LA Tri Series Legends Triathlon

1st place never gets old...even for an old guy!

1st place never gets old…even for an old guy!

On October 9th I raced the LA Tri Series Legends Triathlon in San Dimas at Bonelli Park.  This race will probably be my last triathlon in 2016 so I wanted to finish the season on a positive note.  The race started at 8am so conditions were comfortable at the start, but it did heat up to the high 80’s by the time I finished.

The 1.5K (0.93 miles) swim was in fresh water.  The biggest challenge was going to be the glare from the sun.  The course was a simple counter clockwise oval so it was easy to stay on track.  I had a good swim as I came out the water in 2nd place with a time of 25:18.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was comprised of 3 hilly laps.  I’ve raced on this course a few times over the years and this bike course is always challenging.  I did manage the best bike split of 1:19:38 (18.7 mph) and that moved me up to 1st place, but only by 20 seconds.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run offers a little bit of everything – trails, asphalt, ups and downs.  I had the fastest run split with a time of 41:36 (6:41/mile) to give me a victory by 8+ minutes over 2nd place.  I placed 1st out of 13 men 50-54 and 5th out of 130 overall finishers with a time of 2:29:58.

The race organizers also offered a sprint race called The Express that was about one third the distance of my race.  The Express had 104 finishers.  It is a family run business that puts on a series of races throughout the year.  They do a great job and it gives me great pleasure to support their events.

To see my race photos, click on this link

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Richard Duquette – October 2016

Richard Duquette and his wife, Kim

Richard Duquette and his wife, Kim

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent                                 

I had the pleasure recently of talking to Richard Duquette, Bicycle attorney, triathlete and longtime sponsor, member and supporter of the Triathlon Club of San Diego.  The TCSD and our local community are both really lucky to have Richard on our team.  Just as I did; I know you will enjoy getting to know Richard.

Richard: Thanks for having me Craig.

Craig: Who was the most influential person in your life?

Richard: The most influential person in my life was my Grandfather, Thomas Woodhull. He was a city bus driver in Detroit, Michigan for over 20 years. He was consistent, hardworking and a loyal husband, until he died of throat cancer.

He impressed upon his grandkids to treat everyone equal and with respect. He exemplified this on his bus route through the murder capital of the world, the inner city of Detroit, even during the 1968 riots.

He was admired by his regular riders and the City of Detroit, where he ultimately received an award from the Mayor of Detroit for great public service, and no accidents. That was quite impressive to me, as he serviced many different people from all walks of life, and even drove in the snow. He’d bend the rules once in a while if it was the right thing to do, like stopping the bus between routes and giving his two grandkids a free ride home from grade school. He would also sort through (and replace) old coins found in the bus fare change machine, looking for old buffalo nickels, liberty dimes and Indian head pennies. We built a coin collection together.

He also taught me to play baseball and took me to Detroit Tigers baseball games. He was a big sports fan. Most importantly, he bribed me with $500 to return from Kauai, Hawaii to go to college, instead of living in the wild and surfing.

Craig: Who is your hero?

Richard: That’s easy, my wife of 23 years Kim Duquette. I married up. She’s smarter than 99% of the lawyers out there, has common sense and is a big supporter. She’s also our law firm office manager. She’s the best thing that’s happened to me and she’s cute too!

Craig: Besides triathlon, where do you volunteer your time?

Richard: I volunteer my time helping injured bicyclists and triathletes, including many TCSD members you never hear about due to confidentiality. I’ve been doing this for many years.

Seeing me assisting TCSD members behind the scene, and being a long term sponsor, past TCSD president Jim McCann (deceased) gifted me a Life membership to TCSD.  He grew TCSD into what it is today.  I admired Jim for his ability to include and recruit others and diplomatically silence meeting hecklers by cleverly inviting them to “chair that committee”. He was a cool guy and I miss him.

Lately, I have been spending about sixteen hours or more a month in meetings and discussing with other local political leaders the subjects of more open space, parks, safe bicycle infrastructure (like bike lanes and paths), and access to public facilities. The emphasis of these discussions is improving community safety and healthy lifestyles.

I’ve been empowered to do so because I was recently ballot elected as a member of the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee by over 13,000 votes in Assembly District 76 (Oceanside to Encinitas), in big part by those of you all who live and play here. Thanks for your vote!  

Craig: What athletic accomplishments are you the proudest of?

Richard: Lately, it was finishing the Carson City, Nevada 35/50-mile mountain bike race at altitude. It took me all day. We started at 5k elevation then rode twenty-two miles uphill (at times a twelve percent grade) off-road to eighty-six hundred feet to the Tahoe rim trail overlooking Lake Tahoe and Markel Lake in one view. Then a short ride through a snow field and down single track trails through the forest onto fire roads for thirteen miles. I really earned the finishers “silver rail road spike”!

Previously it was a thrill to twice (1976 & 1989) ride Baja California to Cabo San Lucas from Tijuana on one trip and Tecate the other. It took 12 days to ride (with panniers) over 1,100 miles. I camped in the desert under the stars and in some adventurous places, with a night in a motel in Mulege on the gulf side. People warned I’d be robbed, but it turned out to be a wonderful adventure. Of course, I’m also happy to have twice completed Ironman races, Hawaii & New Zealand.

Craig: Name two memorable race day experiences?

Richard: Back in the early eighty’s, I decided on a whim to race the Whiskey Creek Stage bicycle race in Mammoth, California. Day one (of three) was a time trial mountain climb from Bishop at 4,200 feet to Mammoth at 7,600 feet. I experimented in carrying only one water bottle and banana. I figured I had hydrated well enough the day before to do the 42-mile race. Luckily, I finished and completed the next two days. Lesson learned, watch the pros!

The second memorable event was at the Hawaii Ironman finish line. By way of background, I had trained for a year, visualizing finishing and receiving the medal, in honor of my Grandfather who had died the year before of cancer. When I crossed the line, the lovely female volunteer said with a smile, while looking a little concerned for me, “Can I get you anything?” Little did she know, I was so focused on the medal that I politely smiled and said in an endorphin trance, “Yes Ma’am, can I have my medal.” It’s amazing all the reasons people do Ironman races, many times we never know their motivation. I think Wide World of Sports did a good job handpicking unique human interest stories each year during the show.

Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?

Richard: The “Beauty and the Beast” in St Croix US Virgin Islands.  It had a steep hill twice as long as the climb from the Wildflower bike transition area. They had a prime for the fastest hill climber. It was a beast for sure. Of course there’s also the Hawaii Ironman race. Kona is lovely, and the smell of Plumeria blossoms are heavenly. But I also really like the festival or grassroots races like Wildflower. I did the Wildflower Long Course in 1989 and then the Sprint in 2016. Lots of mixing with people pre and post-race. It’s just a fun event.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport, what would you like to change? 

Richard: If I could wave my magic wand I’d like to see more local races like the Carlsbad Triathlon which I do every year, along with the Oceanside one-mile pier swim. Reducing prices would be another wish.  Local sprint races feed the longer ones.

Craig: Can you identify any legal advice you would give a triathlete or bicyclist?

