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Ronnie Schildknecht crossing the finish line in ironman competition

Ironman legend, Ronnie Schildknecht, shares the inside story of his remarkable journey in endurance sports. With races that involve running, cycling, and swimming for 8 to 10 hours, Ronnie talks about staying positive and the parallels between endurance sports, life, and investing.  

He also discusses his latest project “Les Moustaches Ride”, a Zurich-based charity and networking initiative dedicated to providing bicycles for children in South Africa.  

Don’t miss this inspiring conversation! 

Hi Ronnie! Thanks for taking the time to speak to us today. Let’s begin with your story as an athlete. Could you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming a high-performance athlete? 

I grew up in a very sporty family. When my dad was young, he played soccer. My dad and my mom played tennis together. My granddad competed in the Tour de France and was a professional cyclist, very good at endurance sports. I always heard stories about it when I was little, and I was also born with certain endurance genes. 

How did you end up in participating in triathlons?  

The journey of becoming a professional triathlete was not an obvious one. As a kid, I played Soccer, Tennis, and Inline-Hockey, and only slipped into triathlon when I went to the US for three months at 19 years old for a language stay to learn English. 

Ronnie Schildknecht running near lake Zürich

The birthplace of the triathlon is San Diego. There, I met two Brazilians who were semi-professional triathletes. At the end of my stay, I went to watch Ironman Hawaii, which was truly inspiring. With them and in that place, I found my love for triathlons. So I started to learn how to swim properly at the age of 19, even though this was to remain my weakest discipline until the end. 

When did you have your breakthrough?  

It was precisely because swimming was not one of my strengths that I first directed my attention to duathlon and was able to finish sixth at my first duathlon world championships in 2002.

In the same year, I made my debut over the Ironman distance (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) and finished seventh in a time under nine hours. That was considered very fast at the time.

I think what defined my career is that I learned how to listen to my body. You can’t just copy-paste the training of someone else, you have to find your way.

Ronnie Schildknecht

After this race, I was able to sign my first professional contract. However, I could not live on it at that time. That came with my first victory at Ironman Switzerland in 2007. 

What were your biggest achievements?  

My biggest achievements were ending in 4th place in Hawaii at the Ironman World Championships and my nine wins at the Ironman in Zurich. In total, I won 11 Ironman in total, which only did maybe three people in History. I was also the first person outside of Europe to break the 8 hours record.  

Were there any difficult moments? In those difficult moments, can you tell me which they were and or when they happen and how do you find the strength to keep going?  

Of course, it wasn’t easy. The period from my first Ironman until my first win was 5 years. There was a lot of trial and error, like in life.  

I think what defined my career is that I learned how to listen to my body. You can’t just copy-paste the training of someone else, you have to find your way. And it’s important to have somebody you trust and who has experience as your advisor.  

In Switzerland, it’s very unusual to say as a 23-year-old “I’m going to do this professionally”. I had a job in an insurance company, the “normal job”, you would say. And triathlon is not a mainstream sport. Triathlon is like: Can you make a living out of this?  

Ronnie Schildknecht in Ironman competition
There are certainly difficult moments in every race when you have to perform for so many hours… 

Within a race, you also have crises all the time where you doubt yourself and where you want to quit. An Ironman is a bit like a short lifespan.

The feelings you have in 9 hours are very compressed and, as in life, you have ups and downs. You can be very fit, but there will be a time in training when you don’t feel good, and there are two options:

Do I give up or do I stick to it and overcome the crisis?

It’s very demanding, you have these crises, and you need to get out of it by staying positive. I think that’s what translates to life: In times that are not so good, you need to stay positive, analyze, change certain things, and then try again.  

Athletes’ careers and investing have a lot in common. In your own words, what are the similarities between the journey of an athlete and the journey of an investor? 

Ironman racing is not something you can do every week —you need a plan, then stick to it, and adjust it from time to time depending on the goal or life situation.

In a triathlon, you need to risk something to gain something.

Ronnie Schildknecht

It is similar to life and investing too. You cannot say after a month of training, “Oh, this doesn’t work”.  

What does it take to be successful as an athlete or as an investor? 

In life, sport, and investing, it’s important to have goals. Otherwise, you have no strategy.

