TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I have seen the Triathlon Club of San Diego make some great improvements this year largely due to the efforts of Tassia Bezdeka, our Marketing Director. I hardly knew Tassia before interviewing her, but I’m so glad I reached out to her. Tassia is clearly a TCSD Superstar as you will soon discover.
Craig: What sports did you participate in when you were growing up?
Tassia: Other than running cross country in middle school and Tae Kwon Do (fun fact, I became a junior-level black belt when I was 13), I led a pretty sports-free existence until after college. In January 2010, I signed up for the AIDSWalk 10K – to be honest, I don’t really remember what pushed me register, but I definitely caught the bug. I ran my first half marathon (La Jolla Half) in 2011 and started collecting race bling. To date I’ve completed 12 half marathons, one Carlsbad 5000 All Day 25K, and a handful of 5- and 10Ks.
Craig: What was your first triathlon experience like?
Tassia: I was never interested in tri until I moved to metro San Diego in 2012. When I met and started dating my now-boyfriend Evan Bricker, his group of friends were in training for Superfrog, with one of them on their way to IMAZ. Mainly to make a good impression on Evan, I started joking about the possibility of making the transition to multi-sport. I say “joking” because I’d developed a pretty severe distaste/fear of the ocean after having my foot sliced open by a sting ray when I was in my early teens, and I really hadn’t been in the ocean in nearly 8 years. The more I joked about doing a tri, the more I started getting excited about the prospect. I registered for Seal Sprint and started training. I would be totally remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Michelle Nation for loaning me a bike… in fact she let me borrow her bike for nearly a year until I was ready to take the plunge and buy one for myself. That’s one of the earliest things I found about the tri community in San Diego – it’s incredibly generous and supportive. Anyway, a little over a month before Seal Sprint, I was at the tail end of a training ride on the 56 bike path. As I went under the 5 Freeway Overpass I ran over something on the road, a pebble or a stick or something, and went down the embankment. You should know that I’m pretty much a walking accident and prone to things like this happening. The good news is that I missed the cement columns supporting the overpass as I went down and that recent rains had made the area really muddy and relatively soft to land in; the bad news is that my right shoulder broke my fall. I was diagnosed with a 2nd degree shoulder separation. The limited mobility meant swimming was off the table, and even running and cycling was tough. I ended up going to Seal Sprint to complete the bike and run, but I definitely felt some FOMO (fear of missing out) watching everyone at the swim.
After some PT, I was ready to resume training and put Solana Beach 2013 on the calendar. After hearing glowing reviews from my friends, I also joined TCSD around this time, which put an instant surge in my training. The Beginner Open Water Swim (BOWS) program was instrumental in the transition from the pool to open water, and I really got to experience what tri was all about at the club races. As Solana Beach got closer, it was also announced that the July Beginner Tri would be the day before. I had heard such great things about the beginner tris and didn’t want to miss it, so I ended up with a double-header weekend for my first full triathlons (TCSD Beginner Tri on Saturday and Solana Beach on Sunday). What an incredible (and exhausting) weekend! The experience of the TCSD Beginner Tri is absolutely unmatched, in my opinion. The support, instruction, athlete camaraderie, and of course Dawn Copenhaver’s amazing breakfast – it really cannot be beat.
Craig: How has group camaraderie played a role in your development as a triathlete?
Tassia: You know the part of Newton’s Law that “a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted on by an external force”? We should really just call that Tassia’s Law. I was the queen of the laz-athlon – Sleep, Couch, Netflix. I enjoyed being active, but I also really wanted to binge watch 5 seasons of Mad Men. Sometimes those things can really be at odds with each other! I moved to San Diego without any local friends, and embracing the tri-life gave me a way to quickly make strong relationships. Having a group of active friends and the TCSD events calendar got me moving in a way I had never really moved before. You should know that I’m not a morning person. Imagine my surprise when Saturday mornings became about bike rides, and I actually started getting excited for Friday First Light swims.
The summer of 2013 leading up to IMAZ was a serious game changer for me in terms of my desired level of tri commitment. While I wasn’t a participant, I was friends with 17 San Diego athletes who all trained together. I tagged along when I could – lots of Fiesta Island loops and Masters Swims, mainly – but watching them support each other so wholeheartedly and the relationships that deepened as a result was incredible. On race day, I watched 17 of my now-close friends get called home by Mike Reilly. This was the day that I decided I wanted those kinds of experiences for myself. It was time for me to do more than sprints and super sprints. Ultimately it’s what led me to Oceanside 70.3 this year.
Craig: Congratulations on completing your first 70.3 earlier this year at Oceanside. How did your day go?
