If you regularly run laps around Brooklyn’s Prospect Park on Sunday mornings, or Thursday evenings, you might pass a pack of bearded men, with one striding confidently in front. This is Chaim Backman, the leader of the TriChai Triathlon Club, the first triathlon group geared specifically to Orthodox Jews.
Backman, a Lubavitcher who works as a physical therapist, is a longtime runner who has completed the New York City marathon, but never used to bike or swim, the other elements making up the grueling triathlon. He began triathlon training three years ago, and took a course to be a certified triathlon training coach and started up TriChai. Now he trains 40 Orthodox triathletes.
“These guys have mostly sat all these years and never did anything,”
he says of some in his community feel good that I can help [make] a healthy change in people’s lives.”
Backman, a 43-year-old father of four, often sees the same runners in Prospect Park, and has a friendly relationship with many.
“I get a lot of ‘Shalom!’ comments,” he says.
Some of the women who train with him run in traditional clothing, while others don the shorts and T-shirts more typical of competitive runners.
Michelle Choina, a mother of three and one of TriChai’s members, started out running and bicycling in long skirts and long-sleeved shirts but says at a certain point she decided it wasn’t necessary anymore.
Choina, who will turn 50 later this year, was biking up the West Side Highway when she encountered people completing the New York City Triathlon. After speaking to them, she decided to set her sights on completing a triathlon, something she’s done four times over the course of this year.
“Most people don’t do in a year what I accomplish in one day as a triathlete,” says Choina, whose youngest daughter now rides a road bike with her.
Next up Backman hopes to expand his training into schools, to help combat the obesity epidemic plaguing many young children today. But first, he’ll cheer on Choina and others from the club who will complete the NYC Triathlon on Sunday.
“People feel Jews aren’t that sportsy,” he says, but “[running-swimming-biking] challenges them to get out there and do things they’ve never done before.”
To learn more, visit TriChai.com