At 16, Alex Korab traveled from her Detroit home for two weeks of biking and camping along Virginia’s Skyline Drive, a trek she describes as “rigorous and solitary” but also “empowering.”
Now, some 30 years, several desk jobs at USA Today and AOL and two Ironman triathlons later, Korab has again embraced the world of endurance sports and opened a triathlon shop in Leesburg that she calls the first of its kind in Loudoun County.
Transition Triathlon opened in April on South King Street, a block from the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, where many residents run and bike. Korab, 47, and her husband, fellow Ironman veteran and co-owner Steve Makranczy, 40, hope the location will help shape the shop as a meeting ground for veteran athletes and curious beginners.
To distinguish their business from general sporting goods stores, Korab and Makranczy, a licensed massage therapist, offer products and training guidance specific to triathlons, which involve three sequential endurance events: swimming, cycling and running.
“Triathlons have caught on like wildfire,” Korab said, “and it’s partly due to the camaraderie behind them, ironic as that may sound for such a solitary sport.”
Ideally, she said, runners and bikers will stop by the store during their daily workouts for a cold drink, friendly conversation and support. To help foster a sense of community, the Leesburg residents offer group bike rides, Monday-night yoga classes and clinics on subjects such as endurance techniques and bicycle maintenance.
The inspiration behind the shop’s title was two-fold: It partly stems from the changing area where triathletes switch modes during a race (also known as a transition area) and partly from Korab’s belief that a triathlon has the power to transform someone’s life.
Triathlons “become a lifestyle for many people,” Korab said. “They’re addicting, in a way.”
According to USA Triathlon, the sport’s national governing body, races are more popular today than ever. The organization’s annual memberships are up from 19,060 in 1990 to 135,000 in 2010. One-day memberships for single USA Triathlon events have more than tripled, increasing from 100,000 in 2000 to nearly 327,000 last year.
The organization estimates that nearly 40 percent of triathletes are women. As a result, Korab said, it is her mission to offer products specialized for female triathletes, an unmet need in many triathlon shops elsewhere, she said.
“I always felt like I’d see stuff that was basically men’s clothing with flashier colors or a shiny zipper,” she said, “but it wasn’t actually made for women.”
Research led Korab to a handful of labels dedicated to female athletes, in comfort, support and style. She has since brought a few of them into her store. One is Skirt Sports, an athletic clothing line started by triathlete Nicole DeBoom, who won a 2004 Ironman Triathlon in a home-sewn skirt.
Although the shop will serve as an outlet for female racers, most of its services are universal. For example, after discovering that many triathletes did not know how to change their bicycle tires, she and Makranczy created a roadside repair workshop that has drawn an audience “split right down the middle” between men and women, Korab said.
“Triathlons are tricky, because most often, you can’t buy the necessary specialized and personalized equipment online and count on it to come through for you,” she said. “More than anything, the in-person consultations are invaluable. Many times, the most effective thing an athlete can go out and get is genuine advice.”
For further motivation, she offers a secret to intimidated aspiring triathletes: Korab didn’t learn to swim until she was 40 years old. She completed her first Ironman four years later.
“If I did it, anyone can!” she said with a laugh. “I literally couldn’t make it from one end of the pool to the other without gasping, but I had my husband there to mentor me through it. That support system, that key resource, is what we’re aiming to be with this shop.”
Transition Triathlon is at 222 S. King St., Leesburg. Information: 571-291-
3051 or www.transitiontri.com.