Richard: You need strong insurance coverage (500k Under/Uninsured motorist coverage with a 2 million umbrella UM/UIM limit policy) on your car, because it will likely cover you if hit on your bicycle. It’s a bit counter intuitive, but car insurance covers you on a bike. I see many badly injured bicyclists who are without a deep pocket to pay for damages beyond medical bills. This would include, lost income, permanent disability, and a change in lifestyle. So, I did something about it and wrote specific articles on these subjects, which can be found on my blog What I’m particularly proud of is that my blog self-help articles are now enhanced by podcast episodes that can be listened to when you’re getting ready for work, having coffee, or on a car ride. I have a specific podcast web page on my website or you can subscribe to my podcasts on iTunes.  It’s called “Bicycling and the Law –”.  These self-help articles and podcast episodes help the “little guy” get a fair shake.  I’m an advocate for the average citizen and my work defines me.

Craig: What are your future goals in sport?

Richard: Well, I just turned 60 and want to stay consistent.  As Bob Babbitt wisely pointed out, “Triathlon is the fountain of youth”.  I agree with him 100%. Health is the key to a meaningful life. With it, you can contribute so much more to society. I want to help others who have an interest in triathlons and bicycling.

One day I’d like to podium. I’ll probably have to wait until I’m in my 80s, as my age group competitors keep getting faster.  I’ll most likely have to win by attrition!

I’m also seeing a change in the sport of triathlon. In the 1980s, for instance, bladed spokes were big, now its carbon wheels and bikes. In the old days, the bike gear shifters were on the downtube, now they are on the ends of your handlebars. We’ve gone from chewy Power Bars, to gels like Gu and Cliff natural squeezes. I’m looking forward to what the future has in store!

Craig: Richard, you have made a huge difference in the lives of not only your clients, but also people you have never even met.  I think it is terrific the work you have done in the fight for more open space and improved bike infrastructure.  Thank you for all you have done.  We are lucky to have you as our advocate.

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

Posted in 2016, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ironman 70.3 Superfrog

Overhead view of surf from Imperial Beach pier

Overhead view of surf from Imperial Beach pier

Ground level view of 4-6 foot surf

Ground level view of 4-6 foot surf

56 mile bike course

56 mile bike course

13.1 mile run featuring 2 miles of soft sand

13.1 mile run featuring 2 miles of soft sand

On September 25th I raced Ironman 70.3 Superfrog.  This was the 38th consecutive year this race has been held and the 6th time I have done the race.  But this was the 1st year that it was hosted by Imperial Beach.  Coronado had been a great host for many years, but this was so much better in Imperial Beach.  I think Superfrog has found a new home for many years.

The original purpose of Superfrog was two-fold. The first was to prepare the SEALs to race Ironman Hawaii. The second was to promote the sport of triathlon in the SEAL teams where competitive spirit is extremely high. Something every athlete and spectator must notice at Superfrog is how the race honors the SEALs who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The fencing that borders the transition area has signage that pays homage to each individual SEAL who died in the act of duty.

I was racing to support this great local race, but to also try and win a slot to the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships.  The 1.2 mile swim was 2 laps in the ocean all on the right side of the Imperial Beach pier.  The course would be 400 meters out, turn right for 200 meters, and then turn right again for 400 meters back to the beach.  We would run 150 meters on the beach and dive back in again for lap 2.  The current was very strong moving left to right and the surf was pretty big – 4-6 foot waves.  Lap 1 for me was a bit scary.  I did get tumbled 3 times by big waves and held under water.  I have been in more frightening surf, but this was a major challenge.  Somehow I made it thru the surf and had an excellent 1st lap in 14:42. 

Lap 2 was another story.  I made the mistake of starting too far to the right so I did not have the benefit of the pier deflecting some of the energy from the surf or more importantly the really strong current.  I was being swept from left to right and could not make any forward progress.  I recognized that I was in a rip current and that this was not going to work.  I actually decided to swim back to shore and start again, except I’d start right next to the pier.  I would estimate that my failed attempts to start lap 2 cost me 4+ minutes, but it was the right move.  I finally completed lap 2 in 18:37 for a swim split of 33:20, putting me in 20th place.  A bit frustrating, but I was alive! 

I did hear after the race that some people were not able to complete the swim and had to abandon the race.  There were some 1st time ocean swimmers in the race so I’m not surprised.  I felt really bad for them, but I did not hear of any injuries.  The lifeguards and water safety crew were excellent. 

The 56 mile bike was 4 laps of 14 miles each along The Strand.  It was pancake flat and the wind was pretty mild most of the time.  I had the 14th best bike split of 2:43:26 (20.5 mph) and that moved me up to 16th place.  I was very happy with this as usually I lose ground on the bike, but the very best cyclists really did get away from me and I was never going to catch them. 

The 13.1 mile run was 4 laps of just under 3.3 miles each.  The run course the last couple of years has been pretty easy, but 2016 was back to the legendary Superfrog with long stretches thru the deep sand.  I would estimate that we had to run about 2 miles in the deep sand.  On my 4th lap there was a very attractive young woman in the deep sand section spectating in a bikini.  She actually urged me on saying that “it’s hard just ahead.”  I bet it is!  She was a great distraction, but where was she during my 1st 3 laps?  I went on to have the 3rd best run split of 1:39:07 (7:33/mile) to finish in 5:00:46.  I placed 7th out of 53 men in the 50-54 age group and 85th out of 630 overall finishers. 

I really had a great race.  I was actually 34 seconds faster than 2015, despite the more difficult swim and run courses.  There were 4 slots in my age group for the 2017 IM 70.3 World Championships and they were claimed by the top 4 guys.  The 6th place guy finished 6 minutes ahead of me so my problems during the swim didn’t cost me.  I ran up against a stacked field – the 2nd and 11th ranked guys in the world raced Superfrog and 3 of the guys who beat me came from out of state.  Uggh!  I was a bit disappointed, but I know I will have a better chance to qualify next year when I can race in the 55-59 age group as the young guy.  I can still achieve my goal.  I have found it is more rewarding when the journey has some bumps in the road.

To see my race photos, click on this link:

Living the life…

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ITU Olympic Distance World Championships (Grand Final) – Cozumel, Mexico

Craig with Team USA staff Tim Yount, Meg Weagley and Lauren Rios

Craig with Team USA staff Tim Yount, Meg Weagley and Lauren Rios

On September 18th I raced the ITU Olympic Distance World Championships (Grand Final) in Cozumel, Mexico.  This race was the 23rd time I have represented Team USA at a World Championship and my 12th time in the Olympic Distance.  Way back in 2002 I had raced Worlds in Cancun and I placed 17th in my age group.  That gave me some experience racing in the heat and humidity of the Mexican Riviera.

Because the water temperature was so warm, wet suits were not allowed for the swim.  It was so hot that I waited until the last moment to put my swim cap on.  I was going to do everything possible to stay cool and hydrated.  The swim was supposed to be 1.5K, but because of a strong current the race organizers shortened it to 1.25K (just over 0.75 mile).  The swim was beautiful as we could see lots of fish in the crystal clear water.  I swam conservatively and came out of the water in 41st place with a split of 24:09.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was pancake flat on an easy out and back route mostly along the water.  I had ridden much of the course 2 days prior and so I knew it would be fast.  I carried 40 ounces of PowerBar Perform for the ride and I drank every drop.  It was a no brainer for me to carry as many fluids as possible since there would be no bottle exchange on the bike.  I was pleasantly surprised that I did not see much drafting even with the flat course.  The bike is my weakness, but I had an outstanding bike for me as I had the 39th best split with a time of 1:05:15 (22.9 mph) to move into 38th place.  3 guys actually biked the course in less than 1 hour.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run course was comprised of 2 pancake flat 5K loops.  My strength is the run and typically I want the run to be as hard as possible and as long as possible, but even at the 2K point I was begging for mercy.  It was so hot and humid!  Usually in a race of this length I will blow thru the run aid stations and only take in a gulp of water, but I was cooking like an egg out there.  I actually stopped at the next aid station and guzzled 3 cups of water and put some ice in the front and back of my race kit and my hat.  I still could not wait for this race to end, but that had revived me and I continued to run pretty well.

