Holly pole vaulting 12 feet, 8 inches for the University of Oregon
TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
Recently I got to talk triathlon with TCSD member and TCSD Track and Kids Coach Holly Stroschine. Holly has been a real trail blazer in her athletic career so I know you’ll enjoy her story.
Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?
Holly: I grew up on a farm in Oregon, with a huge forest. My twin brother and I would run around chasing animals, climbing trees, building forts and obstacle courses, so we were well conditioned for sports. I remember watching the 1984 Olympics on TV, and wanting very badly to become an Olympian, although I was too shy to start any sports besides swim lessons and gymnastics until 4th grade. I had watched my brother compete in several years of team sports, sitting jealously on the sideline telling myself “I bet I could do that”. In 4th grade a friend talked us both into joining Salem Track Club. I did jumps, hurdles, and 400/800m. I ended up qualifying for TAC Youth Nationals (now USAT&F) in the long jump and 4x400m relay, and placed 4th in long jump. I continued track all the way through college. I set a few track records in middle school, and went undefeated in cross country in 7th grade, until the district meet. In 8th grade I did volleyball instead (since that was the “cool” sport). I did a few years of basketball, high school ski team, cheerleading, more cross country and swim team. I went to high school district meets in swim team, and in several track events. My last 2 years of high school I also did pole vault, which I broke the Oregon state record in, which helped me earn a scholarship at my dream track school, the University of Oregon. I traveled with the U of O track team for 4 years, each year vaulting in the Pac 10 Championships. I also pole vaulted at US and Canadian Nationals, trying to qualify for the Olympics and World Championships. I am ½ Canadian, and their Olympic team was a little easier to make, though I narrowly missed it.
After college I continued pole vaulting one more season, though quickly realized how difficult it is for an athlete to compete at that level without team funding, while working full-time, with no sponsorship. So I stopped competing. That left a huge physical and emotional void in my life, which I spent some time filling with competitive surfing, but can finally, truly say is being healed through triathlon.
Craig: What was your first triathlon like?
Holly: My first triathlon was the 2010 Santa Catalina Triathlon. I was quite nervous, considering I had just delivered a baby 10 weeks prior, and the night before I fell off my bike, trying to change gears too late while turning uphill. A guy watching told me I shouldn’t be racing that course, which didn’t exactly help my confidence. I had only bought or sat on a road bike 2 weeks prior. I don’t recommend this. The race went surprisingly well! Swimming felt great, since I had swam a lot during pregnancy. The bike was uncomfortable, but surprisingly, and dangerously fast considering my experience. I was thrilled to see and utilize a “real” bathroom right along the start of the run course. The run was my least favorite, and most challenging, since I really hadn’t been running since early pregnancy. Though I only walked up one steep hill, and came in 8th in my age-group. That was quite exciting, so I was hooked!
Craig: You did that race 10 weeks after giving birth to your daughter. What did you learn about the health benefits for mom and baby when a woman regularly exercises throughout pregnancy?
Holly: I planned to run as long as I could into both my pregnancies, but at just 3-4 months in, I couldn’t tolerate it. I did some “cardio” machines and modified strength training during both pregnancies, which has known benefits like decreasing nausea, less discomfort, less fatigue, lower resting HR, greater VO2max, increased cardiac output, shorter and less complicated labors, lower c-section rate, less weight gain for moms, higher energy levels during and after pregnancy, and healthier birth-weight for babies. Even though I took pretty good care of myself with my first pregnancy, I ended up with pre-eclampsia, and was forced into an early induction. In the hospital I was given a lot of medications I didn’t want, which led to feeling sluggish postpartum, a slow recovery, a lack of motivation, and a very difficult time losing pregnancy weight.
For my second pregnancy, I signed up for my first tri, the last triathlon I could find that year, as I wanted motivation to keep healthier through and post-pregnancy. I consistently rode a recumbent bike, “ran” on an eliptical, and swam at the YMCA, while my 2 year old utilized their free childcare. Thank God for YMCAs! I gave birth to a very healthy 8 pound girl, drug-free at home (planned). The difference between an un-drugged home birth, and drugged-up in the hospital was incredible! I felt amazing immediately after giving birth, as the body’s endorphins and other post-delivery hormones weren’t interrupted from their natural cycle. I breastfed both kids, as human milk is the best nutrition for our babies; it contains antibodies that help fight viruses and bacteria, it helps prevent breast cancer in mom and baby, creates a strong bond between mother and child, and it’s a great way to help moms return to pre-pregnancy weight. Moms must remember that our babies’ nutrition is whatever we put into our bodies, so we’ve got to eat more plant-based foods, healthy fats, and avoid processed foods as much as possible.
