Glen Ellyn Freedom Four Mile Race

Craig and Mom

Craig and Kent Yohe

On July 4th I ran the Glen Ellyn Freedom Four Mile Race in my hometown of Glen Ellyn, IL.  I have had a lot of practice on this course as this was the 16th time I’ve done this race.  I gave it my best effort as I finished in 24:08.  My 2016 time was 23:00 so I’m thinking my blood donation from 8 days earlier played a role in my 2017 time.  I also heard the 2017 course was a bit longer.  Either that or the wheels are falling off!  I did manage to win the men’s 50-59 age group as I was 1st out of 70.  I was 17th out of 943 overall finishers.

I did get chicked 2x and I’m not ashamed of this at all.  Katelynne Hart cruised for 1st place female in 23:04 and Lindsey Payne was 2nd in 23:43.  Lindsey did the 2016 race in 22:28 so maybe everyone was slower in 2017?  I later learned Katelynne and Lindsay went 1-2 for my alma mater Glenbard West High School in the Illinois High School State Championships for 3200 meters.  And Katelynne also won state for 1600 meters.  Katelynne was a freshman and she did all that!  Katelynne’s mile personal best is 4:27.  Holy cow!

And speaking of fast women.  At the same time I was racing in Glen Ellyn, my wife Laurie was racing the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon in Portland, OR.  This was Laurie’s 242nd marathon finish.  Laurie had another of her great races as she won her age group to complete the sweep for our family.

The racing was great fun, but the highlight of the trip was hanging out with my Mom for 4 days.  Mom is 96 and doing well.  She had been hospitalized in February so we are extremely thankful that she has been back in her apartment since the end of April.  I am so lucky to have her in my life!  And I also was able to spend some great time with my sisters Cindy and Debbie and their families.  Running with those fast high school girls was fun, but I’m really glad the most important women in my life are past the high school years.

And there’s more – I was able to visit with my friends Paul Winans, Bruce McNair, Jim Brenner, Chuck Carey and Kent Yohe.  I’m the richest guy in the world to have such a loving family and great friends.  God has really blessed me…even if I can’t out run a couple of high school girls!

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: June 2017 – Dee Dee Burton

Jim, Dee Dee and Sante

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

Jim McCann was the TCSD President 10 years ago. Many, including me would say Jim built the TCSD. Jim passed away unexpectedly in June 2007 and to honor Jim and Dee Dee, they are the focus of this TCSD Conversation. If you knew them, then you will love this interview. If you didn’t know them, you will love getting to know them. Grab some Kleenex and enjoy.

Craig: How did you and Jim meet and ultimately end up in San Diego?

Dee Dee: The story of how Jim and I met is a pretty good one. It was 1998, and Jim had been studying wilderness medicine and wanted to find a challenging wilderness training program. I was living in Ohio, had been doing some solo backpacking and wanted to find a challenging wilderness survival program. So, June 1998 found us in the tiny town of Boulder, Utah having both signed up for a 10-day wilderness survival course with BOSS. I felt a powerful attraction to Jim from the moment I laid eyes on him. He had such a solid, calm demeanor with a shy smile and very soulful eyes.

At the end of those 10 days, I cancelled my return flight to Ohio and instead drove with him to San Diego, a place I still think of as Jim’s Town. Over the course of that drive, Jim told me so many stories about the club and the people in the club! His passion for sport and for people was so contagious! Barbara Javor, Bob Doyle, Bill Gibbs, Rita Reyes (now Williams), Osamu Chiba, Jonathan Toker, Henry Chan, GR – all of these characters (and many more) played such a big part in his life at that time and I couldn’t wait to meet them all!

After I finally did go back to Ohio we maintained our relationship, and I moved to San Diego in 2000 with my dog, Sante. She and Jim formed an immediate and intense bond. She never left his side. Sante didn’t recover from losing Jim, and she died a few months after him.

Craig: What was unique about being married to Jim?

Dee Dee: I’ll start with our wedding, because that was very unique. We wanted to get married where we met, so we contacted BOSS and they agreed to let us get married on their land, in the heart of Utah canyon country. The only hitch was BOSS didn’t want the local magistrate on their land, so the BOSS CEO, a very nice Jewish guy, went online to become a Christian marriage celebrant!

A few days before the special date, we learned that a group of Tibetan monks were in town, at the first stage of a US speaking tour. So, we were unbelievably blessed to have these monks participate in our wedding ceremony by performing their very unique deep throat chanting and bestowing special blessings on us. It was an absolutely magical experience!

Our very unique wedding set the bar pretty high for “uniqueness,” and so much of the rest of our married life met the bar! When Jim started we were living in his small condo in UTC. As the business grew, the wetsuits kept taking over all the space in the condo until eventually there were racks of wetsuits in every room and right down the hallway. I thought we would get brain damage from the overwhelming smell of rubber!

Later we moved to a tiny cottage about a block from the Cove. The cottage was so small that we erected a mountaineering grade tent in the back yard and used that as our bedroom! Our queen-sized bed and two bedside tables were there, and we each had a headlamp for reading in bed!

Another very unique thing about Jim, something that I’ve tried to keep in my life, was his follow-through — Jim followed through on absolutely everything. Every idea, every commitment, every next step — he followed through. One time he met a woman in the checkout line and got to talking with her about Burpee Seeds (he was a manufacturer’s rep for them at the time). When he learned that she ran a community garden, open to everyone, he sent her boxes of vegetable and wildflower seeds. He was constantly doing things like this; touching people’s lives for only a moment, yet forming a real connection and then following through in unique and thoughtful ways. It was as if Jim really understood that life can be cut short and he didn’t want to leave anything undone.

Another special thing about Jim was his love of his family. He was very close to his sisters, Patty and Linda, and he had six nieces and nephews. He went to incredible lengths to be involved in their young lives and to be a good role model to them about healthy and happy living. The best example is that he created a summer baseball camp for his two nephews, Ike and Willy. Every year, we flew them to San Diego for a couple weeks and Jim created a complete baseball camp experience for them, teaching them skills and drills. One year, Bill Gibbs got them all on the field at Qualcomm! By 2005 the baseball camp moved to Kingston WA and had expanded to include half the town!

A final thought is how he encouraged and coached people to be their very best self. I’ve been reading the stories submitted by so many club members, and I couldn’t do a better job of describing the impact he had on other people. Just read through all the stories and memories of Jim, and you’ll see the impact this unique quality had on others.

Craig: What do you think Jim would consider as his greatest accomplishments as TCSD President?

Dee Dee: Jim was proud of how the membership grew during his tenure. I think membership grew from around 350 in 2002 to about 1,200 in 2007. He was such a strong believer in the power of sport to transform lives, and he was constantly looking for new ways to improve the range of experiences the club could make available to people. Jim was adamant about only being around positive people and creating positive experiences. I think he would be proud of the hundreds of positive experiences he helped make happen. Oh, and the food! He would be proud of how well he used food to connect people with each other!

Craig: What are some of your favorite memories of being part of the TCSD community?

Dee Dee: When we were planning my move from Ohio to San Diego, Jim said, “You’re not going to be a spectator, Dee Dee. You’ve got to be a participant.” So, the tri club became a very important part of my life! I remember the first club race I did. It was at Glorietta Bay in Coronado. I finished in the middle of the pack (as always!) but ended up in an intense down-to-the-wire battle with Malin. I had never exerted myself so much and had never felt so exhilarated!

I remember the Midnight Century! I have no idea how Jim came up with the idea to start a century ride at midnight from Borrego Springs to Solana Beach, but we must have made six planning trips along the route, plotting every mile marker and identifying the best spots for break stations. I think 12 or 18 brave souls signed up for that event.

I remember when Jim came up with the idea for the desert training camps – oh my gosh, the planning that went into those events! It was never enough to just bring people together for a weekend of training and fun; it was always about what new experiences we could bring to bear, like the Hilltop Challenge.

I remember all the Friday night cove swims and then later all the Monday night Shores swims – always followed by food and socializing.

Craig: How was the TCSD helpful to you after Jim passed away?

Dee Dee: In the days after Jim died I was blown away by all the new stories about him people shared with me. So many stories I hadn’t heard; it was as if I was still getting to know him. And then, in the weeks and months that followed those first horrible days, I found incredible comfort in remembering and thinking about how many people Jim had touched through triathlon. Ultimately, it was too difficult for me to stay close to the club, but I have treasured those memories throughout the past ten years.

Craig: What is your life like today?  The universe works in strange ways. I’m sure I don’t deserve to have a second love of my life, and I’m grateful — every single day — to have met Pete. He’s an incredible person who has had a fascinating life and, as it did for Jim, the ocean plays an absolutely central part in Pete’s life. He’s a paddler (prone not stand-up), surfer, swimmer and professional sailor, and he has to be immersed in water on a daily basis to maintain his equilibrium. He’s got a huge cache of incredible stories about his experiences racing sailing yachts all over the world, and he can tell a story like nobody’s business!

In 2015 I got an opportunity to work in Australia, which is coincidentally Pete’s home country. We’ve been in Sydney for a little over two years and plan to stay one or two more. We live in the beach suburb of Freshwater in a little apartment that is right on the beach – we can hear the ocean waves all night. I still work in financial services, and every morning I take a ferry through the Sydney Harbour, right past the Sydney Opera House and disembark under the Sydney Harbour bridge. What an amazing commute – I pinch myself every day. I don’t bike or run any more, but I do still swim every week. There’s an incredible swim from the south end of Manly Beach into a little cove called Shelley Beach – the water is crystal clear and the fish abundant.

Back in 2000 when Jim said, “You’re not going to be a spectator, Dee Dee. You’ve got to be a participant,” he meant that both for triathlon and for life. It’s one of the many things for which I’m so grateful when I think about Jim’s influence on my life and, I think this is an apt way to sum up his legacy.

Craig – I asked our members this question – What are your fondest memories of Jim? Here are their responses.

Bob Babbitt – The year was 2007 and we were at La Jolla Shores for an Aquathlon, one of the awesome series of social events that Jim McCann added to the Tri Club of San Diego’s schedule during his time at the helm of the world’s best Tri Club. One of the reasons the club has been so successful over the years has been the spirit of the inclusion that Jim made such a huge part of the TCSD culture. It wasn’t about being an elitist, it was about being welcoming. Jim’s mantra was simple: come join us and let’s participate in and celebrate the world’s best sport…..together.

While we were standing there that evening, a person brand new to our sport emerged from the changing rooms in a wetsuit that Jim had just loaned him so he could join us for the swim/run event that evening.

One problem. This young man had the wetsuit on inside out. Now, if this was a different triathlon club, or if Jim wasn’t this very special man who gave so much to each and every one of us, he and the others around him might have drawn attention to the mistake and poked fun at the guy who couldn’t tell the outside of a wetsuit from the inside.

Instead, Jim casually strolled towards him, put his arm around his shoulder and quietly suggested that there might be a different way to put this particular wetsuit on.

That small moment is something that I see in my mind’s eye every time I think of Jim McCann, a man who gave so much to so many, a man who helped to build a loving and caring triathlon village here in San Diego and a man who left us way too soon.

Sergio Borges – I always remember Jim smiling, playful and well loved by many. It was always fun to hang out with him. He always found a way to bring peace to all and deal with problems with an ease. Great guy, Will never forget!

Wendy Harp – Jim is the reason I joined TCSD.  When I did my first triathlon in 2000, I was ‘ready’ to join TCSD.  I was really intimidated by the club, but Jim had a warmth about him that made me feel as ease.  Not only did I join the club, but he talked me into becoming the New Members Coordinator.  With just his smile and presence, he made me feel welcomed and a part of a great TCSD family.