Before the race began I was aware that the women age 45-49 would start 3 minutes after my age group.  That group was going to include Adrienne Leblanc who is our National Champion in that age group and the clear cut favorite to win this race.  Adrienne is so fast that she passed me during the swim and extended her lead over me during the bike.  I figured I might be able to run her down, but I never imagined it would play out the way it did.  By the time I got to the 2nd lap of the run I knew I would finish.  When I got to the 8K point I saw Adrienne flat on her stomach in the grass.  She had completely collapsed.  I thought I saw her legs moving a little bit so I hoped she would rally.  I also saw an older gentleman trying to tend to her.  I figured she’d be fine.  I had a race to finish. 

I pushed on.  With about 100 meters to go I sprinted past a fellow American, Clint Dowd.  I should have been more patient as Clint had enough time to answer as he pipped me at the very end.  We finished with the same overall time of 2:16:25, but he was 16th and I was 17th (just like in 2002) out of 78 men in the 50-54 age group.   I was so glad to be done, but I wish I had that final 100 meters to do over again.  At any rate, I finished the run with a split of 42:19 which was 3rd best on the day.

A few hours after the race I looked up the online results.  I saw that Adrienne had a DNF (did not finish) by her name.  Uh oh!  I could not believe this.  She was only a mile from the finish line!  I later learned that she had been hospitalized, but thankfully had been released from the hospital.  The next day I bumped into Adrienne and her family at the airport.  She was in great spirits which was a huge relief to me.  The older gentleman on the race course was her father-in-law.  He remembered me running by and encouraging her to get up.  She had been leading her age group by 6 minutes when the lights went out.  She woke up a few hours later in the hospital and actually thought she had crashed on the bike.  Thankfully she will be just fine.

Any fan of triathlon will want to see this video of the last 2 minutes of the men’s elite race featuring the Brownlee brothers from Great Britain.  Turn up your volume.  I have never seen anything like this in 30+ years of racing.  It makes me so proud to be part of this sport.

And to see my race photos, click on this link

Living the life…

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Mooloolaba, Australia

View of transition area from our 8th floor condo.

View of transition area from our 8th floor condo.

Craig on the run!

Craig on the run!

On September 4th I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia.  We had a gorgeous day to race – temperatures in the mid to high 70’s, clear skies and a light breeze.  I had a race to be proud of as I placed 85th out of 177 men in the 50-54 age group and 1,375th overall out of 2,577 finishers. 

The 1.2 mile swim was an in water start in the Coral Sea.  The water was calm and warm, but we were allowed to wear wet suits.  I had a great 30:03 swim split putting me in 53rd place.

The 56 mile bike course went from the coast to the hinterlands and back.  It was relatively flat and easy for the first 30 miles.  That changed in a big way at mile 33.  At that point I faced the steepest section of road I have ever ridden on a bike.  It was short, probably only ¼ mile, but brutal.  I saw 2 people walking their bikes up that climb.  It was that steep!  And this was a world class field.  Everyone in the race had earned a qualifying slot.  The final 20 miles had some rolling hills and mild head winds.  I really struggled after mile 50 as that steep climb knocked the stuffing out of me.  The bike course had just over 2,200 feet of elevation gain.  My split was 2:55:33 (19.1 mph), the 134th best bike split.  Not so good, but I did the best I could.  It dropped me down to 124th place.

The 13.1 mile (21K) run was comprised of 2 loops of 10K.  Right out of the gate I saw a spectator holding a sign that seemed meant for me – “Humpty Dumpty also had wall issues”.  I ran the first 10K pretty hard, but thankfully only faded a little bit in the final 10K.  The 20th K was up a hill and into the wind.  I was really on fumes at that point.  My wife, Laurie, was spectating on that hill.  I wanted to stop and walk so badly at that point, but there was no way I was going to walk with her watching and me so close to the finish line.  I managed to get up that hill and then it was downhill the final K to the finish line.  I had the 33rd best run on the day and my run split was 1:34:52 (7:13/mile) for a finish time of 5:12:26.

Click on this link to see my race pictures and finish video:


We had such a great trip to Australia in every regard.  Our travels were all smooth and stress free and we saw so many great sights.  We started at Kangaroo Island.  From there we flew to Adelaide where we toured the Adelaide Oval (cricket, rugby, soccer stadium), the Migration Museum, the South Australian Museum and took in an Alfred Hitchcock play – The 39 Steps.  Then onto Brisbane for an evening.  Brisbane was beautiful along the river and we had dinner with 3 of Laurie’s former Carlsbad roommates from 15+ years ago – Darren and wife Jenny and friend Nina.  And finally onto Mooloolaba for the race.  We shared a condo overlooking the transition area, swim start and race finish with our Carlsbad friends, Diana and Brian.  The 4 of us spent a wonderful afternoon at the Australia Zoo, made famous by the late, great Steve Irwin.

Living the life…    

Posted in 2016, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Kangaroo Island Half Marathon

Laurie and I with our hardware

Laurie and I with our hardware

L-R: Race Director Nate Godfrey, Craig, Laurie, Edson Sanches, Sharon Kerson.

L-R: Race Director Nate Godfrey, Craig, Laurie, Edson Sanches, Sharon Kerson.

On August 27th I ran the Kangaroo Island Half Marathon and my wife, Laurie, ran the Full Marathon in South Australia.  Kangaroo Island is a big place (1700 square miles) and home to a lot of wildlife.  Many of the athletes, including us, were bussed 90 minutes on race morning from the small town of Kingscote to Flinders Chase National Park where the race was held.  There must have been hundreds of wallabies and kangaroos that ran in front of our bus on the way to the race.  We even saw a koala hanging out in a tree by the start/finish line.

We both had great races.  I was the overall winner of the Half Marathon with a time of 1:32:22.  My race had a small field of only 57 finishers, but a win is a win.  I think my last overall victory was in the late ‘90’s so I made certain to enjoy it.  Especially nice were the Lululemon girls giving me all sorts of attention at the finish line.  In my mind, though, the best girl out there was Laurie.  She finished 3rd overall female in the Marathon in what she described as the toughest course she’s ever run.  It was hilly and windy out there!

We met some really cool characters in this race.  Possibly the biggest highlight was Laurie seeing her old New York friend Edson Sanches board the bus on race morning.  Laurie had no idea Edson was doing the race so when she saw him she let out a good holler at 5am that woke every person and all the wildlife at Kangaroo Island.  This race was Edson’s 99th country to run a marathon in and his 590th marathon of all time.  Amazing!

I met a guy named Scott Kerrison who did the Half Marathon with me.  Scott finished 3rd overall.  After our race he was going to fly to Perth to run a 12K the following day in Australia’s largest annual running event – City to Surf.  So between the 98 runners at Kangaroo Island and the 40,000 runners in Perth, Scott had both extremes pretty well covered.

