A Super-Inspiring Athlete

You know, as an athlete (a term I use loosely in relation to me) and sports fan, there are a wide variety of athletes that I hold in high regard.  Some of these athletes are famous and are in the newspaper, on ESPN, or online literally daily.  Others are athletes that fly under the radar.  It seems like it might be fun for me to write occasionally about athletes that have inspired me for one reason or another.  To showcase their performances.  Or their character.  Or their mettle.

And with that introduction, I’d like to start this on-again, off-again series by introducing you to one of my Team Rev3 Tri teammates, Susan Haag.

susan-haag

Susan may not be the speediest athlete at a triathlon, but she may well be the most experienced one.  She has done a mind boggling array of events:  More than 70 full iron distance races.  Countless marathons and ultramarathons.  She did more than 75 events in 2012 alone!  I don’t know if I could even keep up with the overall number of events Susan has done in her career (and I’m not sure if she could even tell you).  Just a week or so ago, Susan ran in a 55 mile ultra to support the Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville.  In two weeks, she will be racing the Florida Ultraman (which, by the way is an iron race on steroids:  6.2 mile swim, followed by 261.4 miles on her bike, then a double marathon – 52.4 miles).

The sheer distances and volumes this woman races are staggering and mind boggling.  I frankly don’t have any clue how she trains and races, all the while managing a career as a local assistant district attorney.

Susan also volunteers considerably.  She’s on a variety of boards.  She is the Florida Region representative on USAT’s board of directors.

In a nutshell, this woman is B-U-S-Y.

But quite honestly, it’s not the prolific miles and number of races that inspires me about Susan.  Rather, Susan’s approach to triathlon and endurance sports in general is what really makes this athlete stand head and shoulders above others.  Not a race goes by where Susan doesn’t stop to pet dogs, great children or chat with volunteers.  For Susan, a triathlon or marathon is not just about the race; it’s more about the experience.  She epitomizes what endurance sports should be all about.  Togetherness.  Fun.  Loyalty.  Conviction.  Inclusion.

As an example, Susan shared an experience she had when she ran in the recent Ultra on behalf of Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital. This year wasn’t the first year she had participated in this event.  In fact, last year, she met a young man who was frankly pretty sick at the time.  This year, she came across him again – only this time he was competing as part of a relay.  He was struggling to run very far or very fast.  Susan connected with him and his mother – and ended up running and walking with him for an entire lap – lifting his spirits and confidence and mood the entire way.  It didn’t matter that Susan had several additional laps of her own to run; she selflessly gave of herself and made a lasting impact on another athlete.

It’s like Susan that I aspire to be.  To be able to participate in events, have a blast doing it, and making memories with others.  To me, that’s what I’d like to model each time I toe the line at a race.

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The Motley Crew I Swim With

I am a people watcher. Always have been; always will be. There’s just something I love about seeking out the oddities and uniqueness in people. Back in the day, I used to love to go to the mall on Christmas Eve afternoon – not to shop, but to people watch. I’d grab a Starbucks and just hang out on one of those benches in the middle of the mall and watch the guys (mostly) go nuts as they tried to finish their shopping before the mall closed. It was a total riot!

Today, airports have replaced malls as my favorite people watching place – but I find that I do it almost everywhere I go. I’m constantly pointing people out to my wife or kids. I’m sure it annoys them to no end, but it helps me pass the time.

This month, I’ve been doing a lot of swimming. In fact, I take my son to swim practice most mornings, and then hop in the pool and swim myself before going to work. This strategy has worked wonders for my swim training, as summertime in Florida is usually a little sketchy for afternoon swimming – you know, with thunderstorms happening every afternoon almost. So anyway, I’ve found that I can’t escape my tendency to do a little people watching even when I’m at swim practice.

I thought you might like a little virtual peek into the folks I swim with (and, no, there are no photographs…sorry). Now first and foremost, I’m not going to comment on the high school kids on the swim team. Firstly, it’d be a little creepy and secondly, most of the guys are bigger and faster than me, so I’m a little scared of them. But the adults? That’s another story…

There seems to be a handful of folks that come and go each day.  A few of them only come once every now and then, but there are a few who are “regulars” and are there every day or follow a schedule (like every Monday, Wednesday and Friday).  I mostly pay attention to the regulars…or at least I remember them.  And so, here they are: the motley crew I swim with:
Thunder Kicker:  This guy could actually go by a couple of names, but this one booms loudest (see what I did there?).  This fellow is a local triathlete, and he puts in a ton of yards.  He’s pretty quick, too.  Perhaps it’s because of his huge, water-splashing, thunderous kicks.  He’s a knee-kicker (versus from the hip like you’re supposed to do), and each time he kicks with one of his legs – I think his left – he brings his foot seemingly 6 inches out of the water and then aggressively drives it down.  His kick literally sounds like a fat kid doing a cannonball.  BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!  It’s so loud that I can hear it two lanes over.  This guy also goes by the name Skunk-Man, as his hair coloring makes him look just like a skunk.  He’s got really dark hair on the side of his head, but a stripe of grey hair doing right down the center of his head.  He seriously looks just like a skunk.  Hopefully he doesn’t have a stinky spray to go with that look.

