Updated: Jun 14
I have waited for the media around recent races to quieten, as I want to congratulate Reinaldo Colucci on his remarkable win at Ironman Brazil. His success in this event is so much more than a race win. Rei's story shows how triathlon can have such a huge positive impact on one's life, and is a shining example of the good the sport can do. Rei is not Mark Allen or Dave Scott and hence only a few know of his personal triumphs over huge obstacles.
I thought our true Trisutto followers would take a coffee and 10 minutes to read about Rei's journey and victory in his home Ironman that was 22 years in the making. I hope readers can enjoy a look into an extraordinary self made career.
Reinaldo's journey began in his hometown of Descalvado, a small town 4 hours drive from São Paulo city Brazil. He first attended swim classes then learned about triathlon from my good friend Cali Amaral. Cali used to give swim classes to the local kids in small towns around his home in São Carlos, coached his own prestigious triathlon team and ran social projects in the area. Thirteen year old Rei wanted to learn about triathlon and to one day join Cali's team in the 'big city'. Rei was not particularly talented however he was an eager student and was fixed up with a very cheap bike and so began his journey.
Riding at home was not easy as dirt roads greeted Rei from his front door each morning, however after 2 years, the invitation to join Cali's team arrived.
Fifteen year old Rei was not billeted out, but had his own room where he cooked for himself. Looking after his new home was not a problem as he could from his bed, touch his cooker, toilet and shower. To say it was small was an exaggeration. He enrolled in night school and proved to be just as conscientious as a student as he was an athlete. He trained by day and went to school till late by night. He never missed an early swim work out or missed a class, nor complained about tiredness or difficulties at school. He was happy to get his chance to follow what had become his passion and he was grateful for the opportunity.
Early days of Rei's journey and Damha Triathlon Kids Project, São Carlos.
2001 was the year I met Reinaldo. I went to São Carlos and took a team to promote Cali's social project. Straight away this skinny kid caught my attention. How skinny? If he turned sideways you couldn't see him. How skinny? He would do a run session in the shower to get wet. This young man kept asking to train with my squad. He pestered me day in, day out. I said to Cali, 'he can't, he will break.' However a number of clues transpired..., that this kid just might have what it takes.
The first talent id that became evident is a talent that can't be physically seen, but is observed over time. Cali said 'Boss, this kid might be puny but he has the heart of a lion'.
'but Cali... ' was my response,
'Coach, this boy has bigger dreams than here. Let him join your group. I'm fine with it.'
So he joined my group and every day gave a physical effort that I can say no-one I've trained has worked harder. Believe me, he had nothing, but gave everything every day.
Next talent id was when Craig Walton noticed him enough to say to me 'Coach, the skinny kid just kills himself. I know he may be the slowest Brazilian here, but everyday he gets on my wheel and just goes for it until he blows up.' Craig gave no-one any compliments when it came to the bike.
Rei quickly became fully accepted into our pro team, so much so he was given a nickname, 'baby'. It was during a squad meeting that led to another piece of talent id being shown. After a team talk, Rei asked to speak. In pigeon English he said 'please don't call me baby. I'm no baby. I'm a man'. This 15 year old who looked like a coat hanger just told 3 World Champions and future Olympic Champions, don't call me baby.
However, coach kept calling him baby. So he confronted me about it. It was a short discussion - 'You are the youngest here. If you want to change your name then that's up to you. Go win a pro race in the men's division'. It took only 6 months. About 10 seconds after he won a Brazilian pro race Rei was at me - 'I'm baby no more'. And so it was. At the next team meeting Rei was now to be known as 'The Lion from Descalvado'.
Cali's team together with Sutto Pro Squad, 2004
In 2002, Cali arranged for Rei to join our team in Europe. He was given a plane ticket and $200 with instructions that when the money runs out you go home to Brazil. He stayed on athletes sofas to stretch that $200 out, and then went home.
His parting words were 'next year I come back and I earn enough that I stay the whole season.'
True to his words, in 2003 Reinaldo was back and became the French pro athletes scourge around the French circuit of country races. We drew up a list of all the races he could ride to from our base and he would pedal there, collect a cheque and pedal home. At seventeen, Rei was still average in swim and run, but he rode like a demon. He was still unsponsored and lived off his earnings, so we hatched a plan that in 2004 he would tackle Ironman Brazil. We would ask sponsors to kit him out and if he got top 10 in the pros they would sponsor him in the future.
