TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the chance to talk triathlon recently with the TCSD’s Treasurer, Wendy Harp. Wendy does a ton of behind the scenes work and is an integral cog in the finely tuned machine better known as the Triathlon Club of San Diego. Please join me as we get to know this long time TCSD officer.
Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved in triathlon?
Wendy: Becoming an athlete was a metamorphosis for me.
My mother said that as young as 5 years old, I was a runner and won the kids races in Japan, but I do not remember them.
As a child, the only thing I enjoyed doing a lot was riding my skateboard. But when I was 11 years old, I earned a trip to Patrol Camp. One day at Patrol Camp, there was a raffle and I won the Grand Prize… a Schwinn Bicycle. It was as if I’d won the lottery. I was so thrilled, but there was one problem. I did not know how to ride a 10 speed bike. It all seemed so complicated, but I loved my new bike and learned to ride it.
As I started junior high school, I enjoyed running during P.E. class and made friends with other girls who liked to run as well. We’d run after school from our homes in Serra Mesa to Kearny Mesa and sometimes to Clairemont. All our other friends thought we were weird for running when we did not have to, but we ran because we loved it.
After I graduated from junior high, I wanted to attend a high school further away from the high school I was supposed to attend so that I could take French as one of my electives. My dad told me that if I wanted to go another high school that I had better find another way to get there since he was not my personal driver. I went in the garage and found my wonderful bicycle that I won in Patrol Camp. I was a lot taller at age 14 and definitely outgrew my bicycle, but I still rode it anyway. I rode that bike for most of my high school years from Serra Mesa to Clairemont almost every day.
Though, I was not a part of any organized sports in high school; I am proud to say that I was a young cyclist during my teen years.
Craig: What was your first triathlon like?
Wendy: My first triathlon was the Mission Bay Sprint in 2000 and it was a nightmare. When I signed up for this race, I was so excited that I was actually going to be a triathlete by the end of the race. I trained by swimming, biking, and running so I knew I was going to finish.
It was race day and I freaked out. Why? Well, I kept dwelling on what I could or could not see in the waters of Mission Bay. I trained for the swim, but it was only in the pool. I had never trained in open waters of any kind. I was too afraid of getting in the water because I was freaking myself out even more. As the horn sounded for my age group, I said to myself, “Suck it up and just do this thing.” However, I must admit that I am a bit of a germaphobe and all I kept thinking during the race was how dirty the bay may be, what was lurking underneath the surface, what might have some people thrown away in the water, etc. As I was obsessing during the swim, I was veering way right as I heard my husband yelling, “What are you doing and where the H*LL are you going?” I was way off course which freaked me out even more. I started to backstroke, hyperventilate, backstroke, hyperventilate, etc. After the swim was over, the bike and run went by fast. Probably because the adrenaline was still kicking in from spazzing out from the swim. Mission accomplished or should I say Mission Bay accomplished! At the end of the day, I was a triathlete. It was a proud moment for me.
Word to the wise, open water swims are important and should be worked in with pool training. Never try anything new on race day.
Craig: I recall one of the unique races you would do was in Tahita. What was that experience like for you?
Wendy: The race was called the Aitoman. It was a destination race that took place in Tahiti! This race offered a half and full ironman option. I love triathlons, the French culture, and a hot and humid climate; therefore, this was the perfect race for me. I raced in Moorea in 2002 and in Rangiroa in 2003. Both times, I opted for the half ironman distance.
The race setting was absolutely magnificent. The waters were calm, there were probably 80 or less racers, the weather was hot, and set in the tropics of Tahiti. The only thing that the race directors could have improved on was the support. For example, at the pit stops, there were few pieces of fruit, some water, but no fluid replacement drinks or GU type products and there were maybe two toilets during the whole race. Yikes.
Some were upset about these conditions, but it did not matter to me because I was racing in paradise. The Aitoman race was a challenge for me in itself as it was a half ironman distance race and the temperature was in the high 80’s and so was the humidity! Gotta love it. This was a physical and a mental challenge. I think that a lot of what we do requires more mental strength than physical. Of course, it is important to physically train, but we can talk ourselves out of anything if we wanted to. I used my focus, will power, and determination to finish this race no matter what with a smile!
The first Aitoman race I did was in October 2002, after I did my first full marathon in May 2002 and half ironman in June 2002. My weakness is the swim portion and I tend to stress at every race. The great thing about these small destination races is that it is a great way to get your feet wet for bigger races. With only 80 people, the swim start was inviting with a water temperature of 80 degrees, no wetsuit, no choppy waters, and there were beautiful sea life in the water. It was like swimming in an aquarium. For me, it made the swim less stressful.
I love travelling to race, but do not enjoy transporting my bike. For me, I think I will stay local to race in the future because the cost and stress of transport is too much for me. However, if I ever win the Ironman Hawaii Lottery, you will never hear me complain about the stress or the cost!
