As participants prepare for the 20th Annual Steelhead Triathlon here at Fort Huachuca, Leslie Woods, Fort Huachuca’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation sports director, the mastermind of all things sports and fitness at Barnes Field House — sits in his office and reminisces over the past two decades of the triathlon event.
After all, it was Woods who began the Steelhead Triathlon back in 1994.
“First and foremost, I liked it. I like doing stuff like that. So it is self-serving from that perspective,” Woods said. “The Army, at that time, was starting to transition from ‘sports,’ like football, basketball and softball, to ‘sports and fitness.’ I happened to be in the right place at the right time because my emphasis was fitness. So the Army wanted us to do stuff like this and I knew how.”
Even though the overall event hasn’t changed much in 20 years, many elements of it have evolved such as the overall cost for participants, equipment used, clothing worn, slower times and technology, according to Woods.
“It’s like a Model T versus a Corvette,” he said. “Triathlons now have become probably the most expensive activity. In full-blown triathlons, [participants] are paying entry fees over $1,000 and that’s just the entry fee. Their bikes are running probably $3,000 to $4,000. [Contestants] all have wetsuits. Their helmets probably cost $1,000. In the old days, we were just on regular road bikes and canvas covered helmets.
“The irony is, even with all that equipment, the finish times are getting slower. There is a less competitive aspect. I know when I was competing there were people always hammering each other to get ahead but now it has become more of a participatory activity … an accomplishment.”
Growing up in an athletic family, Woods’ love for sports and fitness was inspired by his grandfather, retired (German Army) Maj. Gen. Heinz-Joachim Werner-Ehrenfeucht.
“In the Second World War, they were very strict and disciplined in fitness and that’s something that stayed with him,” Woods explained. “And when we would visit him when I was a child, he always took me swimming. He’s the one that got me started in that activity.”
Woods went to Buena High School in Sierra Vista, where he played football and basketball. In 1970, the only year Buena’s basketball team ever won state championships, Woods was on the team. It seemed then that he had a knack for winning “big”.
After he graduated from high school, Woods spent the next 10 years going to school, enlisting in the military and traveling. But he stayed true to his love for fitness.
“I was participating in road races, and a track-and-field coach from the College of Southern Idaho saw me and asked if I would be interested in trying out for the team,” Woods explained. “I was in the eighth year of being able to use my veteran’s [education] benefits and I think ‘If I don’t use it, I’m going to lose it.’ So, with that train of thought, I tried out for the team. I made it and received a small scholarship.”
Woods ran on the track-and-field team at College of Southern Idaho, Twin Falls, from 1981 – 1983. It was here that his interest in triathlons began. After that, he spent two years running for Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In 1985, Woods returned to Fort Huachuca and began working as a temporary lifeguard. He has held every position at Barnes Field House over the course of his career.
Since his first swim/bike/run in 1983, Woods has completed more than 100 triathlons and has finished three Ironman Triathlons.
In 1990, at 38, Woods was selected as the top amateur athlete in the U.S. by the national governing body of triathlon. Later that year, he won the Bud Light National Championship in his age group. That same year, he won the National Championship for his age group in Hammond, Indiana. After that, he won the World Championship in his age group in Orlando, Florida.
At the end of 1990, he received a call again from the national governing body of triathlon letting him know that he been selected as the Triathlete of the Year and the Top Amateur Athlete in the nation.
“That was by far my greatest accomplishment,” Woods said. “That was a big year.”
For the last 25 years he has held the record for the TriTucson triathlon in every age group. He completed his last race one-and-a half years ago when he turned 60. But is he done?
“Unless someone comes back in the next couple of years and takes that record, I’m done,” he said. But after a moment of thought, he added, “Well, I’m not really done. I’ll never say ‘never.’”
And almost every day, Woods wakes up before the sun for a 40-mile bike ride before work, where he comes in and prepares for events such as the 20th Annual Steelhead Triathlon.