Bonfield Express 5K Turkey Trot

Bonfield Express: Craig, Debbie, Tera, Ben from L-R with Patrick getting a free ride.

Thanksgiving: Debbie, Craig, Cindy & Mom

On November 23rd I raced the Bonfield Express 5K Turkey Trot in Downers Grove, IL.  This was the 3rd consecutive year I have done this race.  The previous 2 years I ran 19:32 and 19:36 and won my age group.  This year I ran 18:57 and placed 2nd out of 374 men age 50-59 and 54th out of 5,315 overall finishers.  I got crushed by a guy named Paul Neumann who ran 16:46.  I don’t think it was the same Paul Newman from the movies, salad dressing and auto racing fame.  One of my University of Illinois Delta Upsilon Fraternity brothers also did the race – Steve Barczi placed 4th in our age group.

I was joined in the race by my sister Debbie, her son Ben, his wife Tera and son Patrick.  We had a great time and it was the start of a wonderful family oriented 4 day Thanksgiving visit back home.  I stayed with my Mom who is doing well at the age of 96.  These visits to see Mom are priceless to me.  Later in the day we celebrated the epic Thanksgiving dinner at Katy and Jeff Emerson’s house.  The next day we got together with my cousins Randy Jacob and Donna Goffron, along with my Mom, sisters Debbie and Cindy and Cindy’s husband Jim.  Also on the trip I saw my friends Bruce McNair, Chuck Carey and Paul Winans.

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: November 2017 – Anne Quadrini Rogers

Anne with 87 years young Sister Madonna at 2017 USA Triathlon National Championships

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I have known Anne Quadrini Rogers for a few years, but got to know her much better from our trip this summer to USA Triathlon Nationals in Omaha.  Anne is one of my favorite people in TCSD and I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her, too.

Craig: What was your athletic background when you were younger?

Anne: I’m the oldest of four kids and was 4-1/2 when the youngest was born. I think for my mom’s sanity, she always had us outside running around. I was also a tomboy, so I’d rather be outside throwing the football or riding a bike than be inside playing with dolls.

When I was swimming at a community pool while in 4th grade, someone mentioned to me that if I swam a certain number of laps, I could swim a mile. I was so intrigued, I did it that day. An endurance athlete was born!

I played soccer, softball, and even a little bit of basketball growing up. Soccer was so competitive in high school that I opted for drill team. Friday night football was life in Texas, even in Dallas. Drill team was the squad that did dance routines with high kicks and splits during halftime and cheered during the game. Practices were 2 to 2-1/2 hours a day during football season, requiring dedication and efficiency to keep up with our studies at my challenging college prep school.

Craig: The military has been a constant theme in your life.  Your grandpa, dad, and husband Charlie have all been in the military.  How has that shaped you?

Anne: My Daddy was in the Marines before he married my Mom. Even though he was no longer active when we were born, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” We made our beds with “Marine corners”, woke up early every day, even during vacation (lots to do everyday!) and stayed active in sports and life. Discipline was expected.

In addition, my Mom’s dad was a Marine during WW II, and my wonderful husband Charlie was in the Army when we met. My first job after getting married was as a civilian in the Army Corps of Engineers in West Germany, where Charlie was stationed at the end of the Cold War. I also was active with the officers’ wives group. So yes, the discipline, dedication, and efficiency of military life has rubbed off on me.

Craig: In getting to know you, I have detected a lot of Texas A&M pride.  What is so special about the Aggies?

Anne: In 8th grade, I decided I wanted to be an engineer (just like my Daddy!), and since “my blood runs maroon”, Texas A&M was the obvious choice. The traditions, discipline, and loyalty of A&M drew me there, and it was the only place I applied to (much to my Mom’s concern.) Going from an all-girls high school to a male-dominated major was quite a change…which I certainly enjoyed. Texas A&M started the 12th Man tradition of standing during the game, ready to help our team (with player E. King Gill in the Dixie Classic in 1922), and no matter how the game goes, the Fighting Texas Aggie Band ALWAYS wins halftime!

I participate with the San Diego Aggie Club, so that I can be with others who understand what it means to be an Aggie. The most important tradition is Aggie Muster, celebrated by Aggies all around the world on 21 April, San Jacinto Day (commemorating the day of the final battle in the war for Texas Independence.) Any Aggie who has died over the past year will be remembered in a solemn ceremony on that day. Celebrations off campus often also include a social and BBQ, of course.

Craig: What was the inspiration that led to your first triathlon?

Anne: After graduating from Texas A&M, I moved back to Dallas. In my spare time, I became very involved in cycling. My favorite race was the “Hotter than Hell Hundred”, in Wichita Falls…in August. Once again, it was me and the guys. But my competitiveness and determination came out, and I loved passing the guys, especially going uphill. Fast forward several years, and I had twins. No more cycling for me.

When my twins were getting older, I started running. Again, being the competitive person I am, I joined a few friends in a challenge of five marathons in five months…and ended up with a stress fracture in my foot. No running for 8 weeks. Back to cycling and swimming! I decided I couldn’t let all that cross-training go to waste, and I convinced my good friend Janet to do a triathlon with me. On 10-10-10, we did “The Day at the Beach” at Hermosa Beach.

As Janet and I stood on the shore, looking at the angry, choppy ocean, we both realized we hadn’t done any open water swimming! Although I could swim all day long in a pool, I couldn’t do freestyle in that choppy water. I briefly panicked, thinking I can’t DNF in my 1st Tri. I finished that whole swim doing the backstroke! Janet and I somehow finished the swim together, so we jumped on our mountain bikes and started the 3-lap bike portion. Each lap, we passed these teens volunteering on the course. Every time we cycled past them, they’d yell out, “And that’s the way we roll!” That has since become a mantra for Janet and me. As I crossed that finish line, I knew I had found my sport. It was hard, but I felt like a kid, going from one sport to the next. I had become a Triathlete!

Craig: In 2017 you raced Olympic Distance Nationals in Omaha for the first time.  What was that experience like?

Anne: I had the opportunity to race USA Tri Nationals in Omaha. What a fantastic experience! One that I hope I can do again. Even though I knew I wouldn’t finish anywhere near the top, I was still happy to be there. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting Sister Madonna Buder, the Iron Nun. At 87 years old, she is still a ball of energy!

I enjoyed volunteering with Craig Zelent and Holly Stroschine at packet pickup-the energy from everyone was high. People were excited to be at Nationals!

The swim for me didn’t go as planned (I had a fight with my goggles, and lost), but the bike went well. I had fun cycling past all those cornfields, as well as up the one hill in Omaha.

Even though I hadn’t placed in the race (no surprise there) I went to the awards ceremony. Awards were given out to the top 10 in each age group (Congratulations, Craig!), starting with the 85+ age group. What an inspiration to see the athletes in those older age groups. They all looked so great! I want to be like them when I “grow up”!

If I am ever lucky enough to qualify for Nationals again, I plan to go.

Craig: You completed the HITS Ironman in Palm Springs in 2015.  What was that experience like for you?

Anne: When Janet and I did our first Sprint Tri together, we marveled at those athletes doing Olympic distance. We eventually did our first Olympic together (LA Tri Events), as well as our first Half Ironman together (Vineman). Our plan was to do IMAZ together, but I ended up not being able to volunteer the year before. So, she did IMAZ, and two weeks later, I did the full distance at HITS Palm Springs. I had done several 70.3s by then, but I knew the training would be more. Boy, that was an understatement! That month of peak volume was definitely a challenge. Since I knew the course would be flat and windy, I trained mostly on Fiesta Island. 25 laps around is not only physical training, but also mental training!!! My schedule had 4 weekends over 100 miles. On the third one, I struggled just to get to 76 miles. My body needed a break. I broke down crying, and called Charlie. I asked him if I came home, could we go walk on the beach together.  He was so understanding and supportive of me. I had my little breakdown, but the following weekend, I was strong and ready to go again.

For the race, we stayed with some good friends who have a desert home in Indio. My cheering crew was ready with signs and cowbells. Since the race had many laps for each leg, I was able to see my cheering squad several times throughout the day; they worked hard, too!

Although my favorite sport is cycling, I was so ready to get off my bike. I saw Charlie at T2 and happily exclaimed, “All I have left is a Marathon!” That statement made perfect sense to me at the time!

One of the best things was, on the first lap of the run, I saw Janet. What a wonderful surprise! She was holding a “140.6” sticker in her hand and said, “All you have to do is run a marathon, and this is yours!”

I did the Ironman Shuffle and made my way across that finish line. Years of leading up to the point, all the training, the dedication, the sacrifices, and I crossed that line. Wow!!! I did it!!! What an amazing feeling. I’m actually getting teary-eyed just thinking about it now.

Craig: What athletic performances are you most proud of?

Anne: I remember sitting in a Tri club meeting when I was still living in the Pasadena area. Our own Bob Babbitt was the speaker at the meeting. He asked for those in the room who had completed a full distance triathlon to raise their hand. The lady next to me raised her hand. She looked like a “normal” person, not a super athlete. It was at that moment I decided to one day do an Ironman. So, many years later, after much training and sacrifice, when I crossed that line in Palm Springs, I felt so proud of myself. I had done it!!!

A non-triathlon athletic endeavor of which I am very proud was hiking up and back Mt. Whitney in one day. I was part of a group of 11 women, and we called ourselves the “Badass Mother Hikers.” The day before we summited, many hikers had to turn back because of bad weather. Our group started at 3:00 am, since we wanted to make it to the top well before noon, when the storms typically roll in. The hike started great, and the sunrise was beautiful. We were doing it!. But the closer we got to the top, the heavier the clouds became. At one point, due to the ice on the trail (in July!), we all had to put crampons onto our hiking boots. I normally like to do things myself (I get that from my grandmother Antoinette, after whom I am named). But at over 14,000′ elevation, I just couldn’t function well enough to get the left one on. A passing hiker asked if I would like him to help; my first thought was No! But, I relented and let him help. We finally made it to the top! (All 11 of us made it, but not all together.) By then, the storm had rolled in. Here I was at the highest peak in the continental US, and I could see maybe 50′ away. After the requisite photos, we “hurried” down the mountain. That was almost harder than going up, especially because of the hail and rain; the trail had become a river. It was dark again by the time we reached the bottom, but we had done it. What an amazing feeling!