Chewbacca in a Speedo:  There’s a guy (he’s a little older than me…maybe early 50’s) who is in great shape and is clearly a good swimmer.  He comes to the pool literally every morning.  I envy his stroke (it’s fantastic), I admire his speed, and I’m awed by his ability to do flip turns.  But….the guy is hairy.  And by hairy, I mean COVERED.  Arms.  Legs,  Back.  Stomach.  Chest.  The dude looks like Chewie.  And he wears a Speedo!  Not to mix movies here, but the guy looks like Teen Wolf in the pool.  It’s a wonder he doesn’t shake himself when he gets out.  Thankfully he doesn’t shed (could you imagine swimming into that hairball)?

Scuba Man:  This may not be the best title for this guy, but I can’t think of a better name.  This guy swims just a couple times per week, and is fairly slow.  Holy cow, this guy loves his toys!  Each time I’ve seen him swim he is decked out in gear from head to toe!  His typical outfit:  board shorts, fins, hand paddles and a Finis snorkel.  He swims in that get-up for at least an hour.  Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him take his head out of the water – except for when he’s done.

Music Lady:  This lady is Thunder Kicker’s wife (I think).  The sound of his kicks must annoy her, because she is always wearing one of those SwimP3 players with the tunes really cranked up!  She told me today that her current unit is actually her second one, and that she uses it to tune out everything while she swims.  Sort of like wearing an iPod when you run, I guess.  I’ve never swam with one of these, so it might be the best invention of all time.  She loves it.

The Kickboard Twins:  These two ladies are your pretty typical aqua-aerobics types.  The come with matching goggles, matching swim caps, and do the exact same workout as each other (they are partnering to get back into shape – which is really cool).  The entire time they are in the pool, they might actually swim 200 yards.  The rest of the workout is typically some version of kicking.  Flutter kick.  Breaststroke kick.  Sidestroke kick.  Backstroke kick with their head on the kickboard like a pillow.  Back and forth they go…..kicking.

And then there’s me.  I’m the typical triathlete.  I show up with lots of toys.  I may use them all or I may not – but I ALWAYS put them all at the end of the lane.  I have my workout on a card in a ziplock bag.  I carefully Foggle my goggles each morning before I get in.  I always hop in the pool the same way.  My warm-ups are always the same (500 swim and then 250 kick as 5*50).  I always do a little arm stretching after my warm-up.  See, I have my own uniqueness.  I suspect that my motley crew of swim practice mates could come up with a nickname for me, too. 

Probably something like Tri-Guy.  Or Old Baldy.  Or Poseur.  Who knows. 

What about you?  Do you swim with a motley crew?  Any “strange denzions of the pool”?

“Are Those Bouncy Shoes?” and Other Thoughts from a 50-Mile Ride

Most of us take advantage of Saturday or Sunday to get out on long bike rides or long runs (and depending upon your training plan, both).  This weekend for me included a 50-mile Saturday afternoon bike ride.  This multi-hour, solo, and quite hot ride gave me ample time to just observe, think, and enjoy being outside.  As you might suspect, I came away with quite a few observations and nuggets of fun that I thought I’d share.

Tropical Storm Andrea left the First Coast (that’s what they call this part of northeast Florida….as in the “first coast” discovered in the US, and the “first” or actually oldest city in the country – St. Augustine) on Friday, leaving beautiful sunny and clear skies.  That said, summer has finally hit Florida.  The temperature on Saturday afternoon was 85 or 86 with enough humidity to put the heat index near 100 degrees.

It’s Always Windy in Florida  I’m sure it’s windy in other parts of the country too, but I can’t recall a day where there was NO wind at all.  Maybe it’s because of our respective proximity to the Atlantic ocean that causes the wind (Jax is a beach town, and I live about 15 miles from the shore).  Desipte Saturday not looking windy (meaning the trees weren’t moving at my house), it turned out that there was a pretty solid breeze blowing.  And….as luck would have it, if sure felt like it was always in my face. 

Wide Open Spaces Make it Windier  A good chunk of my ride was south of Jacksonville in “the country”.  For those of you who don’t live around here, “the country” means one of three things:  tree farms, potato farms, or swampland.  As you might suspect, tree farms are typically of the pine tree variety, and depending upon how recently they were harvested, offer a little wind blockage.  Swamps offer a nice respite to the wind, but replace wind with stench, mosquitos, snakes, and heavy humidity.  Now, potato farms….those are another thing.  You could have the slightest breeze blowing about.  You know, the kind that just cools you off a little or jostles your hair?  Not enough to fly a kite?  Well.. that same breeze turns into a gale the second you pass out in to open farm fields. 

