It is not going out on a limb to say that Luke Tyburski is made from different stuff than I am. Sure, I play tennis 3-4 times per week, have ridden my bike as much as 100 miles in a day (Once!) (Nine years ago!). Luke runs…across the Sahara Desert. He’s completed an extreme triathlon from Morocco, swimming across the Sea of Gibraltar, cycling through Spain and running through the South of France to Monaco. But we do have one important thing in common. And that is to use the platform of sports to fight for positive environmental action. I spoke recently to Luke about how he came to extremely extreme sports and how he has any time and energy left for the environment.
GreenSportsBlog: Luke, I have a feeling yours will be an incredible story, so let’s get right to it. Your journey to extreme triathlons — and beyond — started in Australia, right?
Luke Tyburski: Yeah, Lew. I grew up in a small town, Bathurst, about three hours northwest of Sydney. And my goal was, from a young age, to become a pro soccer player. And, you know what? I got to live the dream. I was a central defender for the Wollongong Wolves in 1999-2000 in the top league in Australia at the time, the NSL. They’re now a second tier league, below the A-League. Then I played for three years in the State League, at the level below the NSL. Thought I’d gone as far as I could in Australia so I went to the US and played college soccer at a small NAIA school, Brescia University in Owensboro, KY and then transferred to another small NAIA school, Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, OK…It was a good stop, soccer-wise, and I got my degree in Exercise Science along the way.
Luke Tyburski (Photo credit: Fizeek Media)
GSB: So was that it for you and pro soccer?
LT: Hardly. I still had the bug. Went to England and tried out for a bunch of teams over four months, but without any luck! I just couldn’t stick. Came back to the US and played for the New Orleans Shell Shockers (now the New Orleans Jesters) as for the San Francisco Seals in lower rung leagues. Then I went back to Europe, this time to Liege, Belgium and played one year on a lower league team there. Then I went back to the UK to try again…
GSB: …Holy cow, you really wanted it. I really had no idea about the itinerant world of the lower levels of professional soccer. How old were you at this point?
Luke Tyburski, while with the San Francisco Seals (Photo credit: Bakersfield Brigade Soccer Club)
LT: This was 2008 and I was 25. Like I said, I’d lived my dream. My parents had instilled in me an incredible work ethic — they never pushed me into pro soccer but they let me know that, if I was going to go for it, I’d have to give it 100 percent. That’s what kept me going. From 2008 to 2011 it became much harder. I had a number of injuries and three surgeries over a period of 11 months. I started to break down physically. And that led to mental problems. I sank into a deep depression; had self-harming, suicidal thoughts.
GSB: Oh my God; that’s awful! Did you try to come back again after the surgeries?
LT: Yes. Finally it was a calf injury, minor as they come, that led me to retire. I had just had it.
GSB: Did the depression come back?
LT: You know what? The depression was still there, I’m not gonna lie to you. But I didn’t hit the depths I felt previously. There was a huge wave of relief and satisfaction after I retired. I was content with my soccer career.
GSB: So what did you do next?
LT: Well, that was a problem. I really had no clue. And then a friend — a marathoner — told me about running through the Sahara for a week.
GSB: You mean the Sahara as in the desert? THAT Sahara?
LT: That would be the one, Lew.
GSB: Were you a long-distance runner at all?
LT: Nope; I’d never run more than six miles at any one time. But, just for the hell of it, I Googled it — the Marathon des Sables — a 150 mile race through the Sahara over seven days…
GSB: No problem-o!
LT: Crazy, right?! Thing is, I needed an escape from reality, from what to do next. The race was in six months so I threw myself into it — research, training, etc. The more I looked into it, the more I thought, “not only can I do this race but this could become my thing!” I could become an adventurer.”
GSB: So what happened in the race?
LT: I finished!! It. Was. BRUTAL…I became dehydrated, had a bad stomach virus, lost skin on my toes. But I made it and started doing other extreme events.
Luke Tyburski at the finish of Marathon des Sables in the Sahara (Photo credit: Jamie Fricker)
GSB: Such as?
LT: I went to Nepal and took part in the Everest Ultra Marathon…
GSB: What is THAT? A race up Everest?
