CV NEWS FEED // Christ asked St. Peter to walk on water, and he called Fr. Tom Baker to bike, run, and swim 70.3 miles—and to pray while doing it.
Sixty-four year-old priests don’t usually run triathlons, but Baker, who has been a priest for 34 years, just completed an Ironman event in Oregon on July 23.
Fr. Baker is a parish priest from Los Angeles. He recites scripture passages as he races, he says. A favorite is Romans 12:1, which says “offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”
“I also find a scripture for my race number and use it during the event,” he told CatholicVote in an interview. “At Oregon 70.3 my race number was 574 and the verse was Psalm 57:4 ‘May God send help from heaven to save me.’”
During the 70.3-mile race, the priest biked 56 miles, ran 13.1, and swam 1.2 miles in the Willamette River, a tributary of the Columbia River in Salem.
When the race got difficult, Baker offered up his physical struggles for the parishioners, reported Angelus News, an LA Catholic news outlet.
“I know people that are going through cancer treatment or endured some abuse,” Baker said. “So I think of those situations or parents who’ve lost children, and I lift them up in prayer while I’m suffering a little.”
In his homilies, Baker compares the spiritual life to triathlons. Some of his parishioners follow along with his races on the Ironman tracker app.
“I always say, our capabilities of doing things are much greater than we ever think or imagine. Whether it’s spiritual or physical, we can do more,” Baker told CatholicVote. “We just have to make a start and take long incremental steps, and you build up to where you can do more, whether it’s prayer or triathlons.”
“You don’t do a marathon in a week. You do a 5K and a 10K and you build up,” he said.
When Baker started doing short-distance Olympic triathlons as a seminarian in the 1980s, he never thought he would do anything like an Ironman. An Olympic triathlon takes under two hours, but a full Ironman takes about 12-and-a-half hours
“Once I became a pastor I needed an outlet for my concerns,” Baker explained. “So, that became my outlet.”
Before he was a priest, Baker was involved in a prayer and fellowship group of athletes. He recalls that the group was a source of “spiritual nourishment for him.”
“I really felt I was able to discover a personal relationship with Jesus and my desire was to bring that to Catholics,” said Baker. He has noticed that Catholics often have faith in “the head and not in the heart.”
He has completed over 100 triathlons since, including 15 Ironmans, taking him all over the country, including to Hawaii.
Some of his other favorite triathlon mantras include: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13), “Forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 3:13-14), and “Persevere in running the race that lies before you while keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Baker aims for three-to-four triathlons per year. This year, he will compete in two California races, one in June Lake in August and the other in Malibu in September.