TCSD Conversation: March 2020 – Claudia Flynn

Claudia celebrating her finish at the 2015 Ironman World Championships.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the privilege of talking triathlon with long time TCSD member Claudia Flynn.  For not being any kind of athlete as a young person, she has had an absolutely amazing triathlon career.  She gives hope to everyone still standing on the sidelines.  I know you will enjoy getting to know Claudia.

Craig: What sports did you do as a child?

Claudia: I grew up in Bogota, Colombia. Sports was not part of my family lifestyle. The only type of exercise when I was a child was on Sundays, when the whole family would drive to the countryside, pick an open grassy field and set-up a picnic. My mom would bring pans and pots and cook a full meal on site. We would play soccer or just play around until it was time to eat. I had fond memories of just eating, playing and having a good family time. My parents didn’t have much money, but they loved us and worked really hard to give us kids an education. For them it was really important that all of us graduated with a career. Growing up in Colombia was not always fun because of the battle with the guerilla and the drug dealers. It was unsafe and dangerous at times, but we remained upbeat and never lost faith. We learned to appreciate simple things in life, like “just being alive”, to live life to the fullest, and to not take anything for granted.

Craig: When did you start participating in sports and how did that come to be?

Claudia: In 1985, my boyfriend at that time in Colombia was an avid athlete. He was surprised that at age 19, I didn’t know how to ride a bike or swim. I was not interested in sports. I would rather study or watch his games while eating brownies. He convinced me to learn how to swim, but I couldn’t afford it. He paid for my classes so that I wouldn’t drown. When I left my country in 1994 and moved to United States, I felt I could exercise freely without worrying about being kidnapped, robbed or killed. However, I found myself going through a dark period for several years. I was struggling with my marriage, depression, eating disorders, alcohol abuse and even suicidal thoughts. My therapist suggested that I needed to find an outlet that would provide a relief for all of the things that I was dealing with. She suggested some form of exercise, so I started doing yoga and walking. Jogging/running just a block was quite hard for me. I remember running my first mile ever. I was thrilled I hadn’t died. I kept running/jogging until I could run 1 hour without stopping and soon signed up for my first 5K. I completed the Carlsbad 5000 in March 2000 and then did my first half marathon in Camp Pendleton (Heartbreak Ridge) in Sept 2000. It was so hard, but exciting. I was smiling the whole way. I felt free & safe. I was totally hooked. I did my first marathon (San Diego Rock and Roll) in June 2001. I honestly didn’t know how to train for it. On race day, I never used the porta-potty, ate or drank because I didn’t know if I had to pay for it. Only after the finish line when I found out it was free, I got some hydration and nutrition. It took me 4h 48min to do it and I savored every minute of it. I was slow, but I had made it to the finish line with a big smile! That day I realized I could do anything If I had the right mindset. It was a turning point for me. I got divorced, got out of the darkness & got my life back.

Craig: How did you get introduced to triathlon and TCSD?

Claudia: One of my coworkers and a friend, Debby Watry, was doing triathlons and mentioned to me the benefits of becoming a TCSD member. I promised her that once I got a bike and learned how to ride, I would try one. The challenge of completing 3 sports in one day was very appealing. I got my baby Holland road bike in April 2006 and joined TCSD in June 2006. Debby told me about a TriClub Olympic distance race that weekend in Glorietta Bay in Coronado. I had not swum in years and only in a pool, never open water. She assured me the bay was calm. I said OK! I was nervous about the distance and questioned myself if I could do it, but I went for it anyway. Once I got into that dirty slimy water, I couldn’t bring myself to put my face in, so I swam back stroke the entire 0.9 mile. The volunteer kayaker kept telling me where to go. I was obviously the last one exiting the water and spent a few minutes thanking and hugging him for helping me out, until he reminded me that I was racing. I passed people on the bike and the run and made it to finish line with a big smile on my face. I was hooked with triathlons. I loved the whole atmosphere, camaraderie and friendship of the club. I wanted to have that exhilarating feeling for the rest of my life.

Craig: You said you learned how to swim at age 19 and only swam in pool. Were you afraid of the ocean? How did you overcome it?

Claudia: Yes. I was terrified of the ocean because I watched the movie “Jaws” when I was 12 years old and that really traumatized me. Back at home, I was in my 20’s when I first saw the ocean, but I never went in. I joined the TCSD group swim at La Jolla Shores for my first official ocean swim in July 2006 (my 2nd open water ever). I started swimming with the group, but the ocean was quite choppy, so I couldn’t keep up with them. Suddenly, I was all alone and panicked. I swam to a small red buoy and held it tightly. I started praying to St. Anthony to help me out. Thankfully TCSD member Darrell Steele saw me and came to rescue me at the buoy. He became my savior. He was kind and calm and told me to just breathe and let go of the buoy when I was ready. He needed to do a mile swim and if I was up for it, he would stay with me swimming alongside me. I’m forever thankful to him for rescuing me that day. Another friend, Sally Johnson who I met at JCC, helped me with other ocean swims. She used to tell me, “Claudia, look at all the beautiful creatures”. I would say, “ yes, yes”, but in reality, I had my eyes closed anytime I put my face in the water. I was too scared to see things. In fact, the day I finally opened my eyes to see, I saw something following me, I was getting nervous. We stopped and I told her there is some “creature” scaring me. She made me realize that the scary thing was the letters “zoot” on the sleeve of my wetsuit. We had a good laugh about it.  Anyway, only years later after my friend Maren Lee Watts joined us in 2009, I started loving the ocean. Now, ironically, I would rather swim in the ocean year-round than a pool. I do my best to help other “newbies” to get comfortable with open water and appreciate the beauty it has to offer.

Craig: What was your first paid triathlon like?

Claudia: My very first paid triathlon was Los Angeles Olympic Triathlon in Venice Beach in September 2006 (my 2nd triathlon ever). The waves were huge 8-10 foot. I was really scared and really should not have been in that race. I only had a few open water swim (OWS) practices and definitely with not that kind of high surf. I was terrified by the waves and had no idea how to get past them. I tried to get past the waves three times only to be rescued three times, nearly drowning on third attempt. I prayed to my Dad in heaven to get me out of there, after being rescued for the third time by the same volunteer! He told me, “lady, you can’t do this. The waves are big and strong, time to quit. I’m not rescuing you anymore.” I was scared and exhausted by then. I removed the time chip from my ankle, and I was going to return it when I saw some of the girls in my age group exiting the water. They had swum the distance and I felt like a wimp. I told myself, “I’m not a quitter. I can’t give up. If they could do it, I can do it”. I didn’t have time to look for my husband to let him know I was ok, and that I was going to try one more time. A girl volunteer told me to run 50 yards or so, north on the beach and try again. She was right, the waves were not so bad there. I was able to do the swim. I was the very last person out of the water. My husband was in tears when he saw me. He had thought the worst. I said, “It’s ok amore, I did it! time to kick butt now”. I passed people on the bike and the run and had one of my fastest 10K runs ever. I was happy to be alive and for not giving up. I was grateful to both volunteers who rescued and helped me that day.

Craig: You won a lottery slot to do the Ironman World Championships in Kona.  What was your Kona experience like?

Claudia: In Sept 2014, I was in the water ready to race IM Lake Tahoe, when organizers canceled the race due to poor air quality from the King Fire in Sacramento. The 50 age group slots for Ironman World Championship 2015 were raffled among the Tahoe athletes and I was one of the lucky ones winning the lottery. I couldn’t believe it. My mom loved buying lotto tickets and used to tell me “Mija you are going to win the lottery someday”. I joked to my family saying, “Mom was right. I won the lottery”. Not what mom implied, but to me this was the best lotto win I could have asked for.

Kona was an unbelievable experience. Being surrounded by the best athletes in the world was surreal. I loved every minute & enjoyed the whole ambiance maybe a bit too much because instead of relaxing and tapering prior to race day, Michael, my friend Steve Bean and I walked 8-10 miles a day for the 4 days prior to race day just looking at the expo, attending the parade of nations, meeting the pros, getting ART by Gino, etc. I was in a total “high”. As it turned out, 2015 had one of the worst weathers in the history of the race, the temperature and humidity were in the high 90’s. On race day, the emotions and nerves were high. We were treading water for at least 5-8 mins before the cannon finally went off. Holy cow, that was a battle. Swimming without a wetsuit was not bad, except I swam ½ mile longer due to the current. During the bike, friends tracking me were impressed by how fast I was going the first 30 miles. Little did they know I had a very strong tail wind. However, turning towards Hawi, it was different story. The cross winds and rain started. On the way back from Hawi, the winds got worse especially the last 30 miles. I prayed the whole time I wouldn’t be blown away. Within 2 miles from transition, I heard Mike Reilly calling Jan Frodeno as the winner of the race. At that time, it came over me, I still have a marathon to run and he is done. Sh…! I started running and the heat kept rising. The volunteers were cooling us down with hoses, but one kid got a bit excited and drenched me completely; my shoes got soaking wet at mile 3 and from then on, I had to deal with the worst bloody blisters of my life. I really had to dig deep to keep going and keep smiling. I started cramping badly, too, and thankfully another athlete shared her salt with me. Once I got to Palani Road, mile 24, I heard the song “It’s a beautiful day by U2” and I didn’t mind the hill, the blisters and losing both of my big toenails. At that point, it just came down to tears. I had done it. I was able to race Kona among the best. Right before the finishing chute, I saw Steve and Michael who handed me a Colombian flag. It was such a nice and unexpected surprise. I ran exhilarated, proud and strong. The finishing chute in Kona is the most exciting & rewarding 300 yards of the whole race. The energy from the spectators hitting on the barricades, cheering you on and calling your name is out of this world. Mike Reilly called my name, “Claudia you are an Ironman”. TCSD members Gino Cinco and Tracy Cohen volunteering at the finish line welcomed me with a big hug. I was so grateful and blessed. Tracy put the brown nut lei over my head and although I thought it was pretty, she noticed my disappointment. I thought, “Holy sh… is this the medal for the World Championship?  Tracy said, “Claudia, no, this is not your finishing medal. We have to go pick it up”. Michael, Steve, Tracy and I stayed 2 ½ hours longer until the last athlete finished the race. It was a very emotional moment to see what it meant to the athletes conquering that finish line.

If finishing Kona was not enough of a “high” for me, the icing on the cake was getting married 2 days after the race, to my best friend and the most loving supportive person in the world, Michael Satterlee, my husband. We had an intimate ceremony in Kukio beach north of Kona, with Steve -who is like a Dad to me- as a witness and 21 green sea turtles as guests. It was just perfect and magical. I wanted to celebrate with our love commitment, my mom’s life. She had passed 6 years prior in 2009, on that day, Oct 13th. Kona has indeed a special place in my heart.

Craig: Congratulations on completing the Florida Ultraman in February!  What was that experience like?