Craig: How did you get involved in the TCSD?
Wendy: I got up the nerve to do my first triathlon on 2000. After I barely survived it, I heard about the Triathlon Club of San Diego at Road Runner Sports. I was too scared to inquire about becoming a member. I thought only the elite athletes were allowed to join the club. I saw in some publication that all levels were welcome so I filled out my application and mailed in my check and hoped that I would not receive a letter telling me that I was not fast enough to join the club. I did not receive a reject letter and was warmly welcomed to the club. At a meeting, Jim McCann asked the crowd, who the new members were and welcomed us to the club. After that meeting, I approached Jim and told him how honored I felt being a part of the club. He smiled and asked me if I’d like to be a club volunteer. I was not sure if I could or would be able to add value to the club, but Jim had a way to get you to want to help. Eventually, I took on the role of the New Members Coordinator, who welcomed new members to the club. I did this job for quite some time until I moved to Los Angeles for three months in 2006 to become a certified Bikram Yoga Instructor.
When I moved back to San Diego, I immediately got in touch with the club. I started a conversation with Brian Long, who was the Club Treasurer at the time. Long story short, I became the Treasurer, and he eventually became the Club President.
Craig: What do you do as the TCSD Treasurer and how has that job evolved as the club has grown in membership?
Wendy: When I joined the club in 2000, we were thrilled when we peaked at 500 members. Back then, it was a great club, but by comparison, it was a simpler club.
Now we have over 3,000 members and as such we have more people to take care of and more events to put on. This means increased inflow of funds and outflow of funds. We put on more club races, there are more administrative tasks that are required, more food to provide at club meetings, beginner’s races, La Jolla Cove swims, potlucks, social events, and beginners meetings, more expenses for the Aquathlons, more prizes to provide the great raffle prizes, and we put on special events like the Deadman Camps and Ironman movie viewings. We have licenses and city permits to pay for in order to hold club events at various venues, we have a club van now to maintain, and auto and general club insurance premiums to pay for, to name a few things that has evolved as the club has grown.
Craig: What should our members know that they might not be aware of when it comes to your role as Treasurer?
Wendy: I took on the role of the Club Treasurer in 2006. I love being the club treasurer, and I will say that my previous experience as an Accountant, Controller, Finance Manager has served me well in my current role as the Club Treasurer. This job requires a good sense of understanding of accounting, budgeting, forecasting, planning, great organizational skills, and most importantly the ability to be a team player to be able to work with the rest of the Board of Directors.
My role of the treasurer is not one of a person who merely writes the checks and reconciles the books. I am, also, responsible for maintaining the ‘check and balances’ of all the major leaders of the club. I work with the Board and other key volunteers to ensure that the club runs smoothly. It takes a strong team of leaders to run a large group such as our club and I must say that I am honored to work with Thomas Johnson, John Hill, Mike Plumb, and Dave McMahon. The Board puts in a lot of time to ensure that we have the best club on the planet! I have to mention Brian Wrona and Anne Kelly for their roles in the club as well. It takes a lot of time and effort to work with the City of San Diego in the permitting and licensing process to be able to put on the club races. Big thanks to Brian and Anne! It has also been a pleasure to work with Brian Long and Bill Gibbs.
This position requires a lot of time and dedication. All of the Board Members spend several hours per week on TCSD business on top of their regular jobs to make the club run so well. I, too, spend a lot of time with my own business, but I am always happy to make time for TCSD business so we all get to enjoy all the great things that our club has to offer.
Craig: You use yoga to compliment your triathlon training. What form of yoga do you practice and how has this helped you over the years.
Wendy: I have been using Bikram Yoga as a compliment to triathlon training since 2000, about the same time I started triathlons. I recall being so proud that I was a triathlete and was constantly training.
One day at work, a co-worker was talking about this hot yoga that she does called Bikram Yoga. I was so full of myself. I scoffed at her and thought that she chanted OM and sat in Lotus in a heated room. I remember thinking that I am a triathlete and I was too athletic and in shape to do something as silly as yoga. She smiled and said, “It’s OK, you probably would not be able to handle it.” I don’t know if she was using reverse psychology or what, but I was not about to let someone tell me that I would not be able to handle yoga! What a surprise it was! I loved it and what a difference it made. It was one of the hardest workouts I’d ever done! It is a cardiovascular, strength building workout. It is not easy and this is why I love it. I do not bother with anything that is easy. It is perfect for the mindset of a triathlete.
In 2002, after doing several sprint races, I wanted to do my first half ironman in May 2002 and my first full marathon in June 2002. Why not? Training for a marathon and a half ironman simultaneously was strenuous and hard on my knees and joints. Not to mention that the marathon was in Kona, Hawaii in June. It is so hot and humid there that they start the race at 5am.