Craig: What is the dumbest or funniest thing you have done in your sporting life?

Anne: Well, the dumbest was not doing an open water swim before my first Tri. One of the funniest and also dumbest isn’t Tri-related but does involve my first time wearing a wetsuit. My company was doing a team building day, which included surfing lessons. I was having the hardest time putting on my wetsuit. Turns out, I was trying to put my legs into the arms! Oops!

Craig: You have identical twin boys at Purdue now.  How did having an athletic mom impact their lives?

Anne: God blessed me with twin boys…and not girls. Being a tomboy growing up, I wouldn’t have known what to do with a girly-girl! My sons played every sport out there while growing up; they had endless bounds of energy. Where did they get that from? While still in elementary school they started water polo, which became their sport, even playing for Purdue.

Thomas and Brian were on the Rose Bowl Water Polo team. For those who don’t know the area, The Rose Bowl Aquatics Center was built for the ’84 Olympics, with two full sized Olympic pools. In addition, the road around the Rose Bowl Stadium is,very conveniently, 5km around. There are also about 10 roads leading down (read, hills!) into the Rose Bowl area. In other words, a great place to train while your sons spend hours at water polo practice!

I was that crazy Mom who, during the weekend-long tournaments, would have to run or cycle between games. One of the parents once asked my sons what it was like to have such an athletic Mom. They looked at her quizzically and responded, “It’s normal.”

Since water polo was so demanding, Brian and Thomas had to be very efficient and finish most of their homework before practice. Sometimes, I would catch them drifting off task or starting to bicker with each other. That’s when I would shout out, “Drop and give me 20!” Pumping out 20 push-ups would get their blood moving and change the dynamic to help them refocus. Charlie, who had been in the Army, thought it was funny that I was the one playing drill sergeant. Maybe it came from the Marines in my family (Daddy, Grandpa, cousins), from A&M, or from Charlie, but push-ups seemed like the most logical (and effective) thing to redirect them. And it worked!

During Thomas and Brian’s senior year, they did a sprint triathlon (LA Tri Series) with me. Due to their water polo background, they were 1st and 3rd out of the water! Then they jumped onto their heavy mountain bikes and sped along. Although they did well in the race, despite their lack of experience and proper equipment, they decided they much preferred water polo. But now that they have a Tri under their belt, when they get older, they can jump into the sport more easily, knowing they have already completed one.

I always went to cheer on my boys in their games, so when I asked them and Charlie to cheer me on for my first marathon (Pasadena), they happily obliged. My sons surprised me and made the most amazing signs. As I was hitting the wall at mile 23, wondering why I was doing this to myself, I turned the corner (literally) and there they were, waving their wonderful homemade signs. Oh, that was the best thing! It gave me the boost I needed to finish that race. I still have those signs!

Craig: What have you done as a volunteer for TCSD?

Anne: Although I haven’t held an official position at TCSD, I volunteer as often as I can. I enjoy helping with set up at our awesome club races and events, especially at check-in: what a great way to meet the other members! I also like helping at the expos so I can tell other people about our amazing club.

Craig: What other volunteer roles in the community have you found to be particularly rewarding?

Anne: Volunteering has always been an important part of my life, with my parents setting the example. My high school’s motto was “Serviam”, Latin for “I will serve.”

Teaching Sunday School at church, volunteering with Junior League of Pasadena (Junior League is an international women’s volunteer group), and being president of my running club were all great. But my favorite positions involved volunteering with and for my sons, including reading to their class in the library, helping out in the classroom, and of course, being the official “Water Polo Mom”. I didn’t realize how much I had been volunteering until my sons’ senior year. I was invited to the “Terrific Titan” luncheon (their high school’s mascot was the Titans) under the guise that my friend was receiving the coveted “Terrific Titan” award, for exceptional volunteer service. As they started reading about the background of the person receiving the award, I soon realized, I was the recipient! What an amazing honor!

I am proud to say, the tradition of “Serviam” has been carried on by my sons, who volunteer at their church and with their fraternities.

Craig: What is the best thing you get from volunteering?

Anne: I think volunteering is such an important part of our society, from schools, to our awesome TriClub, to the amazing acts of volunteering during the recent hurricanes in our country. And although volunteering is mainly to help the recipient, it also helps the volunteer. One of my favorite volunteer memories was years ago, when I was working in the Junior League Thrift Store during Christmas time. A man came into the store with a handful of crumpled bills and some change, looking for a gift for his wife. We looked together searching around the store and found the perfect gift. He was so excited. But I think I got more out of it than he did. It felt so good to see the smile on his face!

Craig: What role does God play in your life?

Anne: God has always played an important part in my life. Again, my parents were great role models for my siblings and me. My Mom was the Director of Religious Ed at my church for 15 years. Everyone knew the Quadrini family, which meant we had to behave at church! No easy task for siblings about the same age, who might have to preferred to chat and giggle during Mass.

I am so grateful to God for all the opportunities I have had, and for being able to make it through the challenging times in my life as well. I was very ill many years ago and ended up in the hospital. I consider the day I entered the hospital as my “Living Day”, and I want to live each day to the fullest to show my thankfulness.

One of my mantras while I race is the verse from Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” During the run, I pray for people, especially those who cannot do what I am doing. My strong, powerful Daddy had a stroke last year, and I often pray for him and dedicate my run to him.

Craig: What do you do for a living?

Anne: I was educated as an engineer, and truly enjoyed all the technical work I did. When I got my MBA, I learned that those crazy people in Marketing actually had a reason for having us Engineers do (or not do) certain things. But then I started working with my husband Charlie, who is a financial advisor and wealth manager. We have our own firm, Azimuth Wealth Advisors. “Azimuth” is a quantitative measure of direction. The term is used both in Field artillery (Charlie’s job in the Army) for finding the direction to safely fire weapons and hit the distant target, and in the cellular industry (I was an engineer at Verizon) for designing the cell sites.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Anne: I would love to make it to USA Nationals again. And, as an even higher goal, I would love to represent the USA in Worlds.

Craig: Anne, thank you so much for telling us your story.  Your family and friends have been very blessed to have you in their lives.  TCSD is part of that fortunate group of people.  I am sure I will see you again at Nationals and probably Worlds.  That is assuming you can break yourself of the habit of putting your legs in the arm holes of your wetsuit.

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

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K1 Speed

Craig & Rochelle icing down after the crash

On Friday after work my department went out to K1 Speed for a team building event.  If you are not familiar, K1 is indoor go-cart racing.  We had done this once before and it was a lot of fun.

There were 10 of us so the track was pretty crowded.  The 1st race was just a practice race.  The 2nd race would determine pole position for the 3rd and final race.  I did pretty well in the 1st race – I had the 4th fastest lap and the fastest average speed for all 12 laps.  My big challenge in that 1st race was Rochelle Hernandez.  She was excellent.  I just could not get around her.

The 2nd race started innocent enough.  Lots of fun.  John Castro and I had an epic duel.  It is really hard to pass someone on the narrow track, but we must have passed one another 5 times within 2 laps.  We were having a blast until the major pile up happened.

Just ahead of John and I another duel was going on between Atapana (Pana) Faumuina and Rochelle.  Pana bumped Rochelle and spun her around.  Now she was going the wrong way on the track.  She had John and I bearing down on her and not enough time to get out of the way.  John narrowly missed her as he snuck thru a gap before it closed.  I had no idea any of this had happened.  Rochelle and I collided head on.  I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I do think part of my cart went up over hers and then I t-boned into the wall.  Game over!  They immediately shut down all the other carts.

I will be fine, but it was the worst whiplash I have ever had.  Thankfully you are required to wear a big motorcycle helmet.  That protected my face and head.  But my neck, left knee, left foot, sternum and right shoulder blade took a beating.  I did manage to bike the next day, run the day after that and swim today.  My body does still have a few aches, but I’ll be ok.

Rochelle blacked out for a few seconds.  She definitely hurt her neck, too.  The scary thing for her is that she had been in car accident years ago and still has some pins in her neck from that accident.  Upon seeing her at work today, she thinks her neck will be ok, but her back is jacked up.

Needless to say, neither Rochelle nor I did the 3rd race.  We tapped out.

K1 Speed is a lot of fun, but I’ll never do it again.  I had no idea that it was that dangerous.  You can graze the walls and not get hurt.  It makes you feel bullet proof.  And then there is my mentality which is to race all out.  Not a good combination.  By the grace of God, I think I will stick to triathlon.

Living the life…

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LA Tri Series Legends Triathlon

Men’s 55-59 Podium: 1st place Craig, 2nd place Tim Fier, 3rd place Steve Vasques

On October 15th I raced my final triathlon for 2017.  This was the LA Tri Series race at Bonelli Park in San Dimas.  We had a gorgeous day as the temperatures were in the 70’s at the start of my race and the 80’s by the time I was done.  I had a very good race as I won my age group so I ended the season on a high note.

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was counterclockwise in a fresh water lake.  The biggest challenge was going to be a bit of glare from the sun in 1 direction.  Thankfully I had no problem with that.  The water was pretty warm, but we were able to wear wetsuits.  My swim time was 24:31, putting me in 2nd place by 0:22.

The bike course was 3 laps for a total of 21 miles.  I have done this race a number of times, but it always seems a bit different.  I think this year’s bike course was shorter than usual.  I was A-OK with that as my bike training has lacked for the previous couple of weeks.  The course is hilly and bumpy on some of the climbs.  My bike split was 1:09:41.  I believe this time also included both transitions.  I was still in 2nd place, but had lost some ground.  I was down by 2:51 going into the run.

The run course was 9.6K (5.95 miles).  I really enjoy it as 30% is on trails and it offers plenty of elevation changes.  I had a great run as my split was 38:14.  This was the best run by nearly 7 minutes so I was able to win by just over 4 minutes.  My finish time was 2:12:28.  I was 1st out of 15 men in the 55-59 age group and 10th out of 158 overall finishers.  I am pleased to say I did not get chicked, but I was only 45 seconds faster than the fastest woman so it was close.