Claudia: Ultraman Florida is a completely different experience from any race I had done before. It’s a 3-day event covering 321.6 miles. Day one is a 6.2 mile swim and 92 mile bike, day two is 171 mile bike and day three, 52.4 mile run. Each day has a 12-hour cut-off time. This race is by “invitation only” and only 50 athletes are chosen worldwide. The race course on the bike and run is not closed to traffic and there is no drafting allowed, not even in the swim. Athletes have to come to a complete stop, putting a foot down in every traffic light and stop sign to avoid penalty or DQ. Every athlete needs a kayak escort for the swim and “crew vehicle for support”. I had finished Ironman New Zealand in March 2019 with a high and lots of energy left in the tank. I knew my coach Shangrila Rendon was right. I was capable of doing longer distances. I had started building my resume since 2018 by doing ultra-distances again (200+ mile bike events, 50K trail runs and I had completed six IM events. Coach Shangrila encouraged me to apply for UMFL, but I did it with hesitation due to the cost, the training involved, my age, having a full-time job, not enough daylight and a myriad of other reasons, BUT, I sent in my application anyway.  When I got the e-mail from the race directors that I was “invited to race”, it was like winning the Kona lottery all over again. WOW!! I was nervous but excited. I was accepted and it was real, now I had to get a training plan together and get my ass in shape for this monster of a race.

Training was on track until the bumpy road started. I had way too many setbacks including a visit to urgent care due to heat stroke, a bout of vertigo and the nagging little doubt that I couldn’t do this. I got into a deep emotional roller coaster during a period in my training.  I was dealing with the pressure of having to find a new job after eighteen years, I was trying to find a new bike that would fit me and then just 4 weeks prior to the race I came up with strained TFL and ITB friction syndrome. However, Shangrila, my awesome crew (Michael, Steve Bean and Tracy Cohen), my family, friends and therapists kept me going with their encouraging words. I learned how to be patient, manage adversity and “callus the brain” like David Goggins says. Michael and I decided to drive from San Diego to Florida with our trailer and our two kitties, Shaunna and BC. Once we got to Clermont, FL and race central, all the fears started dissipating. I immediately started feeling a sense of family (ohana) and love (aloha) all around me. Everyone involved in Ultraman was so kind and warm. I met the most wonderful race directors ever, Chuck Kemeny and Jen McVeay. All the volunteers, crew members and athletes were so loving and giving. They were all incredible athletes with impressive resumes minus the big egos. We were all the same, but I still felt like the underdog. Steve King, the announcer, has the most calming voice I have ever heard. He took the time to interview each athlete and crew member so he could share stories and a few anecdotes of each of us with all of the spectators as we were racing and at the finish line. He made us all feel like rock stars. Each athlete was introduced prior to the race. I was assigned a kayak escort, John Riordan. Prior to the swim we did a “circle of love” where all 38 athletes that made it to start (largest field of women ever, thirteen) and we all were holding arms together. Steve did a prayer that hit me deep in the soul and I couldn’t help but cry. I was filled with an immense feeling of gratitude and calmness. I knew then, I was going to be ok.

The lake swim started calm, but after one mile the wind came up and it started pouring rain. I didn’t have time to think if the alligators were there or not. John did an amazing job reminding me when I needed to eat and drink and controlling the kayak in the choppy water. My left shoulder/arm started bugging me at mile 4.5 and I had to “embrace the suck”. After the 6.5 mile swim, I got onto the bike with a big smile, got lost for a little while, but got back on track thanks to my crew. The bike ride was beautifully scenic and only 2K of climbing. I finished the first day with 90 minutes to spare and super excited. Tracy was doing a great job posting in FB about the race, so Bob Babbitt who happened to be in Florida, came over to see me. I was thrilled and thankful to see him while I was getting the massage post-race. That night I only got four hours sleep.

The second day was VERY stressful for me. I was panicking I was not going to make the cut off time. I have never been in that situation. Clermont, Florida is definitely not flat. Some hills were up to 18% and we got 6.2K total climbing that day. I love climbing, but not the constant rollercoaster hills, they wear you down. I have endurance, but not speed. If I were going to make the cut off time, I needed to speed up despite the pain I started feeling on my left knee and my tired quads. I did a time trial for the last 85 miles. The scenery was gorgeous, but the crosswinds were scary going downhill on my new lighter Argon 18 tribike, and the head wind was demoralizing. I kept praying and telling myself mantras, “don’t count me out, I’m strong, I got this, it’s not over until it’s over, etc.”. My crew did a phenomenal job keeping me calm and being on top of my nutrition and hydration. I made it to finish line shaking, but with a huge smile and 35 min to spare. I had done the impossible. I hugged/thanked them and got the massage. I only got 3 hours sleep that night.

On the third and final day, I had no idea if I could run. The longest run I had done was 21 miles and remember, just 4 weeks before this, I couldn’t even run a mile without experiencing a great deal of pain in my right hip and leg. Tracy had told me, “Don’t worry, I got you, I will get you to the finish line”. Prior to the start, we did the “circle of love prayer” and once again thanks to Steve’s words, I knew I was going to be ok. I started running and amazingly I had no pain. The endorphins were doing a great job.Yay! Tracy was my pacer for 33 miles. She distracted me with her funny stories and kept telling me to hold a good form and powerwalk the hills. The run was mainly on rolling hills (we ended with 2K total climb) and 15 miles on totally exposed clay road (red packed sand). It got super hot in the 90’s. Michael and Steve did a great job handing us ice and fueling us. All the other crew vehicles were so supportive cheering us and sharing their water and ice. I had to change socks with 16 miles left but was thankful not getting blisters. Five miles to the finish, I got all choked up and teary. We were going to make it after all. Within 50 meters to the finish, Michael handed me the Colombian Flag and my crew, and I made it to the finish line as a team. I hugged Chuck and I totally lost it in tears when I hugged Jen and Michael as Steve King announced I was the first Colombian woman to complete an Ultraman. What an honor.

Finishing UMFL was much more a spiritual journey to me. A race so small in number, yet it felt so enormous and gratifying. We all had to fight our own fears and demons, and yet we were not alone; we were a loving family together (kokua), reaching for something higher than just a finish line. Something deeper in the soul. Something so incredibly amazing and hard to put into words. ALL the athletes, crew members and volunteers gathered until the last person crossed the finish line. That was the real meaning of the Ohana family. Next day, at the athlete brunch and ceremony, athletes walked in the room with the flag corresponding to the country they represented. Eleven countries total. Then, a few of the crew members shared their favorite stories of the race and then it was the athletes turn to share their thoughts as they were given their awards and finishers goodies. Sheryl Cobb, director of the Ultraman World Championship announced that we all had qualified for Kona. What? Michael almost died, he put his hands on his head, and said, “On no, here we go again”. LOL. Tracy immediately said, “I’ll be part of your crew”. So, I guess the Three Musketeers will go to Kona with me someday in the future.

Craig: You have done a lot of races all over the world.  What have been some of your favorite destinations?

Claudia: I have been fortunate to be able to travel with my husband Michael and three of my best TCSD friends Daniele Pelessone, Toni Martinez and Jerome Danan to do “race-cations” together and that’s why the race experiences have been more special and fun! Some of my favorite destinations have been New Zealand, Italy and Hawaii. New Zealand is a beautiful country and the kiwis are some of the nicest people out there. The scenery is spectacular. Waterfalls, hot springs right on the beach, the caves, and of course the sheep. Italy has been my favorite country since I was a kid. I love everything about Italy, the beauty of the country and the people, the history, the museums, the food and the wine and of course the gelato and the limoncello. We swam in the most spectacular water I have ever seen in the Blue Grotto. Hawaii has a special place in my heart. I love the memories created there, the diversity of the climates in just one island, volcanos and energy from the lava, the powerful waterfalls, the wonderful warm water, the gorgeous snorkel areas and of course the Honu (green turtles).

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Claudia: The list of benefits is endless, because TCSD is a big family where everyone helps and supports each other beyond triathlons. I have met some of my best friends through the club. I love hearing the amazing speakers (pro athletes), interviewed by Bob Babbitt, The Kona viewing, the raffles, free races (triathlons, duathlons, aquathlons), the eating and socializing afterwards, the wonderful volunteers & the amazing coaches, the track workouts, organized bike rides by Darrell, time trials at Fiesta Island, the open water workouts in Ventura Cove by coach Bill Gleason and the pool swim classes. It is wonderful to see other club members at races. We all get all pumped up and energized, and all the cheering makes one go faster! One of my favorite precious times was when I joined the TCSD team to raise funds for CAF and race the Triathlon Challenge “best day in tri”. That race, today, is one of the most inspiring events I have ever participated. I’m thankful to the club.

Craig: What have been some of the funniest things you have seen in triathlon?

Claudia: At my first full distance triathlon (Vineman 2008), I got out of the water and I was trying to be as fast as I could in T1, and this lady next to me was putting on full make up after the swim and fixing her long hair. According to Michael, she took another 20 minutes or so finishing it up before getting on her bike. I couldn’t believe it. I have done silly things, as well. At the inaugural IM St George 2010 the water was freezing (52-56 degrees). The cold temperature was causing trouble with my belly and I was praying to make it to the porta potty. I barely got out of the water and picked up my bike bag. I actually stayed in the porta potty extra time cause I needed to literally thaw. It took me forever to get the extra bike clothes on and had a hard time putting on my shoes and helmet. A volunteer saw me shivering badly and asked me, “why didn’t you go inside the warming tent? Someone could have helped you!” It was my first Ironman-branded race, so I didn’t know about it. Duhh! At IM Italy 2017 after finishing the bike leg, I ran the entire marathon with my bike gloves on and a fuel belt that had nothing in the bottles. The only thing I got from the belt, was the worst rash all around my waistline.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people and/or institutions to shape you into the woman you are today?

Claudia: My parents in heaven get a lot of credit. They taught me great values: to be honest, have a positive attitude, be responsible, work hard for my goals and never give up; to love and respect people for who they are, to give and do things with passion. In my teen years, raising funds with Mom to help kids and the elderly dealing with cancer taught me a lot about compassion. My older sister, Ivonne, who is pretty much blind and a cancer survivor, has inspired me to keep smiling and keep going despite all the obstacles life throws at you.

In the late 90’s I was watching a documentary about the Ironman in Kona and a man in his 80’s was doing the race. I was so inspired by him, I didn’t know him, but I said out loud to my ex, “I want to do that someday. I want to do that race”. He looked at me and said, “You don’t exercise, you don’t even walk”. I said, “I know, but who knows, I have until I’m 80 to do it”. That 80 year old man put a seed in my brain that took many years to develop, but eventually did.

And finally, but not least, my husband Michael. He is my endless supporter. I couldn’t be where I’m now without him. He has never stopped believing in me even when I don’t believe in myself. His selfless manner has helped me grow as a person. He repeatedly calls me “his champion” and that has a profound effect on me on any athletic event I have undertaken. Knowing that he is there, has encouraged me to make it to the finish line at every single event I have raced. I never had the chance to be a mom, but thanks to Michael, I’m a grandma of 6 amazing loving kids, so my circle of life as a woman and family member feels complete now.

Craig: Over the years, who have been some of the people who have helped you out the most with your triathlon career?

Claudia: It’s been a whole village of caring, loving and supportive people who have helped me out over the years. I’m deeply grateful to each one of them. To mention a few. My family with all their support & prayers. My parents in heaven and St. Anthony looking after me and protecting me. My husband Michael, who actually taught me how to ride a bike, takes me to any race I feel like doing and puts up with me. TCSD coaches – You Craig, for your race plans and mentoring me and Bill Gleason, my previous coach, who played an important role in my training and who I am now as an athlete. Feisty Fox Coaching and coach Shangrila Rendon who has made me a tougher athlete, helped me to believe in myself, kept me out of trouble and inspired me by example to reach higher goals I never imagined I was capable of. My trail running buddies Steve Bean and Sharon Smith and all of my swim buddies from the Pelican Team, biking and race-cation buddies, TCSD and  Feisty Fox Coaching friends and all my therapists who have helped this body to keep going.