Barefoot Henry Chan – We joined TCSD about the same time back in 1988 (maybe ’89). We were both new to triathlons, so the club was our life for years. My most memorable event was on a Friday evening cove swim. We were the only ones that showed up, and the surf was up. We went out, and I got pushed up near the cliffs, and a lifeguard had to reorient me towards the way out. Jim and I regrouped past the breaks, and we decided to just swim to the Shores and walk back, barefoot.

Nice that Road Runner Sports in Kearny Mesa has a permanent marker honoring Jim.

Richard Duquette – Jim was well respected by the TCSD membership because he empowered people. He would support those willing to contribute. I remember him saying, if the membership wants something (within reason), give it to them. Then,Jim would follow through. He had integrity and was easy to approach. With the nay sayers, he would “appoint” them to lead the project they questioned, this thereby called out those genuinely interested in contributing. This had the effect of creating an inclusive team of membership and sponsors all pulling in the same direction. I do miss him and his lovely wife Dee Dee, who would attend club camp outs. I thank Jim for giving me a lifetime TCSD membership, as we had a great working relationship.

Drew Peterson – I remember the feeling of Jim McCann.  You felt a certain way around him – welcomed and liked and valued.  You felt like you had known him and were long time friends.  I remember after my bike crash on Torrey Pines he went to the hospital and talked with my parents for a long time and supported them.  We have never forgotten this act of friendship to this day.  Jim was so encouraging and you felt a sense of happiness and inspiration around him.  He was happy doing what he did and was such a cool person.  In my mind he was the perfect leader and would have been the best president of anything he set his mind too.  Confident, friendly, inclusive and a sense of deep peace and strength.  Something so rare today.  Strangely my late dachshund Pumkin shared many of the same traits.  Ah right now I just thought of his dog Sante I believe.  OK shortly after he passed I was riding up on Laguna and saw someone who looked exactly like him.  I turned my head and looked back at him and waved and he smiled at me.  I will never forget Jim and he will be in my heart always.  I have always held him in my mind as the perfect leader.

Chris Costales – In five words, gentle voice and infectious smile.

But my fondest memory was at the west coast Xterra championships in Temecula where we talked about all the triathlon specific gadgets we could add to my 2001 Xterra.  “Right here we could add a water bottle that is heated by the sun. Attach a hose and bam, you have an outdoor shower. What about a pull out ramp so your dog can easily get into the back, like a moving truck?”  He had about 20 ideas and we chatted for at least an hour. Great guy.

Barbara Javor – Before Jim was TCSD president, he was the race director full of ideas how to make races different from plain vanilla triathlons. I served as his assistant. When we raced at Glorietta Bay in Coronado, sometimes he tossed tennis balls into the water marked with numbers that represented time bonuses for the competitors. The catch was if you grabbed any of the balls, you had to carry them on the bike and run as well to get the bonus. At one of the races he put everyone’s running shoes in a pile, which benefited the slower competitors. At our Miramar Lake races, we rented row boats instead of swam, and rollerblading could substitute for running. Sometimes we had mystery events included, like grabbing a plant bulb from a box and running up a hillside to plant it at the top. One time each competitor had to figure out a charade before crossing the finish line.

Before Jim took over as race director, there wasn’t much of a post-race feast beyond bagels, muffins, and Gatorade. Jim started bringing a camp stove and he cooked pancakes. From there, the post-race feast grew and served as the best way for club members to get to know each other both after races and before our monthly meetings. Before that, when people finished their races they would pack up and leave with participants still on the race course. That wasn’t very inspiring for slow athletes like me. Jim instituted the fourth event, eating, to make the club events more social.

David Lang – His unsurpassed friendliness!  He never “met a stranger” and made everyone feel welcome.

Lianne Chu – I have such fond memories of Jim and I agree with you that he truly built TCSD. When I first started TCSD years ago I remember that one of my first activities was the track workouts at UC high. I didn’t know anyone and the practice was a series of 4×400 relays (2 members per team and we would each run twice). Jim came up to me (probably noticing that I was a little clueless and alone) to be my partner. I had no idea that he was the president of the club. He made me feel so welcome and introduced me to everyone around us. At future TCSD events he continued to remember my name and was always so good about introducing everyone around him making TCSD feel like such a warm family.

At the TCSD camping trips Jim would put together the “hilltop challenge”. My kids were so young at the time- they are now 16 and 18 and to this day they still fondly remember him and this event.  Jim would have us run up the steep mountain behind the campsite, collecting bags of random goodies…he would have prize bags stuffed with goofy hats and party supplies. No joke, we still have some of the hats from those events.

Jim also supported a family friendly environment of TCSD by supplying us with huge bags of rubber duckies and prizes for a monthly kids event at the aquathlons – we called this the aquackathon and it introduced the next generation to the enjoyment of being active.

About a month before Jim passed away, he and Dee Dee had a fabulous party at their house welcoming a huge group of TCSD members. It was the last time I saw him. What a fabulous and influential person Jim was to myself and my family. We all miss him and think of him with such beautiful memories.

Darrell Steele – Jim had an unassuming way with people that was disarming, while also being a master at painting a vision for how they could get involved in the Tri Club.  I experienced this first hand and it changed my life.  I was eating lunch after a Saturday ride with Jim, Dee Dee his wife and another friend.  Bobby, the ride leader, had just accepted a position in LA and announced he was moving.  As we ate, I causally asked Jim what he was going to do about the ride. He responded, “What are you talking about?”  I then replied, asking “Who was going to lead the ride now that Bobby was leaving?”  Jim simply smiled and said, “You.” I laughed at the joke until I realized he was still just smiling.  I then protested, saying that I hadn’t been riding with the group long enough, that I wasn’t qualified, that I couldn’t commit and any other excuse I could think of.  He continued smiling and assured me that it would be great and I would be fine.   After I exhausted my excuses, I finally relented and agreed with a great deal of reluctance and several stipulations. That was more than 11 years ago, and those years have been more remarkable then I could have ever imagined.  His belief in me and faith that I would grow into being the ride leader, have been a blessing to me.  Having the opportunity to be involved with the TCSD Saturday Del Mar Ride has enriched my life in incalculable ways.  I’ve had the privilege of meeting remarkable people from around the world.  I’ve gotten to know and grown close to many whom I call very dear friends and met one who has become my best friend, Laura my wife.

Jonathan Toker – This is both an easy answer, because there are many fond memories of Jim, and a tough one, because it’s painful to remember him and difficult to chose any particular memory or small subset of memories of my friendship with Jim.

The odd thing is that it doesn’t feel like 10 years since Jim passed away. It feels almost like yesterday, and my memories of time in San Diego with the tri club feel both fleeting and enduringly indelible.

Jim was a paternal figure, but in the best of ways as a friendship of equals.

One of my fondest memories of Jim is at any number of summer Friday evening cove swims and potlucks. I have a lump in my throat as I think about all the times he seemingly effortlessly got everything and everybody organized. He was a master orchestral leader. And his masterpiece was a coming together of strangers and friends with food, standing around with a soggy plate or two of the most delicious food. Often based more on circumstance than on haute-cuisine. Jim was so welcoming, without judgement or examination. It was as if Jim had an unMcCanny (sorry!) ability to just see the best in people.

Again, at the Glorietta Bay club races or annual Pine Valley Duathlon, and Jim somehow managed to help direct the race, host the post-race spread, and keep everybody happy.

I give Jim credit for helping give me the courage to live life and take chances, in particular as I started up my own company, and his passing was one reason I was able to get up enough courage to pursue my dreams and leave my job to pursue my dream – in October 2007, just a few months after his passing.

In the absence of somebody loved, one finds solace and strength based on their memory. I still miss Jim today, though I know he would be (quietly) proud of himself and how he positively affected those who were fortunate to call him a friend. I miss Jim.

Judy Seid – Jim McCann built the TCSD into what it is today due to his spirit of inclusiveness, encouragement and his true inner fun loving nature. The club had previously been viewed as a club for “elites” thus kept away many who may have been intimidated to enter the world of triathlon. Instead, Jim transformed the club into a home for anyone and everyone to have support and training so they too could push their own limits without fear of intimidation. Jim started the real beginner Sunday bike rides. Jim started the open water swim training at Glorietta Bay where people could get comfortable in the bay environment. Jim started the Borrego Winter training camps, really just a super fun campout with a 60 mile bike ride on Saturday and the Hill Challenge on Sunday morning before breakfast. Jim had the tennis ball races at Glorietta Bay where we would collect time deduction tennis balls in our swimsuits and carry them back with us. Jim rented a house in La Jolla Village and slept in a tent in the backyard. Jim chose Dee Dee as his wife. Dee Dee shared Jim with all of us!  There were prizes, always prizes. There was always food, lots of it. Jim started the Aquathlon and brought tables of food for afterwards…the club grew! Jim encouraged others publicly and privately. If you weren’t volunteering in the club, Jim would get you to start doing something. Outside the club, Jim, who played college baseball, encouraged my daughter to start a softball training camp after she graduated college. He taught her how to start a course online and then purchased and had 2 boxes of regulation softballs shipped to her to start her off. We were shocked at his generosity! Jim didn’t need recognition, he did things quietly. Jim regularly practiced random acts of kindness. My daughter’s second job now is coaching a High School softball team in her home in Massachusetts. She is 32. She will always remember him and is a better person because of him. Jim’s legacy is living on every day. Thank you Jim for everything you gave us!

Bill Gibbs – I have countless fond memories of Jim. He was welcoming to anyone and everyone. His casual style of leadership was perfect for the club. He took ownership of the club so it was like family to him. The way he “delegated” is something that most people will probably remember. I was a victim of his delegation when he asked me to be vice-president of the club. I enjoyed volunteering for the club but becoming vice-president was the last thing on my mind. The next thing I knew I was VP. It was hard to say no to Jim. Jim helped give me the courage and confidence to take on other challenges in life and I will always be thankful to him for that. Jim worked hard to organize club races, club meetings, social activities, and countless other events and somehow he made it look easy because he enjoyed it so much. I agree that Jim built the club. If I’m not mistaken, membership grew from a few hundred to two thousand under his leadership.

Claudia Flynn – Jim McCann was a wonderful person and a great ambassador of triathlons. He really motivated and helped many of us with the open water swim at La Jolla Shores. He wanted us to have the best experience in the water and excel at it. He helped us overcome the fear of open water swim with his passion about the ocean and his love of dolphins. He took care of us and planted the seed to love triathlons and make it a lifestyle. Not only was he a great president, but he organized the aquathlons and beginner races and made TCSD a stronger club with a remarkable increase in the number of new members. His smile and positivism was contagious and undeniable. After our last swim with him, there were so many dolphins that night surfing and playing in the water. I will never forget after Jim passing, Dee Dee said that “it was like the dolphins were saying bye to Jim”. He definitely made an impression on everyone that had the privilege of meeting him and he will never be forgotten. I’m forever thankful.

Matt Sparks – I was having some sink or swim moments round about the time I met Jim. He was one of the people who helped me swim.  He was my first client and it was his enthusiasm that caused me to create what turned into the Corporation, MHS-Works, Inc.  Originally called Trustworthy Handywork and Custom Projects or THCP, it soon outgrew its humble beginnings  and became a Licensed construction company. Dee Dee also hired us several times. And it was Dee Dee, who took me out in my first ever open water swim at LJ Shores.

