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Meet the Wassner sisters: NYC’s only professional triathletes

Last Thursday afternoon on the 2/3 train I spotted a woman with the most incredible, head-turning body. At 5’3” she was all lean sinewy muscle with a sculpted upper and lower body. With ripped arms, she certainly wasn’t a runner, yet she wasn’t bulked up like weight lifter. When I saw some guy step on her foot, I noticed that she grimaced and then looked concerned—and not about her pedicure. Clearly this woman was a professional something, and I had to ask. Turns out she and her identical twin sister, age 34, are the only professional triathletes living in New York City. Meet the Wassner twins.

There are scads of amateur triathlon events in New York City, but not many real deal triathletes. That’s because triathlon training—50-mile bike rides, open water swims, and long runs on varied terrain—is better suited to Boulder, Colorado, than the five boroughs. Yet while their fellow racers train out west, and their coach lives in Arizona, the Wassner twins are tried and true New Yorkers.

Bec Wasser professional triathlete
Bec Wassner racing up Manhattan's West Side

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This is home,” says Laurel. “I love the energy, being able to walk everywhere, and go to shows.” The biggest challenge, she explains, are the long bike rides. “We have to drive to Jersey or to Bear Mountain to do our long rides, but the swimming and the running happen easily in New York,” says Laurel. Come winter, the twins relocate to Tuscon, Arizona, where they train with their coach Cliff English, one of the top triathlon trainers in the world.

New York City Triathlon Bec Wassner
Bec finished first in the 2009 NYC Triathlon

Laurel, a former competitive swimmer who went pro in 2008, lives in Hoboken and is on the ferry to NYC every morning by 6:00 a.m. She meets her Battery Park City-based sister Bec, a marathoner who became a pro triathlete in 2004, at Chelsea Piers by 6:30 a.m. They swim 5,000-6,000 meters, which takes about 90 minutes. Then they take a break before hitting the treadmills. Twice a week, they slip in a Pilates class at Chelsea Piers. For lunch, they walk over to the Meatpacking district for a big protein rich salad, and maybe some fries, at Pastis or the Standard Grill. (Getting enough calories is their cross to bear.) Longer runs happen in Central Park, though never on the joint-abusing pavement. “I prefer to run soft surfaces, so the bridal path and the Reservoir are perfect,” explains Laurel. “And we do our hill training in New Paltz where we literally run up a mountain.”

Their bodies take a beating from training 25 hours a week, so recuperating bodywork appointments are essential. The twins like Fusion Physical Therapy and Sports Wellness and Laurel’s a fan of the ART (Active Release Technique), a soft-tissue massage technique especially well-suited for overuse injuries. In fact, that’s where Laurel is today. Yesterday, she placed 6th in the Rev3 Quassy Half-Ironwoman Triathlon. She was enjoying some ice cream when we spoke last night and hoping they could squeeze her in for an appointment.