Meet the man doing 52 triathlons in a year

‘Screw it. I’ll just do 52 triathlons in a year’ | Soho House

53-year-old dad and Brighton Beach House member, Rob Starr, is changing lives one step, stroke and pedal at a time

Tuesday 16 August      By Tilly Pearman

Rob Starr – a 53-year-old dad and businessman – has just completed his 31st triathlon of the year. Believe it or not, Starr is not an athlete, nor is he living out the consequence of an arduous dare. Instead, he’s undertaking the challenge of one triathlon every week this year to raise enough money for 19-year-old Nathan Freeman, a British wheelchair tennis player who has cerebral palsy, to enter the next Paralympics.

When Starr announced his plan to his family, friends and wider network at the end of last year, a flurry of donations came in, prompting a second on-the-spot decision, to raise the final target from £15,000 to £100,000.

Freeman is just one of the many 10 to 25-year-olds that Starr supports through his charity, The Starr Trust, which raises money to help remove the roadblocks young people with disabilities face across education, the arts, and sport. So far, the charity has helped more than 4,000 people in 12 different countries, though that good work almost didn’t happen at all, as Starr explained to me over a recent phone call from sunny Brighton Beach House in the UK.

It all started when Starr took out a £20,000 loan to reinvigorate his once fruitful mortgage business. Once he had the money in his hands, however, he had a sudden change of heart. Starr decided on the spur of the moment to use the money for something more important. ‘[I thought] let’s open the local paper; let’s see if there are any young people who need help, and let’s give them the money in my dad’s name.’ His father, a generous man and a bookmaker at the races, had died six months before Starr took out the loan. Over the next year, Starr donated portions of the £20,000 sum to individuals, schools and clubs supporting young people.

Since, Starr has used the proceeds from his mortgage company – which had a surprise resurgence, despite the fact that he neglected to invest the loan into it – to keep the charity afloat. Fast forward 15 years and The Starr Trust is still going strong.

‘If you get the right people, with enough energy, and who care enough, then these things just work,’ he says. With optimism like his, it’s little wonder Starr can swim 1,500 metres, cycle 40 kilometres, and run 10 kilometres every single week. Despite the added challenge of living with Crohn’s disease, arthritis and sciatica, he has also taken on marathons over the years, swam the English Channel, and even competed in an Iron Man to fundraise for his charity, or, as he puts it, ‘just for fun’.

‘I’ve always been quite fit – never lazy – but I wouldn’t say I’m a sports person,’ notes Starr. Take the time when he couldn’t run further than a few miles due to crippling arthritic pain. Undeterred, he simply looked out to the expanse of British sea and said ‘b*gger it, I’ll just swim [instead].’ Two years and a bunch of swimming lessons later (that’s right, he couldn’t even swim when he started), Starr made it across the 21-mile Channel, and raised £90,000 in the process.

On the day of our interview, he’s already braved the choppy Brighton waters following a 5.20am start, and despite feeling like ‘an abandoned sock being tossed around in a fast-spinning tumble dryer’, he uses the adjectives ‘bright’ and ‘pleasurable’ to describe his 31st triathlon. Admittedly, he confesses later, it’s not always so pleasant. The most challenging moments come mid-winter, when he’s bracing a painfully cold sea temperature of 5°C beneath a bleak sky. Though, as he reminds me, it ‘all adds to the madness’.

His original motivation – that of honouring his father’s memory – remains a strong presence in Starr’s psyche. ‘My dad always made me believe that I could do anything or achieve anything,’ he tells me. Beyond financial aid, Starr notes that the most valuable work his charity does is to provide motivation to its young beneficiaries, ‘we make them feel important and like they can achieve anything.’

Freeman attests to the point: ‘I can’t believe Rob is going to do this for me, it’s amazing. I don’t know how he does it. He’s such a big part of my family and is literally making this dream possible for me.’

With just 21 triathlons to go, I’m curious to know how Starr keeps going. ‘Just crack on, it’s all good,’ he says, with characteristic brightness.

To support Starr on his 52 x 52 challenge, nominate someone you know who needs help, or to simply find out more, click here.

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