LT: No, it’s a 40 mile race down from Everest Base Camp which is at 17,000 feet elevation. To train for that one, I spent three weeks living and training with elite ultra-marathoners in Nepal. I was ready but three days before, I contracted a stomach parasite…
GSB…So you dropped out?
LT: Oh no — I ran it. The bug did slow me down. It took me more than twice as long as I thought it would. But these events made me an adventurer (in my mind, at least)…And I started to make a living from it: I coached, evangelized through speaking engagements, wrote magazine articles, and more — all about how you can push yourself to amazing heights. I hustled and my business started to grow. But, to really break through, to differentiate myself from other adventurers, I needed to do something BIG…
GSB: You mean running across the Sahara and running down Everest wasn’t BIG enough?
LT: Nope…other adventurers were doing it. So I came up with a route for a triathlon unlike any other. From Northern Morocco to Monaco, 2,000 kilometers (or about 1,242 miles) in 12 days…
GSB: Piece of cake, right?…
LT: And so, in 2015, I swam across the 15 mile Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain. Then I cycled through Spain to the French border, about 850 miles. And then I ran the remaining 375 miles to Monaco. I did have some health issues along the way…
GSB: How could you not?…
LT: …I had extreme adrenal fatigue, a quadriceps tear. But I finished. Took the rest of 2015 and the first half of 2016 off to recover due to my extreme adrenal fatigue. But, last month, I did my first event since, a 100 mile ultra-marathon in the UK, which is where I live. I experimented with my training, and if I’m honest, it didn’t go as I hope. You can read why here.
Luke Tyburski, running through the South of France in 2015 on his 2,000 km triathlon from Morocco through Spain and France (Photo credit: Fizeek Media)
GSB: This is all incredible…and unimaginable. And I can see how your story would motivate athletes and would-be athletes. But where does the passion for the environment come in?
LT: It started for me in 2012 when I was in Nepal for the Everest Ultra Marathon. I was living with people who had no running water, no electricity at all. They lived primitively. Here I am, this westernized guy, thinking I was worldly and open and all the rest, but, in the end, I was humbled. They had no equipment, nothing to make life easier. After the three weeks, it sounds cliché but I felt like a changed man. I went back home to London and thought “I don’t need all these things…all of the shoes and shorts and other stuff.”
GSB: So what did you do?
LT: A massive clean-out. Gave stuff to friends and charity. Cut back on wants and lived at the “need” level, especially when it came to clothing. I would wear stuff until it would wear out. So I was definitely on the trail to environmentalism. But it wasn’t until I met Graham Ross…
GSB: …Of Kusaga Athletic, the Australian company that makes the world’s greenest t-shirt out of bamboo, eucalyptus, etc.? We interviewed Graham for GSB awhile back. Kusaga is a great story, and Graham is an even greater fellow.
LT: Agree. Met him in 2013 at a Friday night swimming squad outing in London. Graham told me about Kusaga Athletic and how sustainable textiles would make a difference on climate change. So that was an immediate click between us. So we would go on five to seven hour bike rides that would become brainstorming sessions and an education for me on sustainable apparel. This led me to live even more sustainably and to educate folks on the textile industry and how it needs to become greener. In fact, I weave…
GSB: …Pun intended…
LT: …Sustainability into at least 50 percent of my talks — about how it takes 3,000 liters of water to make just one cotton t-shirt and how it only takes 22 liters of water to make Kusaga Athletic’s greenest t-shirt.
GSB: Does Kusaga sponsor you?
LT: No. I am an unpaid ambassador, I wear their kits and I tell their story. Now, I don’t talk much about the science of climate change because I’m not well-versed enough yet. I need to be able to talk about it in a substantive manner and I will down the road as I learn more about it. For now I stay in my lane and talk sustainability from apparel and water standpoints. And I’m engaging other athletes on this and on Kusaga. It’s catching on.
GSB: Amen to that, Luke! So what’s in store for 2018?
LT: Well I have a book coming out about my story from a journeyman soccer player, to ultra endurance athlete and everything in between. My ups, and very deep downs will all be shared. Physically, I’m looking to complete a self-developed challenge that will create two Guinness World Records, but it’s top secret at the moment…
GSB: Good luck! Please let us know when the secret can be revealed.
LT: Will do. And I will keep reminding folks to take care of themselves, conserve water and care for the planet.