Who is that guy? Our September Issue comes with more than a cover story on SKIF International, the St. Louis-based designs that have crossed the world over. The model behind these carefully crafted, deconstructed looks has a story of his own. Meet Michael G’Sell, a St. Louis native, college student and triathlete. Michael’s story of change and endurance is cover-worthy in and of itself. Vital VOICE sat down with our September “Cover Guy” to chat about how his life has shaped him to get to this point now, and his future hopes of being a triathlete on an Olympic level.

How did you get your start as a triathlete?

I met with three friends and went on this bike ride with them – that was about three years ago. I asked them if I could ride with them, and they said that I could, as long as I could keep up. Basically, if you are not fast enough, they will drop you and you have to find your own way back home. They took me on this long, 60-mile bike ride – I’ve never ridden that far in my entire life, but I did well. So then, my friend Mike invited me to try doing triathlons. The first one I did was in Leitchfield, and that’s how I dove into it.

Michael_3The races are a challenge between myself and I. Granted, you are competing against other people, so you’d like to do well and win. But when I’m out there racing, I meditate and I relax, and it’s an enjoyable experience for me. You can’t think, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to run 12 miles.’ You just do it, and then it’s over.

You use to be overweight. Was that a big factor in becoming a triathlete?

Yes. I was all the way up to 256 pounds. I’ve always had a problem with my weight. The national championship that I won in 2015 was for heavier people in Grand Rapids. Just over the past seven or eight months, I’ve changed my diet, worked out more consistently and I just had a goal. Not just a weight loss goal, but also a goal of how I wanted to improve physically, and that’s helped me a lot. Overall, I’ve lost more than 60 pounds.

How often do you train?

I train just about every day. Today, I’ll do a 12-mile run. Some days, I will train twice a day, where I will swim or run in the morning, and in the evening I’ll either bike or swim. It varies – I don’t have a set schedule. Nonetheless, Sunday is usually always my ‘off’ day.

You’re a student as well. How do you effectively manage it all?

Right now, my two goals are triathlons and my education. I’m studying Business Administration at Meramec Community College. It’s hard, because I don’t really have a social life. It’s hard to maintain that, but I try and balance it out when I’m on the go.

How has being a triathlete affected your relationships?

I definitely have to give my dad a lot of credit. He has supported me 110 percent on this journey. Not just being there, but helping me pay for these races. Being a triathlete is not a cheap sport, because you have swimming, biking and running. To get to Team USA, you’ve got to pull out a lot. And once you make it, you get a lot of ‘free-bees’ and stuff like that.

michael_2Any thoughts on being the Vital VOICE Cover Guy?

Wait, I’m going to be on the cover? That’s so crazy! I’m nervous now. I mean, I’m excited, but I’m about to have an anxiety attack. 

Was this your first time modeling?

Yes. I was so nervous! The whole time, I was thinking, ‘Am I doing this right?’ When competing, I don’t feel anything like that. But having people look at me and tell me what to do, it was a little overwhelming. I never looked at myself as being the modeling type, but I would love to get into it.

On a lighter note, what’s you’re favorite junk food?

What isn’t my favorite junk food? On my rest day, I just pig out and eat as much as I can, whatever my body can take. I’d have to say chocolate covered almonds are my favorite, though.

And just for fun, what’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened during a triathlon?

I was going through a race, and I ended up skipping part of the race, and I won. So, I had to give that up and had to drop out of the race. I was really upset, but I thought it was the right thing to do.

Michael_3What have been the obstacles you’ve had to overcome?

Overcoming the obstacle of open water swims. My first triathlon, I had to backstroke the entire time because I had never done an open water swim my entire life. So I just dove into it and did it. When I’m racing, there’s still a little bit of race anxiety – I usually don’t sleep the night before, but once I get out there and start that swim, it’s a race between me, myself and I. It hurts at times when I push really hard, but it feels good at the same time.

Where do you plan on taking your career as a triathlete?

I did USA Nationals a few weekends ago. I worked hard, but I didn’t place in the top eight in my age group. November 5 is the next chance I can get to make Team USA, where I could than go to Rotterdam in 2017 for the World Championships. I’m excited, confident, working really hard, and I know that I can do it. But you don’t know how the competition is going to be because you don’t train with these people – they come from everywhere and we’re all competing for a spot on Team USA. You can’t blame them – everyone wants to go and represent USA in the World Championships.

Stay up-to-date with Micahel G’Sell’s journey with Vital VOICE – we’ll keep our eyes on him and keep you posted along the way. V

by Romana Mrzljak