Let people watch you fail. It helps you both.

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First Run at my first National Championship

 

One of my favorite parts of being a committed athlete is the social value that I get to pay forward.  You might ask, “what is social value, as it applies to an athlete?”  Let’s start with a colloquialism we all have heard.

“If at first you don’t success, try, try again.”

How often do we see our friends and family stop an activity when they fail in a grand way?  For sure, the one place where I watch it play out in real time is the façade of dieting and exercise.  Parents start fad diets and workout regimens, and they get results…but only for a time.  The hands of time take their toll during the battle, and their willpower is replaced with the patterns of the past.  Voila-they return to failure mode.  Failed dieting and exercise regimens are the true unwanted occupants in our kitchens and on our neighborhood walking trails.

On the flip side, I read some news that seems intuitive while also helping the next generation avoid the abomination of obesity that my generation is trying to normalize.  MIT published some research on Sept 21, 2017, in Science that demonstrated that parents who struggle and suffer in real time in front of their children are really doing a great service to those children.  By struggling and fighting a battle in front of our children we teach them that hard work pays off.

“There’s some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children,” says Laura Schulz, a professor of cognitive science at MIT. “There’s nothing you can learn from a laboratory study that directly applies to parenting, but this does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals.”  Further, the study claims that “children’s persistence, or “grit,” can predict success above and beyond what IQ predicts. Other studies have found that children’s beliefs regarding effort also matter: Those who think putting in effort leads to better outcomes do better in school than those who believe success depends on a fixed level of intelligence.”

They designed an experiment in which 15-month-old babies first watched an adult perform two tasks: removing a toy frog from a container and removing a key chain from a carabiner. Half of the babies saw the adult quickly succeed at the task three times within 30 seconds, while the other half saw her struggle for 30 seconds before succeeding.

babyandtoysThe experimenter then showed the baby a musical toy. This toy had a button that looked like it should turn the toy on but actually did not work; there was also a concealed, functional button on the bottom. Out of the baby’s sight, the researcher turned the toy on, to demonstrate that it played music, then turned it off and gave it to the baby.

Each baby was given two minutes to play with the toy, and the researchers recorded how many times the babies tried to press the button that seemed like it should turn the toy on. They found that babies who had seen the experimenter struggle before succeeding pressed the button nearly twice as many times overall as those who saw the adult easily succeed. They also pressed it nearly twice as many times before first asking for help or tossing the toy.

We must struggle in front of others if we want to teach the next generation about grit.  Sure, there are feel-goods associated with showing off weight loss and body shape changes, and all those positive accolades can stroke an under stimulated ego.  Just look at Instagram or Facebook for evidence.  The real social value is not to you and your desire for attaboys.  The social value comes from fighting the battle, recording your efforts, documenting your setbacks and fighting hard the next time, when those you love are watching.

I love competing with family and friends watching, even when I lose.  The act of publicly going at 100% and preparing to go at 100%, teaches others other that hard work pays off.

Go fight.  Go fail.  Let your family and friends watch.  Just don’t give up-then, they will grow up and do the same thing.

 

Balance-not something you find…it is something you make.

This year represented my 4th opportunity to compete in a World Championship level event in Duathlon.  Since there is no Intergalactic Championship to take part in, this year’s race in British Columbia, Canada represented the end of the road for competitive Duathlon in 2017.  Nothing bigger than a World Championship…at least, not yet.

World Championships are always memorable.  The Parade of Nations makes you feel like an Olympian, albeit with only half the number of countries represented.  Putting on the National Team uniform and knowing you represent the USA for all to see is humbling yet empowering to the spirit of adventure that lives in all of us.  The overwhelming sense of funk that all athletes exude when their race is over and they socialize with other athletes is the source of great olfactory assault, yet mildly reaffirming that you just finished something that is difficult and special.

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Running with Mike and Rob

 

The best part of the 2017 World Championship was getting along with other TeamUSA athletes.  Run 1 turned into a fun run with my friends Mike and Rob. We ran side by side for the first 5k, averaging about a 6 ½ minute mile and we all reached the transition point within 10 seconds of one another.  We talked to each other, often, keeping each other encouraged.  Rob said that our banter was the only thing that kept him going during those first 40 minutes of tough running.  The bike was super-fast, as the terrain was flat.  Run 2 was more of run 1, and I hit the finish line, setting a personal best for that distance, despite a few cramps.

