The Coach

Posted: March 20, 2016 in Lifestyle
Tags: ,

967036_519246998132966_1405095889_oLast week I enjoyed my first outdoor bike ride of 2016.  It was rather fitting and bittersweet in that I also got to share this same ride with the Coach, otherwise known in non-Internet blogging circles as Saskia.  You see, in a few days, Saskia will be embarking on a new and exciting adventure by moving to New Zealand to pursue other professional opportunities.  And while I am genuinely thrilled for her, it’s not without a bit of selfishness that I also admit that I am also a bit disappointed to see my friend and mentor go.

So at the risk of getting all sappy and opening myself up to being mercilessly teased for being a big softie at tomorrow’s TryForce going away party, I’m going to outline just how important a role she has played in my life.

In truth, Saskia has been pretty much present for this entire triathlon crazy train I embarked on over eight years ago.  So, basically, she has been there to witness the whole transformation from fat, single, pot-smoking, triathlete wannabe with absolutely zero skill to a semi-fat, family-orientated, non-pot smoking triathlete wannabe with marginal to mediocre skill.  And believe me, that’s a huge transformation.

I first met Saskia in the pool at the St. Catharines YMCA for the then TryForce Master’s Swim. I liked her immediately because her bed head was even worse than mine.  She swam in the fast lane at the far side of the pool and I remember thinking: “Jesus, she’s like a dolphin”.  At the time I could barely paddle from end to the other without drowning so I was pretty much in awe.  It wasn’t until the next year when she coaxed me into the Fast Lane “for company” when a few other regular Fast Lane swimmers failed to show one morning.  I was terrified and a whole lot intimidated.  I could barely keep up after 50m or so and I’m sure I got lapped about a dozen times by the time the workout was over.  I was absolutely spent.  However, I was also encouraged and motivated to work on those damn drills Coach Roberto kept preaching about so that, eventually, maybe I could manage to ride in her wake for a couple hundred meters or so – if I was lucky.  I’m sure she thought nothing of it but I was enamored for sure.

Later in the Spring I participated in my first triathlon in Milton, Ontario, a sprint distance event.  Again, I barely survived.  I do, however, remember her trotting past me at some point during the run like I wasn’t even moving (and there was a very good chance that I wasn’t).  She chirped something positive or encouraging as she went past.  I don’t rightly remember what it was as my heart was beating inside my eardrums at the time and I was trying to not – you know – die.

Again, I was in awe.

We spent more time that summer riding together with the TryForce group on Sunday mornings and I got to know her a little better over the inevitable coffees that followed the ride as I peppered her with endless questions about triathlon, her experiences with the Ironman and, well, whatever else it was that popped into my mind.  During these group rides I tried to ride up alongside her as often as I could to try and glean as much as I could.   Towards the end of the summer she mentioned she was in fact training for a half Ironman competition and was looking for a partner for her longer rides and would I be interested.

Wait, what?

Me?

Keep in mind that by this point I had probably never rode more than 30-40 kilometers at a time and I still tracked my workouts by the kitty cat calendar on the kitchen wall.  I was flattered though and so I agreed, albeit with a certain amount of trepidation. So suddenly I was doubling my biking mileage and truly learning to love the bike.

I still do and I reflect back on those rides all the time.

It was during those rides in between gasps for breath she expressed her confidence that I too could complete a long-distance triathlon if I so desired.  I wasn’t so sure, of course, but if she  thought I could, well, then maybe…just maybe.  Anyway, as a result a plan was hatched to make the big jump from short distance triathlons to the Ironman distance; I figure I was delirious with exhaustion at the time.

But here’s the key part: she agreed to help  me.

At the time, she was aspiring to become certified as a Canadian Triathlon coach and was in the market for a willing victim guinea pig with which to train.  I likely never thought it would ever happen but I agreed regardless.  Over the course of a few more rides we planned out a three year plan leading up to the big event…unbelievable as it still seemed.

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Completing the plan – even while traveling on business in the Philippines.

During that following winter, she invited me to start running with her on the weekends with another friend Kerr (yes, that’s his name) to train for the Around the Bay 30k race in March. Up to that point, my runs equated to running around the block until I felt like puking.  Now, here I was trudging distances I had never before imaged, nor cared to imagine, up and down the endless inclines of Pelham and Fonthill with two very capable runners.  I like to think they were just humoring me by letting me tag along and “keep up”, but they were likely just making sure I didn’t get too far behind so that I would get lost.  Eventually, over many long, cold hours of pavement pounding I could just about keep up…barely.  Hell, she even coaxed me into running 10k in an elephant suit (click HERE).  But the most amazing thing happened somewhere along the way: I actually turned into something resembling that of a runner.

We also started swimming together on weekends and, again, over time I started to be able to keep up.  Low and behold, I started believing that this whole Ironman thing might actually be possible.

And so it went for the next three years.  Every month I received my monthly training plan and every week I checked off and completed the assigned workouts either on my own or, quite regularly with Saskia herself.  Whether on business or otherwise, I followed the plan.  Each year I found myself getting faster, stronger, and more confident.  Through osmosis, I even started to pick up the basics of training and training plans, although I’ve never been quite so successful or confident at doing it myself.  Even in the years since those official training plans, I still often find myself asking: “what would Saskia do?”    Through it all though, I had found myself not just a Coach and a regular training partner…but a friend.

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Was it something I said?

Over the next three years I finished 5 Half-Ironman competitions (the Cancun 70.3 being among them) with my times  getting exponentially better and better, ultimately, accomplishing my intended end goal being Ironman Wales itself, which I like to think, went very well…”Well” meaning that I didn’t die.  Her husband Nelson even showed me how to tear down, pack up and reassemble my bike into her bike box to get to these events (click HERE).

Understand that NONE  of this would have been possible without Saskia.

None.  Of.  It.

And although we may not swim, bike and run as dutifully together as we used and she isn’t officially “coaching” me anymore, she is still my close friend.  Her daughter and HRH  have become close friends and she (and family) even served as witnesses at my wedding this past May.  I should also add in here that she got up early and ran long that morning while I slept in.

So while I wish her well on his new journey, I will miss laughing, gossiping, and chewing over life in general with her.  I know we will stay in touch regularly through the magic of the Interweb, of course, but it won’t be same as being out riding together as we did this past weekend.  So, yeah, I’m a bit sad.

The truth of the matter is (although she will likely not accept any credit for it) that, largely thanks to her, I’ve not only evolved as a triathlete…but as a person.  And while it might be some time before we ride, swim or run together again, one thing is for certain, Ironman New Zealand just took a huge leap to the top of my bucket list.

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Comments
  1. Lori P says:

    Well written Terry. My best to Saskia & family as they embark on a wonderful life journey… and hey, Terry, there are races in New Zealand – new goal!!

  2. […] on an early Sunday morning eons ago when Coach Bill asked me to move over into the next lane with Saskia, Devin, and a guy named Steve.  I’m pretty sure they closed the pool later that morning due to a […]

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