“White Lightning” is transferring that electricity off the football field and into endurance events.
Written by: Cielestia Calbay
This piece first appeared in the June issue of Competitor Magazine.
They called him “White Lightning.” At 5 feet 8 inches tall, former NFL star Tim Dwight was one of the smaller guys in the league, but possessed something other players couldn’t size up to: speed.
While at the University of Iowa, Dwight earned three Big Ten championship titles in 1999 in the 100-meter dash, which he ran in 10.3 seconds, and in the 4×400 and 4×100-meter relays. He also broke Big Ten records in punt return yardage and punts returned for touchdowns. That speed prompted the Atlanta Falcons, who dubbed him “The Kamikaze Kid,” to draft him in 1998.
Now the 35-year-old is transferring that electricity off the field and into endurance events.
On June 26, he plans to compete in the Ford Ironman Coeur D’Alene in Idaho, his first Ironman.
“I’m not the least bit surprised,” said former Iowa assistant football coach Don Patterson. “I’ve always identified him as one of the best competitors I’ve ever known and that nature will probably always be a part of his make-up.”
After his last NFL season in 2007, Dwight made his triathlon debut at the Iowa Games Triathlon in 2008, where he finished 121st out of 298 finishers.
Since then, he has competed in 10 triathlons and the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. But Dwight said he still has a few things to learn about endurance sports competitions.
“In football, you have all this gear on and have halftime to refuel, whereas you’re constantly moving in triathlons,” said Dwight. “Even if you’re mentally tough, your body has to get used to that kind of wear and tear because once you run out of energy, you’re done.”
He’s addicted to triathlons now and will continue to compete despite his least favorite part: swimming.
“The swim is what kills me. I did the Silverman half-iron and breaststroked,” said Dwight.
What he most appreciates about the sport is its community-centered environment and independent training, which he says is a significant contrast to what he’s used to.
“You’re always on someone else’s time when you’re in the NFL. You have your teams, you fly in and out of cities and then go home,” said Dwight. “At these races, everyone comes together, whether they’re seriously competing or just having a good time. You have your own plan and your destiny is determined by how much work you put into it.”
Dwight, who came from a sports-oriented family, first started competing at Southeast Junior High School in Iowa City, Iowa, where he ran track along with his two older sisters and younger brother. His sister, Shelley Donahue, said Tim’s dedication shined from the get-go.
“Tim puts more than 100 percent into anything he sets his mind to,” said Donahue, who manages The Tim Dwight Foundation, a non-profit organization that benefits children who’ve overcome adversities. “If it weren’t for his passion, the foundation wouldn’t have made it to its 10th year.”
Dwight said having competed at such an early age has taught him to better manage himself and his approach.
“The best thing about competing is that it’s all on you.”