It was a great day, but I made a mistake.  Last year at the finish line I enjoyed the delicious free lasagna.  This year I packed up my gear right after the race.  By the time I got back to the food, all that was left that appealed to me were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I had 3.  It is possible that they did not have any lasagna this year, but I’ll never know.  One of the perks of being fast is first crack at the finish line food.  Oh well, you live and you learn.

To see my race photos, click on this link:

Living the life…


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TCSD Conversation: October 2017 – Diane Ridgway

Diane and Don Ridgway

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Diane Ridgway.  Diane has accomplished a lot in her endurance career from ultramarathons to Ironman.  Diane recently won her age group at Ironman Wisconsin and is already qualified to race Ironman Hawaii in 2018.  I know you will enjoy getting to know Diane.

Craig: What sports did you participate in before triathlon?

Diane: It all started…  I admit it, I was a confirmed tomboy who constantly berated the fact that I was born too early—before they let girls play everything.  So, I participated in lots of park softball, basketball, volleyball and anything else I could get into.  Constant motion was my middle name.

Finally, in high school, I was allowed in sports.  I went to school at the International School Bangkok in Bangkok, Thailand where my father was stationed with the Navy for three years.  There I lettered in volleyball, basketball and most importantly track.  I ran all the distances (we only went up to the 800) and even ran hurdles once as no one else would.  My coach would ask us to run a mile warm-up and I would complain bitterly that I was a sprinter.  Years later when I was doing ultras I used to wish he could see me then.

Craig: When and how did your endurance career get off the ground?

Diane: I didn’t really get back into sports or running at all until a couple of months before my 30th birthday.  Working and raising 2 boys was my focus until then.  That is when Don and I got married and I had someone to help me.  He was a Navy SEAL so being in shape was his daily routine. I decided I would like to try running (as I couldn’t describe my body as baby fat any longer) and that running was something I could do early in the morning without taking time away from my family.  So early morning runs became the routine and other days I could run on my work lunch hour at a doctor’s office in Coronado.

Craig: What were some of the first races you did?

Diane: It took entering a race to decide I really liked running.  I did the Coronado Bridge 10K run in 1979 when it went from Coronado over the bridge and ended at Chuey’s restaurant in Chicano Park.  I had only run 3 miles until then.  At the 3 mile mark every step after was “now this is the furthest I have ever run”.  60 glorious minutes.  The same year I did a few other 10Ks and such and podiumed almost every time.  And a race junkie was born.

Advance to September of 1980 when the SEALs allowed some women to do the Superfrog, a Half Ironman they created to get SEALs ready for the Ironman in Hawaii.  I had never done a triathlon, but I had now been running for a year and a half and thought “Hey I know how to swim and bike why not try one?”  It was a new adventure that went well and I finished and definitely decided it was fun (except for that swimming part). The run is by far my favorite part.  Repeated the Superfrog in 1981 with Kathleen McCartney who went on to Ironman fame.  Little glitch that year when the water temp dropped to 52 and wetsuits were not allowed.  I got a severe case of hypothermia and had to be dragged to the SEAL team showers to spend 45 minutes thawing and unlocking my jaw. My support crew, Don, took me back to the transition. There I got on my bike and managed to actually catch up and pass some people and then pass more on the run.  Of the 52 entries, 37 had some degree of hypothermia.  Wetsuits were allowed the following year. As a side note, we heard that they had created a Diane Ridgway Guts and Glory Award. It was awarded each race to the racer who overcame the worst obstacle and still finished.   I was very proud to be as tough as some of our nation’s best at triathlon.  That particular award no longer exists.  I am so pleased that the Superfrog’s tremendous military flavor and support continues and expanded under the Ironman umbrella.  This is a credit to the original race director/participant Navy SEAL Moki Martin.

A couple of weeks later I did the Chuck’s Steakhouse Tri on Fiesta Island which at that time was in the format of run, bike, swim.  I really hated that and everyone and their brother passed me on the swim.  That particular race had Jeff and Scott Tinley 1st and 2nd.  So, I feel a part of triathlon’s early beginnings in San Diego.

A few months later we moved to Panama after 5 months in the Monterey Bay area where Don attended Spanish language school.  I got to attend also and used the rest of my time running.  What a great area to run in!  I have never since run in such a beautiful area.  I did my first marathon that year, the Salinas Valley Marathon, which Sally Edwards of early Ironman fame won.  I came in second with a 3:03 and enjoyed a huge banana split after. I had now been running for 3 years.

Panama was another great experience.  I joined the Isthmus Roadrunners, a local running team, and we put on quite a few runs and the first ever triathlon with my urging.  We swam in an inlet off the Panama Canal with the water so dark you couldn’t see anything including your hands, biked nearby and then a dirt road run.  We had people come from as far away as Columbia for the Primer Triatlon de Panama. Trophies were very expensive so I took some of mine and replaced the women runners with men and took off the plaques and presented them. It was very well received as people loved trophies.   I competed in the Marathon of the Americas for the two years we were there.  It was run on the Atlantic side and started at 330 AM due to the heat. It was totally, I mean totally dark.  Don rode his bike with a headlamp to show us the course.  You could see all the crabs scuttle out of the way and everyone jumped when a stick was spotted thinking it was a snake.

We moved to Virginia Beach for a couple of years after that and then to Honolulu for 7 years.  I kept doing running races and a rare triathlon. Getting to Hawaii in 1984 really stoked the triathlon juices though and everyone, of course, knew the Ironman.  I hoped to do it someday but wasn’t sure I could swim that far. The day after I qualified for my first Kona in 1989 (which was only 6 weeks before the race) I went down to the ocean to swim two miles to be sure I could do it in the cut-off time.  I was just finishing the bike portion when Mark Allen and Dave Scott were ending their run on the Queen K at the top of Pay and Save hill. That was inspiring but I just wanted them and all the media trucks out of the way so I could finish the biking. I successfully completed the race on minimal training and decided I definitely wanted to do it again someday when I had trained for it.  That didn’t happen until 1991 when I placed 3rd after exiting the water in 30th.  Swimming is still my weak part.

Craig: What advice would you share with someone who is sitting on the fence and has not jumped into endurance sports but wants to?

Diane: After a half marathon trail run in Colorado I had a guy point to my t-shirt and say “I would like to do that someday but I don’t think I can.”  I was wearing a Leadville 100 shirt, which for those of you who don’t know, is a 100 mile trail run around the mountains outside of Leadville, Colorado.  I told him, “well that is your first problem.  Don’t say I am not sure I can do that.  You can.”  Positive thinking is the most necessary aspect of endurance events, whether short or long.  He said that he worked full time and I said so did I. I agreed to meet with him and talk and he ran the race successfully the next year and the next, and the next…

The thing is, we are all busy, but if you really want something you can find time.  And it is never too late to start.  Remember I had never run until I was 30. I would love to see more women in older age groups especially.  During the time we lived in Colorado (we moved here 2 years ago) I was doing ultras and Ironman. I used to run 18 miles to work one day a week and had to leave my house at 330 AM to accomplish that.   But I needed the mileage and it was a way to get it aside from using time I could be spending with my family.

Craig: How have you involved your children and grandchildren in your sporting life?

Diane: Throughout my athletic career I have kept my family first and arranged training around their schedule.  Sometimes I drove them to this or that practice and ran while they were practicing or had them ride their bike along me running.  They needed little encouragement in sports and were playing soccer when they were 5 and 6.  That’s the norm now, but it wasn’t 40 years ago when soccer was in its infancy here. They participated in all the team sports and decided running was fun also especially when they began winning the under 12 division.  Then came the 13-19 year age group and they lost interest as they could not be competitive with a 19 year old.

As adults they have occasionally still participated in runs and I finally got to do the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon with my oldest son, Burt.  That was really a thrill, though I didn’t see him again from the time we jumped off the boat until the end of the race.

We get together in other pursuits as well.  A thrill of a lifetime came this last June when my sons Burt, George and I summited Kilimanjaro together despite all the altitude sickness that we encountered.

Kids and grandkids have come to Kona to cheer over the years of competing there and the one who is not there is always tracking on the computer and calling to report when I should be at a certain spot as it is easier to track someone when you are not there.

Now in San Diego my two grandsons have both turned into runners. My oldest is competing in cross country for San Dieguito Academy.  We have two years in a row done the Children for Children 5K.  Three generations in the race! I am still looking for a triathlon we can do as a team. A team event is another way to get started and get your family involved. Don and I have done duathlons where he biked and I ran, for instance.

Craig: What athletic accomplishments are you most proud of?

Diane: What am I most proud of?  Really and truly, what I am most proud of is that I am still doing this athletic business and enjoying it and so is my family.  My mother would say,” Aren’t you getting a little old for that now?” but my boys say, “Oh boy we’re going to Hawaii again.” and my husband says, “that sounds like a fun race.”

Craig: What have been some of the most challenging races you have done?

Diane: Most challenging:  to me this can have two connotations, really difficult, and those that aren’t the hardest physically but there are contributing factors that make it more difficult mentally.  A couple of years that I did Kona I was also doing 100 mile trail races. I had Bob Bell ask one year which was harder.  Well, a 100 mile trail run is harder than the Ironman for two reasons.  It takes a lot longer and it is all running.  It is however easier to train for as it is only one discipline.

On the physical note, the Hardrock 100 in Colorado in the San Juan Mountains would have to be the hardest.  100.5 actual miles, 33,050 feet of climbing, average elevation over 11,000 ft and you go over thirteen passes between 12,000-13,000 ft and one 14er. River crossings, scree fields, boulder fields, sometimes snow fields and often hours without seeing anyone and just trying to find the trail markers.  You have 48 hours to complete it.  The race directors describe it as ”a graduate level challenge designed to provide extreme challenges in altitude, steepness and remoteness.”  It is run in a circle, clockwise one year and the reverse the next. I have done it each way.  The first year I took along a camera and kept telling myself it was an adventure run (I didn’t know how truthful that was!) At that time only 39% finished within 48 hours.  It took 42 hours running thru most of two nights and included falling asleep while running and hallucinating comic book covers in the bushes. Superheroes of course!  But it is the most beautiful run I have ever done; wildflowers, old mining claims to say nothing of the mountains.

