TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the pleasure recently of talking triathlon with TCSD member Gerry Forman. Gerry won his age group at Ironman Arizona, but he is so much more than just a great triathlete. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved in triathlon?
Gerry: Prior to being involved in the sport of triathlon, I was an avid golfer and runner. In my earlier days, I played a lot of baseball, both in high school and later in a lot of fast pitch softball leagues. I also did a lot of running. My running consisted mostly of marathons back in the 70’s while I was residing in Hawaii. My very first marathon was the Maui Marathon in 1977. That same year I also did the Big Island Marathon and Honolulu Marathon. Then in the 80’s when 10k’s got popular I primarily focused on those races since running marathons was very hard on my body. I did a little cycling here in San Diego in the early 2000’s but pretty much limited it to weekend riding.
Craig: What inspired you to become a triathlete?
Gerry: I started doing triathlons because I wanted to have a new challenge. On 1/1/08, I was thinking about goals for the year and decided to do a triathlon. I have always been open to unique challenges having done sky diving and Outward Bound. So, I attended a Steve Tally session on Triathlon 101 at B&L in Feb 2008, and again in March 2008. I went two times because I wanted to make sure I learned as much as possible from Steve. Steve commented about me being there the second time and I told him I couldn’t believe how easy he made it sound. He got a big kick out of that and Steve and I have been good friends ever since that evening. That’s when I decided on Mission Bay.
Craig: What was that first triathlon like for you?
Gerry: My first race was really quite an experience. Dee went with me and I made my first big mistake. I arrived so early that we sat in the parking lot for an hour waiting for the transition area to open up. I think that’s when Dee decided she would not go to any more races. I also had a good friend from my former company come watch. He had done several Ironmans, including Kona, so I was really happy to see him. I was worried about the swim, but it was uneventful. The bike went great but I struggled on the run. I was passed by the two eventual 1st and 2nd place finishers. Actually, I finished last, but it was also 3rd, so I got on the podium in my first race! Bob Palmatier was 1st and Bill Haines finished 2nd. I recall seeing their ages on their calf as they passed and was really ticked off at myself, and swore to improve my running for the future. I see Bob and Bill often and have really benefitted from their encouragement and friendship.
Craig: What are your thoughts about the TCSD volunteer coaches?
Gerry: I believe the TCSD volunteer coaches are fantastic! The amount of time they commit, along with such a high level of expertise is truly amazing. I did not know how to swim more than 25 yards, so I started going to the JCC twice a week. It was really a struggle. Rachel and Chad were very patient with me and I made some good progress. The best thing about the JCC was being able to stand up in the shallow end when I got tired during each lap. I also met Hank Montrose there and he later sold me my first (and only) Tri bike, a LOOK 576. I then started attending the beginner swims at Glorietta Bay and DeAnza Cove and received great instruction from Jonathan Jefferson and Steve Koci. They really helped me gain speed and confidence in using a wetsuit. They also conducted several transition clinics which were very helpful.
I received great cycling coaching from Andy Concors. His weekly sessions were fantastic. So you can readily see that I used many of the great resources offered by TCSD. I owe a lot to the beginner coaches. In addition to the beginner coaches, we are so fortunate to have other top local coaches lend their time on a weekly basis. All the swim coaches at the JCC, the Thursday beginner swim coaches, the track coaches (Mike Plumb, Jim Vance and Tom Piszkin) and the advanced swims led by Jim and Bill at Ventura Cove. Julie Dunkle leads a Friday morning swim and all the coastal beach swims every day of the week led by our wonderful volunteer swimmers. Wow, are we lucky or what!? I also want to thank all of our many volunteers and sponsors. I have not volunteered enough these past two years and I will change that going forward.
Craig: How has your life improved since you became a triathlete?
Gerry: My life has improved significantly since I’ve been doing triathlons. I’ve been blessed with great health all my life, so have been able to participate in many sports. But to be able to meet all the wonderful people I have met these past 5 years has been amazing. A life full of friends is a life full of happiness. I have also dropped 25 pounds, from 175 to 150. That sure makes climbing hills easier! I also made a pledge to my youngest son during my first year of training. He was struggling with some addiction issues, so I told him that if he stopped I would stop drinking. Neither one of us has gone off this commitment in 4 ½ years. I’m pretty proud of that. Several TCSD members have approached me for tips and support on this issue, and that makes me proud, too.
Craig: What is your perspective on the unique ability of the sport of triathlon to develop friendships among all ages?
Gerry: I think the sport of triathlon has a unique feature that no other sport has. It brings people of all ages and abilities together for training and racing. Training and racing with people gives you the chance to forge new friendships that can last a lifetime. I recall going to Quad Cities, Iowa to race and qualify for the Sprint World Championships in 2009. I met Raja Lahti there and then we later went to Budapest for the Worlds and raced there together. Since then, Raja and her husband, Dave and I have been good friends and we have raced together many times. Another example is my Three Amigos: Melik Hernandez, Guillermo Escobedo and Julio Gonzales. I’ve been training with them for about 4 years now on a regular basis. I’ve met their families, spent time socially and have regular In N Out sessions with them. Even if we don’t train, I talk with them weekly. They have become a part of my life. There are many others that I see on a regular basis that I truly feel close to. This is all a result of being involved in the sport of triathlon. I love it!
