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Jacqui Giuliano is a triathlete and math teacher,
James Foster/For the Sun-Times

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Jacqui Giuliano: World champion triathlete, suburban math teacher still hasn’t reached her peak

“I like to find out what my potential is. I feel like I haven’t quite reached that yet,” the Ironman All World Athlete of the year says.

For Jacqui Giuliano, the Ironman triathlon isn’t just a one-day endurance race, it’s a year-round lifestyle that requires endless hours of training.

Fitting in hundreds of miles of intense swimming, running and biking isn’t easy when you’re a seventh-grade math teacher starting a new semester. Yet the 33-year-old Oakwood Hills woman is managing to teach a full slate of classes at the Aptakisic Junior High in Lake County while also working as a cross country and track coach and preparing for the next triathlon. She does so by maximizing nearly every moment of the day. While the average Chicagoan is still in bed — Giuliano can be found in a pool or on a bike.

“I wake up every day at 4:20 a.m.,” said Giuliano. “It’s not enjoyable, but it’s way better to be trained when you’re going to compete in an Ironman than not being prepared.”

She chose the challenging route even in her teaching career.

She grew up hating math but ended up choosing to teach the subject because “I can relate to students who struggle,” she said. “I have now learned ways to better explain things through my own struggle and hope to help [the kids] not hate math like I did when I was in their shoes.”

All of the work has paid off in terms of race results.

She’s finished in the top 10 in the Ironman World Championships three times and was named the Ironman All World Athlete of the year in her age group in 2017. Last year, Giuliano reached a new high when she and her and husband Ryan both aced the amateur category at the Madison, Wisconsin, Ironman in September.

“It was the second-best day of my life. I know you have to say your wedding was the first day of your life or the birth of our kids or whatever,” she said with a laugh. “But that day was extra special because my husband and I both won, and I just killed that run.”

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

To race a staggering 140 miles from start to finish in a single day (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon) might not sound like fun for most people — but running and competition runs in the family for Giuliano. Her parents were both runners who participated in the Boston Marathon, and their passion for running rubbed off on their young daughter, who began taking up the sport in preschool.

“As a kid, I didn’t realize that you could take vacations without running races,” Giuliano said. “I didn’t mind, I was hooked right away.”

Unfortunately, running hasn’t always loved Giuliano back.

Her athletic career as an undergrad at Mississippi State was a bust due to a string of injuries such as stress fractures and coaches who didn’t believe the extent of them. Her life improved after transferring to the University of Illinois and meeting her future husband and coach Ryan, but her post-collegiate running years continued to be plagued by bad breaks.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

In 2011, she partially tore her hamstring during the Milwaukee Marathon — an injury that ultimately led her to switch from marathons to triathlons.

“My body just handles the biking and swimming so much better than just running,” Giuliano said.

Believe it or not, Jacqui and Ryan’s first foray into the Ironman World Championships in 2013 was a first anniversary present to each other. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Both husband and wife keep racing and keep succeeding.

Next up: their seventh Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 12 where Giuliano believes she could have her best showing yet.

“It might seem silly to keep signing up for the same race, but I like to find out what my potential is. I feel like I haven’t quite reached that yet. So I want to do this as long as I can.”

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