Craig: What does triathlon mean to you?

Claudia: Triathlon is my passion, my lifestyle. Triathlon changed my life. It made me realize that life is worth living. It helped me with my self-esteem. I became more assertive, confident and more organized with my time. It made me stronger both physically and mentally. It has taken me on a roller coaster ride of emotions, but always so exhilarating at the end. It has helped me inspire others to go farther than they think they are capable of. Thanks to triathlons, I have traveled to places I never thought I would go. I have met wonderful people sharing the same passion and love for the sport. So, I feel grateful and blessed.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?  (You had mentioned IM Switzerland.  This answer does not need to be limited to actually racing.  For all I know, you might have some more broad triathlon related goals.).

Claudia: Not sure about the timing yet, but future races in mind: IM Switzerland, Double Anvil Oregon and Ultraman World Championship in Kona. Outside of triathlons get more involved in giving back to the triathlon community and help other athletes achieve their goals. I would love to see some of my grandkids follow in my foot steps in triathlons. I hope that dream comes true.

Craig: Claudia, I knew you would have an amazing story.  Congratulations on everything you have accomplished.  I know you will continue to inspire.  Thank you for sharing your story!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or tricraigz@yahoo.com.

 

 

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TCSD Conversation: February 2020 – Kevin Fayad

Kevin Fayad finishing 2018 Ironman Santa Rosa.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently got to sit down and talk triathlon with Kevin Fayad, one of TCSD’s Swiss Army Knife guys who seems to do a little bit of everything.  It takes great people like Kevin to keep TCSD running like a well oiled machine.  I know you’ll enjoy getting to know Kevin.

Craig: What was your athletic background from your school age days?

Kevin: Born in Passaic, New Jersey, a rough inner city. The only sport was walking to school and back home, about a mile each way.  I enjoyed going to the Mets games with my friend Billy and his dad. Yes, we brought our baseball gloves to try and snag a ball! The hood was getting too rough and one day Mom took a stand for a better family life “Honey I’m taking the kids and we’re leaving this place, are you coming or not?!” We moved South to the Jersey Shore where a new life began for our family. From inner city to a small coastal community on the fringes of the pine barrens. The locals were called Piney’s. We started in a 100-year-old, farmhouse with a fruit market next door that my father turned into his real estate office. Across the street was a dilapidated Dairy Queen they later purchased and rebuilt it as our family restaurant, The Chimney, where we all pitched in and worked. We even had a promotion with Heather Locklear, I couldn’t believe she was there, so beautiful. I had my Farrah Faucet crush poster at that time too. While getting the real estate office started and raising 4 kids, my parents purchased an abandoned lot two miles down the street. It was basically a large hole in the ground located on the water and used by locals to dump waste.  My parents cleaned it up, filled it in and built our family home on the Metedeconk River which my sister lives in today. As a kid, growing up on the water was special with so many things to do! My first real sport was pee wee ice hockey, where my gear bag was bigger than me. Thanks Mom, I couldn’t have done it without you! She drove me to a lot of practices over the years. Ice hockey was soon replaced by other activities like fishing, swimming, sailing, riding dirt bikes in the woods. My passion was always sailing and swimming, two disciplines that have been a big part of my life.

Craig: I’ve heard you were a pretty good sailor.  What was the highest level you achieved with sailing?

Kevin: Sailing for me started with humble beginnings and became a passion and escape from the house and into a world of adventure. My parents bought us a small Sunfish sailboat. It was a cold winter day with windblown white caps. Too excited to notice or care, my brother Mike and I got on board our little craft and held on for dear life as we skimmed across the river, holding on with white knuckles until we got beached on the other side, freezing and elated, I was hooked! Our family joined Metedeconk Yacht Club just 2 miles down the river where I started taking sailing lessons and racing boats on the weekends. At the same time, I also started swimming and going to club swim meets. I was nine, living on water and spending a lot of time in the water – it was my playground.  Wake up, sail to the Yacht club for swim practice, then sailing lessons and sail back home. My parents knew how to keep me busy and out of trouble! The first season racing boats was exciting! I finished dead-last in every race and quickly learned what not to do. Winters were spent reading and studying everything I could find on tactics, boat handling, sail trim, weather/wind. I was determined to do better next season. My father came into my room one evening and paged through a sail trim book I was reading then looked at me and said, “do you understand this?” As a triathlete you know we have our own language… VO2 Max, FTP, Watts etc. and so does yacht racing. I stayed with it and started winning races, race series, went to nationals and worlds sailing events. During high school I also ran one season of spring track which killed my calves and one winter track in the snow – neither lasted. Each year swimming, I qualified for the All-Star team and competed against other clubs. And sailing progressed into larger boats requiring crew and teamwork.

It was after graduating HS, summer break, life was great! I felt unstoppable – bullet proof! I was accepted to the College of Charleston and had a letter from the Sailing coach, George Woods. I was also into riding dirt bikes around the pine barrens with my brother and friends. My beast was the Maco Magnum 400 a powerful bike and a blast to ride. Going over the handlebars was common but breaking my femur put an end to my summer fun. Being in the hospital the summer before college was not the plan. Winning yacht races and sailing regattas was my vision. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right! Off to the College with a broken leg I hobbled on crutches for the first semester.  During that time I swam a mile every morning and rehabbed my leg with the basketball teams PT. I started sailing the following semester and quickly remembered that one design sailing is a very physical sport.  Sailing practice was comprised of riding my bike to the docks, rigging the boat, practice for 2+ hours, unrig, wash and stow equipment, shower, eat and then go study. Later add a job and fraternity on top of studies – my schedule was packed. Sounds like a triathlete’s lifestyle! We were a low budget team ranked 14th in the nation. Traveling to regattas on the weekends by van if at all possible and by plane when necessary. I enjoyed the dingy nations hosted annually by Tulane University during Mardi Gras! One season I was racing at the Lighting North American Championship on the Puget Sound in Washington and then back out there the following year for the Collegiate Sloop National Championship sailed on J24’s. That event was made up of the top 7 teams in the US. College of Charleston was now a top ranked team!

Craig: What led to your first triathlon and what was your first triathlon like?

Kevin: What led to my first tri was swimming with the Toms River YMCA master’s group. When I returned home from college, I was looking for a job and swimming to keep busy, fit and sane. At practice my lane partner said “hey, we’re going to ride our bikes after practice, you want to join?” Of course, I loved riding my bike. I rode in college after studying to burn off some energy and stress many times at midnight. On weekends, my roommate and Kappa Sigma Brother, Vern and I would ride over the Cooper River bridge hitting 50+ mph on the backside on our way to Sullivan’s Island. We played beach volleyball all day. With every win we would advance court by court until the center court behind the beach bar. When we lost center court, we would grab a Gatorade and ride home, round trip, about 50 miles. This is where I first learned about bonking and how a few figs will get me another five miles and home. It’s also where I got hit twice by cars and suffered 2 broken collar bones! So here I am back in Jersey, riding on icy roads, thinking “gees, this isn’t too safe and these 50-degree ocean swims -burr! I started reading magazine articles about triathlons and the year-round training available in San Diego.  Hmmm, interesting, enticing. Doing odd jobs – not my career path, parents still bickering after their divorce, heck, I dove for a West coast adventure! Yep, packed up my VW Golf with “all” my possessions (clothes, stereo and misc. stuff) shipped the car out as I boarded a plane with my bike, naturally. It was a good thing I had my bike because the car transport broke down in Texas for 30 days. So, in August 1988 with my trusty 2 wheels, I explored San Diego while getting my resume out. The next summer I participated in the 1989 Bud Lite Triathlon Series Olympic distance race in Solana Beach. I don’t remember much other then suffering on the run, my nemesis. Remember, I come from East coast flat country. Let’s say I was Not hooked on this tri-suffer-fest thing. Needing to eat and pay rent I dove into my career after joining Century 21 Cross Properties in Del Mar, a place I fell in love with while exploring on my bike.

Craig: Your 2nd triathlon was not until 2007, but you were not just laying around.  What kinds of sports activities were you doing after 1989?

Kevin: Living in San Diego I was like a kid in a candy store, jacked up on sugar and spinning with so many options… I did anything and everything! Bouldering in Santee, snow skiing, swimming in the cove. Loved roller blading the PB boards with my Sony Walkman jamming, jump in ocean body surf, blade back to car, shower and back to work. Roller hockey at USD and YMCA Mission Valley, where the pool is now.  After 3 dislocated shoulders I gave that up and started thinking about safer sports.  Riding quads in the Glamis sand dunes with extreme sports friend Joe Stutzman.  Mountain biking with my friend Bill Burns. Wake boarding with Shari and Branden Wednesday mornings at sunrise. Golfing all over San Diego. Climbing and camping to include Mt. Whitney, Mt Shasta, Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. Baldy. TCSD’s camping at Mt Baldy when Tour De California came through. My girlfriend at the time and I did the MS charity 100-mile bike ride and we also won the Hawaiian shirt contest. We walked into the dinner party held in Carlsbad and everyone thought we were the entertainment! The organizer came over to us and said, “no contest, hands down you’re the winners!” My brother’s girlfriend was in a Polynesian dance group and hooked us up!

Craig: You joined TCSD in 2008.  What are your favorite benefits of your TCSD membership?

Kevin: By far the members and friendships we share. We can always find someone to train with or group events. It’s an awesome community of like-minded people, out there to make a difference. We get a lot of perks for a very small membership fee. Race and gear discounts, give-a-ways and swag and of course lots of club races to hone your skills. I have a broker’s license to practice real estate but when I put on the TCSD kit, I have a license to play! It brings out that authentic free spirit, like a kid playing with his friends and having a blast, with spit and snot coming out at the same time!

Craig: What are some of the funniest things you have seen in triathlon?

Kevin: My first IM Oceanside bike dismount. A flying dismount right at the line, my leg caught the water bottles on the seat causing me to crash into the dismount catcher. She earned her keep and my gratitude that day and I earned teeth marks from the front sprocket biting into my now bloody shin. Here’s a good one, I accidentally, used Chamois cream as sunblock and another time using sunscreen as toothpaste… hey, it was dark at the time!  Honolulu Olympic Triathlon I missed a section of the run course. Just enough to wow me that I had such a good run, but it was a little too good. Replaying it back with Thomas Johnson we found the section I missed. When I contacted the race director to DQ myself he said, “you didn’t finish well enough to alter the results, thanks for your honesty”. I’ve also been rear-ended and splattered on the asphalt at a dismount line by a guy who didn’t know you were supposed to stop.

Craig: What athletic accomplishments are you most proud of?

Kevin: There are several athletic accomplishments and in no particular order: I am very proud of being a very accomplished sailor, racing and cruising all over the world. From the beauty and serenity of being on the water to surviving storms and squalls, I have endless stories of adventure. Climbing Mt Shasta and Mt Whitney. Completing IM Santa Rosa! It really does take a village to accomplish these large undertakings.

