Darryl Haley: Football, Triathlon and Making a Difference

By Charissa Hipp

There are many elements that come together to make the Luray Triathlon special—from the people and the local businesses to the community support and the beautiful location. Darryl Haley is one of those people. He has done so much for the sport of triathlon, defying the odds and breaking down barriers, and now supports the Luray Triathlon and its participants as a business owner in Luray. Darryl’s story is one that deserves to be shared. 

Darryl Haley knows a thing or two about the drive and determination required to be an athlete. He’ll be the first to tell you there are no similarities between football and triathlon, aside from the mental toughness required. If anyone would know, it’s Darryl. Just after retiring from the National Football League (NFL) he was sitting around with some friends and happened to watch a broadcast of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. “I said ‘none of us sitting here could actually do this race,’” Darryl recalls. “That’s when I said ‘you know what, I’m gonna do this.’”

After talking with the World Triathlon Association (WTA), Darryl went to Boulder, Colorado. There he trained with some of the biggest names in triathlon—Mark Allen, Paula Newby-Fraser, Wendy Ingraham and Mike Pigg. They helped him understand what it takes to compete and the mental mindfulness required of a triathlete, as well as guiding him in the technical aspects of triathlon and Ironman competition. In 1995, the 6’6”, 325-pound former NFL linebacker finished the Ironman just under the 17-hour cut-off time, becoming the first person weighing more than 300 pounds to finish.

Darryl Haley playing for the New England Patriots

Darryl Haley with Triathlon greats Mark Allen (six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion) and Paula Newby-Fraser (eight-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion) on his shoulders.

Darryl Haley finishing the 1995 Ironman World Championship, becoming the first person weighing more than 300 pounds to finish.

It was while training for the Ironman that Darryl discovered Luray, Virginia,. He was bicycling on Skyline Drive and got off at Thornton Gap. “I’m coming down the hill to [U.S. Route] 211 and I can’t really see Luray yet but I see the valley and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is gorgeous,’” he recalls. “I finished my ride, I come back, I drive around and find the lake. I’m looking at the roads, the community and the resources that are here. Sixty days later I came back and bought a bed and breakfast.”

Though he hung up his running shoes two years ago and does more cycling these days, Darryl is a regular spectator at the Luray Triathlon. “It’s a great introductory race for most people,” he says. “The organization of the race itself is very proficient and it’s a nice, scenic course.” Darryl says it’s nice for beginners because the lake water is not choppy, and the bike and run courses are challenging yet beautiful. Darryl, who has continued to be involved in personal fitness training and athletics for more than 25 years, has even helped train athletes for the Luray Triathlon.

Owning and operating the Darryl Haley Bed and Breakfast is a perfect fit for Darryl, who loves people. “When you’re playing sports, especially at the level of a professional athlete, you’re kind of isolated because everything is done for you,” he says. “I think people are fascinating. Being able to sit and talk and exchange with all different types of people from every walk of life is pretty awesome.”

Darryl enjoys hosting Luray Triathlon participants at his B&B every year. “The hosting part is really fun because you get to provide them with a pre-race meal before, you understand what their needs are going to be with the bikes and after the race I have something for them to eat again and then they can just sit back and relax.”

Not only does he enjoy cooking for guests, but Darryl, whose mother taught him to cook at an early age, has a love for food and baking that goes back to his childhood. “I like baking all kinds of stuff,” he says, “but the pound cake is a very interesting cake to make in a sense that it’s one of the simplest cakes to make, but at the same time one of the most complex cakes you’ll ever make.” The recipe he uses was shared by a dear friend years ago and he’s tweaked it some over the years to make it his very own. 

He sells his pound cakes at his B&B and Luray vineyard, The Valley Cork, and also makes cookies and chocolates to sell. Proceeds benefit female veterans and the wives of veterans with everyday life maintenance. Darryl recognizes that freedom isn’t free and does what he can to assist the men and women who protect this great country. Every pound cake is made by Darryl himself, who bakes them in the commercial kitchen at the B&B, one at a time, to make sure the recipe is just right. “Pound cake requires you to be a little disciplined, kind of like doing triathlon, when you’re working with it.”

Darryl Haley and his homemade pound cakes.

Darryl Haley and his baked goods he makes and sells.

Darryl Haley’s Bed & Breakfast

The B&B and baking are really just a small part of Daryl’s efforts to make an impact on the world. He has a deep love of music that goes back to the age of six and believes it can be a medium to bring everyone together. In 2015 he started a non-profit, Music at the Monument, holding concerts in our National Parks and Monuments to perform outreach to local communities, particularly veterans, youth and seniors. This includes a concert series on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from May through October. He invites agencies, organizations and individuals who assist veterans to disseminate information at the concerts, putting veterans directly in touch with those who can help, whether it’s depression, drug use or even homelessness. “Everyone enjoys the music, but for us, it’s a way to create awareness.” 

Darryl is also an ambassador for the National Park Service, especially the Healthy Parks Healthy People movement, a global effort harnessing the power of parks and public lands as a health resource. He travels to National Park Service sites across the country to bring people together, encouraging them to engage in physical activities to reap the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of nature, as well as become stewards of park lands. 

Finally, Darry is a huge proponent of education. “We have to give something to our kids and meet them where they are so they want to make better choices,” he says. A fan of STEM education, he believes in capturing the attention of youth by “finding the hook” to guide them away from substance abuse and gang violence. “You wouldn’t go up to a kid and say ‘Let’s talk engineering,’ but maybe they like big trucks,” he says. “The calculations, geometry and engineering that goes into making those trucks, the triangulation of the frame and how they’re put together – that is how you get kids interested, in my mind, in school and education.”

Speaking of calculating, Darryl found that his mind was constantly calculating during the bicycle portion of triathlon. “You’re calculating your whole health,” he says, with lots of thoughts running through his mind like, “How much energy did I expend? What was my sweat rate? Is there head wind or heat or humidity? Do I need water? Do I need gatorade? Do I need water and gatorade? How much do I need to eat? What’s my heartrate?” Unlike football, where every 40 seconds there’s a new play, he found that you can’t rush things in triathlon. His best advice to others is, “Be patient and able to take what the day gives you.”

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