Elaine Bergeron – I remember Jim being very inclusive and always connecting people.  He even introduced a few people that later went on to get married. The first time I went to a swim, I was nervous as I didn’t know anyone.  Jim told a few people who I was and where I worked to spark conversation. He had such an ease and natural way of approaching people.  From that point on, I felt like I belonged as part of TCSD.  The first time I saw Jim on a Saturday TCSD ride, I was surprised to see him on a mountain bike.  I learned that he did this so that he could stay with the folks in the back.  Thank you Jim for the way you touched our hearts, and showing us how to live.

Jimena Florit (Dolzadelli) – Jim was one of a kind. He always found a new and extraordinary way of doing ordinary things.  That put him in an exclusive club, that’s for sure. He loved people, he loved sports, but what he loved most was helping people to be happy at doing sports. He dedicated his life to the TCSD and the Aquathlons at the Shores. Jim coached kids baseball and answered any questions anyone might have pretty much about anything.

Genuine from the heart, he cared. And you knew it! Jim had a clear vision of where he was going, and lead the Tri Club for many years, growing the number of Tri enthusiasts even if you didn’t own a bike! And if there was a Friday night swim at the cove, with a potluck after, you knew you better step up your game with his NO CHiPS and SALSA policy. He had 2 loves to share his free time: his beloved wife Dee Dee and his sweet companion dog Sante. If you knew Jim, you knew Sante! Slow moving dog, sweet like him. People like Jim seem to often pop up in the memory at random but meaningful times.  He was one of a kind who will be missed forever.

Denise Bienias – My fondest memories of Jim McCann was his very calm, yet strong commitment towards triathlon and all it encompassed.  Jim was always the quiet guy off to the side at the TCSD Coronado club races, as they were getting bigger and bigger, fielding any questions and giving sound advice to any TCSD newbie that asked or appeared to need it.  I remember always the smorgasbord of goodies, including the muffins, after all the club races.  He just quietly went about his business of running the club and going thru his own training.  He loved the sport and it was evident from all his long hours and hard work he dedicated as President of the Tri Club.  We were so fortunate to have been a part of Jim’s legacy and always remember him fondly.

Bob Rosen – The year was 2001. Penticton, British Columbia, Ironman Canada, I was up there with Bill Gibbs who served as Club VP for the same time Jim was Prez, About 7 years. As anyone who’s ever done an IM knows, the evening before is pretty much on a schedule. Dinner at 5 PM, set out all your gear. Settle in early, which we did. Try to deal with the nerves. So the night before the race, at about 7:30 PM, the phone rings, it’s Jim. He asks if we’d like to join him for a picnic dinner at Okanagan Lake Beach. We were downright befuddled by Jim’s call. “It’s the night before an Ironman and you haven’t eaten yet? Is your gear ready?” “Nah” Jim says, I thought it’d be fun to hang at the beach with you guys. I can pack my gear afterwards.”

It was just another day in the life. Jim’s life. Living in the moment.

Steve Tally – I had the great pleasure to get to know Jim during my first few years in the club. In addition to his unassuming and gentle disposition that put everyone at ease, I have a few specific memories of Jim that stand out.

One memory doesn’t sound like much but is very typical of Jim and his way. At one of my first Aquathlons, I had just come around the pylon to head back for the second loop of the run and Jim was there. He said “Go Steve Tally!” which made me feel like a million bucks as I was a newer member and the President knew my name!  Then I heard him calling out names of all those behind me as well, and this continued until I was out of earshot. I realized he took the trouble to learn names of as many members as he could. I could see the confidence it gave people at the turnaround.  When I came in for the finish he was still at it standing there cheering each member on by name (we were admittedly a much smaller club then!).

The way the Tri 101 started was also very typical of Jim.  I had helped answer some of the beginner questions before a club meeting and mentioned to him that most beginners had the same questions and that we should have a monthly meeting to answer them.  Those that knew him could guess his response: “OK, go ahead and get that setup and let me know what you need.” You had to watch what you said around Jim!

It was an honor to know you Jim!

Osamu Chiba – It’s not easy for me to pick one particular day or event as my fondest memory of Jim McCann.  Instead, I would say the overall closeness to him like family = my fondest memory.

Around 1999 ~ 2001 I would show up at Jim’s place every Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  If he was there, I stayed for a couple of hours and talked about all kinds of topics, such as about triathlon, camping, his business, etc.

And we would call each other if necessary, like taking care of his pets while he was out of town.

I sure miss those years…

Thomas Johnson (TCSD President 2009 to 2012) – I have many great memories of Jim. Here are a few that stand out for me.

I met Jim at La Jolla Cove on a Friday evening in the summer of 1998 looking out over the Cove. Jim was very outgoing and had a calm sense about him that was very welcoming. We both had a love of ocean swimming.  Jim offered me a cheeseburger from the potluck after my swim.  I asked him what group this was and I had my first introduction to the Greatest Club on the Planet! The Triathlon Club of San Diego. It was four more years and a few more free cheeseburgers before I joined the club. My first volunteer position with the club you ask? Potluck Captain! Very clever. I didn’t even see it coming.

After a Monday evening La Jolla Shores swims in late summer 2002 Jim & Dee Dee invited me out for dinner to Su Casa over by Wind ‘n Sea. They shared their story of how they met on an adventure challenge in MOAB and fell in love. I realized right then that I met two very special people and was grateful for their friendship and their love of trying to connect people in the club they thought would be a good match. I didn’t find my true love that year personally but I bet we have a marriage or two today thanks to those behind the scene efforts by the McCann’s.

Back in Spring of 2005 Jimmy told me about this great idea he had for a new Tri Club event…. The Aquathlon which has grown into one of the most popular TCSD events and really embodies what Jim’s mission was in connecting people, exercising and enjoy some food and a cold drink with friends and family at the beach with a killer sunset.  I recall asking Jim what his goal was for participation for the Aquathlon’s … can you guess? 25 participants was the goal.  Jim would be so stoked to know we have to cap attendance now.

Finally I will always remember the FREE seeds for plants, veggies and flowers Jim would give away at every Club Meeting. I didn’t know Jim had “another job” outside of the club. Home Depot Rep.

John Montanile – I think my fondest memories of Jim were how generous he was with his time and knowledge. We did the beginner coaching together and he was so encouraging of anyone who wanted to try triathlon. A very positive encouraging influence on the beginners and me!  1997-99 I think.

Raja Lahti-McMahon – Jim was the man who bound us all together.

I had no idea what it was like running a “club,” but felt his warmth with TCSD and became part of the family. He passed shortly thereafter. The club he left behind was one of the most empowering, friendly, wonderful groups of people I have ever met. I immediately volunteered to help run the sponsorship part of the club after he passed and learned so much along the way.

My memory of Jim is one of complete friendship, no matter who you were… and for the love of the sport. Swim, Bike, Run, Fun. Whatever it needed to get there is what Jim did… and we will.

We all miss you Jim.

Bob Doyle (TCSD President 1995 to 1997) – Sadness but many smiles is best way to summarize life without Jim.  There have been many times and situations where I would have wanted to have Jim there or be able to pick up the phone to get Jim’s always unique perspective (whether it was serious or funny).  He and I would talk about all things – news, politics, sports, and certainly the Tri Club and the world of triathlons. Every time these conversations always put a smile on my face.   Jim was a great observer of people and situations.  And Jim had a heart of gold. Jim was always there to help others whether it be people or animals.  Jim got great joy from seeing others do well.  Maybe it was doing a baseball camp for his nephew and friends, helping someone find a job or their career path, or thinking of ways to make the Tri Club, or someone in the club, better, Jim was always a positive force/motivator for so many people.

Thinking about past times with Jim or future times without – I think of what Jim did or would have done or said – I smile.  Of course, I am sad at times that I and many (including my children who never got to meet Jim) can’t be experiencing more of Jim’s unique perspectives and humor.   However, I remain thankful for the time with Jim and the many smiles he continues to generate for me and to those who knew him.

Brian Long (TCSD President 2007 to 2009) – In many ways Jim is still a big part of my life. He was very important to me as a model of service to others and the impact one person could have on another. His actions cultivated my desire to help others into a passion to help build an amazing community we call the Triathlon Club of San Diego. I had an amazing time walking with a Buddha and will be forever impacted and grateful.

Rita Reyes-Williamson (TCSD President 1998) – When I joined TCSD back in the mid 1990’s, I had never done a triathlon.  I recall going to a couple of meetings and everyone was so welcoming and encouraging.  They didn’t care that I was new to the sport.  Jim, in particular, was “Mr. Welcome Wagon” although Gurujan was right there competing for that title!  Jim suggested that I join them at the Tuesday track workouts, Friday night swims and the Saturday group rides, which I did and EVERY time I showed up Jim made a point of coming up to me and bringing me in the fold.  And he did this for EVERY new person who came out.  Through the years, Jim was the positive voice in my ear (literally) when I was sucking wind at track, suffering in my granny gears up Scripps Poway Parkway and my faithful draftee at La Jolla Cove – because I could actually swim pretty fast!  To me Jim was and is TCSD.  He was the heart of our Club and set high standards for those of us who remain to build the most amazing Tri Club in his honor.

Jim Vance – I remember Jim was always giving of himself. I was just an up and coming pro, and he pulled me aside and had a lot of great ideas to help me see the bigger picture. He transformed the Triathlon Club of San Diego, into a program that had so many events, he really knew what was needed to grow the sport and develop a true community. He always saw the bigger picture. We are still enjoying the benefits of many of the things he implemented, and developed. It helped me become the triathlete I was, and the coach I am today.

I remember the day I heard he died. I was preparing to compete at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, and I got the news. I had to sit down, and shed some tears. Suddenly, he had taught me the bigger picture again, that what we have in the sport is special, even in ways we don’t know. I miss him still.

Tom Piszkin (TCSD President 1987 to 1988) – Jim joined the club in 1988, during my second term as president. He often engaged me with new angles for the club’s operations.

Always inquisitive and creative never pushy, I could see the wheels turning as he pondered new approaches to how we were serving our then 300 members. Over the next 10 years of his informal “internship” he gradually acquired all of the knowledge and skills that led to the most exponential growth in the club’s 33 year history. He had the perfect personality to foster a decentralized structure. Jim was Tom Sawyer charging his friends for the privilege of painting his fence. His integrity and enthusiasm will always be encoded in the club’s DNA.

Jessica Gehl – I first met Jim at a La Jolla Cove Friday Night Swim of Labor Day Weekend, 2000. He approached me after the swim and invited me to a group dinner. I hesitated since I didn’t know anyone, but he gently pushed me into it. He worked hard to make me feel welcome. During dinner, Dee Dee invited me on a 60 mile ‘chic’ ride the next day, which I also joined. It turned out to be an awesome first weekend in San Diego for this Midwest transplant. That was the beginning of my friendship with Jim and Dee Dee.

He would always try to figure out how to get more people involved in triathlon. Once I asked him why he cared so much about growing the sport. He had three reasons, people’s health, purpose for people to come together, that it got people outdoors in the natural environment. He believed that if people were enjoying nature that they would fight to keep it as it should be.

Jim had thoughtful intention in every action and word he spoke, although we usually didn’t realize it. He was always working to improve everything around him. He is still missed today and forever.

Craig Zelent – Jim’s last name could have been Idea Man. He was always coming up with great new ideas. In 1999 Jim suggested that I create the new TCSD position of Ironman Coach. I had never been a coach before, but I decided to go for it. 18 years later, I have no regrets. I am so fortunate to have served as the club’s Ironman Coach for 15 of those years. I have met a lot of great people in the process and hopefully was able to help them achieve their dream.