Mentally, Kona 2014.  My knee gave out at the energy lab and I had to walk, run the rest of the way.  I was recovering from a bad bike crash in January of that year and had not been able to get in the amount of training necessary.  But, I started—so needed to finish.

Craig: What have been some of your favorite destination races?

Diane: Favorite destination races are usually because of the other opportunities around the venue.  Don and I joke that we find a place we would really like to visit and surely there must be a race near there.  That’s taken us to Ironman France where after the race we hopped on the train with only a backpack each and spent 5 days in Italy in the Cinque Terra region.  Ironman New Zealand where we toured the South Island and bungy jumped before the race and Powerman Zofingen where we got a train pass and traveled around Switzerland and into France for hiking and wine and cheese tasting after the race.  Mt. Tremblant for the 70.3 championships was another wonderful area to tour.

Craig: A couple of years ago you crashed at Ironman 70.3 Chile.  What happened and how badly were you hurt and how long did it take to recover?  Then you had back surgery last year and how long did it take to recover from that?  Why do you think you were able to recover so quickly?

Diane: In January of 2014 I had a bad bike wreck at the Ironman 70.3 Chile.  A lady getting her water bottle turned into me and I went straight down.  I had 11 rib fractures in 7 ribs so some were broken in 2 places and a broken collarbone and hematoma in my lung.  I was in the hospital in Chile for 8 days before they would reluctantly let me fly home and then went straight back into the hospital in Denver for another 7 days. I had my lung drained of blood twice (once before leaving Chile) and finally had to have surgery on it to scrape it out and then surgery on my collarbone. The hospital trauma team in Chile were impressed with my fitness and said this trauma called a “flail” chest is often associated with mortality in older people.  But then they couldn’t believe I was the age I was. The surgeons in the USA were super.  They were impressed with my fitness level and wanted to get me back into full competing mode and so recommended the lung surgery. But I was sidelined from everything for 3 months and then was allowed to gradually start doing things as pain permitted.  So, getting ready for Kona that October was a challenge.

But, then, as I was getting back into competing and feeling good my back started giving me trouble and I was having leg numbness and finally foot drop on the left.  Laminectomy and fusion was recommended for a severely crooked lumbar spine pinching off the nerve.  I did not want surgery and tried to hold it off with a couple of injections but finally couldn’t even walk a block.  The end of July 2016 I had a laminectomy and fusion of L4 and L5 and S1 with rods and pins.  They said I would need to wear a vest brace for 3 months and then could start running in 6 months and be ready to start really training in 9 months. Well, that was just not going to work at all. I started walking a lot and finally convinced the doctor to let me ride on the stationary bike as long as I wore the vest. I then pushed the envelope a little more and asked to be able to do spinning classes if I wore the vest and didn’t twist. Finally, he agreed to let me run the Turkey Trot which was 4 months after surgery.  My first running at all.  Whew, was that tough but I was determined to get back to my old self.  To make a long story short I competed in the Oceanside 70.3 and came in 2nd only 8 months after surgery.  I went on to climb Kilimanjaro in June and do Buffalo Springs 70.3 two weeks later, 11 months after surgery, and then Ironman Wisconsin.  I am my surgeon’s poster child.  I attribute most of the quick recovery to the fact I was in good physical shape before surgery and very determined to get back to “normal” after.  Once again, my adage of if you want something enough you will figure out a way.  Drawback to the surgery is less flexibility making me even worse at getting out of my wetsuit.  If only I wasn’t such a wimp and could just skin it!

We have heard lots of elite athletes talking about their comebacks and it is no different for the rest of us—determination and starting out with our bodies used to being challenged and fit. And we feel we know our bodies and what they are capable of.

Craig: What kinds of things do you and Don like to volunteer for and why do you like to volunteer?

Diane: I have always tried to volunteer where I could because it is my sport and my event whether it be running or triathlon or snowshoe racing or burro racing all of which are in my repertoire.  I feel we should all “pay back”.  Both my husband and I volunteer for various events and various portions of the events.  This past weekend it was an Xterra triathlon in Laguna Beach where we were in the transition area. Last year it was an aid station for the Superfrog that gave me a true insight into how hard those volunteers are working.  Three of us working an aid station everyone went through 7 times.  I was probably just as exhausted as the athletes by the end.

Please remember to thank them when you race and volunteer sometime yourself for the fun and satisfaction of doing something for your sport.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Diane: TCSD is the first time I have belonged to a Tri Club.  I enjoy the camaraderie and the meetings especially.  Just having all the others around to tap for ideas even if I don’t join many training events. No matter how long you have been competing there is something to learn.  I think it is especially beneficial for people just starting out.

Craig: What are some of the more humorous situations you have found yourself in during your athletic career?

Diane: Humorous situations.  Which one was funnier?  the rain storm that hit during the bike portion of the triathlon that created so much flooding in the transition area our gear floated around so we had to be running around looking for our running shoes.  Or was it the snowstorm that hit during another triathlon where our hands were so cold we couldn’t unfasten our chin straps on our helmet, nor feel our feet for the run.  Or the snowstorm that hit during a 50 mile trail run where the volunteers told you to” really fill your water bottles” since the water at the next aid station is frozen and the oranges and cookies looked so forlorn with their little covering of snow.  Or the 20 mile snowshoe race where the temperature was -15 with the wind chill and my water bottles froze so I was reduced to eating snow (not very hydrating).  Or maybe one of the years I did Alcatraz and the fog totally rolled in just as we started the swim so we couldn’t even see the shore.  Then the fog horns started and I was thinking “what am I doing?” Or finishing a race and starting the sprint to pass one last person to the finish to find it had been moved 400 yards further away than the previous year.  Or a burro race my burro wasn’t really into and kept pushing off the trail into a ditch.

In my case, the more ridiculous the conditions get the more humorous I find them since you might as well laugh because it is better than crying.

Craig: Who has been the most supportive people or person in your life?

Diane: There is no question that it has been my husband Don.  From encouraging me in the beginning, to being by my side pushing me to be the best I can and doing whatever is in his power to make that happen.  When I really started getting addicted (yes, this is the correct word) to the training and the lifestyle he continued to be supportive.  If he had not, I would not have been able to follow my dreams because I think it would have affected our family negatively.  Though he does not do the training, except biking with me often, he knows that I need to do the training for racing and he loves to go to the races.  He is my bike mechanic and packs it up if we have to fly, and will be anywhere along a course to cheer me that he can reach.  During my ultra-career, this sometimes involved racing over dirt roads all times of the day and night to get to a drop station with my gear.  He would spend a couple of hours getting there and then I would be through in 5 minutes or so.  When I have been injured he has been there to help me through the rehab process whether with words or his laid-back presence. He is the first to try and hold me back to follow doctor’s orders, but also the first to admit that I might not listen. Spectators and other athletes at events have said that I have the best “athletic supporter” there is and he fully deserves the title.  We are Team Ridgway.

Craig: What are your future goals as an athlete?

Diane: Most immediate goal is doing well in Kona in 2018 in my new age group.

There are lots or races out there I have not tried, Challenge Roth being one, as that would be another destination race with good vacationing opportunities.  I’d like to learn how to mountain bike so I can do an Xterra.   And I would like to be part of a group that encourages and supports others getting into the sports of running or triathlon.  I feel I have a few tips I could pass on though I could never coach like you, Craig, just pass on some of the things that worked for me.  But not being technology inclined I just say they are tips.

I love to race and am always open for suggestions and love new challenges.  So Challenge Roth might be next or maybe Machu Pichu or…

Craig: Diane, thank you for sharing your story.  I am proud to be friends with you and Don.  TCSD is lucky to have you among our members.  Good luck to you in Kona next year and beyond.

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

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ITU Triathlon World Championships – Rotterdam

Craig & Laurie (WINNAAR) showing off finisher medals.

Dutch girl Laurie and Dutch boy Craig should get a room!

Enjoying the windmills.

On September 17th I raced the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam.  This was the 23rd race where I have represented Team USA in a World Championship over my career.  I am very proud of that accomplishment and very thankful for all those international opportunities.

We arrived to good weather in Rotterdam on the 13th, but then it was wet 95% of the time thru the 16th.  The rain really stressed me out because I knew the bike course was narrow, had some cobbles and had a lot of turns.  The bike course would be a nightmare if it was wet.  I can think of about 8 different World Championships that I’ve raced in where it rained leading right up to the event, but on race day the weather was great.  Thankfully due to the power of prayer, God blessed me once again in Rotterdam with clear skies and 68 degrees on race day.  Amen!

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was held in Rijnhaven Harbor.  The water temperature was 60 degrees so it was brisk, but manageable.  The harbor was very calm so it was just like swimming in a lake.  I swam pretty well as my time was 24:33 which put me in 17th place.  We had a very long run (0.6 miles) to transition.  I covered that ground pretty fast, but there were a lot of cobbles so it was hard on the feet.  I made the bad decision in T1 to put on a jacket for the bike and this cost me some time.  My T1 time was 6:05 – 62nd best or not so good.  It was warm enough that I did not need that jacket.  Skipping it would have given me a good T1 time.  Ugh!

The bike course was 2 loops for a total of 23.6 miles.  Holland is one of the flattest places on Earth and Rotterdam is no different.  The only hills were on the bridge crossings.  We went over the beautiful Erasmus Bridge twice.  Holland is known for its gorgeous architecture and this is illustrated by the Erasmus Bridge which I think looks like a harp.  I was timid on the bike.  The road conditions were ideal, but I was never comfortable.  My skills on the bike are fairly limited and that was apparent on a flat, technical course with so many turns.  There was 1 section we had to do twice that was on a steep temporary ramp built over some stairs with a very sharp turn right after you came back down the ramp – I still can’t believe that!  My bike split was only 1:13:35 which was 97th best (really not good) and it dropped me down to 73rd place.

The run course was 2 loops for a total of 5.67 miles in Westerkade Park.  For as much as I disliked the bike course, I loved the run course.  75% was on trails and it was much better for spectators than the bike course.  I ran very well; probably because I was so motivated after my poor bike to do whatever I could to minimize my embarrassment.  I had the 2nd fastest run split on the day with a time of 36:24.  My finish time was 2:22:47.  I placed 41st out of 111 in the men’s 55-59 age group and I was the 7th out of 14 Americans.  I am very pleased to say that American Lee Walther placed 1st as he edged out a British guy by 3 seconds.  My good friends Kyle Welch and Steve Wade placed 4th and 51st, respectively.

