TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I was privileged recently to talk triathlon with TCSD volunteer extraordinaire, Alexis Barnes. Alexis has taken on leadership roles as a TCSD Newsletter Editor and our club’s Coordinator for the USA Triathlon National Challenge Competition. I know you will enjoy getting to know this lady.
Craig: What sports did you participate in prior to triathlon?
Alexis: I have been swimming for as long as I can remember, and I have competed for teams up and down the state. My earliest team was for Swanson Pool in University City, but I quickly graduated to club swimming. When my family moved back to Northern California, I swam for the Walnut Creek Aquabears. By my senior year of high school, though, I was ready to quit, so I took almost a 15-year hiatus while I went to college (Temple University for undregrad and Columbia University for grad school). It wasn’t until I moved back to San Diego from the East Coast in 2011 that I really started swimming again.
Craig: What was your first triathlon like?
Alexis: Well, if Sopranos fans remember the episode when Paulie and Christopher get lost in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, that was pretty much my first triathlon. It was called the Pine Barrens Sprint Triathlon and it took place in the Pine Barrens in 2006. I didn’t study the course. I figured I would just follow whoever was in front of me. The problem was that I was so slow on the bike that I was quickly at the back of the pack….the waaaayyy back of the pack. With no one to follow, and no real route markers (this was a true local race; the roads were still open to cars, and the dew had eliminated most of the chalk arrows), I quickly got lost. For those who don’t know, Jersey is farm land—lots of open roads and cows and horses. As I was riding, I saw a farmer on his tractor heading back toward his house. I rode up his driveway and asked him for directions back to the lake where the race had started. Thankfully I wasn’t too far off course. By the time I got back to start the run, most of the folks were done with their race. It was a humbling experience. Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson: never race in Jersey without a good map or GPS. Seriously, I study my courses a bit better these days.
Craig: What experience helped you turn the corner with your bike training?
Alexis: Up until 2013, I had a trusty, dusty road back fitted with aero bars. I got the bike when I lived in NYC, and I was terrified to ride it. The first time I tried to clip in and out, I fell over into a couple’s picnic in Prospect Park. That was it for me. I rode it only during races. No training rides. No trainer rides. No riding. Period.
I figured out the clipping in and out, but I couldn’t figure out the shifting. I once had a guy tell me to get out of the big ring while I was going up a hill. If I had known what that was, I would have gotten out of it. Fast forward to 2012, and I hosted pro triathlete Trish Deim for Oceanside 70.3. I started talking about my triathlon dreams, and somewhere in there it came out that I didn’t know how to shift properly.
The day after her race, she took me out on my bike and taught me how to ride. She had me go up and down hills, around corners, on flats. She taught me about cadence, how to change my tires, how to do flying mounts and dismounts. It was awesome. I’m really indebted to her for teaching me proper bike handling skills. Even though the bike is still my least favorite part, I have a lot more confidence now in my basic riding skills. In fact, I love riding up the coast and into Rancho Santa Fe. Cars no longer terrify me.
I think it’s super important for everyone who rides to know how to do it properly, to have that confidence, and to know how to coexist with cars.
Craig: Who has been the most influential person for your triathlon career?
Alexis: Oh gosh! Trish has certainly been influential. She was the first one to convince me that I could actually push myself a little harder and go for longer distances. I mean my husband had always said that, but who listens to their spouse!
Actually, my husband Charlie Brown has been a tremendous influence. When we lived in New York, there were two tri shops, and one of them had this yearly clearance sale. The sale was so good that people lined up overnight for it. My husband knew that I wanted a bike, so he got in line at something like 2 am in February. He got me everything I needed to start in triathlon—a wetsuit, a bike, shoes, a trainer (which I never used until 3 years ago), a helmet. This was in 2006.
Since then, he’s been to almost every one of my races. He shoves me out the door to train. He’s delivered food to me on long training rides/runs. He gives me pep talks when I need them. He gives me the harder, “quit complaining” talks too, and he doesn’t get upset when I fall asleep at 6 pm because I’m exhausted from a tough day of training.
I also have to give props to Julie Dunkle for coaching me through my first two Ironman races and teaching me how to fuel properly.
Craig: What are some of your favorite triathlon events?
Alexis: I love the LA Tri Series at Bonelli Park in San Dimas. It has this real grassroots feel to it. Plus, it’s in the same park as Raging Waters, so if you time the race right, you can recover on the water slides.
I also like some of the local races—Solana Beach, Carlsbad, SD Classic, SD International. My dream race is Ironman France, which is ironic because everyone who knows me knows I hate to ride hills, yet almost every race I sign up for has hills, and France has some of the most difficult climbing. I’d also love to do Norseman or Savageman. I’m always looking for new race challenges.
