TJ participated in many sports growing up, and in High School won 11 Varsity Athletic Letters. He was a four time Iowa High School State Cross Country Qualifier with a 16:16 PR for 5k. He was an all-state butterflier in swimming, only swimming his freshman and sophomore years. He was a four year starter on the soccer team earning all-conference honors his junior and senior years while captaining the team. He also joined the wrestling team mid season his senior year and wrestled varsity at 152 lbs. After high school TJ attended Boston University to play Soccer, but financially decided it more advantageous to attend the University of Iowa where he could benefit from in-state tuition. Struggling without athletic competition TJ entered Bill Phillip's Body For Life Challenge and ballooned to a lean 200 pounds. When one of his college roommates went to Australia for a semester and trained for a Triathlon, TJ was convinced to give it a go. He soon lost 35 lbs in a matter of weeks on a 1200 calorie a day diet and did his first triathlon in July of 2001, the Cornman Triathlon in Gladbrook, IA. He casually competed in a few triathlons a year and did the 2002 collegiate nationals on a friend's, Dan Koos', Quintana Roo Tequilo bike. Placing 63rd with only a few weeks of training, TJ realized he had some potential, but spending the next summer in Los Angeles for an internship he never really started to train.
In January of 2003 he decided he wanted to discover his potential in triathlon and devised a short training program. The goal that first year was to break the top 20 at the 2003 Collegiate National Triathlon in Phoenix, Arizona. He crossed the finished in 19th place but was later penalized 6 min for riding his bike in the road and not the shoulder. It was a bitter sweet finish. After graduating a month later, TJ took a job in Davenport, IA with Alcoa Aluminum. The transition to the new job took some adjusting but in mid July TJ met local triathlon guru and chiropractor Jeff Castro who placed 57th overall at the 1998 Hawaii Ironman World Championship. With new training partners and soon a new coach in Castro, TJ won his first triathlon in September at Kirksville, MO beating local favorite and former Iowan, Steve Taylor. TJ further extended his 2003 racing season by placing second in his age group at the 2003 World's Qualifier. He accepted his spot to race in New Zealand for Team USA. After this success he decided to continue the season another month and race at the age group nationals in Shreveport, LA. TJ placed 9th in his age group and qualified for the 2004 World Championships in Portugal. The 2003 ended on a sour note, with a disappointing yet educational 39th place finish in his age group at the World Championship in New Zealand. His final 2003 ranking, and first ranking from USAT, was #8 in the 20-24 age group.
Motivated for a new season, TJ set his sights on the 2004 World's only a few months away. He relocated to Hutchinson, KS in February of 2004 and met his swim and bike training partner, Billy Gilbert, a 29 year old Iowa native that had completed two Ironman races and coached the USS/YMCA swim team in town. At the World Championships TJ had a breakthrough race placing 3rd in the 20-24 age group and 13th overall, turning in the 4th fastest bike split of the race. TJ finished 2004 with overall amateur wins at Memphis in May, Chicago (fastest bike split overall), and an overall Amateur National Championship. TJ was invited to attend the Short Term Program with the National Select Team and spent most of 2005 living at the Olympic Training Centers. 2006 was again another transitional year leaving the training center and making a move to longer half ironman races with the long term plan of racing ironman.