TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
If you have done a local triathlon during the past couple of years, you have come into contact with the TCSD’s Bobbie Solomon. Bobbie is one of those ultimate volunteers. She is all about paying it forward. Please join me as we get to know this extraordinary lady.
Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved in triathlon?
Bobbie: I started out doing ballet from age 3 to age 12. I got into gymnastics in 9th grade and continued until I was a junior in high school when I discovered springboard diving. I fell in love with that sport. I went to Chico State and dove on the men’s diving team (due to Title IX) as a freshman. My biggest achievement was fourth place in the state championships as a sophomore. I transferred to San Diego State as a junior in college and decided to concentrate solely on completing college in four years so I gave up the sport at that time. I picked diving back up again when I was in my 40’s and dove in Age Group diving when I also decided to become a USA Springboard Diving Coach.
Craig: To your credit you have been very open about having had gastric bypass (GP) surgery. Can you share that story with us?
Bobbie: In March 1998 I was injured at work. I had a herniated disc between C5 and C6 (neck). July 1998 I had a fusion of the neck done using bone from my iliac crest (hip). During that surgery a nerve was severed creating intense pain in that hip that stopped all physical activity, even walking more than several yards at a time. By 2005 I weighed 371.5 pounds. I had been looking into GP surgery as a last resort to lose the weight. On October 10, 2005 I had the surgery done. It was one of the best decisions for me in my life. Two weeks after that surgery without explanation the hip pain ceased. The doctors couldn’t explain it. I never looked back and started walking around the block, then two blocks, then joined a gym and started walking on the treadmill, lifting weights and swimming laps. By October 2007 I had completed my first triathlon and had lost 209 lbs.
Craig: What factors should a person consider when having gastric bypass surgery?
Bobbie: A person needs to ask themselves a couple of questions and truly be honest in the answers. First, can you lose the weight by getting up and exercising and watching what you eat? Secondly, do you know why you gained the weight in the first place? And finally, do you understand that this surgery is not a quick fix? This surgery should be a last resort; not the first thing you think of. It’s extremely difficult to eat the first several months and there are nutritional ramifications the rest of your life.
Craig: What have you learned about the nutritional needs of an athletic person having had gastric bypass surgery?
Bobbie: The first several years after the surgery, you just can’t get enough calories in to sustain athletic activity longer than sprints or maybe an Olympic distance race. Your stomach is too small and you don’t absorb all the calories, nor all the nutrition from the food you eat. Because of something called the “dumping syndrome” (you get extremely nauseous and faint feeling) you can’t ingest anything high in sugar so that takes most sport nutritional products out. You need high calorie dense food that isn’t high in sugar. That isn’t easy to find but I did find it with a lot of searching and asking a lot of questions of the nutritional experts out there I could talk to. Justin Robinson with Rehab United was a great resource and still is today.
Craig: What were the circumstances that got you to move back to San Diego?
Bobbie: I moved from Northern CA to Southwest FL in July 2000 to live in warm humid weather for pain relief. I did contracting work in Information Technology (IT). My daughter Jaclyn met and married Mike Trosper. He was in the Navy and stationed in Key West. After the birth of my first grandchild, Shanne, they moved to San Diego in January 2005. In June 2006 I was getting divorced and trying to decide what to do when my contract ended with Royal Caribbean in July. I asked my daughter if I could move to San Diego and live with them until I found a job there. She said she needed to talk to Mike. They called me back and asked me if I would consider moving in with them and NOT look for a job but instead, give up my career and take care of my grandson so that my daughter could work full-time and go to school full-time to become a nurse. Of course, I said yes and I moved to San Diego in July 2006. They knew I was giving up a lucrative career so they told me they would take care of me the rest of my life if I wanted or I could pursue anything I might want to do (i.e., go back to school or coach diving again). Addison came along in April 2007 so I take care of two grandchildren now.
Craig: What was your coaching background before you returned to San Diego?
Bobbie: I started teaching swimming when I was 15 years and became a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor (WSI). I have taught/coached swimming my whole life. In my 40’s I became a USA Diving Coach. I coached diving for two high schools and also created a USA Diving Team in Northern CA.
Craig: What types of coaching goals are you currently pursuing?
Bobbie: I became a USAT Level I Coach in 2010, a USAT Youth and Junior Coach in 2011 and a high school diving coach for two high schools here in San Diego in 2012. Because I started triathlon so late in life (my first race was Mission Bay three days after I turned 50 years old), I felt I needed to learn as much as possible. I wanted to be guided by someone I felt had immense knowledge and someone I respected. So I asked Jim Vance if I could help with his TriJuniors team doing anything he needed and in return I would be a sponge and learn everything I could possibly learn from him. In doing so, I learned that I loved coaching the sport of triathlon to the Youth and Juniors and teaching draft legal racing. For adults I have found my niche in coaching open water swimming only. I’m especially good with anyone that has anxiety in the water.