And Eoin Loftus, the CEO of Majestic Hotels, also ran the KI Marathon.  This was his 4th marathon in 4 days.  Eoin ran these marathons to raise awareness for Aboriginal foster children in South Australia.  Very impressive!   

The following day we took a tour of Kangaroo Island.  We enjoyed sea lions, koalas, the Remarkable Rocks and the stalactite covered Admirals Arch.  We will have a lot of fond memories of Kangaroo Island.

Living the life…     

Posted in 2016, Half Marathon, Marathon, Running Race | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TCSD Conversation: Melissa Sosnowski – August 2016

Melissa and Marc Sosnowski on their wedding day - 2015 AFC Half Marathon

Melissa and Marc Sosnowski on their wedding day – 2015 AFC Half Marathon

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently had the opportunity to talk triathlon and everything under the sun with TCSD Treasurer Melissa Sosnowski.  I could not be happier for this great lady who has become my friend over the past couple of years.  Read below and you will see how Melissa has used running and triathlon to improve her life.

Craig: Did you play any sports when you were growing up?   

Melissa: Not much…a few intramural-type sports in middle school, but for the most part academics were stressed in my family.  Besides, I was a Navy brat and we moved every 2½ years.  I went to 9 different schools between kindergarten and 12th grade so there was no consistency.  I often think “what if…” I was encouraged to play sports, would I have done well?  Much to the surprise of my current adult friends, I was painfully shy as a child.  With moving all the time, it was just easier to blend into the background.  I came out of my shell late in high school, but by that time I had missed the formative sporting years and I just cared about where the next party was.

Craig: You took up running late in life.  What were the circumstances that launched your running career? 

Melissa: So this is kind of a long story but I feel that all of the events in my life had a purpose, whether I realized it at the time or not.  It’s much easier in hindsight to provide how everything interconnected to lead me to running, then to triathlon.

To set the stage, we have to go back to 2006 (I can SEE you rolling your eyes, but trust me, there’s a point to this).  I was 37 years old, just had my 3rd child in 4 years and I was tired and, <ahem>…thick and slow moving.  Prior to 2006, I had run a few 5ks and I think one 8k, but never took running seriously.  I may have averaged one race every year or two, or three.  I was always borderline pudgy and having all those kids had exacerbated my problem, so I decided to run to lose weight.  I started from the bottom…on an elliptical in my basement for 10 minutes.  That’s all I could handle.  I made what I called “micro-goals”—tiny goals that would encourage me to continue.  Eventually, I worked my way off of the elliptical and onto a treadmill at the local YMCA.  I pretty much never went longer than 3 miles, but I was able to get to sub-10 minute miles by training alone on the treadmill.

A college friend of mine who was into running convinced me to do the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon in September 2006.  I had no idea how to train for anything longer than 3 miles.  I looked online and found the Smart Coach section of the Runner’s World Magazine website.  I input my goal time and how often I wanted to work out and it spit out a training plan.  I printed it out, followed the plan and showed up for the race.  I beat my friend.  She was so happy for me she somehow convinced me to do all of the Rock and Roll series races in 2007.  Yep, all of them!  All five.  Hard to believe there were ever only five, huh?  That was back when they actually had bands at the races.  Well, we did it—Arizona, Nashville, San Jose, Virginia Beach and San Diego.  Unfortunately, at the time, San Diego only had a full marathon option—no half.  I returned to my trusty online Smart Coach and printed a marathon plan.  We had a blast doing the races and we received a GIANT ROCK STAR medal.  I think only about 200 people did all of the races that year.  It was really fun and I was hooked on running.

Or so I thought!

So, let’s just fast forward through to 2011.  All I’ve got to say are these tidbits:  cross-country move, financial ruin, divorce, 3 young kids, a stalled career and trying to date after 20 years.  Things got a little hairy, as life does sometimes, and I had bigger things to worry about.  By mid-2011, I was stable, single and ready to get into shape.  I had gained about 50 pounds over the ‘dark years’ so I decided to start running again. I thought the best way to do it was to join running groups; besides, I needed to meet people.  For anyone who has not gone through a divorce, you basically lose all of your friends.  Richard Duquette’s Sunday morning runs out of Carlsbad became a great way for me to meet other runners (and unexpectedly, triathletes).  I signed up for the Silver Strand Half Marathon thinking a flat course would be a great start for my “return to running” (cue Rocky theme song).

Craig: A photo was taken of you just before the start of the Silver Strand Half Marathon.  How did that change your life?

Melissa: So here’s the serendipitous part of my Silver Strand experience and how everything came full circle in my running life.  A fellow single mom that I had befriended came to the Silver Strand race with me.  She was a runner too, but on this day she was my support and cheerleader.  She insisted on taking a picture of me as we walked to the start line.  To be honest, I was feeling pretty good.  I was excited that I had been able to lose weight and get back into racing.  Off I went.  I had an OK race experience but knew that running was back in my life forever.

And that picture my friend took?  It ended up as part of my online dating profile.  Yep, I had jumped into the insane world of online dating (for the 2nd time, but that’s a whole OTHER story).  And guess who saw that photo?  A man who had never ran any more than a 10k (once) and was training for his first half marathon.  He emailed me under the guise of getting help to train for his race (and I fell for it!).  Whatever he said worked because 3 and ½ year later, that man became my husband!  There might have been a few other things that happened during that time, but it’s clear that the indoctrination of running into my life in that basement on the elliptical in 2006 led me to my one true love in 2012!  What a long road, but totally worth it!

Craig: How did you get started racing triathlons and what are your favorite benefits of your TCSD membership?

Melissa: I continued to train with running groups and there were a few triathletes in those groups.  I had seen the Solana Beach Triathlon in 2011 and was impressed that not everyone “looked” like an athlete.  There were people of all shapes and sizes.  Not only that, but everyone was encouraged and cheered, first or last place.  That impressed me and planted the seed that would start me in triathlon.  At the time, I was still running with Richard’s group.  The group would meet for coffee after the run and one day a triathlete showed up (aside from Richard and his wife).  Just a random guy that I didn’t know.  I mentioned the race I saw and that I was scared to even think about triathlon because I didn’t have confidence in my swim.  Let’s just say that by my last sip of coffee, Richard, his wife and this guy, who later I found out was Bruce Meister, a TCSD member, had convinced me that I could do it.  I don’t think they know that their infectious enthusiasm was my start in triathlon.  If they’re reading this, thanks guys!

It was one of those things that you have an argument in your own head about.  “Can I? I don’t know how to swim”… “No!  Well, maybe”… “I don’t have a bike”…“No, that’s silly”…“Maybe, but how would I?”  And the crazy self-talk continued for a few months.  Please be nodding your head like you know what I’m talking about.

To dovetail into my timeline above, I had done Silver Strand in November 2011, met Marc in January of 2012 and joined the Tri Club in February of that same year.  In another serendipitous moment, I was talking to a new co-worker about attending the TCSD beginners meeting to see what this “tri club” was all about.  Coincidentally, he had just moved here and his wife had already done triathlons.  He thought she’d like to come with me.  Alexis Barnes and I met at the Tri 101 meeting at Moment Cycles in February of 2012.  I liked her immediately.  We both joined the Tri Club and started training together.  She had already raced triathlons but she didn’t like to train; I wanted to train but was nervous about signing up for a race.  We made the perfect pair!

