Orland Park Woman 'Empowers' By Training Others for Triathlons
MJ Slikas owns Tri Smart Coaching and organizes group workout activities with the regional Team Tri Smart, to help people overcome obstacles to participate in and complete triathlons.
Mary Jo Slikas fell off her bike four times during her first triathlon, but she said that didn't stop her from smiling and realizing how much fun she was having.
Slikas, who goes by MJ, is pretty sure if other people feel the same way she does after completing a race - and after spending countless hours training for swimming, biking and running - everyone would want to participate in a triathlon.
“It empowers you," she said. "You realize you can do things you thought you could never do before and it makes you more successful in life in general.”
The Orland Park resident opened a business called Tri Smart Coaching in 2008, at a time when the number of triathlon enthusiasts in the suburbs was, and continues to be, on the rise.
“It’s done so much for me personally that I thought it’d be really great if I could make that kind of impact on other people,” Slikas said, adding that the triathlon is the fastest growing sport in the nation.
Tri Smart Coaching offers weekly one-on-one and group workouts at various locations tailored for a triathlete’s needs. Help is available for everything from preparing for a first race and learning how to complete a triathlon without injury to improving overall times and focusing on perfecting one of the three disciplines.
The company also provides swim instruction and lactate threshold testing, along with regular communication and recommendations.
Slikas estimates she has worked with at least 150 athletes since opening her business. She said the best part of her job is seeing people reach their goals.
As for her own accomplishments, Slikas has finished more than 100 triathlons since she began participating in them in 2003. She now excels in all triathlon distances: sprint, Olympic, half and Ironman. She recently was in Kona, Hawaii for the Ironman World Championships, which she has qualified for twice.
To prepare for races Slikas trains with other triathletes through Team Tri Smart, a regional team that was started by her friend Michelle Chaput who died three years ago after a battle with breast cancer.
“The club was kind of disintegrating without her and after she passed away in 2009 that was kind of when I picked up the reigns and said we’re going to keep this club going,” Slikas said. “It’s a different name, but it’s a lot of the same people.”
The team meets numerous times a week in various suburbs, including Frankfort and Lemont. Sometimes the group will do a group run or bike ride, while other times they host clinics about a triathlon topic or just get together to socialize.
"There's something going on almost always," she said, adding that team members vary in fitness level and are not required to go to every event. "I think the social aspect and the camaraderie is really why this team is so successful."
Slikas believes that anybody can do a triathlon if they train and have confidence in themselves. She said a good place to start is a mini-sprint, which consists of an 800-yard swim, 13-mile bike ride and a 5K run.
"You've got to go in both feet first," she said. "Don't be afraid. Everybody is nervous the first time and it's like a bug, once you get it, it bites you and you can't stop, it's just so much fun."
For more information on the team or Slikas’ coaching services, visit trismartcoaching.com.
Looking for more stories about local people doing great things?