Craig: What have been some of your favorite destinations for racing or adventure?

Kevin: IM Santa Rosa my first full distance triathlon. I hit my goals almost to the minute except for the run, finishing in 12 hours. It was a very long day and emotional finish for me.

IM Cairns 70.3 in Australia with Marc Heise. After the race we stayed on a dive boat for 3 days, completing 9 dives on the Great Barrier Reef – gorgeous! Then drove 1600 miles of coastline to Sydney and visited my cousin Michel Zeidan.

Escape from Alcatraz, Mom and husband Mike flew in for the race and we rented a car and drove the gorgeous coastline back to San Diego stopping at the Hearst Castle on the way.

Lake Havasu, 3rd place, staying with TCSD friends, we all pitched in to help the race director, because they really needed volunteers, it felt like we were vested in the race being a success.

Skippering large catamaran’s with friends is always an adventure! Here’s a few trips: Sailing from Martinque crossing open ocean to St Lucia at night in heavy winds with the windward engine compartment flooded – that was exciting! While the engine was being repaired, we hiked out and toured a volcano. The Belize trip started in a lightning storm. Local news reported a dive boat skipper was killed by a lightning strike. We adjusted our float plan to not go to the Blue hole but instead island-hopped South to Honduras. On our last night storms started brewing out of the South. We had a lightning strike the water 4 feet off the starboard beam that scared our beautiful golden tans to pale white. The next morning, an early call for all hands-on deck to outrun the storm back to Belize. Surprisingly, the electronic navigation was dead.  The lightning we thought missed us actually hit the mast. We sailed by compass all the way back to Belize. My body was wrecked from steering a hard helm all day. I did enjoy blasting Kid Rock, Cowboy while sailing up and over the backs of a mountainous sea. Palma Majorca, best trip ever! A month-long adventure spending a week in each location: Barcelona Spain, loved the whole lifestyle, vibe, language, food, wine, piaya, Gotti Church and Picasso museum. Sailing Palma Majorica. Chilling on the beaches of Ibiza, known for the best sunsets in the world – agree! And finishing with a week in London/Amsterdam, touring the Rijks museum and Heineken factory.

Craig: What does triathlon mean to you?

Kevin: My decision to do triathlon was prompted first by the real estate recession in 2007. A conscious decision to pick a sport that is healthy, from diet to training. Safer, with less chance of injuries. It involves two sports I really enjoy and the opportunity of becoming a better runner.  What I didn’t expect, and a huge bonus is meeting so many terrific people and make quality friendships along the way. It’s become my social outlet. I can now train and race almost anywhere and bump into someone I know -that’s community, and I love it!

It can become all consuming. Three disciplines requires time. Especially full Ironman distance. I often catch myself saying, “before triathlon I did… fill-in anything here” Now I focus on the incremental improvements. Can I win the transitions? Or have a sub 1:25/100 average pace swim or an average 20+ MPH bike or can I run? This year I will mainly stay and support our local races. Olympic distance mainly as it favors the swimmer more. I am studying Spanish with the carrot of doing IM Cartagena in Colombia this December. One race-cation a year with friends is always fun!

Craig: What volunteer tasks have you done for TCSD?

Kevin: Craig, I’m glad you asked because I’ve always believed in giving back to that which enriches your life and this club is top of my list. A) Sponsorship with Marc Sosnowski who is the man responsible for all our quality gear and products. I feel more like a side kick and glad to add some input and be involved. B) Swim Coach twice a month, this May will be 5 years with Head Coach, Chris Costales. Teaching technique is most rewarding and inspiring for me. To see someone come to the pool and transform their swim with one hour of coaching is exciting! Over the years I’ve had a lot of coaches and learned the little tweaks that make you faster with less effort. This is one way I can give back. I’ve always volunteered in all areas of my life.  It makes me feel I’m a part of a larger community.  Other ways I volunteer for TCSD that are less structured and probably come from how I was raised is simply “just pitching in” where it is needed – loading/unloading the van, setting up or breaking down a club race, cleaning out the club’s storage, etc. It’s easy to come early and help with set up or if you race, stick around and carry a cooler to the van or toss out some trash. It’s the little things that make a difference and keep this club running. It’s also an easy way to get involved, to feel proud about our club and to meet some awesome people who care and have fun together.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people and/or institutions to shape you into the man you are today?

Kevin: Without question, Mom and Dad top the list! They gave me a solid work ethic. We always had multiple businesses and the kids had to pitch in. There were times I wanted to call child services because it felt like slave labor. Seriously, we were a working family. Looking back, what doesn’t kill you… makes you stronger and who I am today. School and education were always a priority that my parents instilled in me. So, after school, studying and dinner, my brother and I would load up the car with tools and my father would take us to fix-up a house he and Mom just purchased. Many nights until 1 AM. Thanks Dad, I can fix just about anything. Sometimes on the way home we’d stop by the baker (my dad knew because he sold him the business) who was pulling fresh bread out of the ovens – yum! They would chat while we warmed up by the ovens. Mornings were early, on my way to school I would open and prep the restaurant before the AM crew arrived.

Next on my list is Landmark Education. They provide courses in communication, personal development, leadership training etc. I’ve seen a lot of life coaches come out of their programs. I enjoyed and got the most benefit from the team management and leadership training. It’s a year long program that teaches you how to be a leader and get large projects done. After graduating in 2006 I went from secretary to Commodore of the Santa Clara Racing Association here in San Diego, which has merged with Mission Bay Yacht Club. That year, 2006, I opened a property management company that thrives today. We put together a 27-member team to climb Mount Shasta. It was composed of smaller teams responsible for food, camp site, doctors, spiritual guide, masseuses, and the summit team of 11 people. Now, that’s the way to climb a mountain!

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Kevin: Pace goals: 1:25/100 swim pace, 22 average MPH bike, and 7:30 minute average mile run pace. Races: March 15th San Diego ½ Marathon, April 4th IM Oceanside 70.3, May 3rd Spring Sprint International, August 8/11th CVC 70.3, Sept. 12th SD Tri Classic Olympic, Sept. 29th Mission Bay Olympic, Dec. 6th IM Cartagena 70.3, April 23rd New Orleans Jazz Festival to see my childhood friend Gene Rogers. And as many club races I can fit in! It would be nice to win a podium spot this year. Also, on the list is Kite surfing and spear fishing. Gees, two more water sports!

Craig: Kevin, you have an awesome story!  I’m glad you survived Passaic and all the sailing adventures you have had.  Good luck this year and beyond.  Thanks for all you do for TCSD!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or tricraigz@yahoo.com.

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TCSD Conversation: November 2019 – Make The World A Better Place

Don and Diane Ridgway regularly volunteer at the San Diego Safari Park.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

For this edition of TCSD Conversation I asked our members 3 questions.  The focus was on what our members do to make the world a better place.  We have many civic minded people in the TCSD.  I encourage everyone to get more involved by volunteering, whether it be for the TCSD or for a cause you are passionate about.  You’ll be glad you did.

Craig: Have you ever volunteered to help out at the Challenged Athletes Foundation “Best Day in Tri” or as a Swim Buddy for a local race?  If so, please tell us why that experience was so rewarding. 

John Holman: “Best Day in Tri”: All I could think of when volunteering at La Jolla Cove many years ago was, “If anyone is ever feeling bad about or for themselves, or how they might believe their life sucks, looking at what the participants in this event are accomplishing should shake them back into reality to being thankful for what they now have”. Everyone of those participants is reaching toward a goal that is beyond what many would think possible. “How very blessed and grateful am I to be who I am right now”.

Ron Graham: My experience in volunteering for CAF (Challenged Athletes Foundation) was truly inspirational for me and rewarding. I volunteered to assist in the swim portion of the triathlon and adaptive sports clinic at La Jolla Shores. I am making my volunteer work a priority in my life.

I assisted an 11-year old boy named Tyler who lost his leg to a shark. I asked him if he had been in open water since the attack and he responded that this would be the first time. The waves were bigger than normal and I was a bit concerned in taking him out. I could see in his eyes as he peered out over the ocean that he was ready to go, so I instructed him on how to duck dive under the waves and off we went. Although he is not a strong swimmer, the effort he put in was truly inspiring. Swimming is all about technique and after 400 yards and 68-degree water temperature he was ready to head back in. My worry bringing him back was the waves crashing down on him. A cubic meter of water weigh a metric ton and it can toss you around if you’re not respectful. He kept swimming and we got in safely. I told him how proud I was of him and his parents took photos.

The second person was a 10-year old boy from Ohio who had lost his right arm and left leg. He really could not swim so I took him out in the shallow water, and he would swim between sets. Truly inspiring to see the determination and effort with swimming, no fear, just put his face down in the water and was after it.

I assisted Pablo who was a single leg amputee and I think he is in his mid-twenties and was swimming without a wet suit. This was more of a challenge because a wet suit helps you float and makes you a better swimmer if you are not a great swimmer (that’s why I wear one.) Pablo would tire quickly and flip over on his back to rest. Again, his perseverance and determination to make it to the 400-yard buoy was inspiring.

The last person did not need any help and I told him it was an honor to meet him. Several days prior to the event I was watching videos on the Ironman Kona and saw videos of the first double amputee to finish Ironman. I recognized him and we talked on the beach for a while. We had fun conversations about the various half and full Ironman events that we both participated in. Just so you know, he completed 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike in a bike where you pedal with your arms, then a 26.2-mile run. He was joyful that he finished 30 minutes under the 17 hours cut off time and I told him I felt like I met someone famous.

I was in awe of the dozens of athletes that I met at the event and consider them as determined peers. Very rewarding to see how happy these athletes are and their focus and determination.

Tracy Roth: YES! I have volunteered many times at CAF’s Best Day In Tri. I don’t think I have ever seen a better example of encouragement and enthusiasm as I have seen from able bodied AND challenged athletes, at this event! There is no such thing as, “I can’t,” and every child/teenager/adult FEELS empowered by the support they have surrounded themselves with, during The Best Day In Tri!

Martha Ornelas: Yes, I have volunteered several times as a swim buddy. It is absolutely amazing to see the look in the athletes faces when they complete the swim portion for the first time. The sheer terror that some of them wear in their faces at the start, transforms into a beautiful smile full of accomplishment. My best experience so far had been with team Hoyt at the Mission Bay Triathlon; I had the privilege of escorting the swimmer for the nephew of a dear friend that I had seen grow up severely challenged, that smile on his face while he was being pulled in the water was priceless!

Bob Cunningham: For over a decade I’ve been a Swim Buddy at 90% of local races (that allow Swim Buddies), and when Tom Washington is unable to recruit or lead the group, I’ve been his backup (recently along with Chip Slack).

I never needed a swim buddy myself because over 11 years ago I was brought into triathlon by a swimmer who coached me from Day One, who also brought me to BOWS (Beginning Open Water Swim).  At age 52 I switched from being an asthmatic non-swimmer to become a fish, a truly transformational change for me.  I’ve been trying to pay it forward ever since, including at BOWS.  I’m beyond thankful TCSD has given me so many opportunities to do so.