Craig: You have worked with Dean Sprague for nearly 2 years on the TCSD Newsletter. The two of you really do produce an excellent product. What are some of your challenges with creating the newsletter?
Alexis: Thanks. I love editing the newsletter. There are so many interesting people in the tri club, and I love reading their stories. I also love all of the tips that people share. I learn something new every month. That said, the biggest challenge is finding content. Dean and I both have other careers, and all of the content is submitted by volunteer writers, so it’s not like we sit down each month and put together a line up or an editorial calendar. We go with what’s submitted.
If readers have an idea of something they’d like to read, I encourage them to either write the piece themselves, or share the idea with me or Dean to see if it’s something we can get written. I know that writing can be intimidating, but that’s why we edit the newsletter. They can email me their submissions by sending them to email@example.com.
Craig: Another role you have filled the past 2 years is the TCSD’s NCC Coordinator. What is the NCC and what has been your involvement?
Alexis: Every December, January and February, the USA Triathlon (USAT) holds a friendly, national competition designed to keep people active during the winter. The National Club Championship (NCC) consists of swim, bike, and run segments. Members of triathlon clubs sign up and compete individually and for their clubs.
Two years ago, I took over as administrator for TCSD. I put together a questionnaire to get names, ages, estimated mileage, etc and then assign TCSD members to Team 1 or Team 2 (each club gets to teams) based on anticipated mileage. I submit the names to USAT, get passwords so that everyone can enter their data, and monitor the competition for TCSD.
It’s a lot of up front work, but we’ve had great leaders for each of the disciplines. Julie Dunkle has headed up swim month the last two years. Kevin Fayad was in charge of bike month this year, and Tracy Cohen-Peranteau has led run month. They’ve been really instrumental in getting the teams motivated.
Craig: What has been your experience as an athlete participating in the NCC?
Alexis: I enjoy the challenge. I do a lot of my training solo, but during the NCC, I make an effort to join in the group workouts. I spent most of the latter half of last year injured, so NCC has helped me get focused in my training this year. I couldn’t let my teammates down, so that helped push me and get me out the door.
Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?
Alexis: I think like most people, I love TCSD for the friendships I’ve made. I joined shortly after moving back to San Diego in 2011, and I’d say that I’ve met the majority of my friends through the club. I think Lisa Serrano and I post race pictures every weekend, with Marcus Serrano, Jeff Krebs and Jim Murff sprinkled in. In fact, I need to publicly thank Marcus for saving me at Ironman Arizona in 2014. I was starting my second lap of the run and was freezing, and he gave me his jacket. So in my finisher’s pictures I’m wearing his TCSD jacket.
Craig: You were on the TCSD Ambassador Team in 2014 and again in 2016. What does this experience mean to you?
Alexis: After I joined TCSD, I started volunteering as a way to learn more, meet more people, and share some of what I had learned. My favorite races to volunteer at are the club races on Fiesta Island and the Beginner Tri at Coronado. They’re so much fun, especially when the races are over and we all get to eat Dawn Copenhaver’s fabulous food.
We all give so much time to this sport, training and racing, that I think it’s nice to take a break every now and then and spend a Saturday or two giving back. So for me, I look at being a TCSD Ambassador as another way to give back to the sport in a more formal fashion. I have a platform to share my experiences and my love of the club and TCSD.
Craig: What sporting accomplishment gives you the most pride?
Alexis: Wow. I mentioned earlier that I swam for Swanson’s rec team growing up. Well there was this girl, Jenny Queen, on the team. We were frenemies before it was even a word. We were friends outside of the pool, but in the pool, we were fierce rivals.
We ended up at different high schools (I didn’t move to Northern California until fall 1990). She went to UC High, and I went to Bishop’s, but we met again in ’89 at the CIF qualifiers. No one was paying attention to us. It was rightfully all about Alison Terry at the time, but the race of the meet will always be me and Jenny in my mind because I out touched her at the wall in the 500 free to win. It wasn’t my first win against her, but it was the sweetest because she had been telling people that she was going to cream me.
I never kick, but I found my legs during the last 25 yards and used them to propel me to the wall. When we got out of the pool, Jenny and I hugged. I have no idea if she remembers me or the meet.
Craig: What are your future triathlon goals?
Alexis: My ultimate goal is to qualify for Kona, which means winning my age group at an Ironman. Right now, though, I am concentrating on my run and getting my times down. I’m running faster and stronger than ever, but it’s a lot of work.
Outside of my personal triathlon goals, I’d like to have more time to devote to the TCSD newsletter. We have so many members with so many stories and advice to be shared.
Craig: Alexis, thank you for sharing your story. You have come a long way from impersonating Amelia Earhart in New Jersey to becoming adept at getting out of the big ring. Good luck achieving all of your dreams. Your friends at the TCSD are behind you 100%.
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.