My favorite memory of Jim that illustrates the size of his heart was his Adopt a Dog program. Jim gave some time at the club meetings for a representative of the San Diego Humane Society to bring up a dog seeking a new home. I am sure quite a few dogs found their new homes because of Jim.

Thank you Dee Dee for sharing Jim and sharing your story. We miss you in San Diego, but we are all so happy you have found Pete. You deserve the best!

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

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Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene

John & Cheryl Montanile and Craig

Laura and Mark Cole and Craig

Men’s 55-59 Age Group Podium. Craig was 4th place.

On June 25th I raced the Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene (CDA) in Idaho.  I registered for this race 8 months ago thinking I would need it to qualify for the IM 70.3 World Championships, but with a lot of luck I managed to get my qualifying spot at the Oceanside 70.3 in April.  So CDA was just for fun and pride.

The highlight of this trip was seeing some old friends.  The first athlete to pay me for my coaching services was John Montanile back in 2007.  John relocated from San Diego to Pennsylvania a few years ago.  Earlier this year John and his wife Cheryl retired, purchased a trailer which has become their home, and have been traveling the country.  They happened to be in the area so we had a great dinner my first evening in CDA.

And my friend Laura Cole whom I met at Ironman Japan in 1995 was also racing in CDA.  Laura and her husband Mark live in Florida so I have had very few opportunities to see her over the years, but we are good friends so we have stayed in touch.  I think this was just the 4th time in 22 years that we have raced together – Japan, Nationals in Orange County, Wildflower and now CDA.  Laura, Mark and I shared a wonderful lunch the day before our race.  One of my primary wishes for CDA was to see Laura qualify for the 70.3 Worlds.  I am pleased to say Laura did qualify so we will race for the 5th time in Chattanooga in September.

The weather was warm in CDA.  Race day warmed to the high 80’s before my race ended.  I don’t believe I ever saw a cloud in the sky during my entire visit.  It was gorgeous!  Lake Coeur d’Alene was 62 degrees – very comfortable with very little chop.  The organizers had us do a rolling start which means you seed yourself and start when you are ready.  The professionals started at 6am and the age groupers started at 6:15am.  I started with the group targeting a 30-35 minute swim.  I did the 1.2 mile swim in 31:43.  I knew the heat would be a factor so I kept a steady, easy pace.  I was pleasantly surprised to come out of the water with such a fast time.  This put me in 4th place.

I had raced the full Ironman in CDA back in 2007 and 2009, but they changed the bike course from those years.  The course now is a bit hillier than I remembered.  Most of the hills were dedicated climbs for 5-10 minutes each.  Despite that, I found the bike course to be pretty fast.  My 56 mile bike split of 2:50:41 at CDA was 5 minutes faster than at Oceanside.  I had the 14th fastest bike split and that dropped me into 9th place.

The 13.1 mile run was comprised of 2 laps.  With the race starting so early I was running before 10am.  It was warm, but not super hot, yet.  Parts of the run course were in the shade.  During lap 1 I was between the 1st and 2nd place female professionals who were on their 2nd lap.  This worked in my favor because I was able to pace off them and it was fun to see how their race played out.  By the time I got to the 7 mile mark I was really hot, though, so I started putting ice in my hat at the aid stations.  I held on and finished strong with a 1:32:37 split, the fastest run of the day.  My finish time was 5:00:29.  I tried so hard to break 5 hours, but just could not do it.  I finished 4th out of 74 men in the 55-59 age group so I got on the podium which goes 5 deep at the Ironman events.  I finished 167th out of 1,627 overall finishers.

To see my race photos, click on this link:

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: May 2017 – Steve Sutherland

2012 USA Triathlon Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – from left to right – Judge Jones, Dave Scott, Scott Molina, Mark Allen, Chuck Graziano, Kat Donatello, Steve Sutherland, Scott Tinley.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently talked triathlon with long time TCSD member and USA Triathlon Age Group Committee Chairman Steve Sutherland.  Steve gives a ton of his time to our sport and he is absolutely someone you should know, despite occasionally wearing his bike helmet backwards.  I know you will enjoy reading Steve’s story and getting to know this great guy.

Craig: What sports did you do while growing up?

Steve: I was born near Ventura, and grew up as the oldest child in a large family. My Dad was an officer in the US Navy so we moved around every couple of years, mostly in California and Hawaii although we did spend a few years in Washington DC, Maryland and Rhode Island. When I was an infant we lived in Ocean Beach and Pacific Beach and Mom took me to the beach from the very start. My mother always encouraged us to go outside and play, I think in part because raising five active kids with Dad away constantly at sea or on assignment was a real challenge. Organized sports became an important part of our lives. My brothers, my sister and I all played baseball, basketball, track and field sports, and because we always lived by the ocean, swimming and surfing became a big part of my life. As a family we also hiked, camped, fished and were always encouraged to try out new things. We all grew up associating active outdoor sports as a very natural thing. And as we got a little older, our bicycles became a staple form of transportation. I was also fortunate that my parents strongly believed in teaching children to swim at an early age; my first swimming lessons happened around the same time that I learned to walk. I competed in surfing contests, got on the podium a couple of times and even toyed with the idea of trying to make the pro tour, but I knew deep down inside that I wasn’t nearly that good. My involvement in sports and sports competition has continued in one form or another continuously since then.

Craig: What was your first triathlon experience like?

Steve: For many years, my friends told me to try out triathlon. One of the first times I recall being encouraged to sign up for a race was around 1980. I rode my bike to The Plunge for a swim, and someone I knew suggested that since I biked and swam a lot, and competed in other sports, that I might want to sign up for triathlons. The idea sounded a little farfetched at the time, and it wasn’t until 2002 that I decided to put the time and energy into training and competing in a local race. My training was based on an eight-week plan on paper that I bought from Mrs. T’s. Even with good prep I was still quite naïve about racing but there I was at the Mission Bay Sprint in the fall, giving it my best shot. When I stood up at the end of the swim I felt dizzy and almost fell over. I took forever in transition getting out onto the bike course, and when I was about halfway around Fiesta Island I started laughing like crazy, with the sudden thought that “Holy cow, I’m really doing this!”  For the transition to the run, I was again slow, carefully pulling on calf length basketball socks and Nike basketball shoes before doing a slow shuffle out to the run course. When I finally crossed the finish line I knew I was hooked.

Craig: When did you join the TCSD and what has your membership meant to you?

Steve: At that first race I met Jim McCann, and he strongly encouraged me to come to the next TCSD meeting. I met a lot of very enthusiastic and supportive people at that meeting, and I knew that this was a resource that I absolutely needed if I was going to get better at triathlons. I think the club only had about 300 active members then but they were all very involved and their enthusiasm was contagious. It was an easy choice to decide to join the club. I have been a regular attendee since 2003, and I credit our club and our terrific members with a big part of my evolution as a multi-sport athlete. The free workouts, the club races, and the overall supportive nature of our membership are priceless. And I’ve made many friends through the club, including Bill Dusting, Tony Berg, Gary Sowell, Charlie Szentisi, Mike Plumb and many more.

Craig: You have been very involved in USA Triathlon over the years.  When did that relationship begin and what have been some of your highlights?

Steve: I joined USAT in 2003 after reading a short article about the Age Group Committee (AGC) in Transition Times, the precursor to the current USAT magazine. Chuck Graziano was seeking volunteers, I reached out to him and told him that I was still a newbie at the sport but I wanted to help if I could. My background in my professional life was a good fit for the type of committee work and support that Chuck needed. Almost immediately I was tapped to help create the USAT Hall of Fame. We are all very proud of that accomplishment. We selected our first class of inductees in 2008, and we now have over 40 individuals in the Hall of Fame including a number of TCSD members such as Bob Babbitt, Jim Curl, Paula Newby-Frazier, Scott Tinley and the late Jim McClaren. Chuck and I also helped create the Athlete of the Year Banquet (with a lot of help from Kat Donatello), and I spent a lot of energy streamlining and improving the selection process for our Athletes of the Year (AOY’s). Our next project was getting USAT lifestyle awards defined and awarded, which we called the Multisports Awards (Lifetime Achievement, Volunteer of the Year, Comeback of the Year, etc.) I took over leadership of the Age Group Committee three years ago, and we continue to work on issues that directly impact our membership. In addition to the projects I mentioned above, the AGC is responsible for coordinating and moderating the Annual Town Hall Meeting held at the National Age Group Championships, administering a grant program for education in rules and safety, assisting with the administration of the National Rankings process and assisting in the Hall of Fame selection and induction process. We’ve tackled Clydesdale/Athena issues, initiatives to increase the number of race officials, and concerns brought to us by age group members. I write the annual committee report that we submit to USAT. None of these successes would have happened without the full support we receive from Rob Urbach, Tim Yount, the USAT staff and the USAT Board of Directors.

Craig: I suspect a lot of thought went into creating the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.  What went into making sure our Hall of Fame fit our sport?

Steve: Chuck Graziano was very passionate about that project. There were three of us (Chuck, Michael “Judge” Jones and I) who were the primary drivers of the effort, but of course many other people also contributed. One of the first moves I made was to call 19 other halls of fame and find out how they operated including what rules governed selection of members, how did they honor those inductees, did they have a physical presence, and so on. And some of those halls of fame are ones you’ve heard of (the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Football Hall of Fame, the NASCAR Hall of Fame), some were a natural fit for our sport (the Swimming Hall of Fame, the US Bicycling Hall of Fame) while others were regional halls of fame covering many sports, such as our own Breitbard Hall of Fame in the San Diego Hall of Champions at Balboa Park. What I quickly learned was that a hall of fame for our sport would be managed a bit differently than other sports. For instance, the US Gymnastics Hall of Fame requires that inductees either be retired from the sport or be over 30 years old. If we waited for triathletes to retire before considering them for the Hall of Fame, we would have a lot of posthumous awards because endurance sport athletes just don’t quit. And a lot of our best athletes don’t even reach their peak until they are well over 30 years old, so that rule wouldn’t work. We decided to recognize candidates in three categories: elite athletes, age group men and women, and significant contributors to the sport. Our first class of inductees was named in 2008, and included Judy Flannery (age group athlete), Jon Gray Noll (President of Triathlon Federation, the predecessor to USAT), Verne Scott (Dave Scott’s dad, who helped write rules, sanctioning guidelines, and too many other things to list here), Karen Smyers (elite athlete) and Sheila Taormino (elite athlete and Olympian in swimming, triathlon and equestrian). That first ceremony was held in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor Hotel, and was a stellar affair. The bar was set high for all the subsequent induction ceremonies that followed. We’ve since moved the annual ceremony around to other cities, including an amazing night in San Diego in 2012 at the Bahia Hotel when we inducted Mark Allen, Ethel Autorino, Bob Babbitt, Sally Edwards, Scott Molina and Scott Tinley. Dave Scott was on hand that night, allowing us to honor the “Big Four” who really helped popularize triathlon. By the way, I have to mention the incredible amphora that Judge Jones created for the awardees. They are unlike any award I’ve ever seen and the inductees really treasure them.

Craig: The Athlete of the Year Banquet is another one of your creations.  What is that event like?

