Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironmanlife: Lieto making a difference

(Kevin Mackinnon catches up with Chris Lieto)

Anyone who has met Chris Lieto knows that he’s a great guy, but I still can’t figure out how me managed to pull this one off.

“Hey honey,” I’m guessing the conversation went with his wife, Karis. “I know you’ve never been camping before, but why don’t you come with me on a camping trip in Panama after I race down there? It’ll be fun.”

I wonder when he let her know that they’d have to be dropped off to their camping spot in a Panamanian military helicopter and that, well, their three days would be spent building a house.

I wonder, too, when he let her know that they’d be joined by 29 More Than Sport athletes and that, while she wasn’t going to be on deck cooking for the family (the Lieto’s have two children), she’d suddenly find herself helping with huge pots of food required to keep 30 or so hungry athletes nourished as they worked their tails off building a house for a family that had lost theirs in a flood a year-and-a-half ago.

See, I don’t get away with stuff like that.

I’m guessing, though, that Karis, who is every bit as nice (if not nicer – sorry, Chris) as her husband, had no problem with the cause. More Than Sport, the charity Lieto has started up, partnered with YWAM, Homes of Hope and Ironman Foundation to build homes for flood victims in the Darien Gap in the Republic of Panama.

They were there because in November, 2010 a series of devastating floods swept through the Darien Gap, destroying homes for more than 300 people.

“I knew it was going to be a great experience, but I didn’t realize how much it would impact that family,” Lieto said. “The look on that family’s face … It wasn’t that much that we had to give, but it means a lot.”

And, in case you’re as worried as I was about Lieto’s prowess at building a house – the guy might be able to hammer the world’s best on a bike, but … – rest assure, Lieto said despite the fact that a few nails got bent, “it’s a good, sturdy house. I’d live in it.”

How many pros do you know who’d take on Lance Armstrong in a race, then, while everyone else was looking for a massage to help recover, head into the jungle to haul rocks and water to make sure the septic tank got built properly? Not many, but for Lieto, it’s all part of his life.

“I race with a mindset that its more than winning a race, it’s more than crossing that finish line, it’s about racing for a cause or making a difference,” he said. “I am going to strive for that win, but at the end of the day, it’s those around me, my family, my faith, those that we do things for that get me excited. I want to use my work and my platform to make a difference for the athletes and the communities that we go in, creating a movement and an awareness change. That triathlon doesn’t have to be a selfish sport. That it can be a selfless sport. You don’t have to train 40 hours a week, you can enjoy the process on a lot less than that. You can do amazing things with 10 hours a week, with 8 hours a week. That you can put in that time, but still have that balance with your family, at work and those around you who might be in need.”

Does that mean we should count Lieto out as a contender for Kona in October? Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. “More Than Sport is not a business, it’s not a job, it’s a way of life. For me I speak about it and I just do. It doesn’t take away from my racing, it helps it.”

When you’ve got your head on that straight, no wonder you can convince your wife to make her first camping trip ever into the jungle in Panama. Way to go, Chris.

(Reach Kevin Mackinnon at

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