Florida May Have More Than it’s Share of Roadkill I’m guessing that you find roadkill all over the country.  Here in Florida, roadkill is typically in epic proportions.  Just this weekend, I saw more dead armadillos than I could count, several possums, a dead dog, a deer, some sort of big (and I mean big) dead bird – maybe a vulture (which I find ironic) or maybe a turkey, and a couple of dead snakes.  I don’t really mind passing much of this stuff.  It’s the circle of life, right?  But here’s the problem.  Sun + heat + dead animal.  BIG STINK!

I Love Wide Roads Most of the roads I was on this weekend had either a marked bike path or a shoulder that was wide enough for me to ride well out of the travel lane.  I really like this – I stay away from traffic, I don’t impede cars or make them slow down, and they don’t have to move over too far to get around me without being too close. 

Icees Make Great Mid-Ride Fuel Perhaps the word “fuel” is a little overrated here.  Unless you count drinking frozen colored high fructose corn syrup fuel.  BUT, slurping down one of these frozen treats after 90 minutes in the hot sun is AWESOME!  Personally, I’m a Cherry guy.  I don’t like the Coke flavor or that blue stuff (whatever that is).  Just call me old school, but nothing beats one of these…especially if you get the straw with the built-in spoon at the bottom.

Stuck Songs are Suffocating I don’t ride with an iPod.  For starters, my ears seem to sweat, and thus the ear buds fall out a lot.  More importantly, cycling with headphones is illegal in Florida.  That doesn’t keep me from hearing music, though.  It seems like I get songs stuck in my head and it takes forever to get them out.  Among the songs that I “listened” to this weekend during my ride?  “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  “Margaritaville.”  “Call Me Maybe.”  “Thrift Shop.” “Hakuna Matatta”

Red Crescents of Joy Anyone who does much cycling in tri-tops or sleeveless jerseys knows exactly where this is heading.  Saturday I wore a Powerbar Team Elite kit – with a sleeveless tri top.  I thought I did a good job of applying sunscreen before I left…but apparently I clearly missed a very small portion on my back.  Both sides, no less.  A finished with two very painful red crescents where my tri-top stopped.  This would have only been better had the top been on the short side, also giving me a red low back tattoo. 

Speaking of Sunburns Did you know that the sun can go through your bike helmet and burn your scalp?  If you do, that makes one of us.  Until now.  I have learned that lesson, thank you very much

Little Kids Ask the BEST questions As I sat outside the RaceTrack convenience store in St. Augustine enjoying my tasty Icee, a bunch of people passed by and gave me…odd…looks.  I mean, how often do you see a soaking wet dude in bright yellow spandex eating an icee when you stop at a gas station right off the Interstate?  Naturally, I got a lot of comments in 15 minutes.  Most were of the “normal” variety.  The best one, though, came from a little boy who couldn’t have been more than three or four years old.  He and his mother walked by, and he stopped and checked out my shoes.  “Are those bouncy shoes?”  was his query.  “Nah, they’re just biking shoes,” I replied.  “Well, they look like bouncing shoes,” he said.  “I think they are bright!”  This conversation totally made my day.  I love how kids are curious and usually aren’t shy to say what is on their mind.  This little tyke certainly did just that.

There you have it.  A few of my thoughts and observations about my ride on Saturday.

Volunteering Can Earn Your Group Money!

We all know that races in general, and triathlons specifically, live and die on the backs of volunteers.  You need volunteers to hand out race packets, man the aid stations, direct traffic, hand out bottles and bananas, deliver race medals, and so much more.  Quite frankly, were it not for the multitude of volunteers at any race event we do, those events would likely not exist!

Perhaps you have volunteered at races previously.  If you have, you know it’s a really cool and rewarding experience.  One time, I volunteered at the bike check-in for Rev3’s race in Knoxville.  What made this even more fun for me is that I wore a bunch of Florida Gators gear and gave anyone who was wearing University of Tennessee clothes all sorts of needling (in case you didn’t know, Florida and Tennessee are fairly big rivals).  I had such a fun and amazing time…and all I was doing was telling people where to rack their bikes!  It’s not like I was handing out gels to folks who were on the edge of bonking or anything!

Volunteerism is a great way for you to meet tons of athletes, give back to our sport, earn hours required for high school graduation, work off that community service requirement for your misdemeanor trespassing charge, whatever.  Typically, though, when you volunteer you just give of yourself.  Your time.  Your talent.  Your effort.

