"I've swam in some pretty raunchy lakes and rivers in my life," said the 28-year-old Lee, a resident of Hoboken. "I've heard people have hit some things while swimming in the Hudson River. I hope none of the things I hit are still alive. I'll just keep my head down and keep swimming."
Rob Morrison, an accomplished swimmer going back to his childhood days in Connecticut, is another Hoboken resident competing in the event July 16. Although he's competed in the triathlon each of the prior five years, there's still something daunting about swimming a mile in the Hudson River.
"Once the gun goes off and you hit the water, you really don't think about it," the 35-year-old Morrison said.
"But you do see some very interesting things down there. The most challenging thing about the Hudson River is the current. That's the biggest thing to worry about, not what's in the water."
Lee and Morrison are just two of the approximately 3,000 triathletes who will take to the waters of the Hudson River and compete in the triathlon.
The course, which consists of a 1,500-meter swim in the Hudson River, a 40-kilometer bike ride along the Henry Hudson Parkway and a 10-kilometer run in Central Park, will definitely draw the world class triathletes and those out for a Sunday jog, bike ride - or a swim.
The two local participants come from totally different backgrounds.
Lee, a native of Janesville, Wisconsin, is a standup comedian and actor. He's been featured on Comedy Central's Premium Blend show and will appear in two summer movies, Spiderman 3 and A Prairie Home Companion. He regularly appears in New York comedy clubs like The Comic Strip, Stand Up New York, Gotham and the Improv.
Morrison, a native of Cheshire, Connecticut, is a bond trader who currently works directly across the street from Ground Zero. He started doing triathlons after a suggestion from his brother-in-law, former Hoboken resident Chris Colasanti, who also worked with Morrison for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center.
Colasanti was tragically killed on 9/11, so Morrison competes in every triathlon as a tribute to his late brother-in-law.
"I had just joined the Vanderbilt YMCA and started swimming regularly again," Morrison said. "Then I started running. I really started to become fanatical about it. My brother-in-law was my boss at the time and he was very physically fit. He told me that a lot of guys from Cantor did triathlons. He said, 'You're already running and swimming. Why not try it?' So I did."
Morrison said that about 20 Cantor Fitzgerald employees would travel to Montauk to compete in the Long Island Triathlon, so he joined that troupe, along with his brother-in-law.
"Once I did the first one, I really got into it," Morrison said. "Biking was the hardest part for me. Swimming was never a problem. I think the biking was tough, because I lived in Manhattan at the time and it was always difficult to get a good workout on the bike in the city."
In the summer of 2001, Morrison, Colasanti and the rest of the Cantor Fitzgerald group went to Montauk.
"Of the 20 who did that triathlon, 15 were lost on 9/11," said Morrison, who had already left Cantor Fitzgerald for another firm in the months prior to the World Trade Center tragedy. "That's why this means so much to me. I do the race in their memory."
Lee was always a runner during his high school days. He also always aspired to be a comic.
"I think I've always been funny," Lee said. "I always had a knack for making people laugh. I remember my freshman roommate at the University of Minnesota telling me that I needed to do stand-up. He said he was going to write down everything I said that was funny in the course of a year and after the year was over, he handed me a notebook and said, 'Here's your act.' I've been doing stand-up for 10 years now."
Of course, Lee tried the conventional job route. He majored in advertising and Web design.
"I did it for three years because my Dad told me that he was not wasting his money to get me a college degree and not putting it to use," Lee said. "He told me to at least try it for three years. So, exactly when the three years were up, I got the hell out of that. I knew that if I continued to have a desk job, I'd be miserable. Being funny is easy. It's one of the only things I'm good at."
Lee has been biding his time, trying to break into the show business world. During his career, he's worked with such famed comedians as Lewis Black and the late Mitch Hedberg.
"I work like I'm on a fireman's schedule," Lee said. "I work for six days straight, then I'm off for two weeks. People ask me is it hard to make a living doing stand-up, but if you're good at anything and you get a break here and there, it's easy."
In the past year, Lee traveled to Iraq to perform for the troops there.
Lee now has a career in the business, especially after landing parts in two big movies, including the star-studded Prairie Home Companion, directed by legend Robert Altman.
"Altman was terrific," Lee said. "He creates such a great atmosphere to work in. I got to work with Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan. They were all great. No one was pretentious at all."
Lee said that his career is beginning to take off. He would eventually like to explore the world of television. "TV is a big byproduct of comedy," Lee said. "I think that's where all comedians want to go. I have so much respect for the comedy scene. It's all a process that has to evolve."
Lee said that he ventured into the world of triathlons because he noticed he was gaining weight.
"My mother saw me on Comedy Central and she said, 'Peter, you've gotten so chubby,'" Lee said. "I had gained all this weight and was up to about 235. I knew I couldn't have no fat chin for TV [Lee's favorite catch phrase]. I first started running again, but that was boring and it took so much out of me. So I tried a triathlon and it clicked."
Lee said that he first had trouble with the swimming portion.
"But now, it's my strongest leg," Lee said. "I can swim a mile in 28 minutes. And I have fun on the bike. Once the running starts, I just want to get it over with."
Both Lee and Morrison compete in about four triathlons a year. Morrison has completed about 30 in his career. Lee started doing triathlons about three years ago. This will be his first NYC Triathlon.
"I couldn't be more thrilled," Lee said. "This is as much a part of my dream as doing comedy is. Succeeding at this would be just as important to me. My goal is to finish the swim, then to try to get a good time. It all depends on the wind and the current of the river. I hear the current is nasty."
Morrison also loves competing.
"It's an extremely healthy sport and I just would love to dedicate more time to it," said Morrison, who has lived in Hoboken for the last five years with his wife. "I'm still a weekend warrior in the sport. My job commitments keep me away from doing more. But I always have a good experience. I really like the competition and the camaraderie."
So Morrison will take to the water next Sunday, determined to remember his fallen brother-in-law and his group of friends, how he was fortunate to get out of lower Manhattan on that fateful day and his former co-workers did not.
"Chris is always there," Morrison said. "I look out the window from where I work and it's always there, the reminders. I think about it every day. Not a day goes by when I don't think about what happened."
To learn more about Pete Lee and his career, log onto www.petelee.net.