The benefits of being a Tri Club member were immediate.  I had signed up for the ITU Sprint distance in May 2012 for my first race.  Thao Vu put on unofficial training days that were great!  I couldn’t believe how many people volunteered their time and went through a huge amount of effort so that I could train!  I also went to the Beginner Open Water Swims (BOWS) to learn how to open-water swim; used the JCC masters to train; attended the Saturday Del Mar bike rides (full circle moment:  that’s where Marc and I met the men who became the best man and groomsman at our wedding).

To this day, the dedication of the TCSD volunteers amazes me.  The logistics of getting everything and everyone where they belong for training, races, expos, meetings, social events, etc. is enormous and is virtually invisible to the members.  They do it so well, it took me a while to realize what a huge effort is put into running the Club.

Craig: You raced Ironman Arizona in 2014.  What was that experience like for you?

Melissa: I have this very clear picture in my head of going to my first Saturday morning Del Mar bike ride.  As I unloaded my bike, a TCSD member who had parked next to me introduced himself.  It was Kevin Koresky and as we chatted about my “newbie-ness” he said “trust me, within 2 years, you will do an Ironman”.  I scoffed at the idea.  I hadn’t event done my first race yet!  Those distances were beyond anything I could imagine.  I just knew that they were long enough for me to not be able to memorize the exact miles, or was it in kilometers?!  Those races are for those nutty OCD athletes, not me.

Fast forward two years and I was doing an Ironman!  There was so much preparation that led up to that race.  I wrote a rather long-winded article for the TCSD newsletter about my Arizona experience.  It had made such an impression on me.  Not only did I have a spectacular training and race experience but Marc proposed to me at the finish line.  To say that was one of the best days of my life is an understatement.  I felt as if all of the trials and tribulations that I had survived over the ‘dark years’ were very similar to the trials and tribulations I encountered in an Ironman race.  The themes of being able to handle whatever was thrown my way, in the race and in life, solidified my confidence to believe in myself.  The pudgy mom sweating it out alone in her basement could achieve anything she set her mind to!  It was really a transformative moment.

For anyone thinking about doing an Ironman, I would encourage them to get a coach and to utilize the TCSD workouts.  Both were invaluable.  Not to get too “Psych 101” on you, but I would not only look at it as just a physical goal.  You will find out very quickly that the mental aspect of the training is far more important.  To be adequately prepared, you will be forced to prioritize your life and that will lead to some self-assessments about what is really important to you. It will be transformative in all areas of your life.

Craig: What are your favorite races?

Melissa: To be honest, any TCSD race is my favorite.  They are free and they are fun!  What more could you want out of a race?!  Being able to hang out with like-minded individuals is awesome.  Not only that, but I could be commiserating with someone who is a podium finisher, Olympian, or pro athlete and we all have a shared experience.  Triathlon is crazy that way.  There’s this comradery that transcends athleticism, especially within TCSD.  I love that!

Craig: What did you do to help Carol Gasaway start the TCSD Youth Program?

Melissa: In early 2014, Carol put together a small group of women to relaunch the TCSD youth program.  Besides me, Linda Rich and Liz Olsen volunteered to help as well.  At that point, being a single mom put severe restrictions on my ability to volunteer, so I thought I’d help out because it would allow me a way to volunteer for the club and include my children.  I was so impressed with how organized Carol was.  We met one time to talk about the overall program and within a month she had put together an outline of the program, developed a mission statement, goals, and membership benefits.  She would never take credit, she’s a very humble person (and extraordinary triathlete) but she really was the architect of the program.  She had a really clear vision and knew how to execute it well!

Craig: You are now serving as the TCSD Interim Treasurer.  Thank you for stepping up to the plate to volunteer!  What are some of the tasks you do in this role?

Melissa: I know everyone is super-excited to learn about the thrilling world of accounting!  I pay bills!  I review tax returns!  I budget!  I’ll stop now, I know your heads must be spinning.  Seriously, though, I am a CPA by trade, so when the Board approached me to fill in as interim Treasurer earlier this year, it was a “no-brainer”.  By this point my schedule had changed to the point that I was no longer able to help Carol so I was in need of an avenue to volunteer that didn’t take time away from my kids, who had—to my dismay— rejected Triathlon as their sport of choice.

Aside from the routine bill-paying stuff, there was some other unfinished business.  We had been selling merchandise which required us to get a seller’s permit from California, so I spear-headed that project along with catching us up on prior years sales tax.  I track all of the money coming in and going out, so I developed a simple pie chart that summarized our year’s activity in a simple form.

I’m also gathering information for a discussion about the Club potentially converting to a non-profit charity (we are currently a non-profit sports club).  In the past, this has been a somewhat divisive topic.  My goal is to alleviate that problem by being the provider of information.  Therefore, to present the “pros and cons” in an unbiased manner is really important to me.  Think of me as the Switzerland of this topic—I’m taking no sides but I think people should base their opinion on facts and information, not conjecture and emotion.  It’s tough with a group as dedicated and passionate as our TCSD members but it’s also one of the reasons the club is so great!

As Treasurer, there are things that come up almost on a daily basis, which surprised me.  It made me think what a time commitment the other officers who deal with the races, meetings, permits, membership, social events, social media, etc. are required to have.  The position really made me realize how tough it is to be an officer!  It also made me realize that the key requirement for ANY officer, is the ability to work in a cooperative manner with the other officers, directors and members of TCSD.  If you cannot compromise or do not have the ability to move forward even though you may disagree on the direction, then do NOT become an officer.  Cooperation is key!!!  TCSD does so many wonderful things and it takes a HUGE amount of effort and planning to make those things happen in the seamless manner that we are accustomed.

Craig: What does it mean to you to be on the TCSD Ambassador Team?

Melissa: To represent the Club that has given me so much throughout my short 4 years as a member is amazing.  I cannot tell you how many times I think back to the enthusiasm that I experienced in that post-run coffee shop talk.  I am now THAT enthusiastic person!  I try to recruit just about anyone who will listen to me, telling them stories much like the ones I am sharing today.  I am especially focused on people with children and couples who train together, since that has been my life experience.  I think that’s the best thing about the Ambassador group…they all bring such diverse experiences together and can relate to so many different people on so many different levels—people who’ve had tragedy hit their lives, people who want to lose weight, people who are both life-long athletes and newbie athletes.  It really is a diverse group and it’s always interesting to hear the stories of what lead them to triathlon and how transformative it is.

Craig: What is the funniest thing you have ever seen in training or in a race?

Melissa: Funny, but in a tragic way.  My husband and I were at Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee (he qualified, not me).  We were waiting for his start and watching the first place male swimmer come out of the water.  He was SO FAR AHEAD…like 3 minutes!  We couldn’t believe it.  We see him enter transition and run down an aisle.  Then back UP the aisle.  He started jumping up and down waving his hands in the air.  He couldn’t find his bike.  Although we couldn’t hear him, we knew what he was saying.  Probably not printable in our family-friendly newsletter.  He ran up and down the aisles 4 or 5 times, jumping and waving, it was almost cartoonish, we had to laugh.  Eventually a volunteer tried to help him find his bike but he was in such a frantic state that he couldn’t communicate properly.  He eventually found his bike, but by that time a few more guys had entered transition and they knew where their bikes were.  Needless to say, he lost his lead!  It provided me a good lesson to make sure that I know where my bike is in transition.  It’s also helpful that I’m such a slow swimmer—it’s usually the only one left!

