To watch Al and Christopher Thresher together, you wouldn’t know the brothers are separated by 14 years.
Al is a 43-year-old dentist who lives in Las Vegas. Chris is a 29-year-old race director for the Ragnar Relay Company. They both participated in our experiment a couple of weeks ago when team “Ragnar Bike Test Dummies” opted to ride bikes instead of use vans for the Miami to Key West Ragnar.
While I loved watching them compete together, I was very grateful that Ragnar co-founders Dan Hill and Tanner Bell chose NOT to put me in the Thresher’s group. I would not have survived to tell their story.
Al Thresher grew up running track and cross country. Christopher, however, was the youngest of three boys, and found his passion in other sports.
“My other brother and I had run track and cross country and when Christopher came along, my parents kept telling him how great it was,” said Al with a laugh. ” He wanted no part of it. It wasn’t the cool thing…It wasn’t until after high school that he started running.”
The 14 years between them kept them from the traditional sibling relationship.
“Because of our age difference, he and I didn’t get a chance to do a lot together,” said Al, who grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. After graduating from BYU, he attended dental school just an hour and a half from his parents home – and his now 10 year-old little brother.
“That’s really where the relationship between us grew,” said Al.
While Al always loved running, it wasn’t until college that he started competing in triathlons.
“I tried the steeplechase once, and that was a treat,” he laughed. “I really enjoyed just running 5Ks and 10Ks because you could do it on your own schedule. I enjoyed being in shape and just going out and running, biking, and just being in the outdoors.”
He watched an Ironman on television and, with the quiet determination of a Thresher, he decided he might like to try that.
“I think everyone goes through that,” he said, humbly unaware that most people never consider the kind of physical challenges he has conquered. “I made it to Kona in 2002.”
The more he did it, the more he loved it. And because these boys don’t know how to do anything halfway, he immersed himself in training, diet, racing information and, surprise, he just kept getting better.
“I kind of just kept pushing myself, enjoying it, and loving it,” he said. “The more I did, the better I got.”
Then his little brother decided to join the fun.
“A lot of times I felt like an only child,” said Chris. “When Al was going to Dental Schol in Richmond, that’s when I was going through middle school and high school. He and I became really close. We used to go on bike rides together. Without that experience, I would have felt like an only child.”
Instead of track and cross country, Chris played lacrosse and basketball. He played lacrosse at the University of Utah, and admitted he “didn’t like” running until one day a coach made the entire team run two miles.
“He wanted to see how fast we were,” he said. “I came in second to last.”
Only the team’s heaviest player was slower than Chris.
“That was a huge wake up call,” he said. “I always felt athletic, and then we did that run. It was just a miserable feeling.”
The middle Thresher brother, Bill, began running with Christopher. His only goal was to get faster for lacrosse – at least at first.
“It just became addictive,” he said. “And then Al really is the one who got me into cycling…I borrowed a bike from him for about a year and a half and I just enjoyed it. I was pushing my body to new limits.”
This seems to be a Thresher family tradition. Within a couple of years, Al and Christopher were sharing new, more extreme adventures. They ran Boston and St. George marathons last year and LOTOJA. In fact, Al broke the course record in the bike race that starts in Logan and ends in Jackson. Christopher was just a minute or so behind him.
“Our skills are pretty comparable,” said Al. Both brothers said they’re competitive, in that they push each other, but supportive, in that it doesn’t matter who wins.
“When I was younger, I was so intense, it really affected me if someone beat me,” said Al. “But now, I enjoy the journey more than the result.”
In the Keys race, the brothers relied heavily on each other. They took an extra running leg and whomever was not running, accompanied the other on a bike.
“What I loved about it was that it was a race in a sense, but it was more of a team event,” he said. “You’re only going to be as fast as your slowest person.”
That meant offering support to other teammates as much as it meant pushing oneself. Al, who was one of the most fit members of the team, said his brother helped pull him through his night leg, which was on a dirt road through the Everglades.
“I had a 12 or 13 mile leg, and he came on the mountain bike,” said Al. “It was great just having that person there, to talk to, to listen to. It really takes your mind away from some of the monotony of staring at blinking lights ahead of you.”
His favorite moment was near the end of what turned out to be one of the hardest challenges either brother has ever accomplished.
“We only had 20 miles to go to the finish,” said Al. “First time in my life, I was riding my bike and I started nodding off. I thought, ‘This is not good.’ So we stopped and Christopher got an ice cream sandwich and I got a coke and a cookie, I think. We just sat there and hung out. It was probably one of the best parts. You didn’t have to worry about getting to the next exchange or catching up to the van. We were just taking our time getting there.”
And anyone watching the Threshers ride – or run – understands they move at race pace most of the time.
Chris said his brother also pulled him through in a particularly dark moment. It was his third leg – 9.5 miles – and seven of those miles were over a bridge.
“My legs felt good, but I just couldn’t move any faster,” he said. “I was just tired; I’d never gone that slow, and that bridge seemed to go on forever. Without al Being there, pushing me, prodding me on, telling me I could do it, I think I would have come in a lot slower.”
His favorite moment was in the Everglades, in the middle of the night, when Al was riding and Chris was running.
“It was just pure,” he said of the moment. “We were there strictly to look out and make sure the other guy could do his best.”
Both said the race just enhanced the relationship they already have.
“We love doing these endurance events together,” said Chris.
He acknowledges, with the kind of adoration typical of young brothers, that Al’s abilities inspire him.
“One thing about Al,” said Chris, “he’s really competitive, and he really does well at competitive events. But he’s just so nonchalant about it. He just loves doing it. He could care less if he wins. It’s just that most of the time he ends up winning.”
“I’ve always thought to myself, if Al can do it, I know I can do it. There is a competitiveness between us, but it’s supportive,” he said. “It’s never condescending. I’ve always been envious of him.”
After Al finished his last running leg, the two brothers made their way to the van. Chris was raving about Al’s performance.
“Where did you get the energy for that? That was amazing.”
Drenched in sweat, Al looked at his brother who was leaning on a bike. The older brother pulled up his shirt and pointed at his miniscule love handles, and then, with a grin said, “Right here.”
They shared some laughter, some water, and then they set about getting ready for the final 20 miles of their 191-mile adventure.