Every sponsor thought it was a joke, especially when they met Rei in person. His physicality had them shaking their head and saying if he wants to kill himself and you're willing to let him, then we have a deal.
Rei not only got top 10 but finished 8th after getting off the bike a very tired second. He got some sponsors and 'The Lion from Descalvado' was on his way.
Rei continued to terrorize the French circuit at the lesser level, and coach thought I've got a future Ironman champion here. But like any good story, there is a twist...
I still remember it like it was yesterday. Up till then it was his biggest triumph. As a team we went to Phuket for a training camp, culminating in racing the biggest race in Asia, Laguna Phuket Triathlon. It was invitation only to some of the biggest names in long distance racing. With world champions and numerous big names on the start list, we lobbied to get Rei a start. It was duly given after some tough negotiations.
On the notorious tough bike leg, Rei ripped the field apart. He got to the front on a long climb and just kept going. Even I couldn't believe it. He put the star studded field to the sword. Then in over 100 degree fahrenheit, and about 80 percent humidity he started to run at a pace I'd never seen from him. I was beside myself that he would blow up. I raced to the first check point and yelled all the right coaching tips. He looked at me and said 'don't worry boss, this is like summer at home, I got this', and true to his word, he did.
Laguna Phuket Triathlon, 2006 - Finish celebrations
It was a magnificent victory against the best in the world and coach started dreaming of Kona, only to be put in his place in a meeting just two days later at Singapore airport. Just before he boarded, we met and Rei said:
'Boss, I know you think I'm an ironman, but now I want you to train me for the Olympics. I know it's not my best distance but its been my boyhood dream, I want that more than anything in my life. Don't be disappointed with me, and I promise when my Olympic career is over we will again go back to the Ironman dream. For now, you have a big job, get me to the Olympics please. I need to swim and run much faster but I believe we can do it'.
With that he turned and went to his flight, discussion over. He would hear none of my ten reasons why it was a bad idea. Within two days he made his mind up, that he could do it.
I'll shorten his next 10 years because the story is too long now. But Rei didn't go to just one Olympics, he went to two, and should have gone to two more. He won 3 Pan American championships for his country, numerous world cups, armed with nothing more than his two talents, a heart as big as himself and the belief he could do it,
He was on target in those two other Olympic campaigns, before being chopped down by an achilles operation and selection anomalies in 2016. On the cusp of selection for Tokyo 2020, a bike crash in the lead up race in Edmonton left him with a broken collar bone and watching the Olympics from home on the TV. Enough at age 36 to say I've had a great career, thank you and good night.
I received a phone call in 2021 'Boss how are you? We still have unfinished business. I've retired from ITU, but we have a deal. I promised you that when I retire from short course racing I will start Ironman again. We have to go back to Ironman Brazil and show my country what you saw in me all those years ago. Can you tell me if it's over for me? Or if you say I can do it, then I want to win my home Ironman and qualify for Kona.'
To see Rei win at Ironman Brazil with his family there, it was no normal
race win. Eighteen years after the race launched his career, it is nothing short of astonishing and his story deserves to be told.
The Lion from Descalvado is the living embodiment of how triathlon can change peoples lives. No achievement in my career is higher to me personally. It's been a pleasure for twenty-one years to know Reinaldo Colucci.
It is with great pride as I sit here after todays swim workout, watching Rei mentor a young wide eyed athlete who has a similar story. But who could easily fall into the trap so many young talented athletes face in today's world; the back slapping hangers on that will come once he too climbs the ladder of success. Rei's level of self importance has not changed since the day I met him. A true inspiration for so many of our Trisutto young athletes.
Congratulations from all of us, not just on the race, but your whole career. It's been an honor for not only me but all you have trained with you.
Just the way I see it,
Ironman Brazil, 2022 - 'The Lion from Descalvado'.
A resume of major results:
- 2 times Olympian - 2008 Beijing and 2012 London
- Gold Medal Pan American Games - Mexico - 2011
- 2 times ITU World Cup Winner
- 5 times National Olympic Champion
- Bronze medal at ITU Long Course World Championship 2021
- 8 times IM 70.3 Champion
- Ironman Brazil 2022 Champion