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport, what would you like to change?

Melissa: Cost.  It’s so expensive to get started in the sport.  I think that’s one of the greatest barriers for a lot of people, besides finding time to train.  Even if you can gather the equipment, the races are extraordinarily expensive.  That’s what makes TCSD so great!   I found most of my equipment through the TCSD classified ads.  TCSD-ers are more than willing to cut you a deal if you are putting their equipment to good use.  What I didn’t purchase through the classifieds, I WON at the monthly meetings—Rudy helmet, Rudy sunglasses (my favorite), a GARMIN 510 for my bike (given to me by Andy Potts, no less!!!), various gift certificates, I had an amazing raffle run the first year or two!

Craig: What are your future goals in the sport?

Melissa: I’m a goal-oriented person, so I could go on forever in answering this question.  Improving my swim so that it is in line with my ranking in the bike and run is my top triathlon goal.  I’m a runner, so a lot of goals center on improving my run speed.  Qualifying for both the Boston and New York marathons were goals that I had never even thought possible 2 years ago but I did it in 2015!

I’ve learned to taper my expectations because it can be overwhelming and it’s easy to get caught up in the “me, me, me” aspect of training.  I have a full time job, a wonderful husband and 4 kids at home (and 1 not at home) so our lives are busy and the need for balance is paramount.  I have come to accept that there is only so much training I can do to achieve my goals.  I’m willing to be patient. I recently heard a quote by Arthur Ashe that sums it up perfectly:  “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”  That has certainly been true for me and I feel like my journey has just begun!

Craig: Melissa, thank you so much for sharing your story.  We are lucky to have you on the TCSD team.  And Marc and your kids are really lucky to have you in their lives.  I have a feeling that any goal you set your mind on has met its match.  Good luck in all you do!

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

Posted in 2016, Half Marathon, TCSD Conversation, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint Distance National Championships

86 years young - Sister Madonna Buder and Winston Allen

86 years young – Sister Madonna Buder and Winston Allen

Craig with San Diego friends Steve Thunder and Denise Ingram

Craig with San Diego friends Steve Thunder and Denise Ingram

On August 14th I raced the USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint Distance National Championships in Omaha.  I had raced the Olympic distance event the day before so I was not going to be at my best for the Sprint race, but I figured I should race since my bike and I were both in Omaha.

All the distances were exactly half of what we had raced the day before.  The 750 meter swim was in Carter Lake.  The water temperatures were still well over 80 so no wetsuits allowed.  Just before my race started I happened to hear my friend Tim Yount announce some of the All-Americans and Team USA members in our wave.  Tim announced my name as “Craig Are You Going To Eat All That Zelent”.  Tim has seen me eat many times so he knows what he’s talking about.  My swim time was 14:25, good for 24th place.  Yes, I was tired from the day before!

The 20K (12.2 mile) bike was an out and back on mostly flat, smooth roads.  I did the best I could, but could only manage the 56th best bike split 36:59.  That dropped me down to 41st place.  I wish I could tell you my brakes were rubbing.  So tired!

The 5K (3.1 mile) run was also an out and back.  Typically I want the run to last forever so I can reel people in, but I felt like I was carrying a piano on my back.  Somehow I still managed the 3rd fastest run split 18:31 to finish in 1:13:21.  I ran my way up to 26th place out of 74 finishers in the men’s 50-54 age group.  If I had the energy to be 1 minute faster I would have moved up to 19th place, but it does not work that way.  I was 266th out of 1,248 overall finishers.

I think about 15 guys in our age group did “the double” and raced both days.  I had the 7th best combined time.  I’ll take that.  I love to race and I had a lot of fun.

One of my San Diego rivals Steve Thunder was “all in” for the Sprint race.  The top 8 in each age group from the Sprint would qualify for the 2017 Sprint World Championships in Rotterdam.  Steve dropped me like a bad habit about a mile into the bike.  He had a great race, finishing 6th so I was really happy to see him earn his slot to Rotterdam.

And one of the great sights during the weekend was the pair of 86 year olds who raced.  On 8/13 Sister Madonna Buder finished the Olympic distance in 4:23.  And on 8/14 Winston Allen finished the Sprint distance in 2:22.  Needless to say, both won the 85-89 age group in their respective races.

To see my pictures from the Sprint race click on this link:

Living the life…

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USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic Distance National Championships

Craig celebrating post race with Ricky and Kim Jacob and their daughter Sierra.

Craig celebrating post race with Ricky and Kim Jacob and their daughter Sierra.

On August 13th I raced the USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic Distance National Championships in Omaha.  My goal was to earn 1 of the 18 slots for my age group to represent Team USA at the 2017 World Championships in Rotterdam.

I had invited my cousin Ricky Jacob to the race as he lives in Winnebago, NE, about 90 miles from Omaha.  Ricky and I found one another about 10 minutes before the race.  That made me feel so good as he has supported my athletic career all the way back to my Little League baseball days.  This was Ricky’s first triathlon so I was extra motivated to make him proud.  Ricky was the awesome spectator as I heard his cheers when I finished all 3 disciplines.    

Omaha is a warm place in the middle of August, but we had mild conditions compared to how hot it could have been.  Race day only heated up to the mid 80’s with some humidity. 

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was held in Carter Lake which is actually in Iowa.  The water temperature cutoff for wetsuits is 78.  The lake temperature was 84 so wetsuits were not allowed.  I predicted I would swim just over 24 minutes.  I felt like I had a really good swim.  I swam hard.  I swam straight.  I had minimal bumping with the other guys so the swim felt pretty good to me, but I reached the swim finish in 27:02.  I did not know it at the time, but that put me in 29th place.  The very best swim was 21:09, but only 2 guys were in the 21’s.  Most of the guys ahead of me only had 2-3 minutes on me.  I learned after the race that the swim course was probably a bit long by 100+ meters.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was advertised to be very hilly and challenging.  I guess that depends on where you come from.  Training on all the hills in San Diego had me well prepared.  I found the Omaha hills to be pretty easy.  A lot of the roads had recently been paved so the conditions were fast.  It was a simple out and back route with very few turns.  My bike split was 1:10:25 (21.2 mph).  I felt like I biked great and very few guys seemed to pass me, but I learned after the race that I only had the 55th best bike split and I had dropped down to 34th place.  It is hard to know what place you are in at any given time, but I would have guessed I was in a better position than 34th

The 10K (6.2 mile) run was pancake flat, but the challenge was going to come from the heat.  The course was pretty simply – out and back to TD Ameritrade Park where they play the College World Series.  We actually ran a lap inside the ballpark on the warning track and could see ourselves on the Jumbotron – pretty cool!  I had a very solid run as I had the 3rd fastest run split in a time of 39:09.  This effort moved me up to finish 17th out of 105 men in the 50-54 age group with a time of 2:20:02.  I finished 250th out of 2,048 overall finishers. 

Mission accomplished – I had my spot to Rotterdam!  Once again God has really blessed me as this will be my 24th Team USA.  Since the Rotterdam World’s will happen in 2017, the Team USA slots are determined based on our ages on 12/31/17.  I will be in the 55-59 age group at that time.  I placed 8th based on our ages on 12/31/17 so I qualified pretty comfortably.  Sheesh!  55-59 – that’s old!   

