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Pleasanton-sponsored Russian triathlete breaks record

Russian man, joined by Ukrainian girlfriend and Tri-Valley host, wins Ultraman Arizona Triathlon
From left: Jeff Parrett, Maksim Kniazev and Mila Borodavkina pose with Kniazev's 2023 Ultraman Arizona Triathlon world record plaque.

What happens when you put a Russian, a Ukrainian and a Pleasantonian together? You get a record-breaking triathlon team.

Maksim Kniazev is a 33-year-old Russia native who, before 2016, had no idea what a triathlon was. But while he worked as a natural resource manager, he came across a video on YouTube of an Ironman Triathlon competition in Hawaii -- he was originally looking for the 2008 Marvel "Ironman" movie.

An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation. It typically consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.22-mile run completed in that order.

"When I saw it, I thought 'wow, how is this possible?'" Kniazev said.

It was then that he decided to conduct what he called a life experiment of seeing if was able to finish a triathlon -- so in 2017 he competed in his first one in Russia.

Now, nearly six years later, he is the record holder for the Ultraman Arizona Triathlon after beating the previous record by nine seconds last month.

"At that moment I was happy with myself ... I felt some special and very unusual emotions," Kniazev said regarding the moment he found out he beat the record.

The Ultraman Triathlon is a race that dates back to 1983 when the first Ultraman was held in Hawaii. According to the Ultraman official website, the event is primarily focused on building connections and having the athletes work together so they all cross the finish line at their own pace.

The Arizona race, which was held this year from March 17-19 in Phoenix, had athletes swim for 6.2 miles and ride 90 miles on their bikes for the first day; had them ride their bikes for 171.4 miles the second; and was topped with a 52.4 mile marathon the last day.

Kniazev had competed in an Ultraman Triathlon back in Russia in 2020 but because of the pandemic, he wasn't able to travel anywhere else to compete.

But when the travel restrictions were lifted, he decided to visit the United States early last year to chase his dreams of becoming a professional competitive triathlon athlete.

It was during that first visit when he met his current girlfriend, Mila Borodavkina. Borodavkina is originally from Ukraine and moved to the U.S. with her sister and her two children.

After taking some time away and coming back to California, Borodavkina reconnected with Kniazev who had gone back to Russia at the time. Borodavkina said that after some time, she had managed to convince Kniazev to return to the U.S. and told him that she would help him find a place to live and maybe even a sponsor for his semi-professional career.

That's when retired Pleasanton resident Jeff Parrett came into the picture.

The now-retired Workday employee said that he travels a lot and at the time was looking for someone to help him take care of the house while he was away.

After meeting Borodavkina, who was being hosted by Parrett's neighbors, she told him about Kniazev and his dreams of becoming a professional triathlon athlete.

"I love a person that has a big dream," Parrett said.

So Parrett began hosting and even sponsoring Kniazev with a side business -- which ended up being the beginning of a new team.

After his team was set, Kniazev began pursuing his main one goal: to beat the world record for the Ultraman Triathlon in Arizona.

He said that he would train 28 to 31 hours per week, while also helping Parrett with chores around the house.

The team practiced everything from handing off food and water to Kniazev from a car while he was running, to mapping out the course so that Kniazev knew where the turns were.

But on the day of the race, it all came down to Kniazev and his own will to make it happen.

Initially, he started the competition a bit muddy -- literally. The first day was a 6.2-mile swim in cold water, which is something he was not prepared for as he had been practicing in warmer waters.

"The water is the most uncomfortable part of a triathlon, (especially) for the guys who are not swimmers because you can't stop, you can't get some rest," Kniazev said. "You really feel for the whole distance that you (might) die."

Apart from the 57-degree water, which according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety could be life threatening, he also said the water itself was covered in mud and debris.

"It was more like a swamp," Borodavkina said.

But the team came through for Kniazev after having brought him swim socks to keep his feet warm and gave him hot beverages to keep his internal temperature warm.

From there, the rest of the first and next day went more or less according to plan as he sped through the open course on his bike and began his final day running the double marathon.

But after the first 26 miles of the run during the first marathon, Kniazev started getting the first signs from fatigue. His legs started feeling heavy and unresponsive.

That's when he knew he had to really step up the pace and run every mile from there on out in seven minutes and 15 seconds to achieve his goal.

But on one of the final hill climbs, where he didn't have his team near him, his pace began to drop even more.

"In that moment I lost all hope to achieve my goal," Kniazev said, adding that at that point his legs were so stiff that all of his steps felt like he was taking hits to his quads.

It was then that he realized he needed to run each of the last five miles in seven minutes or less to beat the record.

"When he came down that hill and we got back in contact with him ... I yelled to him, I said 'you can do it (Maksim),'" Parrett said.

The next thing Kniazev knew, he had crossed the finish line and after confirming with the record keeper and other race officials, he found out that he did it. His final time was 21 hours, 21 minutes and five seconds -- meaning he beat the record by nine seconds.

"Just imagine (the) many moments where I could have lost nine seconds ... just some time to stay here a little more, some traffic lights, stop signs," Kniazev said.

Now, with one record under his belt, Kniazev is far from done.

He said his next goal is to compete and break the record for the 2023 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii this coming November.

He added that despite the humidity, rough terrains and high elevation, he will do everything he can to achieve his dream.

"The main goal, like my own American dream ... is to make some path in Ultraman Triathlon history; not only to win but to also break records," Kniazev said.


About the Author: Christian Trujano

Christian Trujano, a Bay Area native and San Jose State alum, joined Embarcadero Media in May 2022 following his graduation. He is an award-winning student journalist who has covered stories in San Jose ranging from crime to higher education.
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