Steve: The Athlete of the Year and Multisport Awards Banquet is another one of our accomplishments that I’m very proud to have helped come to fruition. In 2011 Tim Yount came to us and discussed the possibility of a banquet to honor our athletes of the year as part of the national championship activities in Burlington, Vermont. Tim emphasized that we really had to hit it out of the park on our first go at this banquet or we would not have a second chance. We looked at possible venues for the banquet and settled on a dinner cruise on Lake Champlain. Tim and the USAT staff worked very hard to pull together the logistics with help from Chuck Graziano, Kat Donatello and I. The three of us took turns making the award presentations as the boat cruised on the lake right at sunset. We had about 125 attendees that year, and the feedback was terrific. During those first two years, we only had the Athletes of the Year as our awardees. Athletes were selected in triathlon and duathlon in overall, juniors, masters and grandmasters categories for men and women. When the national championships moved to Milwaukee in 2013, the decision was made to include our multisport winners as part of the banquet. This really put a different spin on the evening because the athlete of the year awards recognize purely athletic achievement whereas the multisport awards highlight the triathlon lifestyle. And it’s important to remember that many people come to our sport not to get on the podium, but to have a healthy lifestyle, to help them get over addiction, a personal loss or other challenges in life, or because they just enjoy the sport. Our multisport awards include Volunteer of the Year Award, Jeff Jewell Spirit Award, Military Sport Award, Most Inspirational Comeback Award, Spirit of Multisport Award and Lifetime Achievement Award. We have had some terrific keynote speakers as well, including Mark Allen and Chrissie Wellington. The attendees at that banquet in Milwaukee were really impressed with the stories behind the winners of those multisport awards, and many people told me after (and at our subsequent banquets as well) that the emotional content of that part of the evening’s presentation was what really left an impression.

Craig: What is USA Triathlon doing in the area of minority involvement?

Steve: USAT is interested in reaching out to underserved populations, including minority, youth, and women. We have been examining successful minority outreach programs that have been accomplished at the regional level, looking for those aspects that can be used at a national level. A great example is a program called “Strive To Tri” run by Tarus Nelson and his wife in Washington DC. His program involves after school and summer camps for disadvantaged youth. The program focuses on several key points: (1) how to introduce triathlon to youth; (2) how to deal with the economic pressures of the sport; and (3) how to have good participation so they keep coming back. Tarus’ program has been recognized at the county and national level. It involves 90 minute sessions, three days a week, and a six-week swim boot camp. The program is tied to USAT and helps to keep kids engaged throughout summer.  If I look around the room at any of our Tri Club meetings, I see a lot of people who look like me. We don’t have a lot of diversity in the sport. I find this especially unusual in San Diego where we have such a large Hispanic population and history. We helped create a survey to gauge the amount of outreach by regional and club organizations to underserved populations. The results of that survey are helping USAT shape our outreach programs.

Craig: What is USA Triathlon doing to educate it’s members to make smart and healthy choices in the area of anti-doping?

Steve: We are very concerned about doping and drug use in our sport, both from a race safety perspective and from a healthy lifestyle perspective. One challenge that we see is the legalization of marijuana. While certainly not a performance enhancing drug, marijuana is still a banned substance according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Because triathlon is an Olympic sport and USAT is the national governing body of that sport, we fall under the WADA and USADA guidelines. Marijuana is legal in many states and probably will be legalized in more states soon, yet it is still a banned substance under the rules that we must follow. It’s important to understand that when we talk about banned substances, they are banned “in competition”. That means the morning that you drive to the race, when you compete in a race, and when you drive home, you are “in competition”. We are not interested in criticizing or regulating anyone’s personal choices about lifestyle. There’s also a concern about the use of performance-enhancing drugs such as testosterone supplements by age group athletes, again in part because it impacts fair competition and in part because of health risks. Drug testing of competitors is expensive and the administrative/chain of custody process is very challenging, thus we need to find more cost-effective ways of dealing with this issue. I’m part of a task force that is evaluating initiatives that USAT can take to educate the membership. Anyone interested in looking at materials that are available right now for anti-drug education can go to the USADA website and view the free training available there.

Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?

Steve: Lavaman on the Big Island! I’ve competed in the Waikoloa Lavaman twice and highly recommend it as a destination race. And wow, what a party at the finish line! I would fly over there for Lavaman every year if I could afford it. I also have great memories from Strawberry Fields (Oxnard), Vineman 70.3 (Sonoma wine country) and Lake Stevens 70.3 (near Seattle); sadly those races have been retired. Our USAT National Championship races are also a must for anyone looking for a challenging and fun destination race. The locations get moved around every couple of years, which I think is great. Most of our national championship races do not require qualification; in other words, you can just register for the race and compete, but remember that the level of competition in these events is far above what we experience here at local races.

Craig: I have raced USA Triathlon National Championships 16x’s in my career.  I love that event and wish more TCSD members would join in on the fun.  Nationals is in Omaha August 12-13.  Why would you recommend racing Nationals?

Steve: You can’t find a better venue for a high-quality race with outstanding competition than one of our national championships. The vibe of National Championship weekend is amazing, and you will really get pushed by top age group athletes at these races! The national championship you mention in Omaha is for Olympic and Sprint distance triathlon. We also have national championships for duathlon at Bend, Oregon; for Clydesdales and Athenas at Grand Rapids in June; for Youth and Juniors at West Chester, Ohio in August; for aquathlon at Austin, Texas in October; for aquabike and long course triathlon at Miami in November; and many other championship races. Just go to the USAT website and click on Events, then National Championships and you’ll see the full list with locations, dates, and links for registration. Our club has been very well represented at all the championship races every year, and we have a lot of members, like you Craig, who qualify for Team USA and represent the US at the world championship races.

Craig: You have done a lot of racing over the years.  What have been some of the funnier things you have been a part of?

Steve: During one of the first years that I competed in the Spring Sprint, I managed to put my helmet on backwards before I got out on the bike course. I didn’t realize I had done it and as I passed people and got funny looks I assumed it must’ve been because I was really doing well in the race.  It was only after the race when I saw the photos that the proof of my mistake was revealed. I still laugh about it a lot. I also did a minor goof while doing a trail race that helped come up with this piece of advice: Don’t wear your triathlon shoes with speed laces for an off-road race! During the Mission Trails Xterra race last year, I was wearing my triathlon shoes and when I stepped in a muddy spot the shoe stayed put, the speed laces gently let my foot slip out and I kept on running with just a sock on my foot. I had to turn around, fish my shoe out of the mud, hop around on one foot while putting the shoe back on, all while a sea of people were running around me. And of course, I was laughing the whole time. We can’t take our sport too seriously, almost none of us are getting paid to do it.

Craig: Who have been the most influential people in your life?  And what have been the most influential experiences you have had?

Steve: My Mom and Dad of course, for encouraging our participation in sports and outdoor activities when we were growing up. My siblings provided me with plenty of competition, and I’m laughing as I think of how competitive we made everything. In my business career I was lucky to have a couple of great mentors. In my late 20’s I worked for an aerospace company with Dan Curry, who showed through example and action how a person could be a great leader without being an overbearing bully. In my 40’s I had a fantastic mentor, Bob Schlesinger, who taught me a lot about building and growing a business, and whose advice I still hear sometimes in the back of my head. I’m lucky to have known my best friend Joe Bollinger for over 40 years, he’s always been there for me through thick and thin. And of course my wife Heather, my better and smarter half who has helped me have a rich, joyful life.

Craig: Who would you like to thank for your involvement in triathlon?

Steve: I’ve been blessed with a wealth of great friends who I’ve met through triathlon. At the top of that list has to be Chuck Graziano and Tim Yount, two of the best people you could ever meet. Many of the people I want to recognize are TCSD members, including Bill Dusting, Tony Berg, Charlie Szentisi, Bob Babbitt, Gary Sowell, and of course no list like this would be compete without mentioning Gerry Forman. I have to thank my coach for over a decade, Sergio Borges. And none of this would be possible without the love and support from my wife Heather, who has been there all the way, encouraging me, acting as my support crew, and giving me a big smile every time I finish a race.

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

Steve: I would like to see some way to reduce the barriers that many people face when looking at triathlons, including the financial hurdle (equipment costs, travel expenses, high race entry fees). Another barrier that many people face is access to training facilities especially swimming pools, and with that swimming lessons. Many children face a lack of after school programs and cuts in funding for athletic programs. Some of these things that we take for granted are out of reach for a large number of people who could potentially join our sport.

Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?

Steve: I would like to keep racing for as long as I’m physically able and as long as it’s fun. I’m very fortunate to have good health and good supportive friends and family. And if by some chance I ever qualify for Kona or another world championship, that would be the icing on top of the cake.

Craig: Steve, thank you so much for sharing your story.  You have done so much for our sport.  The USAT and TCSD are both lucky to have you.  Keep up the great work!  Good luck keeping your shoes on during your trail runs and with all your other lofty goals.

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

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LA Tri Series – Championship

Craig (2nd place) and Dominique Chipot (3rd place)

TCSD friend Chris Happ and Craig

On May 13th I raced the LA Tri Series Olympic Distance Triathlon at Bonelli Regional Park in San Dimas.  I had a good race as I placed 2nd out of 14 in the men’s 55-59 age group and 16th out of 212 overall finishers.  I got chicked by 2 women, 1 of whom was former 2008 Olympic triathlete and 2000 Olympic silver medalist in water polo, Julie Ertel.  There’s no shame in that!

I am finding as I age that the most important thing is just getting to the start line healthy.  With all the miles I’ve got on my body after 30+ years of racing, that is no easy trick.  I am learning to train a bit more moderately and just cruise through some workouts and save the big efforts for race day.  10 days prior to this race I hurt my neck lifting weights.  My neck has been a problem for the last 3 years.  It is particularly a problem trying to ride in the aero position on the bike.  So that’s my problem.  I’m sure the other guys my age have their own issues.  It is just a matter of learning how to manage the training to get to that start line.

Enough excuses.  On to the race!  The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was in a fresh water lake.  I had a good swim as I came out of the water in 3rd place in 24:20.

The 40K (24.8 miles) bike course was very challenging.  It was 3 laps of a hilly course.  My time was 1:18:07 which was the 4th best bike split and it kept me in 3rd place.  My 2017 bike time was 2:09 slower than in 2016.

The 10K (6.2 miles) run was also very challenging.  It was hilly and off road at times so I loved it.  My run split of 38:55 was the fastest run on the day.  My finish time was 2:24:27.  This was 2:09 slower than 2016 – the same delta as my bike split.

Sean Richardson was the guy who beat me.  We chatted after the race.  He was a very nice guy.  I did have a good race, but Sean smoked me by 9+ minutes.  He finished in 2:14:41.  He said this was going to be his last triathlon of the year.  I’m thinking the year has just started.

Living the life…

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TCSD Conversation: April 2017 – Monica Sberna

Monica Sberna and fiance Michael at 2014 Tri Fit Challenge in Columbus.

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the pleasure recently of getting to know Monica Sberna, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Triathlon Club of San Diego.  Monica has a huge heart as you will see with all the money she has raised for important causes.  You are sure to enjoy her story below.

Craig: What were your sports before triathlon?

Monica: I was one of those kids that played pretty much every sport at some point growing up, but mainly just for fun as I was always good, but never truly great at any.  In high school, I competed on the track team as a sprinter and discus thrower (I know…shocker), but I was always middle-of-the-pack and did it more for the comradery than the competition.  I also played intramural broomball in college, which I loved, but sadly I haven’t found too many opportunities to play since then.

Craig: What was the driving force that got you involved with Team in Training?