You cannot jump all over the place all the time. And if something does not go according to plan, don’t panic. Don’t look for short-term success or winnings. Long-term is always better. 

Another similarity: You need good coaches. I was not an expert in swimming, running, and biking. I had experts that helped me with these skills. 

And a final similarity: In a triathlon, you need to risk something to gain something. But there is risk management involved. It’s the same in investing when you’re young and you are more willing to take risks.  

Now at 43, I’m investing with Alpian and already looking ahead to my retirement. For this reason and because I have a family, I want a little bit more security. Investing can adjust to those different scenarios as well.  

Now, let’s talk about your charity ride, Les Moustaches Ride. A few years ago, you started this initiative in the city of Zürich: Could you tell us how the idea came to life? 

A sponsor of mine gave me the opportunity to ride my bike in South Africa for a good cause, a charity called Qhubeka. Qhubeka is an organization that gives children bicycles in South Africa so they can ride to school. 

After that experience, I did a training camp with some friends where I was the coach. You ride your bike every day, swim and get a bit lazy shaving. We didn’t shave for around 5 days.  

One day, we said, “Let’s shave for tomorrow’s ride for fun but leave the mustache on”. In the morning, we all showed up with a mustache. And of course, it looked silly. People were laughing and we were laughing at each other.  

Ronnie Schildknecht and friends in Les Moustaches Ride in Zürich

Then we thought “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if 60 or 80 people would show up for a ride somewhere in Switzerland all with a mustache?” But even if that was fun, something was missing, so I thought: Let’s do a charity ride out of it for a good cause. And that’s where Qhubeka came in. 

Later on, I just sent all my friends and colleagues an invitation for it. We created a fake mustache for women to participate ain s well. We were 40 people and donated around 12,000 Swiss francs. Everybody loved it. That’s when we thought “OK, let’s do this every year!”.  

Last year, we donated 20,000 Swiss francs. One bike is 200 Swiss francs: That’s a lot of bikes.  

This year the third Les Moustaches ride will take place in August: What can new riders expect from the experience? 

We always meet in the morning, have a coffee and then ride. Last year we had some people coming with an E-bike, which is fine because not everybody is on the same level. We also had support from motorcyclists who helped hold off the traffic. 

Les Moustaches Ride in Zürich

We rode for about two hours through the countryside. Imagine everyone is coming with a mustache, even women with a fake moustache! It’s a networking event, of course. There are a lot of CEOs coming from different companies.  

After two hours we are back at Lake Zurich and we have a proper chat, and lunch and some even go for a dip in the lake.   

Looking at your career, achievements, and latest social project: How would you personally define our motto “Wealth beyond money”? What does this concept mean to you? 

For me it’s about connections with people, it’s about relationships: That’s where the wealth lies. Spending time with friends, having a BBQ, sitting down, and having drinks; that’s my biggest pleasure. 

Triathlon is a very egoistic sport. You’re doing it for yourself. You’re alone all the time. That’s why I’m, I think, a very social person. That’s why I like training together and sitting together. Sharing success is great in every way, not only in sports. 

And of course, being healthy is also wealth beyond money. That’s where the sport comes in. Sports keep me grounded, healthy, and happy. Being able to be outside, ride on our roads, and ride up a mountain is one of the most precious things I can imagine. 

What does your life look like right now?  

Now I’m retired. To retire a year ago was a big challenge: Finding new goals and having to reassess what I want to do. I had to change my whole life again. But the sport taught me how to deal with that, to set new goals, to listen to my body or my desires, and to find new motivation.  

I became an athlete manager, and I have my company called I-Ron. Before, it was all about me and winning. Now it’s about others, and I’m part of their success. Now I try to enable athletes to do what I was able to do, so that they can do what they love.  

Thank you, Ronnie! 

If this conversation with Ronnie inspired you, don’t miss our interview with Belinda Bencic, successful Swiss tennis player and Alpian Ambassador. In “Performing under pressure” she reveals her secret to managing the high-stress world of professional tennis. 

About the author

Driven by a need for clarity and simplicity on all things wealth related, the i-vest team works closely with senior financial experts and advisors to dive deeper into the world of finance, investment and wealth to make it more relevant for you.

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