Tassia: I could talk for hours on end about my Oceanside experience and the months leading up to it! I think there’s something incredibly powerful about going out to do something you’ve never done before… The week leading up to the race I was a basket case of emotion and had some serious doubts about whether I could actually complete the race. But then you have that flip at some point – for me it was coming in off the bike and knowing from experience that I could handle the half marathon. There is nothing like that in the whole world – that knowledge that yeah, you actually can do this crazy thing you set yourself up for and worked so hard for. I was incredibly blessed to have such amazing support all day long. Evan and Alan Deicas (one of my close friends who basically functioned as my coach) were there from the very beginning of the morning and were later joined by my whole family and several other friends. The course support in general was amazing, but it was also incredibly special to see TCSD members volunteering along the course.
I have to make two more big TCSD shout outs. Remember when I said I was accident-prone? I also happen to have big problems with time. To this day I can’t tell you what happened, but despite being awake around 2AM race morning, I somehow made it into the transition area with only 10 minutes before the transition area closed at 6:30AM. I was pretty much having a mental melt-down trying to put myself together and then remembered, panic-stricken, “TIRES!” I had basically 3 minutes to finish getting ready and pump my tires and how on Earth was that going to happen? At that moment, my knight in shining armor, Marcus Serrano, appeared. I know there was some real crazy look in my eyes when I asked if he could help me, and he really saved me in that moment.
Since I was a Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) fundraising athlete, I also happened to be in the first wave after the pros. I’m pretty sure the nerves and adrenaline were physically visible, so you can imagine my gratitude when I ran into James Ismailoglu in the chute and got a calm, “take a breath, you got this” pep talk. I really think I may have hyperventilated my way through the swim if I hadn’t run into James. This TCSD Community is so giving and supportive… I think without James and Marcus specifically, I would have had a drastically different day.
Craig: You raised funds for Operation Rebound as part of your registration for the Oceanside 70.3. What was that experience like?
Tassia: I’d previously run Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon as an American Cancer Society Determination athlete and the experience of fundraising as part of the race journey really makes a difference for me. Sure, the physical training is important, but when you can use that to fundraise and also share the message and goals of an organization, it becomes about so much more than just the tri. When I decided I wanted to race Oceanside, I knew it would have a significant impact on my experience if I raced for a cause.
I’ve been involved with CAF as a volunteer on-and-off for a while through Tri Challenge and their paratriathlete camps, and it was really an honor to fundraise on their behalf. The support, resources and experiences CAF provides for challenged athletes is unmatched and fills such a necessary space for differently-abled people. I’ve seen first-hand the impact it can have on a person and their family – it’s hard to put into words how moving and vital the organization is.
Going back to race day… As part of fundraising for CAF Operation Rebound, you get a CAF kit. I wore mine (with TCSD tattoos and hat, of course), and it added a new level to the support I felt on course. Every other person in a CAF kit is your friend, just like when you wear a TCSD kit. That camaraderie, and knowing that you’ve helped make an impact for the CAF community, takes an already incredible experience and deepens it even further. If you’ve never raced for a cause before, I highly recommend it.
Craig: What volunteer roles have you done for the TCSD and how has this enhanced your experience as a member?
Tassia: I volunteered on-and-off for TCSD when I was able to after about 6 months of being a member – mostly as an ambassador at expos. Once I had really experienced the club (the races, the workouts, the meetings), it was so easy to tell prospective members why they were truly missing out if they didn’t join. I think my spiel was something along the lines of “Where else are you going to find 25+ workouts a week, monthly meetings (with meals, huge raffles and amazing speakers), club races (with meals), and such an amazing community for less than the cost of one race? If you count up all the free food, you’re already breaking way over even!” I’m not sure about you, but food is the easiest way into my heart, so I think I really sold that aspect hard.
When the board elections happened in 2014, it was really exciting to see that the club wanted to have a Marketing Director for the first time. I jumped at the chance to take that on, and after a year on the Board, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
TCSD has been such an integral part of my life over the last few years. It’s been really great to be able to contribute to something that has meant so much to me.
Craig: What have been your responsibilities as Marketing Director and what are some of the new initiatives that you have spearheaded?
Tassia: Since the position never existed before, it was really a blank slate (which is both incredibly exciting and also a little daunting). I had a few goals before I stepped into the position, but once I got to see behind-the-scenes, I was much more able to focus on things that would be advantageous to the club in the long run.
One of the first and most critical things was to set the Board and key volunteers up with Google Apps. Previously, everything was done through people’s personal email accounts and Google accounts, which creates a big problem when there is turnover or elections. I can’t even imagine trying to detangle two years of TCSD-related emails and documents from my personal account. With Google Apps, we now have a fully transferrable historical record of emails plus a huge document repository that allows us to collaborate from anywhere. It’s really as easy as changing the password and handing the account in its entirety to a new Board member or key volunteer.