To see my race pictures, click on this link

At the same time I was racing, my wife Laurie was running her 245th marathon – the Bikse Natuurmarathon.  Laurie was the overall female winner and her prize was a tech t-shirt that says “WINNAAR” across the chest.  I think it is so cool!  She is the only woman on the planet with that shirt.  Her greatest challenge was returning the rental car after the race.  It took her 2 hours to find the correct garage, even with gps.

After Rotterdam we went to Amsterdam to be tourists where we really enjoyed ourselves.  On one day we took a 5 hour tour that encompassed a windmill tour, cheese factory tour, wooden shoe factory tour and a boat trip.  On the next day we toured the Rembrandt house, Anne Frank house, Van Gogh Museum and took a canal boat cruise.  We were both especially moved by the Anne Frank house.  It is amazing to think that 8 people hid from the Nazi’s for 2 years in that tiny 500 square foot space.  Personally setting foot in the Secret Annex and trying to minimize the sounds of your foot steps just as the 8 did was very sobering.

Living the life…

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Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Chattanooga

Dale and Mimi Esworthy with Craig in Franklin, TN.

Craig on the run!

Craig and Lisa Switzer at the finish line.

On September 10th I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN.  Doing this race had been a goal of mine for nearly 2 years as I knew it would offer me a chance to see some of my best friends, Dale and Mimi Esworthy.  I flew into Nashville on the 7th and had a great visit with Dale and Mimi.  They put me up in their house, fed me 3 terrific meals, and hooked me up with a guest pass to do a masters swim at their YMCA, but then I had to be on my way to Chattanooga.

Once in Chattanooga I continued to have a great time with other San Diego based friends and a friend from Atlanta.  I had a couple meals with Mark Ford and his wife Tish Taylor.  I also had dinner with Mike Drury and Troy Cundari made a late appearance.  Lisa Switzer is a friend from Atlanta who came up to the race to train on the course and cheer on some friends.  Lisa gave me lots of course specific information and was a great cheerleader for me during the race.

One of the unique aspects to this race was that the women would race on Saturday and the men would race on Sunday.  I missed racing with the ladies, but I think they were thrilled not to have to deal with the men.  Both days offered the same conditions – sunny with temperatures in the mid 80’s.  Over 3,800 athletes raced from over 90 countries. 

The 1.2 mile swim was in the Tennessee River.  They don’t allow wetsuits if the water temperature is over 78 degrees.  It was 76-77 degrees so wetsuits were just barely allowed.  They had a rolling start within each age group.  That means 10 of us would jump into the water every 3 seconds.  The water was really warm.  I could tell right away that I better just cruise the swim so I would not over heat.  Because of the heat, I did start to get a mild calf cramp in the final 100 meters.  I managed it just fine, but it caused me to limp a bit for my first few steps on dry land.  The swim would be the least of my challenges for the day.  My swim split was 33:57 (1:45/100 meters), putting me in 22nd place.

The 56 mile bike course featured 3,400 feet of climbing.  It was a scenic tour of Tennessee and even a small part of Georgia.  Too bad I did not have time to savor it!  The toughest part was the first 8 miles as we climbed up to Lookout Mountain.  I felt great on the climb, but felt pretty tired for the rest of the challenging course.  I did the best I could, though.  I managed a 2:55:50 bike split (19.1 mph).  This was the 114th best time and it dropped me into 83rd place.   

The 13.1 mile run course was comprised of 2 laps along the Riverfront Parkway.  The run course also had some hills as the elevation gain was 975 feet.  It was very scenic and perfect for spectators.  I had a solid run as my split was 1:38:55 (7:33/mile).  This was the 11th best run time and it moved me up to finish 42nd out of 157 men in the 55-59 age group.  I finished in 1,494th place out of 2,380 male finishers with a time of 5:18:02.  This race course was World Championships worthy and the competition was great so I am satisfied with my result.

Troy and Mark placed 26th and 33rd, respectively in the men’s 55-59.  Mike placed 164th in the men’s 45-49.   

To see my race photos, click on this link:

Living the life…   

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TCSD Conversation: September 2017 – John Healy

John Healy finishing the 1983 Ironman World Championships in Kona

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the great pleasure recently to sit down and talk triathlon with one of the TCSD’s earliest members, John Healy.  John has been racing triathlons since the earth started to cool.  He has seen it all.  I know you will enjoy getting to know this triathlon pioneer.

Craig: What sports did participate in before triathlon?

John: I grew in a suburb of Boston, where families were big and everyone played sports outside every day—hockey, baseball, basketball, football.  No adults were involved—just kids.  I ran sprints and played baseball in high school.  An enlarging benign spine bone tumor began to press on my lower spinal cord in 11th grade and precluded contact sports and made baseball too painful.  This was treated later with radiation and by age 20 I was pain free.

I started playing 4 wall handball at the end of college at Holy Cross and really got into it at the University of Vermont where I went to medical school.  It was perfect for me.  I had a strong arm and great speed.  Most importantly it only took an hour to play, and I was always pressed for time.  My opponents we were usually very athletic and very strong willed, but great guys off the court.  I managed to win handball championships at Vermont, Stanford and at Navy and Marine Corps tournaments.  But, in big venues, i.e. San Diego, I was just another adequate player.  Handball was my favorite and most strenuous sport, but degenerative spinal issues made me give it up after 32 years at 52.

We had cold ocean water, very few pools, and polio scares in Massachusetts.  I was not much of a swimmer until teenage years when my friends and I started to swim in the nearby Quincy granite quarries (which was an illegal and forbidden activity).  We believed the old tales that the quarries were bottomless and that “truck drivers” would bring their girl friends there and swim naked at lunchtime (never happened, but made the quarries exciting for 14 year olds).  I never could have done competitive swimming but became skilled enough to be hired by Cape Cod National Seashore as a lifeguard.

Craig: What chain of events led to you trying your hand with multi-sports?

John: An acute attack of back spasms during a Sierra backpacking trip in terrible weather led to ocean swimming being the only activity I could do in August, 1979.  I saw an announcement for the 50th annual Labor Day swim in Oceanside and decided to do it.  After the race Tom Warren, the owner of Tug’s Tavern in Pacific Beach and the hero of the classic Sport’s Illustrated story about the 1979 Ironman race on Oahu, was passing out entries to his upcoming Tug’s Swim-Run-Swim race—1/4 mile fun-1/2 mile swim around crystal pier in Pacific Beach , 5 ½ mile run, then another ½ mile swim around the pier.  I had been in great shape since 1966, but was incredulous that anyone could do an event of that magnitude and length.  There were about 300 entrants.

Craig: You are one of triathlon’s pioneers.  What were some of the local triathlons that you did in the early days and what were they like?

John: After Tug’s, I got on the mailing list for the few triathlons existent in the 80’s—Chuck’s, Del Mar days, and Carlsbad and in 1983, the USTS Series at Torrey Pines and later the Koz races.

A lot of us would use our children’s bikes the first few years.  Training would be a few weeks of swimming and a few bike rides around the neighborhood.

Del Mar Days triathlon (spelled Triathalon) started as a discontinuous event –10k run on the beach, then an hour later a one mile swim in a very cold ocean against a current resulting in a massive hypothermia (no wetsuits)–then later an ill-advised bike race in the wet, curvy streets in the Del Mar hills.  That was the first time I realized that bikers had toe clips.  Another year a bike race was going on at the same time and on the same course as the triathlon.  I had never seen at peloton before and when I saw it catching up to me I was terrified and my mental terror, I believe, made my chain come off!

Chuck’s was a tremendous race on Fiesta Island starting with a 10k run, then a 12 mile bike followed by a 1 ¼ mile swim.

Those early races were followed by band music and big, unlimited beer gardens and had 200 entrants.  Most of us changed clothes in the open between events.  Unfortunately, both races ended when lawsuits were filed after relatively mild bike injuries.  The races were a labor of love and were discontinued because of the lawsuits, even though I believe the lawsuits were not successful.

Carlsbad originally had a mile swim and 10k run with the same 16 mile bike as today’s event.  Many of the early triathletes came from a swimming background as the long cold swims were a real challenge for “regular people”.

Craig: What led you to race the 1983 Ironman World Championships in Kona?

John: In 1982 my wife and I went to Kona for a medical meeting.  By sheer coincidence we happened to land during the actual Ironman race.  The Queen K Road was not closed for the race and we had a long very slow drive in the middle of the race into Kailua.  We watched most of finishers and they looked beaten up on Alii drive. My memory is that they looked “haunted”, constantly looking over their shoulder to see if anyone was catching them.

I had probably done 10 triathlons by then, but with pretty casual training—mostly handball, skiing and running—very little swimming and biking—but a little more every year.  By the mid-1980’s it was 6 months handball and skiing, six months, April to October triathlon.

That day watching the Ironman convinced me that the race was madness and that I would never be interested in doing it.

But, that night we went on a “Captain Beans” dinner cruise (the original boat used for the Ironman swim turnaround).  Many free Mai Tais later, while sailing on Kailua Bay, somewhat illogically, I decided I would do the Ironman in 1983.  The next day, outside the only hotel (the only building) at Waikoloa in those days, I began training for my one and only marathon.

I trained for 5 ½ months for the 1983 Ironman.  It was very exciting, like a science project, I was running 13 miles every other day.  I got injured after running the America’s Finest City half and missed two weeks of running and got quite a scare!  In early August I took a vacation to Maui with a bunch of families and did not bike 2 weeks, but ran the half marathons every other day and swam 90 minutes each day.  Otherwise training and racing went fine.

The whole Kona experience was a gas.  It was incredibly exciting.  In those days, not everyone there was a gifted athlete.  But everyone was trained and super motivated and there were a lot of real unique individuals.  Most had made a real sacrifice to be there.  They had psychiatrists present to give a seminar to the spouses that had both suffered and supported the athletes’ training through their one dimensional quest.  There were a lot of repeat contestants.  I think I might have been among the first thousand ironmen.