Craig: I recall racing with you in Budapest, Hungary in 2010. What was your experience like racing for Team USA at the Sprint Triathlon World Championships?
Gerry: Participating on TEAM USA and racing at Budapest, Hungary in 2009 was truly an epic experience. I met so many great people from all over the world. I was able to meet and spend time with Scout Bassett, who was competing for TEAM USA on the Paralympic Team. I shared an apartment in downtown Budapest with Raja and Dave and was able to train with them for several days. I gained invaluable experience from their input. The race itself was really interesting. We swam in the Blue Danube, and I had a good swim. We biked in rain so it was technical and tough. The run was along the Blue Danube and finished coming up and over a bridge in to downtown Budapest. Having people yelling USA! USA! And handing out American Flags was so emotional and exciting. I had a good race. I finished 5th overall and was the 2nd fastest American. I had a PR so I was happy about that. We raced on Saturday and on Sunday, got to watch the world class athletes race the Olympic distance race. It was a beautiful sunny day and the course was blazing fast. In fact, I recall seeing you coming over the bridge to the finish line. Marisa Rastetter was also there and I believe finished in the top ten of her age group.
Craig: Congratulations on winning your age group at Ironman Arizona. How did your race go?
Gerry: Thank you. This was my most challenging and rewarding race experience. The amount of training that is required to complete a 140.6 Ironman is huge. At least, for me it was. I had done two 70.3’s and felt I was ready to step up and give it a go. Towards the end of the training it seemed that all I did was eat, train and sleep. But, I could feel myself getting stronger, and the longer rides were lots of fun because so many people stepped up and joined in with me to give me support. I have to thank Tony Berg for sticking it out with me on my longest ride. It was tough. I also want to thank Brian Long and the Thursday ride folks who helped me so much during the training. The race itself was different than I thought it would be. The swim was far more challenging, the bike about right and the run easier than I thought it would be. I am really happy with the results. I wanted to break 16 hours and I finished in 15:17. During the entire race, and the four days leading up to the race, my friend Julio Gonzales was there looking out for me. He was such a big help to me! Qualifying for Kona was unbelievable and to do it in my first full Ironman was really lucky. I feel fortunate and proud to say “I am an Ironman”.
Craig: Why did you decline the slot to Ironman Hawaii?
Gerry: A lot of people have asked me why I turned down the Kona slot. For most triathletes this is the ultimate goal. And, it was a goal that I had: to qualify. However, I am a very poor swimmer without a wetsuit. I have been working on this for over a year and still cannot swim 1 mile in a pool without a pull buoy. So, the mental anxiety that I would have for the next 8 months would be unbearable. Also, I’m not sure that I’m mentally ready to do the long training again. On the other hand, I have big plans for 2013. I age up to 75-79 and want to compete for national rankings at the Nationals in August and this would not be possible if I took the Kona slot. I hope I have not offended anyone because I turned the slot down. By the way, the slot I passed on rolled out of my age group and into the men’s 40-44 age group. I understand the guy who got my slot is Mike Morgan from San Diego. I was so happy that someone from San Diego will go in my place.
Craig: Mike Plumb has been your coach. How has Mike helped you to improve and achieve your goals?
Gerry: I have raced a lot over the past 5 years and Mike Plumb, TriPower Multisports has been my coach during this entire period of time. His plans have always had me race ready and injury free. His experience in all three disciplines is outstanding. Being local, I have the benefit of group rides and frequent one on one contact. I followed his plan for Ironman Arizona to a “T” and the results were there! He also hooked me up with Brian Shea, Personal Best Nutrition who put together a great nutrition plan for me. I was able to race without one cramp or any stomach issues. Mike also has a lot of local clients so I have plenty of folks to train with for individual races.
Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?
Gerry: Regarding my future goals, I want to compete in both the Sprint and Olympic distances at the Nationals in August and win my age group. I also want to be nationally ranked in my new 75-79 age group and achieve All American ranking. I’ve been selected, once again, for the Wattie Ink Elite Team and we will be having a larger presence during 2013. I want to do as much as I can to help them increase their national prominence. After 2013, I want to cut back on racing and spend more time volunteering and helping new people in the sport. I have found this rewarding in helping at the Thursday night beginner swims and would like to do more of this. I love this sport and want to remain in it the rest of my life: Volunteering, training and a little competing.
In closing, I’d like to thank my wife, Dee, for being so supportive and giving me the freedom to my thing these past 4 ½ years. I’m a lucky man!
Craig: Gerry, thank you so much for sharing your story. It was an honor to be on Team USA with you in 2009 and it is a similarly great honor to call you my friend. Good luck in 2013 and beyond!
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.