The half-ironman was in Oceanside and it was a great experience, though it was a bit cold for me. The marathon was hard, hot, and humid. For both races, I trained in San Diego and incorporated Bikram Yoga about three times a week, addition, to my other training. My marathon buddies in Kona were all blaming the heat, and the humidity for their fatigue and for their 25+ minute loss in their overall pace. My times were no different and perhaps, slightly better than how I trained in San Diego. I attribute my marathon success to Bikram Yoga. I was already acclimated to the heat and humidity because I was doing Bikram Yoga. This cross training helped me with my recovery, injury prevention, overall balance, flexibility, endurance, and strength, not only physically, but most importantly, mentally.
I believed in this form of yoga so much that I became a certified Bikram Yoga Teacher in 2006, quit my corporate accounting career and eventually opened a Bikram Yoga school in Rancho Bernardo on 2009.
I’d love for all of you to experience Bikram’s -Original hot yoga for yourself. If you are in the Rancho Bernardo area, check out http://www.BikramYogaRB.com. We are all independently owned so come to my school, bring your TCSD ID to get your discount!
Craig: What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done as a triathlete?
Wendy: The dumbest thing and/or the funniest thing I have done as a triathlete was during the Honu Half Ironman. I was poorly trained and convinced myself that I was probably not going to finish anyway so I made a hasty decision after the horrific swim to make the best of the situation.
I love taking pictures so I brought a disposable camera with me on the bike portion of the race. I was getting passed left and right so I slowed down to take pictures of the beautiful Hawaiian coast. During the ride, I saw my Ironman hero, Paula Newby Fraser volunteering and handing out Cola at a Pit Stop. I could not resist and wanted a cola even when I do not drink cola, so I can say ‘hi’ to her.
I headed in from the bike to transition to the run, when the officials told me that I just missed the cut-off. Looking back, I always think, “what the heck was I doing and thinking?”
Lesson learned: No matter what, keep racing. Don’t give up on yourself. You are always stronger than what your mind tells you.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of membership in the TCSD?
Wendy: The main benefit of being a member of the club is meeting like-minded athletes and forming lasting friendships with them.
Craig: Who has been the most inspirational person in your life?
Wendy: When my husband and I were dating, he was an avid cyclist, and ran often. We watched the Tour de France each year, but he eventually became interested in triathlons.
One day, he told me that he was doing an event called a triathlon. I woke up at the crack of dawn and I thought, “why would someone want to swim, bike, and run all in one morning, think it was fun, and pay money to do this?.” But, I did what a loyal girlfriend does by getting up way too early, taking pictures of him racing, and cheering him on.
I started to watch a lot of triathlons on TV with him. Back in the ‘90’s, we were watching a race called the Ironman World Championship that took place on the island of Hawaii. The only reason I was willing to watch this with him was for the Hawaiian scenery, but surprisingly, I started to get into it. I saw this amazing female racer by the name of Paula Newby Fraser. There was something about her that I found intriguing. As she approached the finish line, she ‘bonked‘ big time. I thought that she would certainly be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The woman collapses and yet she was going to finish the race. She was stubborn, tenacious, driven, and was not willing to give up. I was frightened for her, but at the same time, I was yelling at the TV, “Come on, Paula. Get it together and just finish this thing.” Paula got up and walked to the finish line. She did not win that race, but it was her determination and drive that left a lasting impression on me. It was at that moment when I fell in love with the sport. She showed me that the sport symbolized mental and physical strength, determination, and the will to finish what one starts no matter what.
Last year, due to many reasons, including running my own business; I was not able to race. Another major reason was due to my state of being after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I am happy to say that I am cancer free now, but psychologically, I was not in the state of mind to race. I wanted to hide, but I still I wanted to be a part of the club and the tri scene so I was happy to be immersed in the club from behind the scenes.
I have a poster of Paula Newby Fraser in my garage and every time I catch a glimpse of her, I am always reminded of determination and never giving up. Now I hear her telling me to get back into it again.
My husband is my hero for introducing triathlons to me and Paula Newby Fraser is my inspirational hero because of her accomplishments as an athlete and the strength and determination she symbolizes.
Craig: What do you do for a living?
Wendy: I am a certified Bikram Yoga Instructor and I own Bikram Yoga Rancho Bernardo. I, also, have a few other side jobs that I do, in addition, to owning my business. I am a freelance Accountant, model and actress.
Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?
Wendy: For now, I am working on gaining my confidence back to race again and then one day in the future, I will finish an Ironman race. I like the hot and humid climate so that is what I am looking for in my first Ironman race. I want to hear the voice of Mike Reilly saying to me, “Wendy Harp, you are an Ironman.”
Craig: Wendy, thank you so much for sharing your story. It always seems to happen when I do these interviews. I am pretty excited to learn more about the person I feature. And then once the interview is done, I sort of kick myself and think “Wow, that person is so spectacular! I wish I had interviewed them years ago.” You are spectacular!
I know everyone will agree. We are blessed to have your leadership in TCSD business. And we are honored to call you our friend!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.