Click on this link to see my race pictures:

Living the life…    

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TCSD Conversation: Reg Whatley – July 2016

Reg taking a short time out in the Technical Officials Lounge at the 2015 WTS Grand Final in Chicago

Reg taking a short time out in the Technical Officials Lounge at the 2015 WTS Grand Final in Chicago

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Reg Whatley who will represent us in the Rio Olympic Games.  Reg has paid his dues and been selected to be a Technical Official for men’s triathlon on August 18 and the women’s triathlon on August 20.  Reg is a 5x cancer survivor with a great perspective on life.  I know you will enjoy getting to know Reg.

Craig: What sports did you play when you were growing up?

Reg: Well let me preface by saying, I am a Military Brat, meaning we lived 2 years everywhere. The privilege and experience living in so many different cultures allowed me to gain tolerance of all living things. This being said, my early years were throughout Europe so Football (Soccer only in the US) was what we played on the schoolyard, in the backyard, in the streets, the parks and anywhere we could. Since we were stationed near Munich, of course FC Bayern Munched was my favorite. I recall my first bicycle at age 5.  It was a red Bianchi decked with Campi everything, of course. Sports are always a great manner to cooperate and to gain new friends, wouldn’t you say? I gained a respect for deep water as a youngster when my dad tossed me in the deep end of any Olympic pool and apparently, I passed his test, I made it to the surface and ‘swam’ to the wall. Swimming has always been my passion and especially in open water, you don’t have to flip turn incessantly. The open water swimming was further expanded when we were stationed in Hawaii, where the North Shore of Oahu was quite close and always provided some of the best and largest waves in the world. Since my High School was quite close to the north shore, you could tell when the swell was up, there were a lot of truants. Suffice to say, the tie-in to Triathlons had a fairly good foundation.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Reg: My first tri was in Hawaii, early 1980’s more of a informal challenge rather than a sanctioned-organized event. Many of us heard of the long distance challenge (first Ironman) a few years earlier, but none of us were up to the distance, especially around Oahu, it didn’t seem sane at the time. There were probably 30+ of us, who swam into the 10’ surf, past the jetty at Haleiwa and some were fortunate to catch a wave and body surf in. I suppose the distance was a kilometer, give or take. For T1 there were no racks, just a collection of bikes laying down or propped up on shrubs or leaning on trees. We got on the frontage road near Kam Highway, only because we shared the 2 lane road with local and tourist traffic, there were no bike lanes and the loop turnaround was risky as it was, look both ways and make illegal u-turn. It was about 30K out and back and again back to the beach to take time to put on your running shoes, maybe eat a sandwich or I think the energy bars were like Hershey bars or Snickers. Then those who wanted to run the couple kilometers in to town and back, did it, the others hung around to trash talk or encourage the others. This was more of a personal challenge for me, as I was only a few months in to a new challenge in my life and I was beginning to understand what “Limitless,” meant.

Craig: You have been a part of triathlons all over the world.  I believe I have shaken your hand in at least 5 different countries.  What have been some of your favorite destination races?

Reg: I do recall seeing you everywhere Craig, so to you, I bow my head and compliment you. That’s a great question, as there have been literally hundreds and I’ve been extremely lucky to be part of so many international events, it only helps to share the take-aways so that other Event Organizers and Technical Officials can build their respective events to a greater customer experience. These are not in order, but there were the CISM (World Military Triathlon Championships) in Lausanne, where transition was just in front of the grounds of the IOC Museum. Because of my background being around the military for so many years, I have the greatest amount of respect for regimentation and respect and the Motto of CISM, “Friendship Through Sport,” really validates the underlying fact, that even most of the teams are Military first and athletes second, the passion and comradery that competitors from all over the world have, is because the lines are only on the maps. My first time in Rio was 2011 for the World Military Games, only second in attendance to the actual Olympics and the venue where our event this year, is precisely the same as it was five years ago, Copa Cabana Beach. The course this year is more challenging and technical, but what a background for our sport. Another of my favorites is Yokohama; there is something to be said about this legacy event and the venue setting is absolutely picturesque. This is also challenging in the logistics as the bike and run course share the same roads, which happen to be main thoroughfares for the locals and their businesses. I very much enjoyed the daily challenge of all the ITU Grand Finals that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of from Auckland, London, Edmonton, Chicago and this year to be in Cozumel and yet there are many, too many in the international theater to mention here. For a long day of challenge brought to you by Madam Pele, and all that it represents in long course, it’s the big Kahuna Ironman World Championships in Kona. I’ve officiated there many, many years and know that course like the back of my hand, many good and some not as good memories. The O’hana of the locals, personified by Sharron Ackles, I do miss Sharron, she was the epitome of the Aloha spirit.

Craig: You, like many people in our society, struggled with chemical dependency. When did that start for you and what do you attribute as to the cause?

Reg: This is an inherited disease that is misunderstood and sometimes mistreated, and yes it is, a daily struggle for many. My background being earlier shared, the Military, and those who have experienced war has it’s way of forcing one to escape, escape their memories, their experiences and the demons that might reside in ones’ head. I learned and inherited my escape by watching how my parents dealt with their demons. At the time we were in Europe my father had already experienced two wars, and while we had not yet come upon his third war, no doubt he carried a lot of pain. My mom, a victim and survivor of WWII, and being from Lithuania, saw and experienced more than any human, not alone, a child. She witnessed the execution of both her father and her older brother at the hands of soldiers. My beginning was after being subjected to horrific abuse as a child, and in order for me to deal with it, I began to drink at age 8. Abuse was never something a child was supposed to experience, so where do you go to share or seek help? This was 1957 and abuse was not even a subject that was readily researched. There were memories in a child’s mind that made it difficult for me to understand, they were painful and having a few sips of my parents Vodka, put them in the background for the moment only. They never really went away, and I had no idea how to reach out for help, who do you go to? What do I do?   On January 25th, 1981 I began my journey.

Craig: Congratulations on being sober for these past 35 years.  How did this come to be and what has enabled your sobriety to continue?

Reg: Thanks Craig, the sobriety is a gift of life to me from me. For me, each day is a gift and for me, it’s a joy to wake up and realize I can do anything, I am limitless.

While I experimented with the recreational chemicals of the sixties, I was recruited in to Rock and Roll in the late sixties and my career as a substance abuser now had a profession to support it. Only issue being, in Rock and Roll, everything was readily available and it was free. When I share, Rock and Roll, it was the big time, acts like Jimi, Elton, Leon, Billy Preston, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Steppenwolf, the Stones and so many, the problem was, it came at a price. Over the more than 11 years that I toured with these bands, we, the world, lost 8 very close friend/musicians and yet I continued to ignore that, I too, could be on the bathroom floor or lying still in my hotel room. The signs were all there, but I scoffed at the friends who pleaded with me to change, I refused to believe I had a “problem.” Not me, I was invincible, or at least when I got buzzed, I thought I was.

Yes, all the stories that you may have heard about being around entertainment, especially Rock and Roll in the Sixties and Seventies are true and then some.

Craig: You are a 5x cancer survivor.  That is amazing!  2 battles with skin cancer, 2 more battles with your vocal cords and 1 battle with your liver.  Do you know the cause?