Being a Swim Buddy has its own rewards (including a silly amount of hugs), where our main function is simply to distract swimmers away from their fears, to help them focus on making forward progress and having a great race day.  But I’ll freely admit it’s also a great BOWS and TCSD recruitment opportunity!

Chip Slack:  Ian Kelly and Tom Washington are my swim buddy mentors.

I did do several “swim buddy” volunteer sessions this year at the local Koz triathlons.  Swim buddy service is the process of accompanying (not coaching or pacing) those anxious, nervous and scared triathlon racers in the swim portion of the race from the start to finish to calm them, keep them relaxed and let them focus on swimming the race course.  These included bay water and ocean water events.  Both are open water, have sea life, and limited water clarity. The ocean events have surf to contend with.  I have been doing swim buddy service for 4 or 5 years.

There are many facets to swim buddy service that motivate me to do it year after year.  Swim buddy volunteer service is frequently the first contact the public has with Triathlon Club San Diego (TCSD) and the triathlon community and so it is a fantastic way to make a monumental first impression.  When I do swim buddy service it is always with 10 to 25 members of TCSD.  This group inclusion gives me unbelievable confidence. I radiate that confidence over and over again to incredibly nervous, anxious even scared triathletes with incredible conviction absolutely knowing and convincing them that everything is going be fantastic all the way to the swim exit ramp.  The act of conveying this confidence and getting them to the swim exit is rewarding beyond words.  The variety of the racers’ stories and experiences are only exceeded by the stories I hear from volunteers after they do their first (and more) swim buddy service.  What a way to change somebody’s life for the positive!

Diane Ridgway: I have “competed” in Best Day in Tri this year and two years ago.  Both those years we also volunteered with packet stuffing and packet pick-up.  Leading up to that we have done two or three escort rides with the wheelchair kids.  This is extremely rewarding and lets us interact with the athletes we are raising money to support.

On our last ride we were escorting a teenager who was taking her first hand cycle ride.  At the 101 & La Costa intersection her brakes failed and she had the presence of mind to just turn the cycle hard and go down before hitting a car.  She was so fearless and anxious to continue the ride.  Don was, with his bike knowledge, able to fix the brakes so we could continue.  She made 18 miles her first outing.  We had the opportunity to meet her again at the Athletes recognition dinner held the Friday before the triathlon.  She has come a long way and is expected to compete in paralymics next year.  This recognition dinner really lets you see what the organization is about and as an able-bodied athlete feel awed by their accomplishments.  This is my favorite organization to help in any way as I feel it is so immediately beneficial; I can see what they get and that gives me gratification.

Before coming to California, we have ridden for both MS and the American Lung Association but I feel more connected to CAF. I have been fortunate not to have anyone I was close to be affected by these diseases, and can see effects of my volunteering immediately with CAF so lean towards it.

Craig: Have you ever done an endurance event to raise money for a cause?  If so, please tell us why you selected that cause and what this experience meant to you.

John: For the 2007 Ironman in Kona I chose to raise money through the Janus Charity Challenge for the Zero Cancer Organization. This organization provided free prostate cancer screenings in mobile units throughout the United States. On my tri top was imprinted: “Fight Prostate Cancer in Memory of Bill Stephens”. Bill was a friend who died in November of 2004, shortly after I had participated in my first Kona race.

However, in the 2004 race my purpose in racing was not to raise money, but was more important than that. I did that race in memory of my second wife, Harriet, who died of lung cancer in 1999 and in honor of my daughter, Karen, who had breast cancer in 2002. That tri top was imprinted:  In Memory of Harriet, in Honor of Karen, to the Glory of God”. The front read: Memory, Honor, Glory”. There is more to this story than there is time for here. Tears still come to my eyes when I think back to the bike in 2003 Ironman Canada and 2004 Ironman Kona when riding back from Hawi.

The third time in Kona I raised money, again through the Janus Charity Challenge, for the Haiti Endowment Fund. They are a Christian group who work near the town of Hinche. They provide medical care, schooling, teaching locals sustainable farming, and provide hundreds of lunches five days a week. They have been doing this for over twenty years. Some TCSD members may remember when we collected many t-shirts to be sent there after the earthquake in 2010.

An Ironman race is a long, sometimes uncomfortable day and gives a person a lot of time to think about things and talk to one’s self. Training for and doing the race can, in some ways, be a very selfish endeavor. For me racing for someone other than myself, or for a cause has always given me more strength and greater endurance and answers the question: “Why in the ……… am I doing this?” And….at the finish line it so much more rewarding.

Tracy: In 2011, I raised $10,000 (no easy feat) for The Challenged Athletes Foundation. CAF promised me that if I raised the money and rode my bike 620 miles down the coast of California from San Fransisco to San Diego with 100 other cyclists (also, no easy feat), that they would provide a sports wheelchair to a kindergarten boy at my elementary school, who was born with Spina Bifada. Raising the money AND riding 100 miles per day for six days was extremely rewarding, when the entire population of my elementary school came out to see Joey being presented with his sports wheelchair!

Martha: I have done several events with team in training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and several rides with Padres Pedal the Cause.

I am a cancer researcher myself and I had lost a dear friend to cancer, I am fully aware of the complexity of the challenge. Training and racing for a cause bigger than myself gives me a sense that I am doing all that I can – at work and on my own time – to fight a disease that takes so many in the prime of their lives.

In Team in Training I’ve found my love for triathlon and my second family, with Pedal the Cause I’ve found an organization that gives 100% back to cancer research in San Diego. Both organizations are working hard to fill the gaps in both research and patient care that we so desperately need if we want to make fast progress in curing these diseases. That to me is more rewarding than any medals or PR’s and I intend to continue contributing to both of them for as long as I can.

Jeff Krebs: Being a triathlete is very self-indulgent. We often have long training days that take us away from our families and friends. We watch our diets which often impacts the people around us. We wake up early, even on weekends, in order to train and we miss many social events due to our training and racing schedules. Wanting to do something greater than myself, I decided that racing for a charitable cause would bring me a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment beyond that of just finishing an event. As a physician, I wanted to find a charity that was aligned with my sense of duty to help others.  In 2014, when I registered for my first ever Ironman race, IMAZ, I noticed that Smile Train was the official charity partner for the event.  Smile Train is an international children’s charity that fixes cleft palate and cleft lip for children in need in over 90 Countries, changing their lives forever. I set my goals: Race IMAZ and help children while doing so.  My bond with this great charity has been solid ever since and I raise money in conjunction with every major race that I do. I have raised over $145,000 for Smile Train since 2014. It costs only $250 per cleft surgery so with the money I have raised, over 580 children have received new smiles!  When my training gets difficult and I feel down, I remember the good that I am doing for others. It helps a lot. My involvement with Smile Train gives me purpose and puts my life in perspective. The support that I have received from my family and friends has been extraordinary. I never lose sight of this and the fact that they are a huge part of my journey leading up to each race.

Monica Sberna: In 2015, a good friend Dan Weisenbach (who I had trained with for my first century ride), lost his two-year battle with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and in his honor, a number of his friends and family formed The Purple TuTu Society.  While I won’t go into the reasons behind the name, this group of 38 individuals successfully raised over $92,000 for Pelotonia 2016, a two-day cycling fundraiser for the James Cancer Hospital in Columbus, OH.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make the trip back to Ohio to ride with them, but I vowed to ride 100 miles once again to help honor Dan’s memory and raise money for cancer research.  So in 2016, I participated in San Diego’s own cycling fundraiser, Padres Pedal the Cause, committing to raise $1,000 to benefit local cancer research, all while wearing a purple tutu in Dan’s honor.

This was a particularly meaningful event for me, not only because I was able to honor Dan’s memory, but because I had previously worked at both the UCSD Moores Cancer Center and Rady Children’s Hospital as a clinical research coordinator for the hematology/oncology department and the proceeds from this event directly benefit the patients and families I worked with.  The century ride that year was more mentally and physically grueling than anything I’ve ever done with over 7,151 feet of climbing in just under 10 hours.  In fact, I almost cut the route short (at the official turn-off) in fear I wouldn’t be able to finish before dusk.  My body was tired and part of me wanted to give up, but the one thing I learned that day was you can truly accomplish anything you set your mind to, especially when you have someone to finish for.

Craig: Is there a volunteer activity that you have given at least 10 hours of your time to in the past year?  If so, please tell us what you have done to help that organization. 

John: I volunteer with the San Diego Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team. We support the patrol officers and the citizens of San Diego by giving emotional and logistical support to people involved in incidents which, at the time, are beyond their ability to handle. More often than not, we are assisting family and/or friends of someone who has died suddenly or unexpectedly. Death of a loved one is difficult at anytime, more so when unexpected. Our goal is to work with them immediately and to be supportive in any manner they need. Then, to assist them in taking action toward moving through the process of grief and beginning to handle some of the logistical processes needed following the death.

It is so rewarding to be there and witness the strength of people in a most trying time and to help them begin to work their way toward a new normal.

If anyone has questions about this team, I would be more than glad to speak with them about any aspect of what we do at Crisis Intervention. It is a very wonderful and rewarding experience. We welcome new members who have a heart for helping others.

Naomi Shibata: I volunteer for two organizations that can be adapted to any location.  The Backyard Produce Garden grows produce that is distributed to families in need.  Harvesters also go to homes to pick fruits from orchards.  The second, Community Food Connection, collects produce from (grocery/Costco, etc.) stores and donated non-foods, including overstocked or non-selling items.  This is sorted and distributed every Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 3PM-6PM at Trinity Church in Poway.

Fontaine Shu: I recently returned from a Habitat for Humanity build week in Nashville, TN with the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. We spent the week working on 21 new homes alongside 21 wonderful partner families, building community and camaraderie, and reuniting with Habitat friends around the nation. I’ve been volunteering with Habitat since 2004 and this was my 8th Carter Work Project. Habitat’s “hand up, not a hand out” mentality resonates strongly with me, and I am always inspired when I see how empowered Habitat homeowners become through their partnership with the organization. I’ve built locally with San Diego Habitat, with Habitat affiliates in other states around the country, as well as internationally in Thailand, Haiti, Guatemala and Canada. I’m headed to Poland to build next!

Bob: I have over 400 total hours as a volunteer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) tutor at Abraxas High School in Poway, primarily in Math and Engineering.  Not so many hours over the past year due to starting a new job, but I expect to get back to it after the Holidays.

And, yes, I also have over 30 years as a volunteer theater usher for many local venues: The La Jolla Playhouse, the Old Globe, San Diego Musical Theater, the Cygnet Theater, San Diego Rep, North County Rep, Lambs Players Theater, and the list goes on.  Getting butts in seats is only part of what we do:  Fostering a great theater experience and actively supporting the institution are also key ingredients.  Getting to look good in a black suit is just a side-benefit.

Don Ridgway: Diane and I both volunteer with the San Diego Humane Society Project Wildlife.  The mission is to rehabilitate injured animals and return them to the wild. I seem to have migrated into mostly cage construction, maintenance, and the never ending folding of towels.

At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park I volunteer as a guest ambassador responsible for helping guests with directions and spreading the Park’s mission of preventing extinction of endangered species. Absolutely rewarding activities.