Starting exercise postpartum requires significant core rebuilding, though cardiovascularly it can feel great. During pregnancy, a woman’s cardiac output increases 30-50%, and does not drop immediately after the baby is born. With more blood flow, we have a higher oxygen carrying capacity, which can make us feel super-human. Unfortunately it doesn’t last forever, although we can prolong exercise related benefits by breastfeeding. Breastfeeding mildly keeps blood flow higher, increases our metabolic rate, and releases the hormone relaxin. Relaxin makes our joints more flexible, like a natural muscle-relaxant, which allows a greater range of motion, or a greater stride length running. We must be careful though. Nutrition and gradual progressions are key, because too much exercise while breastfeeding can lead to stress fractures or other injuries.
Craig: What inspired you to start a triathlon club in Japan?
Holly: In 2011 I qualified for USA Triathlon Nationals, but couldn’t go because we had military orders to Japan. I was very excited to hear that a couple bases in Japan held annual triathlons and a duathlon. I was thrilled with the opportunity to compete with the Japanese, and wanted to find people on base to train with. I also didn’t want to risk losing the progress I had made since beginning the sport, and wanted to qualify for USAT Nationals again as soon as we returned to the US. So, I started Iwakuni Triathletes in 2012, got a bunch of my running mom friends to join and start competing in the multisport events. We certainly increased the number of women participating in these male-dominated events. The club still exists, though memberships are constantly changing as service-members relocate.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of being a TCSD member?
Holly: I first joined the club when I heard they had free races. If you’re looking for an inexpensive way to hold yourself accountable, this is it. With consistent races at the same location, you can check your progress against your own time and teammates. I love how the races have free food, which is also great motivation for my kids to participate. Kids do shorter races. We also love the club meetings, where we get to meet pro triathletes, get free food, and occasional raffle prizes.
Craig: What volunteer roles have you held in the TCSD?
Holly: I began coaching track practices with Bill Gleason at UCSD in 2014. We currently alternate coaching workouts, though the location is in the process of being changed. Please check club updates for our new location. In 2015 I led a trail run in Mission Trails Regional Park for one season, and would like to continue that again when I have time. I was recently asked to take over the TriClub Kids Program. We have short kids races during appropriate adult races, plus other fun training opportunities. I am hoping to add kids track practice at the same time/location as the adult practice. Our kids participation is currently small, but I would really like to expand it, by adding more consistent workouts and adding kids events to more adult events, to encourage more participation for parents and children. Please contact me at the email below if you have a child you would like to participate, or if you’d like to help this program in some way.
Craig: How has volunteering enhanced your TCSD experience?
Holly: I have met so many wonderful athletes of all abilities. It has allowed me to build lasting friendships, find training partners, and has influenced my own coaching business. As a coach, it has broadened my horizons, meeting so many different personalities, opening me up to a wider range of events, like Xterras. Without volunteering, I don’t believe we can fully appreciate what others do, or meet or get to know nearly as many athletes as we do when helping out.
Craig: What is your coaching background?
Holly: Prior to coaching triathlon, I began volunteer coaching youth track events and adult runners around my 4 years on the University of Oregon track team. I also did some assistant swim team coaching as a lifeguard after high school. I started personal training in 1998, while competing in college track, to help pay for necessities. I had many track injuries, so I pursued a Master’s degree in Sports Medicine, and spent hundreds of residency hours to become a certified athletic trainer (ATC). I worked as an ATC after college, got married, then went back and forth between athletic training and personal training as my husband’s military career sent us many places. After having children, I have focused on part-time triathlon coaching and personal training. In 2012, I started teaching running classes again. In 2013 I licensed my business Peak Conditioning for personal training and multi-sport coaching in San Diego. In 2014 I became a Level I USA Triathlon Certified Coach. I plan to take the Level II USAT Coach Certification Clinic as soon as convenient in 2017. This year I have also been offered a pole vault coaching position with Cathedral Catholic High School, one of the best local high school track programs. I will continue to write training plans and hold events for my Peak Conditioning athletes around those hours.
Craig: What mistakes have you made as a triathlete?
Holly: Many. Though I say the more you make, the quicker you improve. I have had a couple not-so-graceful “flying” mounts and dismounts, while learning them barefoot, trying to save a few seconds. I have got lost in transition, feeling like my bike evaporated. I also rode the Olympic bike portion in the Sprint tri at San Diego Tri Classic in 2015. I climbed well up the dreaded hill on the Navy Base, came down fast to the bike intersection between the Sprint and Olympic courses, was confused by the officials, and went the wrong way. I knew almost immediately, and asked a Navy volunteer if I could turn around to head back to the finish, but he said “You’re already here, just go up again.” I knew my chances at placing were done, so I had to kind of laugh and just keep going. My thoughts changed to “Hmm, I wonder how fast of a 5k can I do after an Olympic bike?” And “I wonder how my bike split will compare to those in the Olympic race?” Mistakes like that, we can beat ourselves up over, or use as lessons for future races.
