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Posted: January 10, 2007

Triathlon: Movie Review: “What It Takes” Triathlon DVD

Anyone who has ever thought about entering an Ironman – or has completed one – will love “What it Takes,” a documentary that follows four world class professionals as they prepare for the 2005 Ford Ironman Championships. In fact, anyone who appreciates the sheer mental and physical prowess it takes to finish an epic race like the Ironman will enjoy this film.

Produced by independent filmmaker Peter Han, it’s a moving and inspirational account of three world champions (Peter Reid, Lori Bowden and Heather Fuhr) and up-and-comer Luke Bell as they get ready for Hawaii.

It is reality programming at its best and Han does a solid job of weaving in and out of their individual stories throughout the 96 minute film. Frankly, I was surprised to learn it lasted that long. There are little, if any, parts where you find yourself looking at your watch.

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is the raw candor in which it portrays how the four pros deal with training obstacles, setbacks, distractions, relationships, and personal sacrifices to get to the starting line in Kona.

John Tesh said once during an NBC Ironman telecast: “If life is truly difficult, then an Ironman is a metaphor for life.” Han’s film is one of the first productions that shows the reality of the Ironman experience and what life is life behind the headlines for some of the sport’s top athletes.

A monastic Peter Reid cycling in a freak Victoria snow storm or holed away in Tuscon, Arizona, often lamenting a single-minded focus for hurting some of his closest relationships. Heather Fuhr living the triathlete’s life in San Diego with nothing left to prove but still hoping to eek out top performances in the twilight of her career. A pregnant Lori Bowden adjusting to a very different life and embracing motherhood and a young Luke Bell, leaving his family behind in Australia and trying to make his mark among the sport’s elite.

The other stars of the show are the locations – Dubai, San Diego, Boulder, Tucson, Victoria and Melbourne - and the cinematography is excellent.

Han’s film is as much about entertainment and the personal stories as it is motivation. In fact, the motivational tones are quite subtle.

You’ll come away with some important messages: Even the best never stop learning. It’s all about patience and a dogged determination to adjust, regardless of bad weather, pool closures, injuries and infections. There as many ways to the top as there are athletes. But the most important lesson is this: In the end, it’s the personal relationships that count.

Q&A with Peter Han, Producer of “What it Takes”

Q. Why did you decide to embark on the project?

A. Like a lot of triathlon and endurance-sports fans, I've really enjoyed telecasts of events like the Tour de France, but hungered for more entertainment. It always struck me as odd that these sports with impressive champions didn't have more movies and television programs to bring us their stories. That's the gap we tried to fill with "What It Takes".

Q. Why did you decide to feature those particular triathletes?

A. Peter Reid, Lori Bowden, and Heather Fuhr are three of the most accomplished Ironman competitors of all time. (Obviously Peter with his three world titles, and also Lori with her two, and Heather with the second-most Ironman race wins of any woman.) Aside from their victories, though, the Canadians were great movie subjects because they were personable, attractive, and articulate - good on camera and interesting people to explore. We added Luke Bell as a fourth subject because we wanted a contrast to the established champions: a young up-and-comer who hasn't yet proven himself and who has a number of interesting challenges on his own side.

Q. What were some of the obstacles you faced in making the film?

A. The biggest challenge during our shooting process was the sheer amount of travel involved. With a US-based film crew, international athletes, and of course races all over the world, we spent quite a bit of time on planes, trains, and automobiles. One of the things that happened during the year was the entry of the Tri-Dubai triathlon team, which sponsored Peter Reid and Heather Fuhr. We didn't expect to have to go to the Middle East project, but before we knew it, we were shooting footage of the Burj, the 7-star hotel in the United Arab Emirates. We also shot on location in Australia (3 times), Canada, multiple locations in the United States, and of course Hawaii, for the season-ending world championships.

Q. How were you affected personally in making the documentary?

A. Making the movie affected me on both surface and deeper levels. Most basically, I started exercising a lot more. Once you see elite Ironman competitors putting in the hours and miles that they do, the 4- or 8-mile run doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. You also get reminded of the benefits of balancing one’s life with proper exercise. More deeply, though, I became close to Peter Reid during the making of the movie, and really began to pull for him. I remember filling up the gas in our car the night before the Hawaii world championships race, wondering what the next day held for Peter. After the roller-coaster year that he’d been through, it was amazing that he was even at the starting line, ready to race. The tingle of anticipation that night was unbelievable. We try to capture some of that suspense and drama with the movie itself.

Q. Do you any plans beyond “What it Takes?”

A. We want to do quality sports dramas. Too often, TV programming conveys just the winner, the loser, and the score. We want to go for the human drama behind the story, like the “Lance Chronicles” did for cycling. Based on the success of “What It Takes”, there’s a very real chance that we’ll do a sequel or even more, e.g. in running or cycling. There seems to be a real hunger in the public for this content, and our investors are very pleased with the results so far. Stay tuned!

For more information, visit:

© Copyright 2007 Lynne Bermel

Lynne Bermel, a former world-ranked pro Ironman competitor, is a senior marketing & PR consultant living in Ottawa.. She is also a freelance writer and TV sports show host. You can reach her at:

You can access previous columns by Lynne at: LB_Columns

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