I have been volunteering at both places for three and a half years.  We moved to CA from Denver, CO where we lived for twenty years and I was firmly imbedded in a conventional job. Diane and I decided to retire; so we did and sold our house and moved to San Diego to be closer to grandsons all in a couple months.  I needed something structured and these two volunteer jobs fit perfectly.  I work two mornings a week, and carry home some small construction projects. At the Safari Park assisting guests from around the world allows me the opportunity to talk about ending extinction and conserving the wildlife of the planet. And you can hardly believe the satisfaction in letting a family know the location of the nearest restroom or which shop has soft ice cream or where the tigers are or how to see the whole park in one day.  I get the same satisfaction from cleaning the pen of some poor injured duck who really didn’t want to be at Project Wildlife.

Volunteering will definitely make you feel like a better person.  Take my word on that.

Diane: My fascination with animals has led me to volunteer with both the Safari Park, where I usually am with the gorillas or lions to share information about them and what our organization is doing to end extinction and protect their habitat, or the Project Wildlife arm of the Humane Society where I care for injured or orphaned birds until they can return to the wild.  Ever syringe feed a baby hummingbird?  It’s pretty awesome!

Craig: Thank you everyone!  You absolutely make the world a better place!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or tricraigz@yahoo.com.

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TCSD Christmas Caroling – 2019

The 2019 TCSD Christmas Carol Team.

On Sunday I brought a group of 30 Christmas carolers to 4 assisted living homes in the area. This year was the 18th consecutive year we have done this. For a bunch of triathletes, we did pretty well. We made a lot of seniors very happy. It warms my heart every year.

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Tim O’Donnell Interview

Tim O’Donnell, Matt Bach and Craig.

On Thursday evening I interviewed Tim O’Donnell at the Triathlon Club of San Diego meeting. Tim placed 2nd at the 2019 Ironman World Championships and was the top American male. Matt Bach from UCAN assisted me in the 30 minute interview that we did before an audience of 250+ people at our annual Kona viewing party.  I had fun, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to appear on 60 Minutes.
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Bonfield Express 5K

Craig with Ben & Tera O’Malley and their kids Patrick & Violet.

Mom, Cindy, Debbie & Craig

On Thanksgiving Day I ran the Bonfield Express 5K Turkey Trot in Downers Grove, IL for the 5th year in a row.  The race highlight is sharing the morning with my nephew Ben O’Malley, his lovely wife Tera and their kids Patrick and Violet.  I am so proud of them for showing their kids an active, healthy lifestyle.

I had a good race as I finished in 19:35 (6:18/mile) to finish 3rd out of 358 men 50-59 and 86th out of 5,040 overall finishers.

Because Ben and Tera ran and walked with their kids, I knew I’d have time to re-run the course for a 2nd time.  It was a chilly morning (low 30’s) so this was going to be my best way to stay warm while I waited for them.  I had 1 goal with this 2nd run – to not be a jerk and knock anyone down.  Most of the participants walk the course so there were going to be lots of people in my way.  I was doing great until the final half mile.  That’s when I ran by the house that hosted the Bacon Aid Station.  A little boy and his dog on a leash saw/smelled the bacon and made a 90 degree turn right in front of me.  The bad news was – we all took a tumble so I did not achieve my goal.  The good news was – I did catch the kid before he hit his head.  No one got hurt so all was good.  It was crazy, though.  The kid must have been carrying Milk-Bones for his dog because I saw a bunch of Milk-Bones fly through the air.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  It brings family and friends together without all the pretense of gift giving.  I was able to enjoy time with my 98 year old Mom, my sisters Cindy and Debbie and their families and some of my best friends – Bruce McNair, Chuck Carey, Ken Tyznik, Paul Winans and Mr./Mrs. Hoornbeek.  I am very, very thankful.

Living the life…

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Panda Paddle – Stand Up Paddleboard 5K

The novice dreaming about turning pro as he listens to the pre-race instructions.

Strawberry rhubarb pie – living the life!

On October 26th I did the Panda Paddle 5K Stand Up Paddleboard race in Mission Bay.  I had never done SUP before so this was going to be interesting.  I registered for the race in September and told my wife, Laurie, about it.  She offered to make it more interesting.  She said if I could break 2 hours, that she’d buy me a pie.

In the weeks prior to the race I spoke to a few friends experienced in SUP.  The consensus was that I should have no problem with my new sport and that I’d probably complete the course a bit faster than if I swam the course.  I’m confident I can swim 5K in less than 90 minutes.  My prediction for my 5K SUP was 80 minutes.  I did not care what place I finished.  I just wanted to try a new sport, support a good cause (World Wildlife Fund) and earn that pie.  I got this!

My race started at 11:45am and unfortunately for me we had very windy Santa Ana conditions.  I had pictured myself gliding over glassy, calm water, but this was more like a washing machine.  Uh oh!  5 minutes into the race I was in last place.  Then something funny happened.  My SUP must have had a homing device on it because I got turned around and 7 minutes into the race I found myself right back on the exact same shore where I had started.  Now I was really behind the rest of the field.

I got started again.  A course marshal came by and told me I was using the paddle backwards.  Go figure.  That advice helped a lot.  I started making slow progress.  I had only tried to stand up once and the wind/chop promptly knocked me off so I was having better success on my knees.

700 meters into the race the Race Director came by in a boat.  He said I was about to enter the part of the course in an open channel and that it was going to become more dangerous for me.  He discouraged me from continuing.  It was rough, but I felt safe the entire time.  I knew that if I had a major problem, I could always swim to the shore.  For the entire race the shore was always going to be less than 200 meters away.  There was no way I was gonna quit.  That pie was within my reach!  I realize the Race Director was just covering his rear end, but he should be out there encouraging people.

Over the next 1000 meters 2 other guys on SUP came by and gave me some really helpful advice.  My progress was improving.  By the 3K point I was no longer in last place.  I did try to stand up 4-5 times.  Each time I lasted 2-3 minutes before I got knocked off the board again.  It was hard on my knees, but my best position was on my knees.

I had fun the entire time.  That was the whole idea.  I finished in 1:40:28.  I placed 71st out of 75 overall finishers.  My ego had no problem with finishing in the back of the pack.  It gave me a new perspective and I’m grateful for that.  Laurie celebrated with me over a wonderful Chinese dinner at local restaurant and she bought me a strawberry rhubarb pie.

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: October 2019 – Jason Verbracken

Jason Verbracken at Norseman 2019 finish line.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with Jason Verbracken.  In just the 2018 and 2019 seasons Jason has done some absolutely amazing races.  These include full Ironman distance races in Alaska, Iceland and Norway.  I think you will be fascinated by his story.

Craig: What sports did you play when you were in school?

Jason: I played hockey growing up. Born and raised in Wisconsin, my parents had me skating even before I could walk. During the winter, I remember my dad would take the snow blower, blow off all the snow, grab the hose and make a place for me to skate in our backyard, complete with a path from the back door to the ice rink. So, I would come out the door, put on my skates and skate on over to practice. My best friend lived across the alley, and we had a path to skate over to his house. He also had a rink in his back yard. We practiced more at his house because he had a cement wall perfect for shooting hockey pucks. Whereas, when we practiced at my rink, if we missed the net, the puck would disappear into the snow banks and would be lost until spring. Once spring hit, everything melted, and we would collect buckets of hockey pucks that we could finally find. I played hockey all the way through high school.

Craig: What did you do after your days in Wisconsin?

Jason: After high school, I enlisted straight into the Marine Corps. Actually, I signed up for the Marines at the end of my junior year, as a part of the delayed entry program. Compared to my friends, I felt the Marine Corp was the smarter plan. They were taking extra classes on how to perform well on ACT/SAT tests, as well as filling out college applications, and stressing over college acceptance. I would laugh as I said, “have fun studying. I’m going partying, the Marines already accepted me.” My ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) scores afforded me the choice of any job they had to offer. I remember my dad saying “send in the Marines, they will take care of it,” and, “the infantry Marine is the toughest person of the military.” So I chose infantry, despite my high testing scores, because I wanted to prove I was the toughest. Boot camp was here in beautiful San Diego. I graduated and went to the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton. Upon completion, I got stationed at Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. I felt like I had won the lottery. As a mid-west kid, I never saw the ocean or visited “sunny” states before joining the USMC. Living in California and Hawaii was like heaven. As a Marine, I also was able to see Japan, Australia, Korea, Okinawa, and American Samoa. My Marine Corp career lasted from 1994-1998, with some of the greatest memories and friends of my life.

Craig: What has been your career after the Marine Corps?

Jason: After my time in the Marine Corps, I moved back to Wisconsin, and got a job at a distribution center driving a forklift. It was a nothing job, so I was excited when my girlfriend from Hawaii invited me to move with her to San Diego. I wanted to be a computer programmer, and decided to use my GI Bill to enroll at Coleman College. I worked a few odd jobs, like installing fire hydrants, irrigation systems, and at one point, I was a bouncer. I found a great job at Pepsi as a merchandiser which worked great with my school schedule. I went to school Monday through Thursday and worked Thursday through Sunday. After two years at Pepsi I got promoted into sales. When I was getting close to graduating from Coleman College, my classmates were getting jobs in the computer field. They were starting at a lot less than I was already making. I was working Monday through Friday, paid vacations, full benefits, and holidays off, so I decided to stay with Pepsi. This is my 22nd year with Pepsi, and currently, I am an account manager for 7-11 stores.

Craig: How did you get started in triathlon?

Jason: It’s funny, my stepson’s motocross trainer (former motocross pro) had recently completed a sprint triathlon. We were all at a motocross race for the weekend, and it only took a few minutes and few adult beverages for me to bet I could beat him in a triathlon. We found a triathlon that was only twelve weeks away. I knew I could beat him on the run but he biked, quite a bit, which had me worried this is where he would get me. I had no idea what to even do or where to start. I didn’t own a bike, the only bikes I had were BMX bikes when I was a kid. I could swim, which really just meant I could play in the water and not drown. I could run, thanks to many hours of being forced to run during my years in the Marines. But I swore I’d never run again once getting out. So I went online and found the trinewbies website and used one of their training plans. I did all my training at 24 Hour Fitness, using the pool, spin, and treadmill for every workout. I remember just giving it everything I had, every workout, following the time requirements each workout called for. I knew nothing about pacing. My first race was the Steelman Sprint Reverse Triathlon in Rancho Cucamonga, February 2012. I ended up borrowing a friend’s road bike and bike shoes for the race. This was a one and done race so why would I need to go buy my own equipment? My friend is 5’9”, rides a 54 bike and wears size 9 bike shoes. I’m 6’2”, 58 bike and size 12 shoes. My thought was “it’s only a short bike ride, I’ll make it work.” The only time I rode the bike was the day before the race when I picked it up. I practiced in my driveway clipping in and out of the pedals and how to shift the bike. My plan was take off fast on the run and build a good lead. Hopefully I would be too far ahead for him to catch me on the bike. The swim was only about 150 meters so there would be no passing there unless one of us drowned. My plan worked perfect. I took off running as hard as I could, built my lead. I biked as hard as possible and he never caught me. I won the bet! Looking at the results, I actually had faster times in all three phases, which gave me even more bragging rights.

Craig: What led you to try the Ironman distance?