Craig: You raced USA Triathlon National Championships in Milwaukee in 2015 and in Omaha in 2016. What were your experiences like at Nationals?
Holly: Getting to Milwaukee in 2015 was a miracle itself. My husband was deployed, and I didn’t have anyone else to watch our kids in San Diego. So, I threw it out on Facebook, a month before the race, that I’d pay a friend to come with me and the kids. A friend of a friend of a friend lived in Milwaukee, and offered to babysit for the race. I learned the complexities of pushing a stroller, while pulling a bike case and bags through the airport, but got there. The sitter was INCREDIBLE! She entertained the kids while I anxiously bounced around prior to the start. Then she and the kids were smiling at every entrance and exit, cheering and taking pictures the entire race. If you want to make a race-mom happy, that’ll do it! The whole day was surreal, and turned into the best race of my life.
In 2016, I had a similar childcare dilemma, but my dad offered to watch the kids in Oregon. So, we flew up there, I stayed a few days, then flew to Omaha. Since some of our crazy Tri Club members race in the Olympic plus Sprint race there, I decided I should too. During the Olympic race, my wave started at 10:18 AM, into 86º water, with a heat index rising over 100º from the humidity. I felt like I could die of heat exhaustion on the run. I fought so hard, the last mile I had tunnel vision, and felt like passing out, but really wanted to push for a World’s spot. I couldn’t walk straight after crossing the finish line, but finished around the top 1/3. I was literally dragged straight into the medical tent and covered in ice bags. I’m not quite sure what all went on in there, as I came out a little confused, with 2 medals, about 5 wet towels, and no sunglasses? I gave back the extra medal, but my cool TCSD Rudy Project raffle sunglasses never showed up. I certainly had second thoughts about racing again the next day.
Day 2 was the sprint race. I hurt, and had no idea what was possible, so just went out to do my best. Crazy enough, the race felt SO much better than the day prior. It started earlier in the day, and of course shorter, with less heat. I ended up qualifying for the 2017 ITU Draft-Legal Sprint World Championships in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. I am thrilled to go, and plan to bring my family to share this incredible experience.
Craig: I can’t wait to race with you in Rotterdam. What athletic accomplishment are you the most proud of?
Holly: I would have to say, being the first-ever Women’s Oregon State Pole Vault Champion. The year prior, I had asked our high school pole vault coach if I could try it, when no other girls did, and he surprisingly said “Yes! It’s supposed to be an official event for women next year!” That was huge news for Oregon, which is a big track state, so girls started vaulting everywhere. I went 10′ that year, as “exhibition,” and qualified for the first ever women’s pole vault event at the adult USA Track and Field Nationals, along with 8 other Oregonians. I tore my ACL at nationals, which was rather devastating, but had reconstructive surgery, and worked my butt off to compete again. The next season (1995), there were many girls fighting for the official state record, all hoping to be the first Oregon State Pole Vault Champion. I got it with a vault of 11′!
Craig: Who has been the most influential person in your life?
Holly: My Mom. She was a teacher, a huge proponent of math and sciences for women, a former track athlete, a good runner, a volunteer for many causes, and always very health and environmentally conscious. She was always so supportive of my activities, not pushing me into, or away from any sport. Even after I broke both arms pole vaulting, the week after that state meet, doctors told me I’d be done forever, but when I told her I didn’t want to give up, she supported me. She taught me to be kind, avoid candy and sweets, eat my veggies, to reduce, reuse, recycle, and never leave a trace. She passed away in 2006, after a 3 year battle with ALS. She was training for a ½ marathon when diagnosed, and fought the most positive, courageous battle you could imagine. There’s still no known cause or cure for ALS. Though she is gone physically, I think of her every time I don’t “want” to do something, as it reminds me I “CAN.” Thinking of her has carried me through my greatest achievements, and helped me raise my own children. There are many disabled people in this world who would give anything to move. Those of us who can, should take advantage of as many opportunities as we are able.
Craig: I’m sure a lot of people will want to contact you for your coaching services. How can they contact you?
Holly: Email works best: TrainerHollyS@gmail.com
Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?
-Place in top 10 at 2017 ITU Sprint World’s in Rotterdam.
-Qualify for and compete at World’s in some countries I haven’t seen.
-Compete in Xterra World Championships in Maui.
-Do well in a full AquaBike Worlds (since my knees object to marathon/Ironman).
-Win sprint or Olympic distance any year at World’s (even if that’s age 95 and I’m the only one competing).
Craig: Holly, thank you for sharing your story. And thank you for all you do for the TCSD. In my mind, you are already on the top step of the podium. Good luck in Rotterdam and beyond!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.