 

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3 athletes and the coach from Liberty University

I got to meet some great people and connect with some old friends.  I traded clothing with a Team South Africa athlete, and I got to meet the coach of Liberty University Triathlon and connect him with my youngest son.  Can’t tell you how proud it would make me feel to have both of my sons attend Liberty!  Rob and I attended an essential oils party with a couple of girls on TeamUSA, Melissa and Kerry.  We laughed so hard that it hurt!  Lastly, getting to experience the solar eclipse, minutes after crossing the finish line is an event I don’t ever see replicating.

Each year’s World Championship has had a unique focus in my memory.  Year one, the top of mind item was trying to reconcile my desire to compete with a lack of training due to injury.  Year two, I was overwhelmed by the distance and effort required to complete Powerman Zofingen and was grateful to finish the race.  Year three challenged me in that I was trying to become a better Ultra Marathoner while simultaneously getting stronger on the bike.  This year, I attempted to have a greater balance of training, life and work, with Spirit a part of every task.

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Kerry and Melissa-too much fun.

After all, balance isn’t something you find.  It is something you create.

This year started with a far-fetched goal of competing and finishing the Badwater Cape Fear Ultramarathon in early March.  I hyper-exceeded goals there, coming in near the top in the standings, both for age and for overall.  The end of the year includes 3 Ultra Marathons in a 7-week window, including one in Nepal to raise money for school building and another with our scout troop to help boys develop into men.  Although neither event has happened yet, I am sure that joy will come while running with Nepali natives and with our scout troop.  Both events shall be my “highs” of 2017 with regards to fitness.

After all, seeking fitness for fitness sake is selfish.  Using fitness to build the Temple of God while helping others hits at the core value of the human experience.

It is my heart’s desire that each of your reading this, regardless of where you are in your fitness journey take a few moments to answer the question, “how can I use my fitness achievements to help others?”  No matter how many medals I hang on my wall, none of them are worth as much to me as the smile I see when I help another athlete achieve something new.

That is the balance that I want all of us to create.  That is the selfish application of fitness that can make you happy.  Give it away, and you will have more wealth in your heart than you can imagine.

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Before the Start of the Badwater.  Seems so long ago!

My bike now sits in the basement, with only a day or so a week of riding happening between now and the winter.  My running shoes are now my weapon of choice, and the finish line now has images of people I am running for, not of places to see and things to accumulate.  Follow the story on http://thenepalproject.org for ongoing updates of the impact of the Annapurna100 on the people of Nepal.

Windshield vs. rear view mirror

 

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After getting an inspired message at a men’s group meeting this week, I came home and measured the size of the windshield in a car.  I then compared it to the corresponding rear view mirror in the car.

The front window average 54” across and 36” top to bottom. That is a total surface area of 1944 square inches.  The rear-view mirror measured 9” by 3”, a total of 27 square inches of mirror.

To put into perspective, only 1.3% of the total area to stare at is for looking backwards.  The remaining 98.7% of space in front of me is meant to see forward.

The forward direction represents where we should be looking nearly all the time.  That is why it represents such a large portion of the field of view.

This applies to nutrition and fitness.

When we seek to change to healthier eating patterns, nearly all of our efforts should be focused on what is ahead of us-the next meal or snack, the next day, etc.  Too often we find ourselves consumed by thoughts about what certain foods from the past we are craving, instead of being focused on the task at hand.

Nats3With athletics, it is important to review efforts from the past.  But once we have reviewed those lessons, discussed and learned from them, we must move forward with the next workout/training cycle to get better at our craft.

This last weekend, and Duathlon Nationals, my bike broke on the 2nd climb up a mountain.  I was stuck in 15th gear for the entire climb….my cadence during that climb was 31 rpm.  That hurts!  Might as well have pushed a wheel barrow up that mountain.  Fortunately, when I crested at the top of the climb, I jumped off my bike and successfully fixed the issue before getting on my bike and descending back to transition.  My placement in the race dropped a couple of spaces since last year, but it was still a good day, and I earned a TeamUSA slot for 2018.

Nats7My son saw a young man in front of him fall.  His emotional response to the accident caused him to forget to take off his helmet.  He did run 2 wearing his helmet.  That cost him a few seconds, but he also did well enough to finish in the top 6 and get a TeamUSA slot for the Sprint distance.

The windshield for both of us is large now.  Alex begins Cross Country season, and will not see nor wear a cycling helmet until the fall, at our next race.  I have ITU Worlds in Penticton in 8 weeks, and my focus is on preparing for an even greater challenge than Nationals.

We have no time for the rear view mirror.

When called to serve…

When called up to serve, one should serve, especially, when no notice is given.  Today’s blog is about one such instance.

This year, I am competing in only 4 duathlons:  1 regional, 2 national championships and one world championship.  My training and racing is split between 6 running events, 10 cycling events, scouting, running a non-profit, parenting and being a husband-not in any order.

This first duathlon of the year was the Outerbanks Duathlon, in Corolla, NC.  The thin strip of land on the Eastern edge of NC that represented our cycling and running surfaces had ocean both to our left and to our right.  Unlike most days in the Outerbanks, race day was near windless, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  The temps at race start were in the 50s, meaning fast times for all competitors.

Before these sanctioned events, there is a time for announcements, the playing and singing of the National Anthem and a prayer for the athletes.  Despite the trend of a few citizens in this country, no one took a knee in protest of anything; showing that the nation is not, in fact, falling apart with anti-American sentiment as the media depicts.  Hands on hearts and mouths singing were everywhere as we anxiously awaited the starting gun.

flagImmediately after the National Anthem, the race director lifted the microphone and said, “and now, for a moment of prayer for the athletes, here is Jeff Gaura,” and he handed me the microphone.

I had no heads up.  It would have been tempting to hesitate or even lift the mic to my mouth and say, “really, dude? Do I look like Billy Graham today?”  I most likely could have made a moment of humor out of the circumstance, but we are talking about communication with the Eternal, in public, and that would be equally inappropriate as flag burning or the like.  This moment required my best.

Although I can’t tell you exactly what I said, here is how I remember it.

“Let us be reverent and remove our hats as we pray to the Lord.  Heavenly Father, thank you for the effort from all of those who made this event happen, especially from the sponsors and volunteers.  Without their effort, we would not be able to enjoy this day as we are about to.  I want to thank you for giving us the bodies and the discipline to prepare for and perform this act of running and cycling to our utmost, as most people not just in the United States but in the world, do not have the ability to undertake and finish what we are about to do.  Regardless of the outcome, thank you for our success in the effort.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

I completed and did well in the event, having the fastest overall 2nd run and winning my age group by several minutes.  Immediately after having a quick drink at the finish line, I approached the race director and asked him what made him think to have me lead everyone in prayer.  He said he remembered watching me pray at this event last year, and he knew that I was a praying man.

You just never know who is watching you, and what they will remember.  If I am found guilty of being a praying man, I accept the label and any consequences therein attached.

2016 Year in Review

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Running in Zofingen

Accountability is at the core of reaching a goal, and accountability requires measurement.  If you can measure something, you can improve it.  I achieved a lot of goals in 2016, and here is some background on implementing a measurement strategy and use it to make your goals happen.

Let’s do a hard accountability measurement example first that many of us all share-we want to spend more time with family. If you say you love your family and want to spend more time with them, you have set a goal.  How do you make the claim that you are doing something about it and not just blowing hot air and making another fruitcake New Year’s resolution?  Start with the measurement!

Get out your calendar and look at how often you saw them in 2016.  Perhaps you saw them a total of 6 times, and all but one of those instances coincided with a holiday.  That means your measurement showed that you had 5 holiday visits and 1 non-holiday visit.  Remember, we aren’t measuring quality here-just quantity.  To reach your spoken goal of spending more time with family, you need to visit them more than those 6 times.  That means that future measurements include numbers that are larger than 5 and 1.  Perhaps you could set a goal of 6 holidays and 3 non-holiday gatherings. From your measurement, you see a need to pick some holidays that you missed and add in a couple of non-holidays.  The unspoken assumption here is that you will continue to repeat your previous behavior.

At the start of last year, I studied the outcomes from running and riding my bike.  I knew I could do better but the causes for the low performances were a mystery.  So, I got serious with my measuring.  Here is what I committed to measuring:

  • Body Fat-I was between 10 and 12%, and I knew that I needed to get to 8%, if not less.
  • Power on the bike. Going “as hard as I can” didn’t give me a metric to say how hard was hard.  Measurements shows that my sustainable power was 200 watts and change.  I needed it to be in the 255 Watt window to get the sustained speeds that I wanted.
  • My running cadence was 165 to 168 strides per minute. I needed to get to 180 to be more efficient.
  • The difference between the speeds that I did my long runs at was not that much different. My easy days weren’t easy enough, and my hard days weren’t hard enough.  I needed to learn how to go easier, as well as go harder.

Getting there….

To address body fat, I felt that most of my eating habits were healthy, but there was room for improvement. I committed to a monthly body fat measurement regimen with one of my Pilates instructors, Laura Pittman.  I knew I was eating too many carbohydrates late I the day and needed to measure what happens when I eat less.  I started eating more sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, and I added more veggies.  During my monthly body fat analysis, I watched my weight remain relatively constant, but my body fat went all the way down to 7% at the end of the racing year.  It remains there.  Success!

To address my low power, I incorporated more “hard” sessions that included repeated efforts above my best race efforts.  These anaerobic efforts worked wonders to increase my power.  My cycling speed is up 10%+, and I haven’t worked out any more than I did in 2015.

My running still has room to grow.  My long runs are nearly all on trails, so I run slower.  I have started doing intervals but that aren’t frequent enough or fast enough to result in much of a difference.  To address this, my first 4 events of 2017 are all running events, forcing me to prioritize running ahead of cycling until the end of March.  This makes me put more runs on the schedule.

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My family, at Christmas time

 

Every Sunday, I review outputs from these tools and adjusted workouts.

I implemented a plan to address these-details of this would be an overwhelmingly long blog.  Suffice it to say that without the help of my family and business, this plan would have failed.  Here are the 2016 results:

  • I had two first place overall wins last year: one duathlon and one Ultra-Marathon. That causes me to shake my head in disbelief, and, in one instance, cry.  Beating everyone else in an endurance competition when I am 51 years old breaks nearly all molds people have of what the aging process is.
  • I did better than ever both at Duathlon Nationals in Bend (9th place in my age category) and at Duathlon Worlds in Switzerland (10th in my age and 91 out of 241 overall). Despite aging, I am getting faster in both disciplines.
  • I finished the competition season at 7% body fat
  • I didn’t get injured. I could have put this first, as it is a precursor to success with everything else.  What this means is that I didn’t get any overuse injuries or range of motion injuries associated with not being aware of your body’s limits. Had I been in a car accident or the like, I would still be making this claim.
  • Giving-it-away points were higher than expected. Giving-it-away points are earned each time my wife and I share our knowledge of fitness and nutrition.  I helped a couple of athletes out as well as taught two of our classes.

The items up there that I controlled are the 3rd and 4th ones.  The first two I didn’t control-I have no input as to who else shows up on race day.  However, I know that 1 and 2 would not have happened without 3 and 4 happening.

Accountability requires that I do this process again, starting now. There were things that didn’t go right in 2016 that I need to address in 2017.  My goals remain the same:  run faster, ride faster and longer, avoid preventable injury and eat better.  The obstacles I hit were associated with inconsistent efforts to get there.  My strategies all revolve around avoiding inconsistency.

In those moments when you get honest and observe that your results don’t meet your goals, don’t take the “let’s try harder” strategy.  That doesn’t work.  Start with measuring your efforts and keep doing it.  You need the feedback provided by measurement to see if your efforts are working.

 

 

Who is Team USA, part 2

This is the second installment of my series on Team USA members.  I suspect there may be a lot more, as TeamUSA people tend to be interesting.  This story is so unique that it deserves its own blog post.

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Jenna Hay and me, before the start of Powerman Zofingen

Before ever meeting Jenna Hay, I met her mom and dad.  Her parents were travelling with her as her support staff.  Jenna was a recent college grad (like, in the last few weeks).  Her trip from Duathlon Nationals (Long Course) to Worlds has already been published by local TV in Dallas. I met her in Zofingen, but not until I first met  and had breakfast with her parents.  They were both proud of their daughter and were excited to be watching her compete on Duathlon’s biggest stage.

Two days before the race, a group of 30 of us took a test ride on parts of the course.  Jenna, another young man named Bryce (no photo) and I did the entire 50km loop. Although Bryce and I had nice aero bikes, Jenna was riding a road bike and was happy to do so. Her advice for newbies included, “hold off on buying all of the fancy equipment. It is 100% the athlete that wins races, not the bike, or aero helmet, or fancy clip-in shoes. Before dropping tons of cash, make sure multisport is something you are passionate for and want to pursue.”

When I asked Jenna what goes on inside her head during a long distance event, she offered some thoughtful advise.  She shared, “I never consider myself to be suffering during a race. Even when I am in pain, being smothered by the heat, or reaching a wall in my strength I am still having the time of my life. I love racing, and it’s hard to be sad when you’re doing something you love! But when the going gets tough, I think about friends and family. I have been blessed in my life to know people who inspire me to push myself, whether it is because they have forced me to or because they have set a wonderful example. I am also a fairly imaginative person, so entertaining myself during the long runs and bike rides is not too hard. I typically imagine myself being cheered on as I cross the finish line, and if I’m feeling really loopy, I’ll imagine myself in funny situations. That has caused me to burst out laughing in the middle of a race, which definitely freaks out those around me. You could say it’s a race strategy! The final method I use to keep a positive attitude is to smile. Spectators love to see a competitor, someone who should be miserable and exhausted, jogging by with a huge smile and pep in their step. I love waving and joking around with people watching the race. Making them smile makes me happy, which makes it easier to run through discomfort.”

The ladies start the course an hour ahead of the boys, preventing a lot of log jams on the course.  After the race started, I didn’t see Jenna until the final run was nearly over, and the rain was pouring down.  She had a big smile on her face and laughed out loud.  She had a great 150km bike and was enjoying the final run, as best as her body would let her.

After my race was over, and I took a warm epsom salt bath to ease my muscle pain and headed back to the stadium.  As Jenna entered the stadium, the crowd roared like it had for no other competitor up to that moment.  Her smile and look of happiness were compelling.  People naturally love Jenna.  At the awards ceremony when she was crowned World Champion for the women’s Under 25, you could only sense that there is a lot more racing ahead of Jenna.

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Jenna on the podium at Worlds

After the event, I strongly recommended that she reach out to Kristen Armstrong about learning road cycling from the best. America needs a new Elite cyclist to take up the torch as best in the World, and Jenna has it in her to be that girl.

Image…all at 23 years old.

Who is TeamUSA? (part 1)

Beginning a few months ago, people began asking questions regarding the upcoming Olympics.  The most common form came out like this.  “So, what time is your event down in Rio?”

“Um, I’m not going,” would come to mind and come out of my mouth, but that response didn’t answer the “why not?” that everyone seemed to ask.  Delivering a monolog that addressed incorrect assumptions gracefully  isn’t always easy.  The question got asked so many times that I feel a need to get the publish the answer.

  • Sadly, duathlon is not currently an Olympic Sport.  Most sports are not Olympic Sports, for that matter. There is no bowling (America’s most actively participated in sport) nor football (America’s most financially invested sport).    The best we get as duathlete is to compete in World Championships, and those are yearly.
  • Skill and money play huge roles in Olympic participation.  Olympians are typically the most elite athletes in a sport, but being the best is not enough. For single person events, like Triathlon, in a best case scenario, a country gets to send 3 people.  Few countries don’t get to send that many, and most countries send no one at all.  Most sports don’t support a financially viable pro league, or if there is a league, it requires supplemental income and sponsorship to make things work. One of the outcomes of great likelihood is to meet a former Olympian and learn that he/she is broke. We don’t get the best of the best training and support without raising money on our own to pay for what we think will give us an edge.  There is some assistance from national groups and governments, (in my case, USA Triathlon helps elite athletes), but it doesn’t cover all the costs, or even come close.  More than one athlete has missed a game because they ran out of money.
  • I am an age group competitor, meaning I may get to know and hang out with the elite athletes who get to go, but in my sport, no way is a 50-year-old is heading to the Olympics as an elite endurance athlete.  I don’t have the VO2 max of the young kids out there…even if I do beat them, now and then.  In any given sport, there may be a few hundred people who get to do TeamUSA competitions, and of those, only a small handful ever get to by Olympians.