Monica: Having always been physically active in something or another growing up, I found myself in a weird place when I moved to Columbus, OH for my first job and had essentially nothing to do after work.  So a co-worker at the time told me about Team in Training, one of the largest endurance sports training programs dedicated to raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  At the time, I had no personal connection to those affected by blood cancer; but after attending one of their info meetings, I (almost foolishly) decided that I was going to raise $2,900 to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon out in San Francisco, CA…because it sounded like fun.  And so I trained with coaches and fellow teammates to run my first half marathon in October 2010.

After that, I was hooked!  I originally joined Team in Training for the support system (coaches and planned workouts), but this organization truly changed my life.  Working in clinical research myself, I know first-hand how important it is to help fund life-saving research.  But most importantly, I have had the privilege of meeting so many amazing individuals who have not only touched my heart, but have inspired me to do more than I ever imagined I could.  So I continued to challenge myself, completing my first full marathon in 2011 (Nike Women’s Marathon), my first century ride in 2012 (Viva Bike Vegas), and my first sprint triathlon in 2013 (Wendy’s International Triathlon) all while raising an additional $7,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Craig: What was your first experience with triathlon like?

Monica: Having already signed up for the Wendy’s International Triathlon (sprint distance) through Team in Training, I decided I wanted to “get my feet wet” at a smaller triathlon to help calm some of those “first race” jitters.  So I signed up for a super sprint held at my alma mater, Miami University.  The race consisted of a 400m swim inside at the recreational center pool (serpentine fashion), followed by a 20K bike in and around Oxford, and a 5K run on Miami’s beautiful campus.  A picturesque course to say the least, had it not been a very cold, April morning in Ohio.

I remember being more nervous than I had ever been before while I was waiting to enter the pool.  And those nerves got the best of me as my swim ended up more doggie paddle than freestyle and I’m pretty sure I was the second to last swimmer out of the pool.  But I survived…only to realize in transition that I had forgot my full-fingered riding gloves I was planning to bring (now I always have a race-day checklist).  And sure enough, my fingers not only froze but went completely numb by the time I entered T2, which made trying to tie the laces of my running shoes nearly impossible.

I was so done with the race I started to cry, but my then boyfriend (now fiancé) Michael, standing helplessly outside of transition, continued to cheer me on.  So I wiped the tears from my face and started to run.  And somewhere along those 3.1 miles I suddenly came to realize that even though it wasn’t pretty, I was doing it!  I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face and as they say, the rest is history.  I went on to complete 5 more triathlons that year, including two Olympic distances, and am so thankful to have had Michael there to cheer me on at every race I’ve done since then.

Craig: What was so special about the day you raced the 2013 Deer Creek Fall Challenge?

Monica: One of my favorite triathlon memories actually has nothing to do with the race itself.  In fact, it was actually one of my longest, most trying triathlons to date.  But a teammate of mine, Ralph, was attempting to complete his TNT Triple Crown (running, cycling, and triathlon event with TNT) all in one year, having just run his first half marathon earlier that spring.  I, on the other hand, was burned out from training and hesitant to even start the cold, late September race.  But when I showed up on race morning, Ralph, who had sprained his wrist two weeks prior, was still planning to race the Olympic distance; so of course I had no excuse.

We started the race in different waves, but as usual my swim took forever and once again I was one of the last participants out of the water.  So the goal at that point was just to catch Ralph so that I could present him with his Triple Crown at the finish line.  Easier said than done when you’ve been slacking on training, but I was determined to be there when he finished.  So I pushed myself on the bike and run in order to catch him and the hug I received when he crossed that finish line was one of my most rewarding race finishes to date.  A perfect example of how determination and passion can push you to do more than you ever thought possible.

Craig: You moved to San Diego in August 2014.  What fundraising events have you done since arriving here and what were those experiences like?

Monica: As I mentioned previously, I was very involved with fundraising for Team in Training when I lived in Ohio, so when I moved to San Diego I wanted to continue to fundraise for other organizations I felt passionate about.  So in 2015, I signed up to run the Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare as a St. Jude Hero.  That meant not only would I be running the Disneyland 10K on Saturday and Disneyland Half Marathon on Sunday, but I also committed to fundraise $2,000 for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  Still to this day, that was one of my favorite races as it was not only my first time at Disneyland, but I was able to honor 12 of my personal pediatric cancer heroes the first 12 miles, with the last 1.1 mile dedicated to all the pediatric clinical trial patients I worked with day in and day out at Rady Children’s Hospital.

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

Craig: What did you learn from the century and half marathon you did on the same weekend last fall?

Monica: When I signed up to ride the 2016 Padres Pedal the Cause in honor of my friend Dan Weisenbach, little did I know it would turn out to be one of the most physically and mentally challenging weekends of my life.  Having already registered for a number of half marathons that year already, I was shocked to say the least when I learned that the event, previously held in September, had been moved to November, the day before the Silver Strand Half Marathon.   Not one to back down from a challenge though, I committed to finish both events in a test of both physical and mental fortitude, all while wearing a purple tutu in Dan’s honor.

I think the century ride for Padres Pedal the Cause was more mentally grueling than anything with over 7,151 feet of climbing in just under 10 hours.  In fact, I almost cut the route short (at the official turn-off) in fear I wouldn’t be able to finish before dusk.  But Dan was truly out there with me, telling me to keep going and that I could do it!  The Silver Strand Half Marathon the next day however was definitely a test of my physical endurance.  My body was tired and part of me wanted to give up, but the one thing I learned that day was you can truly accomplish anything you set your mind to, especially when you have someone to finish for.

Craig: How did you get involved in the Triathlon Club of San Diego?

Monica: Having already completed a number of triathlons in Ohio, one of the first things I looked for when I moved was a group I could train with out here in San Diego and Triathlon Club of San Diego seemed to be the obvious choice.  So I attended one of the Intro to TCSD meetings, which is where I first met Paula Munoz.  As acting Vice President and Secretary at the time, Paula was always looking for more people to get involved with volunteering, as we all know how involved she is herself.  So volunteering at a number of club events turned into assisting the Expo Coordinator, which ultimately turned into an opportunity to revamp the volunteer program as Volunteer Coordinator.

Craig: What should we know about your current role as the Volunteer Coordinator?

Monica: TCSD is and will always be a volunteer driven organization, so the Volunteer Coordinator’s job is to help get the word out when volunteers are needed.  We have many veteran volunteers who help lead our weekly workouts, run our monthly club events, and even help publish this newsletter.  But I want members to know that we are always looking for people to help in any way they can.  Two of our biggest needs that don’t involve a ton of time commitment are helping out at our monthly club races and TCSD expo booths.  Keep an eye out for e-mails and Facebook posts asking to sign up for these events once race season gets into the full swing!

Craig: What have been some of your funnier moments in triathlon?

Monica: I’ve definitely had my fair share of triathlon blunders, from forgetting (sometimes necessary) equipment to missing bike turns; but I think my swim at the 2013 Tri Fit Challenge definitely takes the cake.  The swim for the Olympic distance of the race is set up in triangle fashion at Antrim Lake, with the top point of the triangle located at the dock where swimmers enter and exit the water.  Being a novice swimmer, as you most likely realize by now, I started at the back of my wave and took my time swimming, concentrating on trying to stay calm.

However, after swimming for a while and sighting off of what I thought was the far left buoy, I stopped for a moment after realizing that there didn’t seem to be any other swimmers around me.  So I looked up and soon realized that I was somehow in the middle of the triangle all by myself!  Considering I don’t always swim in the straightest of lines, I figured I must have drifted left after the first turn and accidentally caught the wrong buoy in my sight.  But lesson learned and from then on, I always double check that I’m sighting in the right direction.

Craig: What have been some of your favorite out of town races?

Monica: Considering I’ve done more running races than anything else, those tend to be some of my favorite.  As you can imagine, the Nike Women’s Marathon & Half Marathon in San Francisco, CA will always hold a special place in my heart as those were my first half and full marathons.  Plus, I loved wearing my Tiffany finisher necklaces for years after the races, proudly explaining where they were from when asked.  But I must say that the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon & Half Marathon (a local race at the time) is to this day one of the most emotional races I’ve ever run.

In 2012, Nationwide Children’s Hospital (where I worked at the time) became the title beneficiary for the then Columbus Marathon & Half Marathon.  And with this partnership came what is known as their Patient Champions.  Each year, a Patient Champion is dedicated to each mile of the 26.2 course, with one Angel Mile to honor those who are no longer with us.  These patients not only share their stories to help inspire those running the event, they are also out on the course the day of the race giving out high fives and hugs to any runner who needs it.

As you can imagine, this can be a huge motivating factor to keep moving forward during a physically challenging day for most runners.  This was an especially emotional experience for me as I also personally knew one of the 2012 Patient Champions, whose family was waiting with smiles and hugs at mile 18.  I remember that race for many reasons, but I definitely believe it’s the “most meaningful marathon in the country” and would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to run it.  Plus, it’s in Columbus, OH, so it’s also one of the flattest.

Craig: What are some of your favorite San Diego races?

Monica: I’ve knocked most of the half marathons in San Diego off my bucket list at this point and my favorite so far has been the San Diego Half Marathon in March 2016.  Truthfully, I can’t really put my finger on any one specific reason other than it was a fun course (only one major hill) with a great finish line and pretty sweet swag to boot!  I haven’t competed in as many triathlons, but I definitely loved the Esprit de She for obvious reasons and am sad that it will no longer be a women’s only race this year.  I think that series was a great advocate for women in triathlon and gave those just starting out a very encouraging environment to give triathlon a try.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over triathlon, what would you change?

Monica: I’m not sure I would change much about triathlons if I could.  For me personally, I would love shorter swims, but that’s what makes it a challenge.  Most triathletes seem to have at least one disciple they have to work at more than the others.  For me, it’s the swim, for others the run, but that’s what makes accomplishing one so much more rewarding!

Craig: What are your future endurance sport goals?

Monica: For 2017, my main goal is to complete my 30th half marathon for my 30th birthday on May 28, 2017 (technically three days before my actual birthday, but races don’t usually happen on Wednesdays).  This has been a goal of mine since I ran my 15th half marathon in September 2015 and realized that if I ran 12 half marathons in 12 months (another goal) in 2016, I could feasibly reach 30 by May 2017.  These may not be my fastest halves, but I have absolutely loved the experience completing not only 12 half marathons last year, but my Disney Coast to Coast and San Diego Triple Crown as well!

And then after that, I will be setting my eyes on my first half Ironman!  I definitely will have my work cut out for me to say the least, but I am constantly inspired by all of the triathletes here in San Diego.  But most importantly, I want to continue to try and fundraise for at least one charity event every year.  These races are always the most meaningful and I have met so many amazing people who have truly changed my life.  Cancer research will always be important to me as it’s what I do day in and day out, but I actually would like to work with other organizations such as CAF in the future.

Craig: Monica, thank you so much for sharing your story.  I wish everyone could give back half as much as you have to your community.  You are out there enjoying endurance sports and making a difference in people’s lives.  We are very fortunate to have you as a member of the TCSD.  Good luck on your quest for your 30th half marathon and that half Ironman finisher’s medal.

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

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TCSD Conversation: March 2017 – Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson with his bike in Fraser; northern British Columbia

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I recently got to talk triathlon with TCSD member Carl Johnson.  Carl has always led an active lifestyle and he just wrapped up another stellar performance representing the TCSD in the USA Triathlon National Challenge Competition.  I know you’ll enjoy getting to know this guy who really puts in the miles.

Craig: What sports did you do while growing up?

