April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I Am a Triathlete, and I Don’t Roll on Shabbos

In 2007, I started on a journey that would become my own personal blend of triathlon and Orthodox Judaism.

Everyone knows Orthodox Jews don’t eat pork or shellfish.

Well if they didn’t, they do now.

And everyone knows that Saturday is the Sabbath, the day of rest.


That means no racing on Saturday.


The Ironman World Championship is in Kona, Hawaii on the second Saturday of October. Ironman is the only sport where amateurs can compete in the World Championships, right next to the professionals. Every time someone hears that I have completed an Ironman race, they ask me if it was the one in Hawaii. I can’t do Ironman Kona because it’s on Shabbos and to quote the Big Lebowski: “I don’t roll on Shabbos.”

Can’t you get a dispensation from the rabbi, you know, like how he blesses food to make it kosher?

To quote Han Solo, in the Force Awakens, “That’s not how it works.” So, I compete in Sunday scheduled Ironman races. Once you complete an Ironman, you have earned the right to get the MDot tattoo. The MDot is the official Ironman logo. Wearing the tattoo is a sign of pride, that you have accomplished the goal of finishing the hardest race on the planet. I have finished three Ironman races, but I can’t get a tattoo. As an Orthodox Jew, I am not allowed to get tattoos.

Why not?

The Torah says so in Leviticus 19:28. So, I apply a rub-on tattoo the morning of the race (when I’m half awake). It’s my way of letting approaching cyclists and runners know this: If you pass me, you had better keep going at that pace. Otherwise, I will catch you.

Being an Orthodox Jew means that I have to say my morning prayers, wrapped in my prayer shawl and my tefillin.

Wrapped in what?

The translation of this Jewish word “tefillin” is “phylacteries.”

I looked up “phylacteries.” It’s Greek for tefillin! Actually, it’s Greek for “to guard or to protect.”

Tefillin consist of two boxes with Torah phrases inside them. One box sits on my head and the other is connected to leather straps wrapped around my arm. The experience is meant to remind me to stay humble.

A good message in a racing field of pro athletes.

The result is, I pray before every race, right after I rack my bike. You would think that the presence of someone doing what I am doing would draw attention, but no one notices.


Before the start of the race, everyone is focused on getting ready. Last-minute checking the bike tire pressure and inserting your water bottles into their holders. Everyone is rushing around with nervous energy and there I am in the middle of this, meditating on word of God. My point is that you do not need to compromise your values to achieve your goals. Besides, I get a kick out people coming up to me on the bike or run and saying something “Jewish” to me.

“Boker Tov” (Good morning)

“Shalom” (Greetings)

“Mah nishmah” (Wuzzup?)

Whether it is the Yarmulke I wear (with “SWIM BIKE RUN” crocheted into it), or the strings that are part of my tzitzit (Jewish undergarment), I am out there showing the world that an Orthodox Jew can be Ironman too!

By David Roher

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