The race day itself was another matter.  It is still the windiest day in Ironman history.  I saw people blown to a complete stop and even blown off their bikes.  Many had to stand up on their pedals most of the way to Hawi, some walked.  Only about 830 out of nearly 1000 starters were able to complete the race, the lowest percentage of finishers ever.  Aerobars and clip-in pedals had not yet been invented and the average bike in the race was said to cost $350, about what I paid for my Univega Grand Premio at Zummatti’s.  I can’t remember if helmets were mandatory but most of us wore the old Skidlid helmets that offered very little protection, kind of like a hairnet.

Craig: You’ve completed nearly 400 triathlons in your career, what are some of your favorite destination races?

John: With a growing and active family and a demanding profession I swore off Ironman races but returned to Kona twice for Half Ironmans in my sixties.  In 2002 I had a chance to do “Ironman Revisited” in Oahu with 40 unique companions.  The event caught my attention because I had watched the videos of the original Oahu Ironman race over and over while preparing for 1983.  Training was limited for the August 2002 event because I had fractured my tibia skiing in late January.  I swam for 4 months, biked for 3 months, but only was able to run 50 miles before the event, although I aqua jogged a lot.  We had to supply our own support crew who drove along with us just like the original three Oahu races and supply all our needs.  The event was well organized and a real thrill.  My orthopedist told me not to run more than two hours, so I alternated running and walking.

I should write a separate article about my 1980’s Alcatraz races.  In the 1980’s no wetsuits were allowed, a 15 mile run through Muir Woods to Stinson Beach and then return back to Mill Valley over hills as high as 1360 feet and starting and finishing with 672 slick wooden and stone steps (the height of a fifty story building).  No directional buoys for the swim—once the race started I saw just two other swimmers.  We had to memorize the San Francisco skyline and “never get to the right of the tall apartment building” in order to not miss Aquatic Park and get carried west on the outgoing Tide!  They had a permit for 300 racers , but had fewer than a hundred enter.  The bike went over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley.  Looking down at Alcatraz after just swimming from it was a real thrill.  I had trainied by swimming in Del Mar until I got really really cold and confused and by taking cold showers.

Craig: What is your favorite benefit of your TCSD membership?

John: One of my favorite benefits is the races the TCSD puts on.  I fondly remember two unusual TCSD club races.  The first was the “Jellyfish Triathlon” at Fiesta Island.  After a vote was taken, we had the race.  Every stroke I took I had a jellyfish in my hand and I was glad to have a bathing cap.  Fortunately,they were nonstinging.

The “Cowpie Triathlon” was at a ranch near Ramona.  We swam multiple laps in a small pond, then biked and ran among dozens of cows and thousands of cowpies.  A great party and cookout followed and all finishers were awarded a dried cowpie on a necklace. Some club members camped out overnight. I got home very late and very tired.  When I went to get in bed, I recalled that our swim had been in a BROWN pond-brown because of cowpies. I hurriedly showered after putting 2 plus 2 together.

Craig:  I remember doing both of those epic TCSD races.  Triathlon has been a family affair for you.  How has your family been involved in our sport?

John: My wife and three children have all done at least one triathlon.  I signed up early for one of the Optimist’s Coronado Triathlons when my two oldest kids were about ten and twelve.  That year the race was Bike-Run-Swim.  Your start position was determined by the date of your entry and my kids were in the front row with all the super aggressive adults behind them.  I worried they would be biked over.

One of my great strategies during the years that the optimist race was formatted as a run 1.2 miles, bike 4, swim ¼ mile was to wear my bike helmet on the run.  I beat a good friend three years in a row by a few seconds.  He would always make fun of my helmet on the run—but never figured out that not having to put the helmet on when my pulse was probably 200 was my whole margin of victory over him.

For my 50th birthday my daughter swam from Alcatraz with me.

I have been blessed with a great family.  Three children and eight grandchildren ages 5 to 17, all living nearby.  My son John and son-in-law Brandon have done very well in Triathlon.  Everyone else in involved in sports.

Craig: I’m thinking that with all your race experiences you have probably seen some pretty goofy things over the years.  What have been some of the classics?

John: I could swim and run faster than a friend, but he was a much faster cyclist.  He was one of the first to get the original Quintana Roo wetsuit.  When he beat me out of the water, I could see that I needed a wetsuit also.  They were hard to find at first—you had to “know a guy who knew a guy” to get one.  I had a connection and got one at Bike Fever in Del Mar.  The next race I beat my friend out of the water with my new wetsuit.  However, I put on my helmet and bike shoes and started to mount my bike before I realized that I had forgotten to take off my wetsuit.

I did two races, one in Coronado and one in Ensenada, that had no bike turnaround marked and everyone turned around at different places, then they realized what was (not) happening.

The only drafting legal race I have done was in Huntington Beach.   I was in a pack of 5 riders after taking two turns at the front, they told me not to lead anymore because I was going too slow; so I hung in the back and enjoyed the ride.  At that same Huntington Beach event, big surf took off my goggles and pulled my Speedo right off—I saved my Speedo with one ankle to prevent a nude finish to my swim.

Craig: What have you done for a living?

John: I am a Neuroradiologist.  I trained at the San Diego Naval Hospital and Stanford.  I also had the opportunity to take a six month Navy course in Aerospace medicine (including flight instruction) in Pensacola and spent two years as a flight surgeon with the Marines.  I spent most of my career at U.C.S.D. and the VA and had the opportunity to train a few hundred Radiology trainees.  I also persuaded about ten of them to do a triathlon.

Craig: Who has been the most influential person in your life?

John: The biggest influence of me is definitely my wife of 50 years, Barbara, a physical therapist and a real miracle.  She is a very independent, friendly and social person.  She has broadened my horizons tremendously.  I had several friends that I usually beat by a minute or less.  I had to warn her to stop being so friendly and giving away my secrets of victory i.e. don’t wear socks, don’t sit down to put on shoes, use lace locks instead to tying shoes, etc.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

John: Future goal?  I have raced almost 800 events, mostly multisport.  I have raced almost 400 miles swimming, 6700 miles biking and over 2300 running.  Almost everyone my age has quit.  I think a lot of them are just embarrassed how slow they have become—and so am I!  I have a lot of arthritis everywhere and some serious medical problems and have been slow for quite a while.  Every Spring I decide if I will continue.  I love training in San Diego.  Because I have been so busy, I have done almost all my training by myself, so have missed some of the great social aspects of the sport.  I do fewer events every year, but will probably continue to do my favorites.

Craig: John, thank you so much for sharing your story.  Triathlon has definitely kept you young.  I think you have at least another 800 events in you.  We are lucky to have you in our club!

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

Posted in 2017, Half Marathon, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCSD Conversation: August 2017 – Hiro Iwamoto

Guide Rich Anderson and Hiro Iwamoto ready to race Strongman Miyakojima.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Hiro Iwamoto.  Hiro has led an amazing life.  His story is sure to inspire you when you face your next challenge.  I am so glad I had the chance to get to know him and I know you will feel the same way once you hear his story.

Craig: When did you lose your sight and what was the cause?

Hiro: I was born in Kumamoto, Japan, and during elementary school, like many other boys I wanted to be a professional baseball player. So I would always play baseball with my friends after school. Then when I was 13 I realized I was losing my sight for the first time as I was playing baseball with my friends.  I could not catch the ball because I could not see it.  Everyone on my team started blaming me when we lost a game.  But even in that kind of situation, I could not tell them that I couldn’t see.  I did not want them to know that I was losing my sight.

After a while, I started bumping into things as I was walking.  My parents took me to every eye doctor they could think of, but none of the doctors could figure out the cause of my blindness.  This meant that there was no treatment, no cure for my sight loss.

Craig: How did you adjust to life without sight?

Hiro: I was so scared, and I felt hopeless when I thought about my future.  I wondered how my future was going to be.  When I could not even put toothpaste on my toothbrush, I did not want to deal with my blindness anymore.  I did not want to go on living asking for help all the time.

On August 13th, 1982, it was a very hot day, the sun was shining, and a lot of cicadas were making sound, as I headed to a bridge in my hometown of Ushibuka to commit suicide, to terminate my life.

When I got there, I took off my shoes and put both my hands and right foot on the rail, but could not pull myself up over the rail, I tried again and again, but could not go over the rail. It’s not that I didn’t have enough strength to jump, but it felt like some unknown force was preventing me from jumping.

After struggling for a while, I got so tired since I could not sleep at all the night before.  I decided to take a nap on a bench in a park nearby.  During the nap, I had a dream and received a message from my uncle who had died 5 years before and he said to me “You have to live, do not end your own life. You became blind for a purpose. You became blind so you can encourage and inspire people who have lost meaning in their lives. I want you to keep pressing on and experience how wonderful life can be.”

My uncle loved me so much as he would have adopted me if he didn’t have cancer.  I gave up jumping off from the bridge and went back to my house.  I returned to find that things were still the same, I still spilled toothpaste on my hand, spilled Miso soup on my lap, hit my head on the corner of my desk, etc.  However, even in my daily struggles, I never thought about suicide again, because the message from my uncle was kept in a small part of my brain, and telling me that there is a meaning for all of this.  Slowly but surely, I started to gain confidence and courage.

Craig: What sports did you do after losing your sight?

Hiro: After I became totally blind at 16, I wanted to find a sport in which I could compete equally with the sighted, so I began Judo. The first training I had to do was to lay on my back on the tatami mat and hit the mat with my arms.  This was to train my reflex after being thrown by an opponent. I had to do this same training for a couple months and I started become bored and almost quit. But this experience taught me the importance of Kata, or form/discipline, in sports. And there was an incident where my Judo training helped my a great deal. In my early twenties, I was in San Francisco studying special education at San Francisco State. One day I was walking in downtown SF near Poway Station, and a pickpocket took my wallet and started running. Thanks to my Judo training, I was able to instinctively grab his shirt and do a Osotogari (threw him down on the ground), and handed him over to the police who happened to be near. For your own safety, you should not try to rob a blind guy.

Craig: What prompted your move to the USA?

Hiro: After returning from San Francisco State, I didn’t want to lose my English so I began attending an English class. My English teacher introduced me to her friend Karen, who would become my wife. She and I would go hiking along with classmates and the teacher from the English class and we grew closer as we got to know each other more. We eventually began dating and got married on May of 1996. Sorry, I am a traditional Japanese male so I don’t remember much of the details…I hope my wife is not reading this.