Reg: Yep, in retrospect, the need to take care of your body, your health both physically, mentally and emotionally is a requirement, even at an early stage. I suppose the information wasn’t available during that era, or I simply ignored it. Did I already share, that I thought I was invincible? I really learned that I am limitless in the positive. Had I not began my journey of sobriety I have no doubt I wouldn’t have survived to be diagnosed with my first bout with skin cancer; no surfers on the north shore back in the sixties wore sun screen and zinc oxide got slippery but the key in any and all of the battles, is prevention and early detection. In each instance, my body was telling me, something wasn’t normal, something wasn’t working optimally. In every instance I listened to my body and sought help and in each case, they were a stage one, early enough to strive for success. Triathletes and for that matter any person should become aware and understand what their body is communicating and when a flag goes up, seek consul, seek an expert’s advice, perhaps even more than one if you are completely informed to your satisfaction. All five of my battles, I can comfortably state, were a direct result of abusing my body, whether through prolonged exposure to the elements or prolonged consumption of chemicals.

Craig: What have you learned about yourself through each of these battles with cancer?

Reg: Not only have I been fortunate to live a life around the world, experience many cultures, many people, many languages and have the opportunity to try new things and continue to live two lives, one of fortunate opportunity and another of a dark side dealing with my internal demons. There is one very underlying lesson that I’ve gained, especially during the years of sobriety; “When we gain strength, courage and wisdom, it becomes our responsibility as human beings, to share this experience in hope that one other might benefit.” It’s all about giving back, in any and every way that you are able. Whether it’s a smile when another person is down, or a hug, or better yet, offering yourself and experience as a volunteer in any facet of life, where you can make a difference, no matter how little or small it seems to you, it’s volumes for another.

During my 13 months of chemo with my last battle, some 14 years ago, I had no guarantees that tomorrow would ever come. No doctor would give me anything better than a 50/50. For me, waking up in the morning was an absolute joy, and even though the chemo kicked my ass big time, I was only dealing with the next moment, the next minute, the next hour. The same manner in which I deal with my chemical abuse, was a great segue into dealing with cancer, a day at a time. The goals no matter big or small are never insurmountable, when you deal with them on a daily basis. Put it in to perspective, same goes for your race goals, deal with them in pieces and the combination on race day comes together. The ability to run through the finish line rather than to the finish line becomes a practice, performed during a training session, or at an event, or during your work, your play or any facet of human behavior.

Craig: Besides triathlon, where do you volunteer your time?

Reg: I find it necessary to give back, not just for the joy you may bring others, but the absolute confirmation of human kind and gratification you achieve for yourself. For some reason, I vibe very well with all living beings, so when I can, I volunteer at the Animal Shelter. Our county has shelters all over, some larger than others, some that specialize to a degree. The Escondido shelter, for instance, has the largest population of American Pit-bull, often they are abandoned, mistreated, wrongfully trained to act out some whacked out human beings twisted sense of violence, vicariously. My son and I would go to this one regularly to share some positive vibes with all the dogs, many of the pit-bulls were our favorites.

I’ve also volunteered at the Carlsbad Triathlon, mostly because it’s right in my front yard, in fact transition is definitely my front yard and it’s always a great event to give back. I am a regular volunteer at many of City of Carlsbad events, again, the joy you may bring another is priceless.

Craig: How did you get involved in officiating triathlons?

Reg: The benefits of our sport and the healthy lifestyle it offers was a natural progression for me, when I was sidelined with one of my cancer battles.  It was difficult to train or compete and yet still I had this need to give back.  I recall volunteering at Fiesta del Sol Triathlon in Encinitas in ‘95 shortly after my vocal cord surgery.  I was placed in transition and got this idea that I could give back subliminally, a natural area was officiating. Inspired by Gurujan Dourson, and just as Tri Fed was transitioning to USAT, I became certified and gave back as much as I was able. 1996 was the first year I did both USAT and ITU style event officiating.

Craig: In regards to officiating, what have been some of the bigger changes you have seen in the past 20 years?

Reg: There has been an evolution of our sport and as a result, an evolution of compliance i.e. Competitive Rules. This typically occurs as athletes become either more competitive or some begin to find areas where they believe the written rule doesn’t apply to their behavior. Where I’ve seen the biggest positive move, is the level of education of our officiating programs. Of course, educating the customer is a great proactive manner in which to avoid confusion or infraction of the Competitive Rules. I would like to believe, through the education of our officiating programs both USAT and ITU, there is a certain expectation that a competitor can experience consistency, a consistency of compliance. Where I observe the largest pushback, is when an athlete will contest a technical specification of their equipment, stating, “Well I was in XXXXX last week and they allowed it.” The appropriate response is to advise the competitor of the specification and how it’s being applied to the current event they are registered to compete.

Whereas there are different types of multi sport, the rules have become more aligned between National and International Federations.

Craig:What things did you need to accomplish to qualify and be selected to be a Triathlon Technical Official for the Olympic Games in Rio?

Reg: This was a surprise and never a goal of mine. The process of selection has evolved over the course of this now being the fifth Olympics for triathlon. Prior to Rio, there was a more informal approach, more than a formal qualification and certification process that is now in place. I made the long list, then the short list for London 2012, but for some reason, even though USAT has the largest membership in any Federation in the world, the choice was to select only one individual. Many of the attendees at London had already been in attendance for the prior three, making it difficult for any new Technical Official to aspire to be selected, if it was a goal for them.

For Rio, our Federation has a point system based upon level of event i.e. International, Continental, National, Regional as well as a multiplier corresponding with the level of the official’s assignment and certainly the actual Level of the Technical Official. This would be ITO or International Technical Official or Level 3, CTO or Continental Technical Official or Level 2 and NTO National Technical Official or Level 1.

Each Federation had to nominate to the International Federation, a couple of nominees for either the Olympics or the Inaugural Para-Triathlon at 2016 Rio Para-Olympics.  This list was then reviewed and voted from all the National Federations in the World, with selection of proposed candidates approved by the Technical Committee, then this list was further reviewed and approved by the Sport Department and finally certified and approved by the Executive Board of the International Federation. This scrutiny is what humbles me, as I have a sense of accomplishment and contributions that have been recognized by my peers all over the world.  I am very humbled and honored to represent TCSD, USAT, ITU and all the Technical Officials who have any aspirations of achievement at any level of event or competition. Again, it’s all about “Sharing experience in hopes one other might benefit.”

Craig: What does it mean to you to be on the Olympic stage?

Reg: I’m not sure what it means today, but I am focused on accomplishing small goals each day, by approaching each of the events that I participate in as if it were “Their Olympics,” with consistency and compliance. We were recently Officiating at the WTS Yokohama and I was asked to train local NTO’s from Japan Triathlon Union for Swim Exit Handlers that would volunteer for the Para-Triathlon event held the same day. Although language was not a barrier, we approached our task as if this was in preparation for Tokyo 2020. This was our mantra, “Tokyo 2020, Tokyo 2020,” and the team had a phenomenal spirit, energy and zest and succeeded in a great event for the para’s. We were all proud of each others’ accomplishment in the training and the team unity during the event. They are a great team and many friendships have been forged through these efforts.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals beyond Rio?

Reg: Giving back, what else Craig, giving back.

I believe there may be some sprints to participate, I no longer compete, but I do enjoy the small and fun stuff, similar to the first one back in Hawaii.

Craig: Reg, thank you so much for sharing your story.  We hope your Rio experience is everything you ever dreamed of.  Good luck in Rio 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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