Jason: After that first triathlon race, the Tri training immediately stopped. I went back to just lifting weights at the gym. I had a great time doing the race and training for the race but nobody I knew was into doing triathlons. My son’s trainer and I kept saying we were going to have a rematch, but we never pulled the trigger. It wasn’t until June of 2016 that I made the decision to do another triathlon. I had been doing the gym and CrossFit thing but just wasn’t getting any excitement from it. I kept thinking back to how much fun I had training for that first triathlon. I went online and looked for a race that was a few months out and close to San Diego. The Mission Bay Triathlon popped up and it wasn’t until October. I called my son’s trainer and told him I found the perfect race for our rematch. This time was different, I knew I liked doing the sport and wanted to keep doing it. I started buying gear so that I had to keep racing, because I didn’t want to waste money on something for just one race. I found a used Tri bike on Craigslist, bought shoes that fit me and bought a wetsuit. I used the same training plan but also read everything I could get my hands on about triathlons. The race went great and I kicked my friend’s butt again. This time after the race I kept training. I was having so much fun and I loved seeing how far I could push myself. I thought, “what’s the next race I could do that was going to keep me motivated and that will really make me push myself?” I knew that Ironman races were the big, long, hard races. I started researching Ironman’s and found out about Ironman Arizona. It was perfect. It was a little more than a year away so I had plenty of time to train. It wasn’t far from San Diego and it’s a “flat” race course. The only problem was I heard it was impossible to just sign up and get into the race. My plan was find out when registration opens, and five minutes before, I sat at my computer and just keep refreshing the home page. Luckily, I got in. I feel it was it was meant to be. So I got in and had only done two sprint races and about six months total triathlon training in four years time.

Craig: What was your first Ironman experience like?

Jason: My first Ironman experience was unbelievable. All the months of early mornings, late nights, and weekends training, and then to finally cross the finish line was a great feeling of accomplishment. I had the full year to train for Arizona. I entered all the local sprint and Olympic distance races that I could find. I read everything I could find to better myself as a triathlete. I didn’t enter any half Ironman’s because I didn’t want to find out I hate racing, and not want to race a full. One Saturday morning in early August, I received a phone call from a Wisconsin number. It was a family member calling to tell me my dad suddenly passed away. At that time, I was at a race in Tennessee for my son and he was supposed to be leaving the next day to Canada for his first professional race. This completely stopped training, as I had to go to Wisconsin for the next few weeks to take care of everything. Once I got back to San Diego I immediately got back to training and it really helped me keep my mind off everything that happened. Late October, I was at Fiesta Island for a long bike session when suddenly, my front tire blew out, and I lost my front end into the sand. Immediately, it threw me off the bike and I went sliding across the asphalt. Luckily, all I had was road rash, nothing broken on me or the bike. I started questioning if I should be doing the race with these bad events happening. Everyone told me to stick with it, and that my main training sessions were already completed and that I was just going to have a little longer taper. On race day, I was all healed up and feeling great. However, I was definitely nervous that I didn’t get in enough training. I told myself “Dad wouldn’t want me to give up,” and I had to go give it everything I had. The race went perfect and I had zero problems on the course. Race day is a really long day where I get to reflect on all the good and bad days leading to this one event. I crossed the finish line in 11hrs, 43 minutes. I couldn’t believe my time and literally had every emotion imaginable rushing through me.

Craig: Your next iron distance race was in Alaska.  What led you to try that and how was your experience?

Jason: My brain is always going nonstop about trying to find the next hardest thing to do. Before even racing my first Ironman, I stumbled across the Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon. I watched the video of the race and my jaw was on the ground the whole time. My mind was blown. I thought Ironman races were supposed to be the hardest. Here’s a race that’s a little longer than a full distance race and has extreme conditions. The swim has water temps in the low 50’s, you have to run up a mountain, twice, and it’s mandatory to carry bear spray. It also required entering a lottery to get picked for race entry. I immediately wanted to enter, but common sense stopped me. How was I going to enter the race lottery without ever completing a full distance race? I might hate the whole full distance experience and not want to race that distance ever again. I actually called my dad and told him about the race and that I needed full support to race it. I told him if I liked doing the full distance I was going to enter the following year and that he could be my Sherpa. I signed up to stay updated on the race and when the next year’s lottery would open. Well, a couple weeks after IMAZ I got an email saying that not everyone that won a spot in the lottery signed up. They were going to have open registration until they were full. I immediately thought this was a sign from my dad. We were supposed to do it together and now was my chance to sign up and go race it. I went right to the website and signed up. Alaskaman Extreme was an amazing experience. It is such a beautiful place that every time I turned my head I thought I’d seen the most beautiful sight. From moose, bald eagles, bears, the lakes and mountains, Alaska was as incredible as it was beautiful.

Craig: Let’s pretend you are 7 years old again and the teacher asks you to describe your 2019 summer vacation.  What would you tell the class?

Jason: At Alaskaman, I won a spot to race the famous Norseman Extreme Triathlon the following year. All my thoughts and training were going to be concentrating on that race. In October I got an email from the race director of Alaskaman saying he was going to be putting on an extreme triathlon in Iceland called Ísland Extreme Triathlon. I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland and now here was my opportunity. The only problem, they were exactly one week apart from each other. How was I possibly going to do two full distance extreme races seven days apart? Norseman was the second race and the one I wanted to do my best at. I wanted to get the black finishers shirt (meaning I got to climb to the top of Gaustatoppen). My mind kept saying that I can do both and that this will be a triathlon trip of a lifetime. I decided to do both. I wanted to spend more time in Iceland because I had always heard how beautiful it is and there’s so much to see. I flew out to Iceland on July 20, a week before the race. The plan was landing in Iceland on Sunday, getting to explore for a few days, and get ready to race on Saturday. Rest and recover for a couple days and fly to Norway on Tuesday and race Norseman on Saturday. I landed in Iceland with all of my luggage and my bike, everything made it safely. We got the rental car and was off to our apartment. There seemed to be beautiful waterfalls every couple of miles. They were so beautiful we had to stop and go explore. We spent the next few days exploring, with perfect weather in the 80’s. My plan was to also get up early everyday and get into the ocean to make sure I was used to the cold water temperature. Monday morning I was up early to swim, all decked out in all my cold weather gear. I made my way to about waist deep and the water didn’t feel to cold so I dove right in. Instant brain freeze and my face felt like a thousand needles were stabbing it. My brain immediately started freaking out thinking there was no way I was going to be able to swim the full race distance in this temperature of water. Thankfully after about 10 minutes my face was completely numb and I wasn’t feeling anything. Everyday I was back in the ocean swimming and it kept feeling better every swim. But the weather kept getting colder and colder as the race approached. Thursday they informed us the swim was being moved to a lake because the tide had brought in giant lion mane jellyfish the size of basketballs. At the pre-race swim, I got into the lake and the temperature was around 56 where the ocean temperature had been at 51. I felt like I was swimming in a bathtub. My confidence was growing and I was ready to race. Saturday morning woke up to cold, rainy, and windy weather, the perfect extreme triathlon conditions! The race went great. I exited the swim in 12th place, got on the bike and the crazy weather conditions is definitely something I’m wasn’t used to living and training in San Diego. The wind was constantly changing directions, it was raining and cold. One time I was going down a hill leaning over about ten degrees, compensating for the wind. I could barely see because of the rain and I looked down at my bike computer and saw that I was going 45mph. I thought if this wind changes direction I’m dead. I kept my head down and worked my way up to 6th place coming off the bike. The run was an out and back. You went up and down a mountain turned around and went back. Since I had to race the next week my coach didn’t want my heart rate to hit zone 3. Which meant as soon as I hit the mountain I was walking. It was mentally hard not to get to race when I was in such a good position but Norseman was the bigger picture for me. Once I mentally accepted I wasn’t racing anymore, I got to just enjoy it and have fun. I would get passed, strike up a small conservation, wish everyone good luck and tell them they were looking great. I ended up finishing in 18th place. It is definitely a race and country I’m so glad I got to see and do.

Craig: What has been your most challenging race?

Jason: My most challenging race had to be Norseman. Everything about this race is a challenge. It’s the original extreme and supposedly the hardest triathlon race in the world. This race also has a lottery system to get an entry. They get over 4000 entry requests a year and only 250 racers. I talked to many racers who tried for seven, eight, and nine years straight before getting a spot to race. So the competition is unbelievable, they have been trying to race this race for years. The race is in beautiful Norway with the most amazing views. This is the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to. Lush green trees, mountains, crystal clear lakes, and views that never stopped lined the race course. Looking at just the race stats makes people not want to race it. The 2.4 mile swim in 50 degree water, 112 mile bike with 11,200ft gain and the 26.2 mile run with 5,962ft gain. There’s a cut-off point half way up the mountain on the run. They only allow the first 160 people and it has to be under a certain time. If you make this, you continue to climb to the top of the mountain and get the coveted black finishers t-shirt. On race morning we set up T1 and board a ferry that takes you out to the middle of a fjord. It’s still dark and the back gate of the ferry opens and they tell you it’s time to jump in. The drop is around 15 feet to the water. They corral everyone up and off we go. It’s still dark out and they tell you to follow the shoreline and you will eventually see a bonfire on the beach. My plan is to try and draft off other swimmers, keep down, and no looking  around or at my watch. I feel like I’m having the worst swim of my life and my mind keeps telling me to look at my watch and to take a quick break. I don’t listen, finally reach the swim exit, look down and see 1:09. My best iron distance swim ever. I’m so excited and think I must be somewhere in the top 100. That ends quickly when I get into T1 and see 75% of the bikes gone and my sherpa telling me I’m already past 160th place. I stay calm and tell myself I got to do some work on the bike. Right out of T1 you start climbing. The first 21 miles has 4,100ft elevation gain. You’re climbing up a mountain, in and out of tunnels, along a river and waterfalls. The views are amazing and I wanna look around but I know I gotta keep working. The tunnels are very hot and no air flowing through them. The shield of my helmet fogs up and I can barely see where I’m going. Sweat is pouring off like someone dumped water over me. About half way up that first climb my legs are already hurting. My mind starts questioning why I was so stupid to race the week before. I literally had to tell my brain to shut up and my legs that they had no time to be sore. I finally got to the top and knew the next 50 miles was fairly flat, a few rollers, and some long straight down hills. I passed a lot of people in this section. I was able to get into aero and go. After that it was back to climbing again for 20 miles and they were steep. Signs on the sides of the road warning trucks of how steep the hills were. My legs were on fire and starting to cramp, but I kept pushing. I knew once I reached the top, the last 20 something miles was all downhill. I pushed with everything I had, never stopped and finally reached the top. That last 20 miles of the bike was so fun. I averaged over 30mph and hit 50.5mph. I exited T2 in 94th place, passing over 70 people. The first 15 miles of the run were flat and my only goal was to just keep running. No run/walk breaks and to just keep a steady pace. At the 15 mile mark you start the run up Zombie Hill. Zombie Hill series of switch backs at a 9%-10% gradient up the mountain. At mile 20 was the check point where the top 160 racers got to keep going. I knew if I got to Zombie Hill and still under 100th place that there was no possible way that many racers could pass me going up the mountain that I wouldn’t be the 160th racer. I ran the whole way and got to Zombie hill in 87th place. From that point on I was on cruise control just enjoying the rest of the race. Nobody was running the hill, mainly power or regular walking up. My body was exhausted and I just regular walked and let racers pace. I knew had accomplished what I came to do and there was no point destroying my body for a few better places. I got to the check point in 104th place. I knew I was going to get the black shirt. All I had to do was keep going. It was three more miles of road until you get off the road and actually start climbing to the top. I finally made it to the turn off to start climbing. They had an aid station there where they checked to make sure you could make the climb. The last three miles up were literally straight up. There wasn’t much of a path, just arrows painted on rocks to follow. The rocks were boulders and at points you were pulling yourself up the rocks. This was the longest three miles of my life. It felt like we were never going to get to the top. After what felt like hours I could finally see the top. I could now hear people cheering and I picked up my pace. I got to the rock steps leading to the finish line. Crossing that finish line felt like one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

Craig: What is the dumbest thing you have done as a triathlete?