My last pursuit is not in coaching but officiating. I became a volunteer bike marshal for Oceanside 70.3 in 2010. In 2011, I became the Captain of the Bike Marshals for that race. I volunteered in 2010 to be an official at the USAT Youth and Junior Nationals in MCRD and again in 2011 in Chula Vista. This made me seek out becoming a USAT Certified Official in 2011. Once I heard they needed officials for the ITU race, I jumped at the chance. I went to an all day certification course and was able to officiate for both the Elite Women’s and Men’s Races. ITU Officiating is almost all self funded until you work four races in two years. I am hoping to be able to get myself to Kelowna, Canada in August to be a volunteer ITU Technical Official. As a USAT Official, you must work three races for the experience before you get paid. I worked Orangeman and Chula Vista Challenge last year. My third race is Vineman Full/Barb’s Race. Any USAT race after that I will get paid. As for Ironman, you only get paid if you are the Head Ref. I am working Vineman 70.3 this year and I am working the World Championships, both as a volunteer.
I am hoping all of these pursuits together will eventually equal a full-time career.
Craig: What volunteer hats have you worn for the TCSD?
Bobbie: There was a program called BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair) whose leader was in the military and was moving. The president at the time (Brian Long) asked for a volunteer to take this program over. I volunteered. It was a lecture series held at sponsor’s stores. I did that job for two years. Then when Thomas took over as President he asked that the leaders of some of the volunteer positions look for other volunteers to take them over to bring new blood into the club. Jonathan Jefferson was leading the Beginner Open Water Swims held on Thursdays. Because I helped every week and stayed particularly with the people in the back of the pack, he asked me to become the leader of that swim. He could tell my heart was in it and that I truly loved giving back. So I became the leader of that swim for 2010 and 2011. After my two years were over, I looked for someone that was helping me whose heart was really in it and I asked Ian Kelly to take over the lead. I help every so often but it is now his swim. Throughout my time in the club I was a swim buddy for many of the TCSD races, and most of the other local races as well. I got to know the people at KOZ Enterprises and I started volunteering to work their expos. That led into working registration almost all the time and working race mornings. Now you see me there consistently for all KOZ races.
Craig: One of the themes in your life is “pay it forward”. What does “pay it forward” mean to you and why is that important?
Bobbie: “Pay It Forward” means any help you have received through triathlon should be repaid by having it done for others. If you received help and you gained knowledge from that, you should help someone that is new and has the same questions and problems you had when you first came into the sport. Becoming a swim buddy is a huge thing because it’s one of the area’s where the most people need help. So many people won’t ask for help but you can see in their eyes that they just need to have someone next to them so they can feel safe. It’s the difference between someone completing a triathlon for the first time and one who is too scared to continue. It’s the best feeling ever to know you helped someone achieve something that at one point in their life thought they couldn’t do.
Craig: As a participant, what has been your favorite race to do?
Bobbie: Nautica Malibu Triathlon, the international distance. For those that know me, I dislike hills. But Malibu has rolling hills, one’s that aren’t too difficult but are enough to make it a challenge, plus the bike ride is all along the coast with beautiful views. Since I’m slow, I love a nice view! The next day I work as a helper for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) athletes. I help them getting into and out of the water, transition, etc. so it’s one of the most fun and rewarding weekends in my year.
Craig: Do you have any particularly funny stories from your years in triathlon?
Bobbie: At my first race in 2007, I bought a sleeveless wetsuit at the expo. On race morning I put the wetsuit on and swam in it in open water for the very first time. I had not joined TCSD, yet, so I didn’t know the number one rule! I sprinted the first 50 meters as fast as I could and then absolutely panicked because I couldn’t breathe. My daughter had forgone her wave to be with me in my wave so that we could do our first triathlon together. I stopped and told her to unzip me. With a shocked look on her face, she reminded me we were in a race. I yelled for her to unzip my ******* wetsuit so I could breathe!!! I told her I would meet her in transition and I immediately went and hung on the lifeguard board for a solid five minutes. When I could breathe again I backstroked to the swim finish with my wetsuit off down to my waist. I was the last person to cross the finish line that day and yet I fell in love with triathlon. It took me almost a year to figure out how not to panic in the water in that blasted wetsuit. When I figured it out, I vowed to make it one of my missions to help teach others how to overcome that problem/fear. I don’t want the swim to be a reason for someone NOT to do a triathlon. If you have never experienced it, you will never understand! I have and I do!
Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?
Bobbie: One of my future goals in triathlon other than to continue moving forward as a coach and an official is to teach as many young people, especially girls, that “Anything is Possible”. I didn’t learn that until I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon. Another thing that many know about me is my dislike of running. My daughter talked me into doing a half marathon because that is how she learned to love to run. My goal was to finish and to try to do so under three hours. I did it in 2:58 with knee caps that were screaming and breathing issues (because I had been sick). When I crossed that finish line I started to cry. Yes, partly because I was in pain and partly because I needed an inhaler, but mostly because I learned at that moment and at the age of 52 that anything you set your mind to was possbile if you worked hard enough and wanted it enough. Why had I not learned that earlier in life. What could I have accomplished? So on Mother’s Day 2011 I got my first tattoo. It says, “Potest Aliquid” in purple on the inside of my left wrist. It’s one version in Latin that means “Anything is Possible”. Not many people know I have it because I wear my watch over it. I got it so that every time I’m in aero on the bike or I look at my Garmin when I’m running, I know those words are there and it’s something I never want to forget! Ten years ago I could never have dreamed that my life as I live it today was a possibility. I am SO excited to see what can happen in the future!
Craig: Bobbie, it has been a pleasure getting to know you better. Thank you for sharing your story and giving back so much to our triathlon community in so many ways. How can people reach you?
Bobbie: They can contact me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or email@example.com.