After getting married, we lived in Chiba prefecture, and there was a yacht harbor close to our home called Inage yacht harbor. On our evening walk we found a rental yacht shop. Karen was already an experienced sailor as she had been competing in races from middle to high school. Although I had no prior sailing experience, we decided to rent a yacht and give it a shot together. This was how I started sailing.

In 2005 our daughter Leena was born, and my wife and I began to discuss whether staying in Japan or moving to the States would be the best for our daughter. After we weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the two countries, we decided that that it was best for our daughter to move to the States. So in 2006 we moved to San Diego.

Craig: What happened during the challenge you began on June 16, 2013?

Hiro: As a blind sailor, I began dreaming of sailing across the Pacific, the biggest ocean in the world, sailing from Japan to America with one other sighted person.  I started sharing about my dream and passion everywhere I would go, and that helped lead me to the right people and eventually I was sponsored.

Mr. Shinbo who is a newscaster for Yomiuri TV in Japan offered to be my sailing partner for my challenge, and Yomiuri TV company and other companies became our sponsors.  I didn’t expect that my dream would come true so quickly.

About three thousand people including many Tsunami survivors came to the port to cheer us on, and a Japanese Olympic female marathon runner, Kyu-chan (Naoko Takahashi), who won gold in the Sydney Olympics, came as a guest and we received her handmade bento lunch, etc.  I was so happy.  I had never felt as excited in my life as I was that moment when we left the port of Onahama in Fukushima.

It was my idea to leave from Onahama port in Fukushima because I wanted to encourage the people there and be encouraged by them.  We asked the people living there to write a letter to their family members and friends whose lives were lost in the Tsunami, and we planned to read the letters before putting them into the ocean.  I was hoping that writing a letter would help them release their hardship, stress, and recover from their grief.

On the sixth day around 7:20 in the morning, I heard something bumping on our boat three times, boom, boom, boom, Mr. Shinbo asked if those were waves hitting our boat, and I answered I don’t think so.

When I heard the sound and felt the boat shake, I thought we had a collision with a whale.  I took two gallons of water from the bottom and the emergency bag which contained a satellite phone, GPS and a VHF radio. Our team made a distress call to the Japanese Coast Guard. We then abandoned our boat and went overboard on our life raft amid 15 foot waves and 30 knot winds. At the time of the collision, we were already 700 miles out in the ocean and there was also a typhoon heading over our direction.

Since the Coast Guard couldn’t get to us in time to rescue us from the storm and we were out of range of a helicopter, they dispatched the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). The JMSDF sent out a US-2 rescue aircraft (ShinMaywa US-2), but the first US-2 could not make a landing because of the high waves (the maximum height of waves it could land on is 10ft) and they were running out of fuel so after they circled over us trying to make a landing, they had to retreat. We felt hopeless and terrified when that first aircraft faded into the distance. Then 3 hours later, a second US-2 came. The pilot risked a dangerous landing to save us, and we were rescued after being stranded for 11 hours in the middle of the ocean.

A press conference was held right after we were rescued and we arrived at Atsugi base, and a reporter asked me what I thought our boat bumped into.  I believe I received a sixth sense in exchange for my sight loss and by then I knew it was a whale that hit our boat.  Later we had experts confirm through the video left on one of our onboard cameras (we took out the SD card before we abandoned ship) that it was indeed a blue whale, approximately 50 foot big.

Six days before this incident when we sailed out from Fukushima, I was at the highest point of my life, but within seconds I went straight down to a low point, in front of about 100 media people.  I heard people say and was even told directly that it was a stupid plan for a totally blind person to try to sail across the Pacific.  For a while I couldn’t see the purpose for this collision but before long I realized that this setback will make my future success 100 times even 1000 times bigger.

The more I thought about these facts, the more I was thankful for just being alive.  I also took the meaning of this event this way, God gave me a challenge to see if I could recover from this frightful experience, similar to what the Tsunami victims experienced.  Ever since I found the meaning of the collision, I have been thankful for what happened.  I started saying the same things I have heard from people who were going through their difficulties after the natural disaster in Fukushima and Kumamoto which is “I am thankful for just being alive, everything else is not a big deal.”

Craig: After your near death experience, it makes sense that you would have a legitimate fear of water.  What have you done to overcome that fear?

Hiro: When I was searching for a way to overcome my fear of the ocean, DJ Rausa whom I met through the San Diego Business Group recommended triathlon. He offered to be my guide and not long after that we began training together.

The most difficult part for me was swimming in the ocean. When I’m practicing at the pool I could feel along the lane rope and make sure that I’m going straight, and I could guess the distance from the wall by counting my strokes. But this is not possible in the ocean. So we use a rubber tube about 4 feet long and tie it around our waist. I have to figure out which direction my guide is going by the tension of the tube. I’m swimming to DJ’s right, so if the tension of the tube loosens, it means I’m leaning too far to the left, so I have to adjust my position to the right. If the tension tightens, I have to adjust to the left.

When we’re on the bike or running, I can communicate easily with my guide, but in the water I cannot see, hear, or speak. When I was starting out, sometimes I panicked as I worried what will happen if the tube connecting us suddenly broke off. Every 2 or 3 strokes I would raise my head and check if DJ was still next to me, so we barely moved forward. This went on for a while but slowly I got used to it and in October 2014, I finished my first race at the Mission Bay Triathlon. I still clearly remember that excitement I felt when I reached the goal.

Craig: You have raced 10 triathlons in your career which stretches from the 2014 Mission Bay Triathlon to the 2017 Oceanside 70.3 and Strongman Miyakojima in Japan.  What triathlon accomplishments give you the most pride?

Hiro: In April of 2016 I joined the Blind Stokers Club (BSC) which provided many training opportunities to work on my cycling. At one event I was able to ride for 50 miles for the first time. I thought to myself, “if I could ride 6 more miles, it would be the same distance as a Half Ironman”, and that boosted my confidence and lit a fire inside of me to keep challenging. From then I began training for the Chula Vista Challenge Half Iron Triathlon that was in August. I also competed in the San Diego International Triathlon (SDIT) and the Carlsbad Triathlon as I prepared for the Chula Vista Challenge.

SDIT was the first time I did a floating start, so just keeping afloat was a struggle for me and I used up most of my energy before the race even began. It was also difficult for me to keep facing the same direction while floating, so I was anxious and kept on asking my guide if I was facing the right direction. A couple of minutes after the race began, the next wave of swimmers approached from behind us and they probably didn’t notice that I was blind and tethered to my guide, so they kicked my head and grabbed my shoulder as they tried to get past us, and at that point I felt like giving up, but somehow I was able to get back in focus and finish the race.

The Carlsbad Triathlon was my first ocean swim experience. No matter how hard I swam, the waves kept pushing me back, and the fact that the waves were keeping me from moving forward exhausted me both physically and mentally. But my guides Rich Anderson and Patsie Dephney cheered me on and I was able to complete the swim.

Less than a month away from the Chula Vista Challenge, I found out that Rich was competing in Ironman Boulder. The race was a week before the CVC and I was concerned about Rich’s physical condition, so I felt the need to find another guide. My other guide DJ had a back injury so he was not available and I wasn’t able to find anyone through BSC. I was worried that despite all the training I did, I would not be able to compete in the race. For us blind triathletes, no matter how much we are prepared and want to compete in a race, it is not possible without a guide. I was feeling a little down when I went to a friend’s house party where I happened to meet Greg Smeltzer. I told Greg my desire to compete in the CVC and begged him to be by guide. He kindly accepted, and although we only had time to train together twice, we were able to enter the race. I couldn’t believe that he had only two prior experiences as a guide as he was so calm and stable the whole time we were practicing.

The weather was very hot on the day of the race and while running I began to get so nauseous that I almost threw up and couldn’t even swallow the nutrition gel, but with Greg’s help I was able to finish the race. Usually after I finish a race, I would immediately head over to the beer tent, but that day I didn’t have any energy left so I went home exhausted and sank into my bed. During the race, as I was running and feeling nauseous, I said to myself, “why did I even get into this agonizing sport” and was getting mad at myself. I even thought I would never do triathlon again. But a couple of days later, as I reflected on the joy of reaching the goal that day, I began to think that if I could complete a half, maybe I could take the next step and challenge a longer distance.

Before long, I had registered to compete at the All Japan Triathlon Miyakojima (also known as Strongman Miyakojima, Swim 1.9mi, Bike 98mi, Run 26.2mi) in April 2017, which is the most popular race in Japan, and the upcoming Ironman Arizona in November 2017.

Also as part of my training for the race in Miyakojima, I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. For me, the heart crushing uphill ride that everyone was talking about was the most difficult part of the race. I had been practicing on the hills in Torrey Pines, but the hill on this course was much steeper. No matter how hard we pedaled, our speed would not go up but instead our legs were becoming sore and our speed kept slowing down. If we were to stop, it would have been impossible to pedal out again because of the steepness of the hill, so we would have to walk our bike to the top. There were actually some racers around us who were doing this. But we were able to keep pedaling and by the time we made it to the top my legs were shaking and I was worried if I could even run. As we began running, I could barely move my feet forward and didn’t think I could keep running for 13 miles, but after we passed 3 miles I began feeling lighter and we were able to make it to the goal. This was the first time I competed in an official Ironman event, so I was overwhelmed by the energy of all the participants and the big crowd that was cheering us on, and the excitement I felt when I finished the race was even greater than the previous races I’ve been in. Many people saw me during the race and afterwards told me that seeing me compete gave them inspiration and encouragement, that they were moved to see me. As I heard from these people I remembered the voice I heard when I was 16 and tried to kill myself, the voice that told me to keep living to give hope to others, and the people that day helped me realize that the message I lived by for all these years had come true and was being fulfilled.

Along with my guides Rich and Patsie, I departed from LAX to Japan to get there a week before The Miyakojima Triathlon. I thought we would need to spend at least a week to get used to the humid climate and get rid of the jet lag.