Jason: The dumbest thing was when I raced my third triathlon, which was another reverse triathlon. I had been reading about compression socks and the benefits of them. I wore a pair racing that were all the way up to my knees. They are so tight there’s no way I could take them off for the swim, so I just wore them swimming. During the swim they were starting to come off. I was trying to swim and pull the socks up. With the finish line at the pool where we swam, everyone was hanging out around that finish line after the race. And there I was – soaking wet, with the socks up to knees. I had to look like the biggest dorkiest newbie ever.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits from your Triathlon Club of San Diego membership?

Jason: I love the group training sessions available. Everyday of the week there’s something going on and all the like-minded people with the same healthy goals. Going to all these destination races and meeting racers from all over the world we get to talking about our Tri clubs. They are amazed at all the things our club has to offer. I haven’t meet anyone that has a club as great as ours.

Craig: Who has been the most influential person to shape you into the man you are today?

Jason: My dad was the most influential person to make me who I am today. He was very hard working and a person that everyone loved. I can’t remember him ever being sick or not going to work. He had the biggest heart, and would help anybody at the drop of a hat. The Marine Corp was also very influential on who I am. They really taught me I could do anything. They not only made me physically strong, but also mentally strong. The Marines taught me how to keep pushing even when your brain is telling you to stop.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Jason: There are a few races I’m looking into that both scare and excite me. The first is Epic 5, five full distance triathlons, in five days on the five Hawaiian islands. If I can figure out some sponsor help with the $8500 entry fee, I’ll be racing this next year. I’m also looking at Icon Livigno Extreme Triathlon. This race takes place in northern Italy. The bike boasts a 121 miles and 16,404ft gain course. You get to cycle in the Swiss Alps and into Switzerland. The run has an additional 9,800ft ft gain course. The only problem is my family said I can’t do this until 2021 because they want to go to Italy with me. The last race I’m looking into is the Virginia Triple or Quintuple Anvil Triathlon. This race is a continuous 7.2, 336, 78.6 mile or the 12, 560, 131 mile triathlon. Any of these three races would be another amazing experience and will keep my brain going crazy figuring out how to finish.

Craig: Jason, thank you so much for sharing your story.  I could not wait to interview you.  It was well worth the wait.  You are proving that the sky is the limit.  Good luck with all of your future adventures!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or tricraigz@yahoo.com.

Posted in 2019, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Nice, France

Laurie and Craig enjoy a delicious dinner in Turin, Italy.

The Cote d’Azur.

Just prior to the race start.

Less than a mile to go. Thanks be to God!

On September 8th I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice, France.  This was the 2nd race on our racation.  The 1st race was the ITU Olympic Distance World Championships on 9/1/19 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

After Lausanne we shifted into tourist mode.  We picked up a rental car in Geneva.  This car would prove to be a blessing and a curse.  It was a blessing because it took us and all our gear where we needed to go.  It was a curse because it was an SUV so it was very challenging to park in the tiny parking spaces and garages.  Just picking up the car was a major challenge as we had to pick it up from the French side of the Geneva Airport.  This caused some stress as we split up to do this task – not the best decision we have ever made since I did not have any phone service.  Laurie picked up the car while I waited on the Swiss side with the luggage.  It all worked out and we were reunited after 90+ minutes.

Our first destination was Turin, Italy for 3 days.  We enjoyed some morning runs along the Po River.  We toured the Egyptian Museum, the Royal Palace of Turin and the National Cinema Museum.  We also went to the Cathedral of Saint John The Baptist where the Shroud of Turin is located.

The next stop was Monaco.  Both of us will always remember driving into Monaco.  Everything went well, but navigating the narrow and curvy streets gave us some excitement in our SUV.  The locals must have thought the Beverly Hillbillies had rolled into town when we arrived.  We found a nice place for dinner and strolled around the iconic casino and marina the following day.

The final 4 days of our journey was in Nice, the Cote d’Azur.  I met Laurie in June 2000 and the day after meeting her I traveled to Nice to race the ITU Long Course World Championships.  I was smitten with Laurie from Day 1 and so I always wanted to bring her to Nice, one of the most beautiful places in the world.  My dream was finally coming true after 19+ years.

Part of the story that must be told was the very sobering security presence around the race venue – lots of police and soldiers carrying big guns.  The French will never forget the 2016 Bastille Day terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais where 87 lives were lost.  This was basically where the 1st transition area was located.

The women’s race was held on Saturday while the men’s race was on Sunday.  The water temperature in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday was cool enough that the women wore wetsuits while on Sunday it had warmed up so wetsuits were not permitted for the men.  I thoroughly enjoyed the 1.2 mile swim.  It was a beautiful day and the sea was very calm.  I had a good swim as I came out of the water in 36:09 (1:52/100 meters), in 84th place.

I was very anxious about the 56 mile bike portion of this race.  The women and men had different experiences on the bike course simply because there were only 1,778 women while there were 3,261 men.  The route went from the Cote d’Azur to the climb up the Col de Vence and back down again.  The course had 4,927 feet of elevation gain.  The climb was not that hard as the gradient averaged 6-7%.  The challenge for me was the descent.  I am not very skilled or confident in my descending abilities.  I had one moment on the climb when another cyclist put his hand on my backside.  That is standard operating procedure when the cyclists get close together.  I joked with the guy by saying I thought that was the hand of God giving me a push.  God was very clearly on my mind as I was anticipating the descent.

Once I reached the top and started the descent I became very cold.  I was soaked with sweat from the climb and we were in the shade for the first part of the descent.  Because I was shivering, I was tempted to stop, but was glad I pressed on because I knew I would warm up once I got lower and started pedaling again.  We went through 10 very typical French villages and each time we’d approach a village there would be a welcome sign.  I learned to take that as bad news as that always meant speed bumps would follow.  The bumps were fairly gentle, but they were another obstacle to maneuver through.  I think due to a combination of being chilled, the bumps and simply being so anxious and tense about the descent my right shoulder started to really hurt.  It got so bad that I could hardly move my arm.  This problem seemed to come out of nowhere.  Thankfully I had warmed up a lot by the time I reached the aid station at mile 47 where the descent had pretty much ended.  I decided to stop to get a drink and use the bathroom.  This was 2 minutes very well spent as my shoulder loosened up and I was rehydrated to hopefully set up a successful run.  I finished the bike in 3:40:01 (15.6 mph).  This dropped me to 198th place.  Not very good, but I was safe and sound.

The 13.1 mile run was 2 laps along the Promenade des Anglais.  I love this part of Nice.  It is beautiful with constant views of the Mediterranean.   Because of some early season knee issues, I purposely was slightly undertrained for the run.  I was confident that on race day, I’d be A-OK and I was.  I ran 1:37:11 (7:28/mile) and I finished in 6:01:33.  This placed me 167th out of 214 male finishers in the 55-59 age group and 2,860th out of 3,261 male finishers.  That’s a far cry from winning my age group at the 2018 Ironman 70.3 in Muncie where I qualified. Muncie and Nice are different beasts.

To see my race pictures, click on this link

https://www.finisherpix.com/gallery/photos/en/EUR/2982/617

Living the life…

Posted in 2019, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon World Championships – Lausanne, Switzerland

Laurie & Craig at FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.

LAF cable car – Felsenegg.

Dinner in Lausanne with Tim Yount, our good friend from USA Triathlon.

On September 1st I raced the ITU Olympic Distance Triathlon World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Lausanne was a repeat venue for me as back in 2006 I had raced this event in Lausanne and placed 29th out of 108 men in the 40-44 age group.  2019 was the 15th time I have raced the Olympic Distance World Championships and 26th time across all the distances that I have raced for Team USA.  Racing for Team USA never gets old.  It is always an honor.

Laurie and I began the trip by arriving in Zurich on 8/28.  We had never been to Zurich before so this enabled us to do a bit of touring.  We went to the FIFA World Football (Soccer) Museum and took the LAF cable car to the top of Felsenegg, 800 meters above Lake Zurich.  We enjoyed panoramic views of the city and an outdoor patio lunch at the Felsenegg Restaurant where we attracted some bees.  Thankfully no stings, but we provided some entertainment for the other patrons.

We took a 90 minute train ride to Lausanne on 8/30.  Upon arriving in Lausanne we immediately discovered the new M2 Metro line which was completed in 2008.  Our hotel provided a free pass and this made our lives so easy during our stay as we could take the M2 from our hotel in the upper part of Lausanne down to the race venue by Lake Geneva 1+ mile away.

In 2006 I remember the water temperature was really cold so I wore a wetsuit and a thermal cap and swam 22:23 in calm conditions.  This year, the 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim wound up being extremely difficult.  On race morning it was announced that the water temperature was too warm for wetsuits.  Global warming – there is no doubt.  Historically I have never done well in fresh water, non-wetsuit swims.  Add to that, the choppy waters, and I was in for a tough swim.  If it had been calm waters, I probably would have done the swim in 26-27 minutes, but I came out of the water in 34:49, putting me in 80th place.  I felt really smoked after that swim.  Not good!

My day only got worse on the bike.  The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was comprised of 2 laps for 1124 feet of elevation gain.  Each lap had 3 climbs – the first was 8-10%, the second was 8% and the third was 7-9%.  The steepest descent was 12%.  In 2006 my bike split was 1:11:06 on a very similar course.  Typically I climb well, but was so tired from the swim that I did not do well on the climbs.  And I never do well on the descents – I’m too timid and too light.  My bike split was 1:22:04 (18.3 mph).  This was only the 130th best bike split.  Seriously not good!

My day did improve on the 10K (6.2 mile) run.  The run course was very challenging compared to the pancake flat version in 2006 when I ran 36:37.  This year the course had 2 laps and each offered 3 brutal climbs – the first was 17%, the second was 12% and the third was 9%.  I had a respectable 15th best run with a 43:43 split.  I placed 80th out of 148 finishers in the men’s age 55-59 category with a finish time of 2:46:32.  In 2018 at the Gold Coast I placed 19th out of 92 and had the day’s fastest run.  I’d like to think that I’m not that much worse 1 year later as some slowing is to be expected.  Mostly I think Lausanne was just always going to be a tough course for me.

To see my race photos, click on this link.

https://www.finisherpix.com/gallery/photos/en/EUR/3491/22041

I may not have raced very well, but I am very thankful for this opportunity.  Participating in international races and representing Team USA is a very special privilege.  Stay tuned for the next race in our European racation – the Ironman 70.3 World Championships on 9/8/19.

Living the life…

 

Posted in 2019, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments