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Triathlon

Life Stuff with Mike Shaffer

By | Fitness, Life Stuff, Swimming, Triathlon, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

If you’ve enjoyed reading about how fellow athletes have overcome adversity in this Life Stuff series, you are in for another treat! Mike Shaffer is a lifelong high-performing athlete with an impressive competitive resume in swimming, triathlon, and aquabike. His journey has not been without its share of valleys, though.

In 1994, Mike was nearly killed when he was struck head-on by a drunk driver during a training ride. After hitting the hood and going through the windshield of the Ford Escort, his injuries included a severed left quad, broken right foot, and knees that required reconstruction. In a 2006 interview with USMS Swimmer, Mike recalls that he returned to the pool 3 months after the accident using a one-legged turn and buoy to keep his legs afloat.

From there, he used small, realistic goals in the pool to keep himself motivated and incrementally improving.

“I was determined. I kept setting goals: 40-second 50s today…It refreshed me. I think it helped to light a fire again. Every week I was trying a new challenge.”

The following month, he completed his annual One Hour USMS swim relying almost entirely on his upper body. Another 6 months later (10 months post-accident), Mike completed Ironman Canada, setting a personal best time and a race swim course record of 43 minutes and 54 seconds. During the same season, he was awarded the USA Triathlon Comeback Award as well as gold and silver medals in the FINA Masters World Swimming Championships.

Mike claims a positive outlook and refusal to give up were the key ingredients in his return to competition. “It may take time, but stick with it” he says.

About a decade after his “comeback” into triathlon, Mike was all but forced out of the sport again. In 2004, his doctor told him to ‘stop running now or we can go ahead and schedule your knee replacement surgeries.’ Mike’s triathlon career ended soon after that discussion. However, just a few months later USAT would announce an aquabike pilot program starting in 2005. “It was a perfect transition for me” he recalls.

Mike claims 1st Overall at Aquabike Age Group Nationals in Miami, 2016

Since aquabike’s official launch, “Aquabike Mike” has earned national and world titles in the sport. At the same time, he has remained competitive in the pool where he regularly wins national titles and sets national standards on the way. As someone who has witnessed many of Mike’s training sessions and competitions first-hand, I can say that to observe him in the pool (and ocean) or on a bike is to see a masterpiece being painted. His chosen canvas is the water and the road.

Life Stuff with Mariel David

By | Coaching, Fitness, Life Stuff, Triathlon | No Comments

I dig real stories of real people doing real things (hard things). Thanks to my friend Mariel for sharing one of those stories– her “life stuff”– with us. I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Mariel since 2013 when she took on Ironman at Arizona (and gave all of her everything, and crossed that finish line!). I could go on, but she tells her story better than I could…

“The Imperfect Athlete” by Mariel David

If you asked me 10 years ago if I would ever find myself being endurance athlete, I would say that you (1) are joking, (2) are crazy, or (3) have lost your marbles. I was a single mom of three – two of which had medical challenges (one being a leukemia patient and another being a special needs child), a working professional putting at least 50 hours per week in the office and traveling around the globe up to 60% of the time, and a student trying to finish her master’s degree. When I received a postcard in the mail advertising a fundraising event for leukemia research, I had no idea how much this event would change my life–it sparked my journey as an endurance athlete.

For years, I found myself busy, slow, emotionally drained, and not looking like the typical triathlete. It’s difficult but it is also through this sport that I found the ‘true’ me – an athlete who will perform with her heart no matter what. I held on to this identity as my children became my inspiration and sources of strength through the years. During a particularly memorable triathlon season, I incorporated one of my daughters – “Rochelle”- my special child who had been terminally ill with multiple needs. It’s amazing what you can do when you run with your heart; I found myself realizing this as we crossed our first finish line together at Rock n Roll Marathon LA in 2014. It was my vision that one day we would be the next “Hoyts”. Unfortunately, that dream will never be realized as she passed in March 2017.

Rochelle’s memory will continue as I race in her memory and in honor of my children. As imperfect as my training schedule is, I will always find my strength through the heart that connects me to them. This is “my why”. I hope inspires those who think that they are too busy, too slow, too fat/skinny, etc. that your someday can be today.

Life Stuff with Laura Callen

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If you are fortunate enough to know Laura Lynn Callen, then you understand how deeply her smile penetrates your heart. Laura lives joyfully and selflessly. Ventura locals may recognize her as one of the energizing red carpet emcees at Mission Church’s annual “Night to Remember” prom for special needs guests. She also sings like a sparrow and composes ad lib melodies which she calls “Laura Lynn Callen Originals”.

In addition to her musical talents, Laura is an accomplished endurance athlete. When I first met Laura, she mentioned to me that (at the time) she had finished “one triathlon”. I pried a bit and found that this “one triathlon”, Laura’s first triathlon, had been at Ironman Louisville in 2013. Having competed in triathlon for over 10 years myself, and never having finished a race longer than 70.3 miles, I was astonished that a “beginner” would sign up for–and complete–140.6 miles in one go. Just last year, in October 2017, Laura finished her second ever triathlon–yes, it was another Ironman event. Laura recently took the time to share with me what endurance sport means to her: a therapeutic outlet when “life stuff” happens.

“When I was at the University of Kentucky, I worked with a man who became my good friend. He supported me as I moved from Kentucky to Ventura (to work for Mission Church) and our friendship continued to grow. After the move, I felt even more connected as friends. But then I learned that he had some unhealthy behaviors and was making unwise choices. It hurt me that he was making these choices, and I realized that if I kept being his friend it would impact me and I would end up being hurt even more. So I had to make one of the hardest decisions in my life: I had to cut him out. One night I Facetimed him and told him that although I cared so much for him but had to step away. He completely understood, which made it even more difficult for me to let go. So I ended that friendship and I was so, so sad. My heart was hurting. 

The next day, I was feeling very out of sorts– emotionally drained. I didn’t know what to do. I thought ‘you know what? I am gonna go on a long bike ride.’ I had no plans on where to go. I didn’t even bring food. I had a water bottle and my phone.

On the bike, I was pedaling and processing and talking to God and crying. I ended up biking for over 60 miles. I wasn’t even training before that. It was just a spontaneous ride. I let out all the burdens, all the hurt, and all the frustration. I felt like I was just pedaling it all out. At the end of the ride I felt so relieved. I felt lighter. I was a little tired, but I was so grateful to be able to process and release stress by moving my body. I was thankful that I had a bike, a place to ride, and a body with the ability to do so.

Training has been a huge outlet for me. Whenever I’m working out –running, swimming, biking–I find this is a space where I get to really unpack anything that I have pushed down deep and thought ‘I’ll get to that later’. The things I’ve been holding in, I can let them out. I feel like when I workout I am overall becoming more complete as a human–spiritually, physically, emotionally.”

Austin 70.3 and Curiosity

By | Race Reports, Triathlon | No Comments

You know how sometimes someone says something that you have always known without knowing it? They put into words what you have felt to be true but never really expressed. This has happened to me twice in the past month or so; both times regarding the topic of curiosity. Two athletes that I admire, both runners, mentioned something very nonchalantly about their motivation to compete. Both spoke with simple terms that conveyed a message my heart had always known. Both spoke of a deep curiosity–a deep yearning to know what might happen if ____. What might happen if I give my best? What might happen if I dare to lay it all on the line? What is possible for me? I am recognizing that at the root of my sporting endeavors is this same curiosity. I am curious about where my God-given limits are. I wonder what potential lies within me. I think that inquisitiveness can spur me on in all areas of my life. Some areas are just better at provoking my curiosity–and those areas are the ones that I will pursue with the most passion. Maybe I need a spark of curiosity regarding bathroom cleaning techniques…

In other news, I finished my last triathlon of the 2017 season at Austin, TX. Brice and I stayed with some good friends (Thanks, Lauren, Vincent, & Mona pup!). We had a nice sampling of Texas food (tacos, coffee, baked goods, Italian, and Tex Mex). We checked out Lance Armstrong’s bike shop/cafe, and swam in the Barton Springs pool. We even got to see our Aussie/Kiwi friends, Emma & Sean, who are currently living in Houston.

Here’s my recap of race day:

I woke up race morning and felt that with each piece of race preparation–the brushing of teeth, the eating of breakfast, the drinking of coffee, the putting on of socks– I was getting ready for battle. That feeling can be scary and intense. It can make you feel so alone. But then I remembered that I don’t have to feel that way because the Lord is with me in every moment. I don’t have to do any of it alone. He is with me (Psalm 118:6). He is for me (Romans 8:31). He is my helper, so I will not be afraid (Hebrews 13:6). Remembering these truths gave me so much relief. I can’t do it, but He can. All my confidence is in Him (Jeremiah 17:7).

Austin was uncharacteristically cold for the day- just under 40 degrees at the start. But, the water was warm (and just barely wetsuit legal), so the swim felt comfortable. I was able to get out quick and then settled into my own pace for the 1.9km. It was my fastest 70.3 swim split to date–win! The transition was fine. I still felt pretty warm and decided not to put on any extra clothing for the 56 mile ride, assuming I’d warm up and be fine. I was wrong.

I now know that low 40s is too cold to ride my bike for almost three hours in nothing but a wet bathing suit. I could not feel my legs or hands. When I picked up my snacks/bottles I did so very slowly and carefully because I couldn’t feel whether or not I was actually gripping them. My power meter worked for about 5 minutes of the race. I am not sure what went wrong–it was fine the day before the race, and it’s fine now. Hmm…so this combination of not feeling my legs, getting limited food/drink in my mouth, and having no power meter made for an interesting bike. Also, my chain fell off halfway up a hill so I put it back on and then walked my bike to the top. I remember thinking to myself that these moments when things aren’t going “our way” are so important; We can choose to give up, get negative about it, or we can trust that God is in control. We can give our best to Him and trust that He knows what we need. Even though I felt like my race was going downhill, I could have a little laugh about the situation and then do my best to move my legs and warm my body up. Once things thawed out, I felt strong again and was surprised to have a bike split not too far off my fastest 70.3 bike split–Hooray!

T2 was smooth and I was finally feeling warmed up. By the time I hit the run course I could even feel my feet! At the start of the run I was happy to see that my legs were moving faster than they felt, as had been the case at both of my previous 70.3 races this season. It wasn’t as hard as usual to settle down into my goal race pace (usually I start too fast and have to control myself for the first few miles). After about 3 miles, I knew I was drifting off of my pace and felt that I was slowing (it was hard to tell with the rolling hills on the course), so I ignored my watch and tried to go by feel. I even started mentally checking out and thinking about what I was going to say to my loved ones after my “bad race”. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t over yet and that I needed to stay present. The inner conversation went something like: “Don’t write yourself off yet! (10 points if you just started singing Jimmy Eat World) Just because you might not hit your “A” goal doesn’t mean you default to ‘just get it over with mode’. Stay in it! Focus on the opportunities still in front of you rather than what is behind you.”

Then, a male age grouper going the same pace as me ran with me for the middle 4-5 miles and was super encouraging–thank you, friend! At mile 9 I had to stop to use the porta potty for the first time in a triathlon, ever. After the stop, I felt great and starting speeding back up, only to slow back down for the last couple of miles. Those were probably the most mentally tough miles of the whole year for me–I felt so slow. Thankfully, I had Brice, Emma, and Sean to cheer me on and greet me at the finish.

Overall, I was happy to come away with a 70.3 PR. I don’t typically worry much about times since every course is different, and I don’t believe that times tel much of the story, but PRs are hard to come by so I celebrate that. Thanks to Coach Gareth for preparing me for the pain. Thanks to Metal Mountain Cycling for keeping me confident in my rocket ship. Thanks to Dr. Romeo for the top-notch treatment. Thanks to our Austin hosts, Lauren, Vincent & Mona, and to our “Juan in a Million” friends, Emma and Sean for making the trip out to Austin so we could see you. Finally, heaps of thanks to my handsome photographer-sherpa-husband, Brice <3