We arrived and saw that all over the island of Miyakojima, there were posters with the name of the race “STRONGMAN” (a title given to everyone who finishes the race) written on it, and you could tell that this event was special for the people of the Miyakojima and the whole island was involved in the event. I realized that I had made the right decision in getting there early when we began training on the first day we arrived, as the hot and humid weather sapped us of our energy much more quickly than the mild climate of San Diego. I became nervous as I wondered what the weather would be like on the day of the race. There was another thing that I was concerned about. The Miyakojima Triathlon is known for its tradition of beginning with a mass wave start instead of a regular wave start. This means that all 1500 participants begin swimming at once. Even with a regular wave start people would kick and climb over me from behind, so I was very worried that all these people would be swimming around me.

On the day of the race, at the sound of a horn everyone began going into the water one by one. Rich and I started on the outer edge close to the front. The race began and just as I expected, I could barely move with all the people around me. People began climbing over the rubber tube that tethered me and my guide, some of them shoved me down and I swallowed some seawater, and we were almost pushed out of the swimming course. We would be disqualified if we swam off course, so we moved inward to the center, but there it was even more difficult to swim. Then suddenly something slammed my face real hard. It seemed to have been someone’s heel. My lip started bleeding. With the taste of blood in my mouth, I kept crawling slowly and tried my best to move forward. After we passed the 400 meter mark the course began to widen and I was finally able to swim freely. At that point another concern came to mind and that was to finish the swim before the 1 hour 50 minute time limit. We sped up as we tried to regain the time we lost. We came all the way from the States so I didn’t want us to disqualify at the swim stage. We were able to finish the swim 5 minutes before the time limit.

Although the distance of the swimming and cycling stage is a little shorter than a full Ironman, the time limit for this 126 mile race is 13 hours and 30 minutes, which is 3 hours and 30 minutes less than a full Ironman. With the time limit in mind, we pedaled as fast as we could. The wind was strong and there were a lot of uphills and downhills, also we had to add air to our front tire near the 10km mark, but we were able to finish the cycling stage.

Then we transitioned to the running stage, but the course was inland so there was no wind and the climate was so hot and humid. And about 20km in my guide started to get sick. Although he kept running for me about 10km more, we had to stop around 30km so unfortunately we did not quite finish.

For me, triathlon is similar to sailing across the Pacific as they both represent life itself. Sometimes we can cruise along easily while other times we struggle to barely move forward, and after a period of pain comes a period of joy. I think that’s why I’ve been able to continue doing triathlon and not give up on my sailing challenge across the Pacific. And in case you were wondering, I’m training for Ironman Arizona in November of this year.

Craig: What qualities make up a good guide for a blind triathlete?

Hiro: I’ve heard that a guide should be at least 15-20% faster than you are. My times are 50 minutes for a 1.2 mile swim, 3.5 hours for a 56 mile bike, and 2.5 hours for a 13 mile run.  I think a good guide needs to give an accurate description of the surroundings during the race. He or she also needs to run/swim/bike at the same pace. Someone that could help you reach your full potential. Currently my main guides are Rich Anderson and Greg Smeltzer. I would describe Rich as a completer and Greg as a competitor. Rich is focused on finishing the race. He taught me the importance of taking each stroke, pedal, or step one at a time until you reach the goal. Greg is focused on getting the best time possible. He has taught me to push my own limits to achieve the best results.

Craig: I spoke with your guides Greg and Rich and asked them what their experience been like to serve as your guide?

Greg: I would say my initial reluctance stemmed from not being strong or fast enough. After speaking again with Hiro we determined that I was 20% (I think this is the formula he uses to determine) faster than what he was pacing at so we would be fine. He was training for Chula Vista Challenge and had Rich as a guide, but Rich had done Ironman Boulder and was not going to be recovered enough to guide. Hiro asked me and we had just two weeks to prepare. We met for a swim and that went well, no problems tethered. We went on I think one or two bike rides and same for running. We completed the race with no issues although the many turns on that course and the sidewalk run did almost take us out a few times. When we finished though, the feeling was incomparable to any race I had done before. We went to a development camp for blind athletes a few months later and I think one of the most important things I took away was that we as guides are a tool for the athlete, like a pair of shoes or bike. Like many people have multiple pairs of shoes or different bikes for different runs and rides, a blind athlete will benefit greatly from being able to access multiple guides for different workouts.

We are now training for Ironman Arizona and we try to meet 3-4 times in one week, alternating weeks.  I have gained a whole new perspective on triathlon, and life by guiding and would recommend others trying as well.

Rich:  When I joined the San Diego blind stokers club I wanted to obviously be able to captain someone that needed help to enjoy a hobby/activity that they loved. In the back of my mind I was really hoping that I would be able to meet someone visually impaired that wanted to try a triathlon. After only a few months as a member I was introduced to Hiro. He was very excited about the idea of doing triathlons regularly and the training involved. I could have not asked for a better person to be paired with. Not only did he keep us on a regular training schedule, he was an engaging training partner. Hiro was always pushing us, talking all the time and after a while one starts to forget that he is blind. It was amazing to watch how someone with no vision was really so independent. I will always remember the races that we did and the cheers we got. I am a middle to back of the pack triathlete with little fanfare, but guiding Hiro thru races was so much fun to be next to him receiving such loud cheers and encouragement. The icing on the cake was the times I would get to guide him up onto the podium to get his medal for placing in the Challenged athlete division.

Craig: How can people contact you if they would like to learn more about guiding you?

Hiro: Right now I’m trying to connect with as many guides as possible. The reason for this is that having only one or two guides puts a lot of pressure/burden on the guide. Having more guides would lighten the burden for the individual guides. It’s also better to have more guides in case my current guide gets injured or are not able to race for some other reason. Also if possible, I’m looking not only for guides but also for rides, for people that could provide transportation. The best way to reach me is through email at

Craig: What are some of the funny things that happen around a blind guy in a triathlon?

Hiro: When people ask me how a blind guy like me can ride a bike, I would tell them that I ride in front of the tandem and steer while my guide tells me which direction to go. Most people actually believe me and don’t realize that it’s a joke.

Another thing I do on the bike is whenever my legs become heavy while pedaling, I ask the other racers around me if my guide is really pedaling, and they would get in on the joke and tell me “no, he’s not!”

Sometimes when I tell my guide I don’t think I can go any further, he would tell me that there is a beautiful woman in front of us so we should just follow her. Then somehow I would regain my energy.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of being a TCSD member?

Hiro: I am amazed at the great community that the TCSD has for its members. I’ve received so much motivation and encouragement from the people I met through TCSD.

I wouldn’t have been able to reach the level I am at right now without all the training programs that the TCSD provides including track workouts, master swim, Del Mar open water swim, and the monthly Aquathlon. I think I would have been way behind if I were just training on my own. I greatly appreciate all the coaches and organizers of TCSD for helping me out and providing these resources.

Craig: What do you do for a living?

Hiro: I practice a therapy based on acupuncture and oriental medicine that I invented called Shishijutsu. My office is located in Kearny Mesa and I see all kinds of clients with conditions ranging from sports injuries to insomnia.

In my work as a life coach, I give speeches and one on one coaching sessions based on my own experience of overcoming my disability. I travel several times a year to Japan to give speeches and seminars. I’m planning to expand my work as a life coach here in the States as well. Please feel free to contact me if you or your organization are interested.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Hiro: I have been training for the Ironman Arizona 140.6 full triathlon this November.

Also my dream is to compete in the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

Craig: Hiro, thank you so much for telling us your story.  Your fan club just got a lot bigger.  The entire TCSD will be cheering for you to complete Ironman Arizona and to one day cross the finish line in Kona.  It is people like you that make the TCSD the best club on the planet!

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

Posted in 2017, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships

Craig Zelent volunteering with Holly Stroschine (left) and Anne Rogers (right)

7th place men’s 55-59 age group

On August 12th I raced the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Omaha, NE.  My pie in the sky goal was to place top 10 in my age group and get on the podium.  The podium goes 10 deep at Nationals.  I was thrilled with my result as I placed 7th out of 102 men in the 55-59 age group.  This ties my best performance at the Olympic distance Nationals as I was also 7th back in 2002.

My trip to Omaha started by volunteering at the packet pick up on Friday morning.  I was joined by my TCSD friends Holly Stroschine and Anne Rogers.  It is always good to give back to the sport by volunteering. 

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was held in Carter Lake.  The water temperature was 80 degrees so no wetsuits would be allowed.  For safety reasons, they won’t let you wear a wetsuit if the water temperature is over 78.  I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world and the wetsuit would help me, but I took the non wetsuit swim as good news.  I figured I could put some time on the weaker swimmers that wetsuits would have really helped.  The air temperature peaked out during my race in the upper 70’s so it was very comfortable racing conditions.  I swam 27:57, putting me in 20th place.  I was 52 seconds slower than in 2016, but I felt I had a really good swim.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was an out and back.  There was 1 hard climb on the way out that required 1st gear for ¼ mile.  The uphill grade on that section on the way back was a bit longer, but not nearly as steep.  I had a very solid bike performance as my split was 1:10:12 (21.2 mph).  This was 13 seconds better than 2016.  It was the 48th best bike split and it dropped me to 28th place.  I felt great and was very much in control of my race.

They changed the run course for 2017.  The 2016 version was 1 out and back for the entire 10K (6.2 miles).  The 2017 version was 2 out and backs.  2017 was much better as we had more opportunity to gauge our competitors and it seemed like there were twice as many spectators.  By the 2K mark I remember seeing 1 of the guys in my age group walking back.  He was 1 of the top athletes in our age group and he had a 10+ minute lead on me to start the run, but he was now injured and out of the race.  It reminded me how tricky it can be to get thru all the training and the actual race in 1 piece.  Triathlon can be very humbling.  I kept pushing on as aggressively as possible.  I had the best run of my triathlon career, relative to my age group.  My run split was 37:18 (6:01/mile) and fastest in the age group by 2:33.  My finish time was 2:20:05.  And I did qualify for the 2018 Olympic distance World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.  I can’t wait to represent Team USA once again. 

I am thankful for each race – the good ones and the bad ones.  I wish I was a better swimmer and cyclist, but I gratefully accept the skills that I do have.  God has really blessed me.

To see my pictures from this race, click on this link:

Living the life…

Craig Zelent  

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