A friendship built to endure

November 25, 2004|by JANET HEIM

Joe Tischer has been making wishes come true for other athletes for years, always eager to share his training strategies. On Sept. 26, he and his newest training partner, Trey Alter, competed in the 21st annual Make-A-Wish Sea Colony Triathlon, putting their athletic skills to the test while raising money for a good cause.

The triathlon was held in Bethany Beach, Del., and consisted of a .9-mile ocean swim, 21.7-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.

More than $500,000 was raised to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic, a nonprofit organization that fulfills the wishes of children fighting life-threatening medical conditions.


Since its founding in 1983, the foundation has helped grant the wishes of more than 4,500 children from Maryland, northern Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C., according to a press release.

Tischer is founder of Dreams Come True of Washington County, an organization he describes as a cousin to Make-A-Wish Foundation.

At age 68, Tischer has built a reputation as an extreme athlete. He's competed in three Ironman Triathlons in Hawaii, the first one in 1989, and numerous marathons and other triathlons.

"I'm a jock. That's just what I am," Tischer said.

Tischer prefers training with a partner instead of going solo, so over the years has helped train six local athletes for endurance events. He teamed up with Alter, 26, after a chance meeting at a Baltimore Ravens game.

Alter had been considering competing in his first triathlon and shared his desire with Tischer, whom he describes as a bundle of energy. "He said come over tomorrow and let's get started," Alter said. "He's a real go-getter."

The next day training began, as well as a fast friendship that continues to grow. They competed in the Columbia Triathlon in May - Alter's first triathlon - along with Julie Matthews, who also trains with Tischer.

While Alter admitted there were times during the swimming portion of the race when he considered "giving up and drowning," he stuck with it and finished the course.

"To say you want to do a triathlon is the easiest thing, but then you say 'What am I doing?'" Alter said. "It weighs on you."

Even so, it wasn't long before they were making plans to do the Make-A-Wish Triathlon.

Both men describe themselves as very athletic - Joe was nominated to the Sports Hall of Fame at Towson University, where he ran track and played lacrosse in college; Trey was on the tennis team at Drew University in Madison, N.J.

The bond Tischer and Alter share goes beyond their shared interest in athletics. Had it not been for training, though, they might not have become friends due to the difference in their ages.

"It draws a certain type of person," said Alter of triathlons. "We all share a common thread."

While Tischer laments the loss of speed with age, Alter marvels at Tischer's endurance. "I think his is better than mine. He'll never quit," Alter said.

Tischer thrives on their conversations while cycling - on topics ranging from economics, politics, history and culture. "Having such high-minded conversations with a young man is so gratifying," he said. "It invigorates the body and mind."

Tischer looks to Alter for inspiration and help with technology, including using MP3 players and resetting training watches after time changes. Alter depends on Tischer as a constant source of energy and for the wealth of information he shares.

"He can help me envision challenges I'll face in the future," Alter said. "He has so much more wisdom and experience than I could gain in a decade starting out."

Alter considers the training of the past eight months the most challenging of his life. He looks at the races as a way to measure how successful his training has been.

Both men are competitive by nature, at work and in sports. Tischer, who owns a home in Bethany Beach and is moving to Fountainhead in December, owns his own business, Tischer Surety, Inc., which specializes in construction bonds. He is also an adjunct professor at Towson University. Alter, who lives on Fountainhead Road, is a real estate developer for Dynacorp, Inc., a family business.

While training takes up a lot of their time, an average of 20 hours per week, they agree it's the women in their lives who make the biggest sacrifice. Tischer said he couldn't have been a successful triathlete without the support of his wife of 35 years, Christine.

Alter is marrying Alaina Ford, an active runner and college tennis player, in June 2005, who provides the emotional support he needs to compete.

"She doesn't want to see me quit. She's always supportive and encouraging, like my own personal coach," Alter said.

Tischer, who graduated from Arundel High School and got his MBA at Loyola College in Baltimore, said he always thinks the next race will be his last, then changes his mind. He recently set a goal to swim two lengths of the Hagerstown YMCA pool underwater without surfacing, after seeing a TV program on the training program of the Navy Seals.

Alter, a Hagerstown native who went to St. James and got his MBA at Mount St. Mary's University, has already registered for the 2005 Columbia Triathlon and hopes to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon in 2006. Tischer compares the Ironman, with its 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and full 26.2-mile marathon, to the Olympics - he said less than 5 percent of active triathletes can qualify.

"It's not important to me when it's going to end," Tischer said. "It's important to me that Trey has begun."

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