opposites in many ways, Jones and White have learned to work well with each other.

"We were at a dinner the other day," White said. "They brought us our plates and we each had a steak and a salmon fillet on there. We didn't even have to say anything. He took his steak and put it on my plate and I put my salmon on his."

That relationship has proven valuable in the office as well as at a banquet.

The Blaze have endured a pretty rough season this year, winning only three games while losing 10. The stress of trying to help the team snap out of its slump, Jones said, often leads him to his bike or to a long run.

"I think some of my best thinking comes when I'm out on the road," Jones said. "I'm able to get ideas that help out in so many ways."

White appreciates working with his much-younger boss.

"He's extremely competitive," White said. "The fact that he's played football and he knows what we're going through, that gives him a lot of credibility when he walks into that locker room.

"He's the perfect guy to do what he does."

Just don't expect White and Jones to hit the road together for a 100-mile bike ride searching for inspiration.

"That would be like me asking my wife to go golfing with me," White said. "It's just not going to happen."

One of the key words in triathlons is transition. And for Jones, he's transitioned well after picking up the sport just a few years ago. He started with a mini-spring triathlon with an indoor swim to a sprint, then an Olympic distance race, a half-Ironman and then an Ironman.

His 15 to 30 hours of weekly training have paid off. An early riser, Jones will sometimes sneak in a 10-mile run or a three-hour bike ride before his four children are ready for school in the morning. After a 12 hour, 20 minute result in the 2006 Ironman Florida, Jones focused his training on cutting that time down and he left the 2007 race with a time of 11 hours flat.

"I had a flat at about mile 76 on the bike ride and it took me about 15 minutes to change the tire," he said. "I like to think I was under 11 hours, but my official time was 11 flat ... I went from 12:20 on my second (Ironman race) and took an hour and 20 minutes off my third one. So I felt good about the progress I made on that one."

As with any sport, competing at a high level takes a huge commitment. The hours training can stress the body as well as other aspects of life. Many times, Jones has asked himself if it's worth it.

"I think about a hundred times during the race, you question what you're doing," he said. "But after the race, there's no question. But if you asked my wife and kids, they probably wonder why I keep doing this."

This weekend, Jones will travel to Crystal Hot Springs in Box Elder County where his son, Jamison, will compete in his first triathlon.

"He's bugging me to get him a Cervelo (bike) like mine," Jones said. "But I think he'll have to do a few of them on the bike he has now before we go that far. But it's really neat to see him do this. It's fun to pass it on down like this."

With three games left on Utah's schedule, Jones will wait a few more weeks before completely immersing himself in training for the next Ironman Florida where he hopes to trim another hour off his personal best.

Until then, he's giving the Blaze his full attention and hoping they can turn the season around in time for a playoff push.

Blaze on the road

Utah (3-10) at Grand Rapids (3-9)

Sunday, noon

TV: none

Radio: 1320 AM

E-mail: [email protected]