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Racing your potential: gaining insight from Tony O’Keeffe

Racing your potential: gaining insight from Tony O’Keeffe

By: 27182 Officer Cadet (IV) Carmen Kiltz

The first I heard of Tony O’Keeffe was as a first-year Cadet here at RMC. I was in discussion with some of the more senior Cadets, and, as an aspiring triathlete, a particular story caught my attention.

A former Director of Cadets had been an inductee in the CAF sports hall of fame for Triathlon, and he found time in his busy schedule to train at a very high level while living up to expectations in his professional career.

This story intrigued me because, first off, I had no idea there was a sports hall of fame in the CAF, and second, I couldn’t imagine training or competing at such a high level with all the demands of being at the University and other obligations competing for my time.

Fast forward over two years later, and I find myself sitting at the same table as the 2004 CAF Male Athlete of the Year. He is wearing a bright red “RMC Swimming” T-shirt which happens to be the same as one which I own.

On this hot Saturday afternoon, I am trying to contain my excitement and act like a sponge so I can soak up all the experience, knowledge, and advice he holds.


Sitting down with the former Director of Cadets, Tony shared with me stories of his training, career, and mindset.

To give some background, the endurance athlete is a top competitor and winner of numerous Ironman and Ultraman triathlons and has competed in the Race Across America (RAAM). In 2010, he set out to compete for his third time in the 4828km long race.

“It was all mental,” Tony said, matter-of-factly, “you’re thinking geez- this is never going to be over…I am strapped onto this bike and there is no way I’m not finishing.”

He achieved fourth overall in this race.

An athlete in training…

I asked specifically what kind of training he would do while at the College to prepare for such elite competitions as Ultraman and Ironman:

To start the day, the Chateauguay Quebec native would either run the equivalent of a half-marathon or bike sixty kilometres. At lunch, a 4000m swim would give him an appetite for lunch, and to wind down the day, another half-marathon or bike ride “the scenic route” home would do the trick.

So how did it all begin?

Tony did his first triathlon in his late twenties. As a runner, he had seen an advertisement for a triathlon, then attended a seminar where he met PERI, Sgt Jake Kennedy (deceased).

“He talked me into doing an Ironman,” Tony said. From that point onwards, the two became best friends and went to Ironman competitions together.

In the CAF…

Tony spent nearly 33 years in his career in the CAF as an Aerospace Control Officer. I asked him what one of his most rewarding experiences was, and he responded by telling me about his time at RMC.

“It’s such a high-energy place,” he said, “you can see the talent in the Cadets.”

He began as a Lasalle Squadron Commander in 1995, then moved to becoming a division commander and eventually the Director of Cadets.

Following RMC, Tony served as Chief of Assessments under the Deputy Commander Afghan National Police Training, ISAF Afghanistan, and then at NORAD HQ in Colorado Springs.

Mentality is everything…

What is special about my interview with Tony is that he shared his mentality with me. This is the mentality which served him in Afghanistan, was the main contributor to his success in some of the world’s toughest competitions, and continuously allows him to “race against his potential” in competitions.

The successful triathlete puts emphasis on being realistic and understanding your passions.

“If you think about something everyday, you know it’s a passion,” he says. For him, it is evidently triathlons.

“This is a sport for me, for my personality,” he says, “many people are drawn into the trend of competing in triathlons, but truth is, it’s not for everyone…[for some], it’s a 5000lb marshmallow and they just can’t eat it.”

Tony exemplifies an active and healthy attitude. He notes that it is mental toughness that gets you through hard situations- whether it be in sports, your career, or in other areas of life.

“I don’t always get what I want, but there’s a lesson in there, and that is always rewarding” he says in his calm demeanour, “if something goes wrong, just behave as if you knew this was going to happen, and don’t overreact to everything.”

The retiree demonstrates what “older folks” can do when they have paid attention and taken care of themselves.

He has been “passionate but aware,” and understands that too much of a good thing is damaging.

“If you can truly just live in the moment, you’re good,” he says, “the only reason I’m racing is because I think I’m improving.”

Tony O’Keeffe’s mentality is truly something we can all learn from.

I am still just trying to let the insight which I have gained from speaking with Tony sink in.

When we look at examples such as Tony, the impossible seems within reach, and unimaginable goals seem more realistic. True, it is easier said than done, but just do what you love, spend more time listening than talking, and don’t rush or force anything. Live in the moment, look your weaknesses in the eye and the rest will come. Let life teach you its lessons.

Thanks so much Tony for sharing your insight with us.