We’ve also made huge changes to the way TCSD communicates with members. The Yahoo Group was a great solution for our needs at the time, but the changing technology landscape has provided better options as time went on. By transitioning our club communications to MailChimp, we’re able to make sure that only active members are receiving member information (like sponsor discounts). We can also track statistics like open-rates and click-thru which helps us deliver the most compelling and pertinent information to the club. Open-rates and click-thru are metrics in digital campaigns. Open-rate refers to the percentage of people that received your email who actually opened it. Click-thru refers to the percentage of people who clicked a link, in our case the link in an email to get more information, register, etc. The communication pieces are also branded and have much more appealing design than a text email sent through the Yahoo Group. The Yahoo Group continues to be an important resource for our members, but we’re working on transitioning it to more of a “triathlon community of San Diego list-serve, as moderated by TCSD,” meaning that it will be open to foster community and communication regardless of TCSD affiliation.
My two favorite things that we’ve put into play are the TCSD Workout Finder and the Weekly Schedule emails. The Workout Finder is a place on our website where a user can drill down to workouts that are important to them based on date, location, experience level, and more. The Weekly Schedule email is something I put together every Friday, send to our coaches and workout leaders for review, and then send to the club. Both are a continual work-in-progress as our workouts fluctuate throughout the year and even throughout the month. It’s a labor of love, truly, but helps me feel like we’re making a tangible difference for our membership week after week.
Craig: What recommendations would you have for new TCSD members and new triathletes in general?
Tassia: If you’re new to multi-sport, I cannot recommend the beginner resources highly enough! Even if you’re comfortable in one of the disciplines, you can take advantage of BOWS or the monthly Beginner Bike Ride and don’t miss the Beginner Tris. If you’re just new to TCSD, a great way to meet new people is through volunteering. There are so many opportunities – at meetings or events, at race expos, or even supporting new athletes at a Beginners event (my personal favorite). Speaking from the leadership side, this entire club is volunteer-run. It’s our most valuable asset and if you want to help, there’s always some way to do it. Don’t underestimate the power of a good Strava workout name! If documentation is your thing, I’ve really loved Instagraming my tri-life; the right hashtags can open your support community to a completely new level around the globe. Oh, and on a general note: make sure your phone updates if you go to race in a different time zone. I almost missed RnR Arizona because I thought I had another hour of sleep available.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?
Tassia: Ummmm, all of them?!? I’ve never left a club meeting feeling uninspired by the speaker (Meb, Rudy Garcia-Tolson, Mirinda Carfrae and Lynne Cox are particular stand-outs in my memory), and more often than not I’ve taken home some type of amazing raffle prize. The value of membership just in terms of race opportunities is incredible. This year I participated in 3 triathlons and 3 aquathlons, which breaks down to less than $15 per race. Of course, the food has to be mentioned – Dawn is basically a magician in the kitchen and your life will be better for eating her meals. If you’re forcing me to pick a #1 though, without question it is the TCSD community. I’ve made some great friendships and now have a huge base of people that I know on a relatively personal basis that I can turn to for advice, support and inspiration.
Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?
Tassia: I think the financial barrier to entry is incredibly high… it would be amazing if the gear, race fees, travel expenses and increased food expenditures were a little more wallet-friendly!
Craig: What have been some of the cornerstone life experiences that have shaped you into the woman you are today?
Tassia: Some of my favorite memories from my childhood are from hanging out in the ocean with my dad. We’d swim out together (mainly him pulling me out on a boogie board or surfboard), he’d push me into a wave then swim back in to get me, lather-rinse-repeat. I remember him always being fairly active, but dedicated exercise was never really a part of that. I’m really excited that he and my mom have recently decided to become more active again, in large part due to the impending birth of my nephew and their first grandchild. We’ve started spending time together on paddleboards and bikes and have even done a few 5Ks together. It’s really awesome watching my parents make fun physical activity a regular part of their routine! The other day my dad shared that he wants to do Bay-to-Breakers at some point, and we’ve talked about maybe relaying a half marathon.
Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?
Tassia: I’m really looking forward to re-racing Oceanside 70.3 again some day! I put in a hard race this year and finished in 7:05… so naturally I have to do it again and break into the sixes.
Recently I’ve been falling back in love with the run. Evan paced me to a 2:12 half marathon this year at RnR San Diego (which beat my previous PR by 15 minutes!), and I’m looking forward to getting closer to the 2 hour mark.
And at some point in the near-ish future, I can’t wait to have Mike Reilly call me home too.
Craig: Tassia, thank you so much for all you have done for the TCSD and for sharing your story. You have made a significant contribution in such a short time. The TCSD is lucky to have you as one of our leaders. It’s just a matter of time before Mike Reilly says “Tassia Bezdeka, YOU are an Ironman!”
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or email@example.com.