Carl: First, Craig, thanks for all your fine TCSD interviews and for including me.  Organized sports growing up were non-existent for me, only sandlot activities with the neighborhood kids. I am a native of San Diego and grew up a long time ago in what is now Rancho San Diego/Spring Valley area.   At that time, it was very rural with old Avocado groves, ranching, and open land.  I was in the first class to go to Casa de Oro Elementary School, Spring Valley Junior High, and  Mt. Miguel High School.  Later I went to San Diego State University.  At this time there was huge growth in the San Diego area, a result of the Baby Boomers from the war years – what were all those parents thinking?  In school, I was one of those non aggressive, skinny kids who was picked next to last for the P.E. teams. Away from school I was always active, hiking, climbing trees, neighborhood pickup games, riding my bike, and generally running around.   Growing up, our family chose to not have a television.  For entertainment, my parents always said, “go outside and run around the house”.  I got my first “full sized” bike when I was in 5th grade.  My dad paid $5 for it. He installed a 2 speed rear wheel gear on it.  It had a 4″ inch high gear shift lever mounted on the top tube.  It was a real “nut cracker”.  It’s a miracle I was able to produce any children later in life.  The bike was unique at the time because I could power up hills that my friends on single speed bikes struggled to peddle up.  My favorite ride, even then, were around and on the local hills and the Alpine Loop.

Craig: What activities led you into triathlon?

Carl: In high school I was part of a very active, yet independent, Explorer Boy Scout group.  We hiked and backpacked frequently.  That continued into Boy Scouts with my son.  As a way to make hiking/backpacking more enjoyable and less fatiguing, I started doing a little distance running.  My first race was a 10K run over the Coronado Bridge in1983.  It was a proud accomplishment to only stop and walk one time as surely I thought very few “regular” people ever ran the whole way.  Over time, I have run a few hundred 10Ks, half, and full marathons all over the country, many of them as a member of the San Diego Track Club. Think of all those entry fees!  My times were always pretty much mid pack, I only broke 40 minutes in a 10k a few times. I may not be that fast, but what I do have going for me is that I am a very determined, goal oriented person.  In the mid 1990’s, for no reason at all, other than, “I wonder if I could do that” I bought a book about triathlon racing.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like?

Carl: In 1997 I did my first San Diego International Triathlon.  In that first race, I thought it was necessary to swim in a bathing suit and then change into bike shorts, as surely, no one would bike in wet shorts!   I had a long T1 as I struggled to change clothes under a towel.  I could see no one else was doing that, so I made that my first and last time.   It was a nice accomplishment to know I could train for and do a triathlon.   However, my main interest remained hiking, backpacking, and mountain climbing done mainly with the Sierra Club and friends.  I could see that doing triathlons was an excellent way to do cross training and hike and run better.  Unlike many people, I would not say I was “hooked” on triathlons.  It just seemed like a good thing to do to balance out my life.

Craig: What Ironman races have you done and what were those experiences like?

Carl: I have only completed 2 full ironman distance races plus one DNS (did not start) and one DNF. I have completed more than a dozen half marathon distance triathlons.   Triathlons races, 70.3, especially as an older person, are a little more of reasonable distance.   My first, ironman distance triathlon was the inaugural  year – 2004 – CaliforniaMan race at Lake Folsom (near Sacramento).   For that race I used Craig Zelent’s CaliforniaMan training plan.  It was quite an accomplishment for me, especially with some special circumstances.  The second half of the run was a struggle, but I was bound and determined to finish, even if it was a very slow walk. I am proud to say I still hold the age group, 60+, course record for this triathlon.  Of course there were only a total of 3 in my age group and the next year the race course venue moved to Davis, CA.  As an extra highlight, this is the only race my wife has seen me actually race in. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it without her support. In 2012, I completed, the last year in Penticton, Ironman Canada. This was especially nice, doing it with my daughter, Tami Threet.   The DNF was at Ironman Arizona when a guy mowed/crashed me down at a bike aid station, I was only able to struggle through about 2 miles of the run, this was a first and a huge disappointment. My DNS, was the inaugural of the 2000 full Ironman Oceanside.   I was busy training away, when  I discovered I had a recurrence of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer, the same cancer I thought I had “beaten”  16 years earlier.   I had a biopsy and began chemotherapy again.  A full Ironman Oceanside was not in the cards for me.  On a positive note, the advancement in chemo drugs from 16 years earlier made the 2nd time around some easier.  A good Oncologist was also helpful.

Craig: I understand you have battled and overcome cancer on 2 occasions. What
kinds of cancer did you have and what were the most important factors enabling
you to survive?

Carl: For those who have experienced cancer and treatment, you know how much it sucks !  My first encounter with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was 1985 at age 41.  The chemotherapy was highly aggressive and toxic.  Included in the treatment were two hospital sessions in which I was taken close to death before the antidote was delivered at a precise time, which brought me back to the living.  Rather on the brutal side!  If it were not for my wife, Nancy, to look after my best interests, no way could I have made it.  There were times when, all I could do was to force myself to walk around one block.  Doctors agreed that my being in excellent shape going into the treatment, was a lifesaver for my survival.  With my 1998 cancer recurrence, Lymphoma procedures and treatment had vastly improved.  After my first treatment and as a reward to myself, I bought a good mountain bike and rode it up Cowles Mt.  However, treatment was still no picnic.  To this day, when I see my oncologist, he always says, “well, I don’t have any patients that went through what you did back in 1985 and are still around”.

Craig: Before you became a triathlete, you were a Sierra Club Outing Leader.  Where did that take you and what were some of your favorite expeditions?

Carl: Partly because of my love of the outdoors and sharing it with others, I became an Outings Leader for the Sierra Club, officially starting in about 1987 until 2005. I organized and led over 200 hikes, runs, backpacks, car camps, and canoe trips, mainly in western United States and northern Mexico. In addition, I did a lot of trail running with the outdoor book author Jerry Schad.  My reputation was for going to unique places and doing demanding outings.  Some of my favorite outings were:  runs up and down El Cajon Mt. and Otay Mt. , back pack/climbs of the highest mountain in Baja California – Picacho del Diablo 13 times, about 20 trips, with my wife assisting, to the Copper Canyon in northern Mexico, car camps to the Rancho Meling, every local waterfall, hiking the length of the San Diego River at semi flood stage, and about 10 canoe trips down the lower Colorado River, including many of those trips with high school students who had never camped before.  I taught mainly high school art primarily in the San Diego City Schools, so the students were from my classes.

Craig: Rumor has that you had a legal incident at the Grand Canyon. What happened
and have you paid your debt to society?

Carl: To say the least, in the fall of 1994 I had an especially interesting experience at the Grand Canyon National Park.  I had run/hiked with friends across the canyon, North rim to South Rim several times through the years.  In 1994, the guy I had last run across the canyon with, could not do it, so I thought I would gather friends for an adventure.  Soon the word got out (as in previous years) about the run.  This run is only about the length of a marathon with a little bit of elevation gain and loss. The fall is a beautiful time to do this spectacular run.  Soon, I had a small group of runners, mainly friends, SDTC members, and a couple persons who contacted me with their interest.  This was a run just for fun, beauty, and friends. Unbeknownst to me, a couple of the “new friends” running  with us were part of one of the most elaborate undercover, sting operations in Grand Canyon’s N.P. history and they were targeting me!  They even distributed “wanted posters” to the other rangers.  To make a long story short, on the morning of the run, there were 2 rangers, freezing their butts off, waiting for me, hiding  in the bushes  down the trail about 500 yards with guns drawn.  They arrested me, held me in handcuffs for several hours, prepared to transport me to jail on the south rim, and fined me $2,500.  Then somewhat mysteriously, they turned me loose to get to the other side of the canyon just after 12:00 noon.  Not having planned on this part of the adventure, I did not have proper nutrition.  That was of no concern to the Rangers. I did make it across, but because of nerves, exhaustion, and lack of nutrition, this was probably the closest I have ever come to not finishing a run/hike.  It was near dark when I finally reached the lodge on the south side. How ironic it would have been had I needed to be rescued!  The charge was basically for “organizing a sporting event” in a National Park.  The bottom line was that the Grand Canyon N.P. and the new superintendent happened to be changing their policies in the fall of 1994 because they were tired of rescuing “out of shape” people.   Rather than fight the charges in a Flagstaff court, me and another person just paid the fine and moved on.  This whole incident left a very negative memory for my wife and I of such a beautiful place.

Craig: You’ve run a lot of the big city marathons over the years – New York, Los
Angeles, Boston. What did you do to qualify for the 2000 Boston Marathon?

Carl: In 1996 I qualified and ran the Boston Marathon.  In 2008, I thought it would be great to run Boston again, but with my daughter Tami.  In my “qualifying ” race , at Long Beach, I got severe leg cramps and missed qualifying by about 5 minutes.  What’s a person to do?  Qualify at another race, of course.  It was getting late in the season with no more “local” marathons taking place.  My solution was to make an official marathon course and race – the Otay Lakes Marathon. I was very careful to be sure the race course and race was an officially sanctioned USATF course and race.  The race was marked, had timers, and aid stations. The Boston race officials were very impressed with my qualifying efforts.  Several other people were going to run with me, but eventually, it was just down to one person – me.  I qualified for Boston with about 5 minutes to spare and with no race officials hiding in the bushes.  It was a thrill to do the first of one of many big races with Tami.

Craig: Over the years, how many bikes do you think you have purchased from Walmart?

Carl: I have only had a few really nice bikes in my life.  My “race” bike is a Kestrel (my fifth). It started out as a KM-40 many years ago, but thanks to Kestrel’s great warranty policy, it has been upgraded each time the frame had a problem.   Many of my other bikes, more than 30, have been cheapo “Walmart type” bikes, costing around $75 and used temporarily.  Nancy and I have been on more than 85 cruise ships as that is Nancy’s preferred method of travel.  I go to the nearest Walmart type store before boarding a ship to purchase the bike.  Usually, the bike can be stored under the bed.  Our trips have taken us to interesting places around the world.  When a person is in a city for a limited time, having a bike allows one to get around into neighborhoods, the countryside, see the sights, and often interact with local folks.  One of many good experiences was riding around in a small town on the Amazon River.  Two middle school aged boys, on their bikes, saw me and insisted on showing me the sights around their town and out into the jungle.  After riding for a couple of hours, they took me to their home for agua dulce (fresh water) and to meet their mom.  After using my “new” bikes, I can easily find someone such as a ship crew member, a local person, or a school to give the bike to.  Someone else can then enjoy and experience riding a bike.

Craig: What is the National Challenge Competition?

Carl: The USAT NCC is a great activity which began 10 years ago. This is just like doing triathlons, you don’t have to been a swimming/biking/track star in college, anyone can do it, you just sign up, and away you go, you what you can do.  TCSD has usually put together one or two teams (depending on the official rules) each year, making it very easy to participate. By being part of the TCSD team, it helps a person stay a shape during the three winter months of December, January, and February.  In addition, one can see how you compare to other people across the nation.  The emphasis, but not exclusively, is to do as much of everything as you can.  December is swim month, January is bike month, and February is run month.  I find myself looking forward to this time each year.

Craig: How have you done in this competition over the years and what extreme things would we see you do if we spied on you from December through February?