Now there’s a chance for Rev3 to give back to you (or more specifically to your group).  Rev3 has a really cool thing called the Local Charity Donation Program.  They will donate $15 PER VOLUNTEER to a group that brings 15 or more volunteers to work at one of their races.  Talk about a really easy way to make some money for your Scout troop, Abuse Center, or Pet Adoption agency!  If you happen to volunteer at either the Williamsburg event (June 22-23) or The Dells event (August 10-11) and bring a group of 15 or more, Rev3 will pay $20 PER VOLUNTEER!

What else do you get for your time?  Well, in addition to the eternal thanks of other athletes, a lot of “Thanks for volunteering!” comments, and a good sunburntan, you get a handy-dandy Rev3 Volunteer t-shirt!  What a bargain!

Interested?  Check out Rev3’s website and pick the particular race that you’re interested in volunteering for.  Each race has a “Volunteer” tab that details out each open spot and how many folks are needed.  It’s really as simple as 1-2-3!  If you’d like to bring your Youth Group, Knitting Outreach Club, or other organization and take advantage of the Local Charity Donation Program that Rev3 offers, reach out to Tracy Bryant, Rev3’s Volunteer Director.  You can reach her via email at tracy@rev3tri.com.  You could also send a tweet to @REV3TRI or leave a comment on their facebook page.

Go volunteer at a Rev3 race.  You’ll be glad you did (and so will countless other athletes)!

“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat…”

That particular line is one of the more memorable quips from the 1975 movie, “Jaws”.  If you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you – go rent it!  If you have, you’ll remember that the sheriff of Amity, NY – a guy named Brody – made this comment whilst riding on fisherman Quint’s boat and seeing the massive, man-eating Great White shark for the first time.

The movie was a huge summertime hit – and literally scared people out of the water!

Now I know that sharks are everywhere, and that the likelihood of getting bitten or attacked by a shark is infinitesimally small.  In fact, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department’s International Shark Attack File, there were only 80 shark attacks across the globe in 2012.  Of those 80 attacks, only seven were fatal.  Of course, slightly more than a quarter (n=26) of those shark attacks happened in my home state of Florida.

Still, I know the chances of me getting attacked by a shark in the waters where I might swim are rare.  I live in St. Johns county – a southern suburb of Jacksonville (Duval county).  Over the time period of 1882-2012, there have only been 55 attacks (2 fatalities) combined in these two counties.

And yet, I don’t particularly like swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.  I know those sharks are out there.  And I know that they are hungry.  And I know that I sound like a wounded seal when I swim (not that we have seals here or that any shark that lives around me would know what the heck one is).  As a side note, I’m also not particularly fond of swimming in lakes or rivers in Florida due to the apex predator that lives in those ecosystems.  But that’s a different story.

Back to the main point.  I’m not a huge fan of ocean swimming because of the sharks.  Now, I have even more reason to not want to go back into the water.  Great Whites.

Yes, that school-bus sized, triathlete-eating, animal with 2,000,000 razor-sharp teeth and a unsatiable desire for human flesh.  Okay.  That was only a little dramatic and far fetching, but you get the picture.

Over the past two months, not one – but THREE Great White sharks have been seen in the area.  Just this past weekend, OCEARCH – a research outfit out of the Northeast – literally caught and tagged a Great White shark in Jacksonville.  Or actually about 200 feet offshore in 25 feet of water to be precise.

See that little dot just to the right of Jacksonville?  That's where they tagged the Great White!

See that little dot just to the right of Jacksonville? That’s where they tagged the Great White!  Credit: OCEARCH.com

 

The shark they caught was not teeny-tiny either.  Measuring in at 14.5 feet and roughly 2000 pounds, Lydia is a pretty good-sized female Great White. 

This is Lydia - a 14.5 foot, 2000 pound Great White shark caught and tagged recently off the Jacksonville, FL coast

This is Lydia – a 14.5 foot, 2000 pound Great White shark caught and tagged recently off the Jacksonville, FL coast  Credit: OCEARCH.com

 

Again….they caught her just 200 feet off shore!

Earlier this winter, another shark – Mary Lee – was spotted by satellite receiver (she pinged when she came to the surface) literally in the break line at Jacksonville Beach…just five or so miles south of where Lydia was tagged.  Mary Lee, at 16 feet and 3500 pounds makes Lydia look like a toddler.

Hopefully, all these Great Whites are just like their northern land-shark cousins (like what I did there?) and only came south for the winter.  With any luck, once the temperatures warm back up, they will head back up north so that they can hang around Cape Cod for the summer.  Ya know, eating Yankees and whatnot.

In the meantime, there’s no way I’m going swimming in the ocean.  Oh yeah….that’s not because of the sharks (they are there all the time).  It’s because the water is just too dang cold!