The people who make up TeamUSA are the best part of most events.  Here are some stories of the people who participated in the 2016 Powerman Duathlon World Championships.

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Be and Sarah Looney, TeamUSA athletes and chefs from Texas

Ben and Sarah Looney are professional chefs/nutritionists from Texas.  As you can imagine, they eat well and workout hard.  Their fitness is obvious.  Both of them qualified for Zofingen, and they decided to save their money and jointly compete this last year.  They travelled with another couple, Julie and Monty Hardy, as Money was also competing, and the two couples knew each from other events.

Ben and Sarah were working together when he began chasing her.  Ben learned that Sarah’s dad was an Ironman guy, and he was the one that encouraged Sarah to take up triathlon.  Ben had always had an inkling of interest in multisport racing but hadn’t pursued it with any zeal.  According to Ben, “I figured what better way to get close to her than by hanging out with her dad and training with them both. I had ulterior motives, but in the process became really passionate about duathlon and triathlon, as well as Sarah. I actually asked her dad to go on a training ride and at the end asked him if I could marry his daughter. The rest is history!” What a brilliant idea to ask your future father in law a real important “yes or no” question when he is on a natural high!

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Ben and Sarah Looney, from a balcony in Italy, after Powerman Zofingen 

Sarah Looney views the suffering of long race competition with an attitude that the rest of us could learn from.  She shared with me, “I try to remember those that are suffering more than I am, who can’t just quit when things get hard – like my Grandma who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, a friend battling cancer – they can’t just say “this disease is harder than I thought, I think I’ll stop for a while.”  And of course I’d be lying if I didn’t say that a good post-race breakfast or a nice glass of wine doesn’t push me towards the finish line …just kidding! But seriously ;)”

They two of them hope to compete and do future races together.

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Cora Sturzl, competing in the 2016 Standard Distance Duathlon Worlds in Spain.

 

Cora Sturlz is a “seasoned” athlete (meaning, she is old, like me!), with a long history of competition.  Cora has competed in Nordic skiing, road biking, basketball, and a few paddling races and says she was known as “Velcro hands” when she played women’s soccer.  I know her as the woman who played the role of everyone’s friend during the last two Worlds in Zofingen.  Cora demonstrates both with actions and words that no matter how bad the race is (rain, suffering on mountains, etc), she has a look on her face that says, “I can do this, and so can you!”  Cora says, “just focusing on the next step or breath and coming back to the now usually helps with the harder moments.”

Cora has finished Powerman Zofingen 4 times, now.  Her goal is to join the jubilee club for people who complete the Powerman Zofingen 10 times.  She encourages other Americans at qualifying event to give Powerman Zofingen a fair try.  Even though nearly a quarter of all athletes dropping out of the race, Cora is confident.  Her goal of joining the Jubilee club has an attitude of confidence built into it that she will not become a statistic during any of her 10 years of trying.

 

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Cora Sturzl

Her inspiration to race has been documented by local Washington State newspapers as well as others on TeamUSA who get to hang out with her before and after events.  She says, “I guess multisport has taught me to roll with the punches, and be self-sufficient. Each successive race was another learning experience and I’m not sure the lessons can be learned without the experiences. I read everything I could find on multisport.  If I could, I would tell other women looking to get into multisport to just wear the same outfit for each leg of the race!”

Cora’s history of no-so-healthy living is documented.  She used to smoke and ignore signs that her health was degrading.  Cora found a magic moment when she was departing her 20s when she decided to make the change. The rest in now history, and her uniform proves it.

World Championship experiences can’t be recreated, as they are all so different.  However, the relationships we make can last us all of our lives. Cora is loved by all and her encouraging attitude lifts the spirits of those who are nervous.  Every TeamUSA needs a Cora in the lineup!

Next time, I will profile a couple of other athletes and share with you what I have heard from them.  Stay tuned.