At Bettendorf High School, Michael Dorr was a member of the Bulldogs’ varsity basketball, cross country and track and field teams.
However, he burned out during his senior year, sparking a 15-year hiatus from competition.
He developed a partying habit at the University of Iowa and dropped out midway through his sophomore year. In 1995, he moved to Colorado, where he lived in an apartment near Vail with his older brother, Marc, and slept on the floor until he found his own place. Dorr spent his time working as a ski lift operator, bartending and partying.
“I was drinking all the time,” said Dorr, who weighed 215 pounds at his heaviest. “I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing out there.”
He continued down that path until 2007, when he moved back to the Iowa Quad-Cities to reset his life. He lived with one of his three sisters before relocating to a place of his own. He quit drinking and eventually began working out at Ultimate Fitness in Bettendorf. He also began running again, resulting in major weight loss.
In 2009, following the death of his father, Richard, Dorr moved back to Colorado on a mission to stay sober and fit. He kept running, bought a mountain bike and taught himself how to swim.
Dorr entered his first triathlon in 2012, and he since has completed more than 15 swim-bike-run events.
“I definitely have an addictive personality,” he said. “Between 10 and 15 times during a race, I ask myself, ‘Why the hell am I doing this,’ but when you cross the finish line, it’s a very exhilarating feeling.”
Pushing himself to the top
The Colorado transplant from Bettendorf returned home this past summer to beat his personal record at the Quad-City Times Bix 7 Road Race.
Dorr, who now lives in Avon, Colorado, did not top his best finish from the early 1990s, but he won his age group with a time of 40:32.
“It’s a hard Midwest race, but it’s nothing compared to out here,” the 41-year-old said during a phone interview this week, referring to the terrain out West. “Running up those hills was nothing.”
Although he excelled on the pavement in Davenport, Dorr prefers off-road adventures, specifically triathlons on and around mountains. Last month, he won his 40-44 age group at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship in Ogden, Utah, landing him a spot in the XTERRA World Championship on Oct. 29 in Maui.
Next weekend will mark his third year at the event, which incorporates a 0.93-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean, a 20-mile mountain bike ride up and down the slopes of the West Maui Mountains and a 6.5-mile dirt trail run.
The field includes 850 competitors — 85 in Dorr’s division — from 45 states and 52 countries. They will climb 2,500 feet during the biking leg and 1,226 feet on the run.
Following his career-best performance in September, he hopes to finish in the top 10 of his age group at the season-ending contest.
XTERRA race promoter Trey Garman, who called Dorr one of the most “low-key and humble” guys out there, also labeled him a “fierce competitor.”
“After seeing what he (Dorr) just pulled off in Utah last month, I think we can expect him to contend for a world title in Maui next Sunday,” Garman, vice president of the Hawaii-based company, said over email.
In 2015, Dorr completed the race in 3 hours and 24 minutes. Last year, he battled muddy conditions and crossed the finish line after 4 hours and 7 minutes.
“You swim with your arms, bike with your legs and run with your heart,” said Dorr, who lives about 7,500 feet above sea level.
Training at that elevation, he noted, should give him a boost in the upcoming competition.
“Going to sea level, I feel pretty fresh,” Dorr said.
Older and faster
Standing at 5 feet, 10 inches, the 160-pound Dorr became a personal trainer in 2013.
This past spring, he entered his first marathon at the Desert RATS Trail Running Festival in western Colorado. He finished in 3 hours and 49 minutes, beating out the runner-up by about eight minutes.
Dorr may have won his debut 26-miler, but he did not enjoy the long-distance test. He may never register for another marathon. Instead, he opts off for quicker, more “precise” training sessions, which he credits for making him faster.
“I don’t waste miles,” said, Dorr, who runs up and down Beaver Creek Mountain three times a week. “I just do a lot of climbing.”
The triathlons, he added, allow him to escape into the wilderness, away from crowds of people and other distractions, with a focused goal.
“There are a lot of things that can go wrong,” he said. “You cannot have lapses or you will crash.”
At the 5-mile mark on the bike ride in Maui, for example, competitors will navigate a narrow ridge with 100-foot drop-offs on each side.
The risk involved fuels Dorr’s competitive edge.
If he ends up on the podium next weekend, the amateur triathlete will bring home a medal and closure, capping a grueling nine-month season.
“I like to race as hard as I can and see what happens,” Dorr said.
Win or lose, he will keep on climbing.