Carl: I have done this competition off and on for several years.  Every year, it seems I do a little more.  Just like in completing a full Ironman, it does not seem possible that a person could do these activities every day for 3 months.  I am retired from regular outside work (so I have a little more time), I don’t do fast times anymore, and it sure helps if you don’t get sick.  In addition, if you can just do at least a little bit every day (or maybe 5 or 6 times a day), it adds up, becomes a habit, and becomes easier. Last year, with the TCSD team, I was up near the top mileage each month, but it seemed like someone would out sprint me in the last couple days of the month’s competition.  In the national competition, I was also fighting it out for the overall top position.
Unfortunately, after the competition closed, nationally, 2 people had been saving (not logging in) their miles and went flying ahead like they had been in a separate race.  By the way, that’s why participants should log in each day.  This year, after a TCSD 4th place swim start, I was able to just keep going, 1st place TCSD and nationally on the bike, and an okay run month. I was able to swim and bike every day, and except for 6 days run every day.  It adds up.  I put in at least 5 to 8 hours of exercise every day for 3 months.  Thankfully, my wife was supportive of my time in the pool or on the road.  Nationally this year it looks like I will have the most miles, male for the bike and overall most miles, male and female – 5,561.8 unadjusted, actual miles for 3 months.
It’s been fun. When you see the results for all of the TCSD members who were part of this competition, they did unbelievably well. I encourage anyone to sign up next year. Go TCSD!

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

Carl: I especially like the races and programs that TCSD offer its members.  Also, being able to associate with so many other fine athletes and TCSD members is a treat and honor.  It is motivating to talk to others and hear their joys, sorrows, and victories.

Craig: You have been very active in the art community over the years. What have been some of the highlights of your art career?

Carl: For over 30 years, I was an art teacher in the San Diego City Schools teaching mainly at the junior high and high school level.   I was especially fortunate that I was also able to pursue being a professional artist/sculptor, exhibiting and sharing my work with others all over the country. One fun highlight very early in my art career, was a gallery in Los Angeles calling to say one of my sculptures had just been sold to John Denver.  For many years I was involved in local art organizations having been president of Allied Craftsmen of San Diego and the San Diego Museum, Art Artist Guild of San Diego.  It should not go unsaid, that the financial aspects of selling my art work, allowed us a more comfortable lifestyle in which to raise my family than just on a teacher’s salary alone would have, for which the whole family is grateful.   Since my art studio was at home, I was able to be around during the child rearing years of the family.  Both of my kids grew seeing art constantly which I believe, accounts for the creative people they are today.

Craig: Who would you like to thank for where you are at today with your life?

Carl: This is a good life.  I could not have done all these great adventures without the freedom my parents gave me growing up to explore my surroundings.  Too, the support of my family, especially my wife Nancy and son Doug (lives in Japan) and daughter Tami.

Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?

Carl:  I want to continue to be active and enjoy life every day with a smile on my face.  Triathlons?  Maybe Ironman Japan or Roth or Ironman Hawaii with Tami – or TCSD Fiesta Island for sure.  At this point in life, I don’t make too many extra long range plans, but live in the moment, and feel very thankful for each day.  Life is good!

Craig: Carl, thank you so much for sharing your story.  The TCSD is lucky to have you as a member.  You are a great role model for all of us.  I hope you can continue putting in the miles for many years to come.

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

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121st Boston Marathon

Mom and Smokey during our Chicago visit.

Craig and Laurie at JP Licks in Boston. Delicious!

Laurie on the run at Boston.

On April 17th I ran the 121st Boston Marathon.  This was my 15th Boston finish and Laurie’s 21st Boston finish.  We are so thankful to God that we can still enjoy this active lifestyle.

Race day was unseasonably warm.  Temperatures were in the 70’s for the entire race.  In 2015 and 2016 I ran 3:17, but I was a bit more fit this year.  I had a strong race as I finished in 3:14:48 (7:25/mile).  I placed 169th out of 1,945 men age 50-54, 3,224th out of 14,438 men and 3,629th out of 26,411 overall finishers.  Laurie ran 3:35:12 and finished 42nd in her age group.  This was also her 239th marathon finish.  She is such a rock star!

One of the great stories from this year’s race was that it was the 50th anniversary of the 1st female finish at the Boston Marathon.  Kathrine Switzer was “The Girl Who Started it All” way back in 1967.  Kathrine is 70 years old now and she looks 50.  She finished this year’s Boston in 4:44.  She wore her famous bib #261 which has now been officially retired by the Boston Marathon.  Kathrine paved the way for women today and beyond.

I met another very inspiring athlete, but did not get his name.  This was his 20th Boston Marathon.  The 1st 2 were as a runner.  The last 18 have been as a wheelchair athlete.  He broke his neck and had to learn another way to be an athlete.  Boston is full of stories like that.

Laurie and I both used the trip east to visit our families.  I stopped in Chicago for 2 days to see my Mom and my sisters.  Upon seeing my Mom I realized this is the 30th anniversary of Mom and my trip to Boston for my 1st Boston Marathon in 1987.  Times sure have changed.  As a spectator in 1987 Mom was even able to ride the bus with me to the start line in Hopkinton.  There were 6,399 entrants in 1987.

Laurie went to New York for her Dad’s hip replacement procedure.  He has a long way to go, but he has such a positive outlook so we are very optimistic for his future.  Laurie also saw her Mom and brother’s family.

Click on this link to see my race photos:

Living the life…

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Ironman 70.3 Oceanside

Craig on the run

Craig & Laurie

On April 1st I raced Ironman 70.3 Oceanside.  In many ways this was a trip down memory lane for me as 1 of my greatest triathlon accomplishments happened on this course in 2001.  The race was a full Ironman back in 2001 and I earned a slot to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

I had never done the 70.3 distance in Oceanside.  The primary reason I had avoided this race is the likelihood of the water and air temperatures being cold.  They have had really good conditions for the past 5 years so I decided to give it a go in 2017.  I am so glad I raced it this year because I had a blast!

The 1.2 mile swim took place in the Oceanside Harbor.  The morning air was chilly, probably mid to high 50’s and it was windy which did make it cold.  The skies were clear so it was sunny all day and the air warmed up to the high 60’s.  Thankfully the water temperature was 62 so I was fine once the race started.  In addition to my wetsuit, I also wore a thermal cap so I was plenty warm.  Rather than starting each age group with its own mass start, the organizers opted for a rolling start where each athlete self-seeded themselves.  By self-seeding, the sub 30 minute swimmers went first, then the 35 minute people, etc.  This was an excellent decision because the harbor is pretty narrow and can be pretty physical when 200 people start at once.  My swim time was 31:12 which put me in 8th place.  I was very happy with that.

The 56 mile bike course is a single loop that takes the athletes up the relatively flat coast in Oceanside and into hilly Camp Pendleton.  The winter rains we had made Camp Pendleton absolutely gorgeous.  Typically we don’t have access to bike on the base so this race was a real treat.  There were 2 short ¼ mile sections where the road is very narrow so those are no passing zones.  And there is a steep, curvy ½ mile descent known as Dead Man’s Curve where there is actually a speed limit of 25 mph.  They monitor that section with timing mats and this year they disqualified over 40 athletes for speeding.  No warning.  Everyone knows the rules in that section.  Going over 25 mph earns you an automatic DQ.  I fully support the organizers for enforcing this rule because an athlete died from a bike crash in this section back in 2001.  His name was Perry Rendina from Ohio.  I never met Perry, but I’ll never forget him.

The bike course was very challenging for me.  My neck has limited my bike training the last 3 years so I really suffer on these long rides.  The bike has always been my weakness and it is even more glaring now.  My biggest week of bike training leading up to Oceanside was only 127 miles.  5 years ago I would have averaged at least 150 bike miles leading up to a race of this distance.  I turn 55 later this year so I’ve come to understand that this is the new normal.  I am pleased, though, that I have recognized my new limitations because the #1 goal is to get to the start line healthy.  I had a 2:55:54 bike split (19.0 mph) which was 32nd best and it dropped me down to 21st place.

The 13.1 mile run is comprised of 2 laps primarily along The Strand right next to the Pacific Ocean.  It really is a gorgeous run.  The only downside of this course is that there is a lot of concrete so it led to some sore feet after the race.  There are lots of spectators so it is a lot of fun.  I had a great run as my split was 1:34:28 (7:15/mile).  This was the 3rd best run on the day and it moved me up to 10th place out of 138 men in the 55-59 age group and 296th overall out of 2,375 finishers.  My finish time was 5:11:34.

This was a great event and a lot of fun for me.  Much of what made it fun was that my wife Laurie also did the race.  She had a great time and was glad she did the race.  Something that gave me a good chuckle was looking over the results in Laurie’s age group.  She was edged out by 3 seconds by a lady named Janine Tampon.  I’m proud of my wife, but can’t believe she got beaten by a Tampon.

One of the prizes at this race were slots for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga.  Qualifying for Chattanooga was one of my primary goals for this year, but I figured Oceanside would be too competitive and I’d never earn a slot at this race.  There were 3 slots in my age group and I figured my 10th place finish would never get me a slot.  Laurie had to coax me to attend the Awards where they give out the slots.  You just never know.  The slots seemed to get gobbled up pretty fast in all the age groups before mine, but I stuck around anyway.  I’m so glad I was there.  You must be present to claim your slot.  Amazingly the slots in my age group went to 10th place, 14th place and 22nd place.  I actually claimed the 1st slot!

This race was such a gift from God.  They all are.  But I had such a good experience at this race.  God really was looking out for me.  And He gave me that gift of the Chattanooga slot.  That was the icing on the cake.

To see my race pictures, click on this link:

Living the life…

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Superseal Triathlon

Mark Knaeps 3rd place and Craig 1st place

Craig running like he stole something

On March 19th I raced the Superseal Triathlon in Coronado, CA.  We had been having heavy fog every morning for the 5 days prior to the race so I predicted visibility would be an issue, but we actually had perfect conditions for the race – the tiny bit of fog we had burned off during the swim and it turned sunny.

The 1.5K (0.93 mile) swim was in San Diego Bay.  I was surprised that the water temperatures were pretty warm for this time of year – mid 60’s.  I had a solid swim as I came out of the water in 3rd place with a time of 24:52.  I’m hoping the swim was a bit long because that is a slow time for me, but I was pleased where I ranked.

The 40K (24.8 mile) bike course was 2 loops of the flat, smooth road called The Strand.  Just before half way I got passed by a guy I figured was in my age group.  I later learned his name was Mark.  My goal on the bike quickly became to not let Mark put too much time into me.  I could gauge our separation at the bike turnarounds.  I figured Mark would get off the bike about 3 minutes ahead.  It wound up being 2:48.  I was pretty confident I could make up that ground on Mark, but did not know if there was anyone ahead of Mark.  My bike split was 1:08:51 (21.6 mph) which was the 6th best time, but it dropped me into 5th place.

The 10K (6.2 mile) run was mostly an out and back type of course.  I would get 1 chance near the 3 mile turnaround to assess who was ahead of me.  I estimated that Mark was 1:20 ahead at 3 miles.  I felt confident I could bridge that gap.  Then at mile 4.5 a spectator friend told me I was 40 seconds down.  But pretty quickly after that I caught Mark.  Too quickly.  This had to mean there was someone else further up the road.  I had been killing myself to get to this point.  I was on fumes, but had less than 1 mile to go.  I kept the accelerator down as best I could and finally with about 500 meters to go I passed another guy named Al who was in my age group.  I did not know it at the time, but this moved me into the lead.  I managed to hold off Al and beat him by 11 seconds.  Mark came in 3rd, only 2 seconds behind Al.  So the top 3 were separated by only 13 seconds!  4th place was 7 minutes behind.  Holy cow that was fun!  I had the fastest run of the day and was the only guy to break 40 minutes.  My run split was 37:58 and I finished in 2:16:06.  I placed 1st out of 33 in the men’s 55-59 age group and 37th out of 643 overall finishers.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!

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