Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Giving Does Not Mean Giving Up!

After my piece yesterday on ‘giving’, Matthew wrote his feedback on my Comments page. He decided to write his own thoughts about the concept of ‘giving’. I appreciate his honest sharing as we thrive on feedback, especially if it guides us to become better – like refining our swim strokes so as to swim efficiently and faster.

We can give without aforethought, lest it be misconstrued as reciprocity. If we expect something in return for every deed we do for somebody, then this may easily be perceived as ‘wanting something in return’. This suggests a ‘hidden agenda’ or ‘assisting with a purpose’. Sure, some believe in this principle, and marketers are exploiting it when they offer freebies. Robert B. Cialdini also expressed this principle in his landmark book.

Generosity is a personal value; it is the opposite of being selfish and holding on to things. Generous people derive pleasure from sharing, helping and giving – they gain when they surrender a small part of themselves. Thus, on this platform (blog) we tend to do active cross-sharing with other resources. We interview people of distinction, review books and films, provide commentaries, and share our perspectives (through Tweets, articles and stories). There is no one right answer to a problem; there might be several. By merging or crossing ideas, we may encourage cross-fertilisation or the emergence of a better, hybrid idea.
While watching the television program called ‘The Doctors’ this morning, I learnt a new acronym for keeping heart disease in check. Dr Vonda Wright, MD wrote in her book, Fitness After 40 her acronym FACE that stands for: Flexibility, Aerobics, Carry a Load/Core, and ‘E’ which you can find out on your own – or even construct your own. The reality is: if you give away everything, the perceived value can also diminish. FREE may be view with suspicion because we believe that it may conceal a ‘catch’. Some have articulated that ‘If it is too good to be true, then it is too good to be true!’ It is merely a caveat, however it is useful to be vigilant when it comes to financial transactions and potential business partnerships.

Leadership Lessons: Feel free to apply the learning on this blog. There are few things that compare with the joy of learning, and a sense of achievement. Do give deeper thought on how you can apply the notion of ‘giving’: Give back, give up, give out (project), give, and forgive. Just give!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Giving Back To Your Community

‘It is better to give than receive.’

How many of us were raised with the values of charity, generosity of spirit, care and consideration? I am sure, most of us have. Which leaves us to consider its corollary question: When was the last time you gave back to your community?

People, who challenge themselves with extreme sports and other physical challenges in order to raise funds for a disadvantaged group, inspire me. At times, these monetary collections may pale in comparison to the challenge, yet the initiator of this fund ends up bigger and brighter, for longer. And, the Tribes support these minor causes – as long as it clicks with them, and resonates with their values and beliefs.

On Twitter, we return the favour by connecting the online presence of a Follower with our followers, through Re-Tweets (RTs). It is conventional to retweet the 140-character maximum text message when you like it, and like to share its usefulness with our Tribe. The Twitter community does easily promote timely news, worthy causes, and useful information to its highly connected network. Certainly, reckless and rampant re-tweeting has its repercussions and implications since ‘one person’s meat is another person’s poison.’ By re-tweeting, we are affirming a person’s cause or preference.

Talk-show mogul, Oprah Winfrey organised a reality television series called the Big Give Back, which emphasised the human spirit of wanting to help, and philanthropy. The viewing audience may have perceived the eventual prize of $1 million as the antithesis of pure philanthropy, so it lasted for one season only.

There are ways to give back, including:

1)    Actively raising funds for a cause (organize a club-level running race, and entry is by ‘as you wish’ contribution) that matters.
2)    Conducting a free skills workshop for a ‘not-for profit’ organization, club, or community (‘teaching them to fish’).
3)    Mentoring and coaching, face-to-face, ‘at risk’ youths.
4)    Monitoring ‘online help-desks’ and helping counsel the needy, disparate, and desperate.
5)    Helping somebody extensively and effectively promote his/her cause, business, passion, or pursuit.
6)    Teach, educate and coach others in a field of your expertise (coach swimmers or runners at your local tri-club).
7)    Volunteer at a local sports event in various capacities and capabilities (handing out medals, security, bag-collection, aid-stations, sports massage, first-aid tent, road marshals, etc.).

Leadership Lessons: Giving and giving back are personal choices, not requirements. If you feel obligated to give back to the larger need, then you might want to review your intentions. Give freely of your time, effort and resources. Place yourself in a place of most potential, so you may benefit from your thoughts, words and deeds. Above all, feel good about doing good for others. May you go forth and prosper!
Awesome YouTube concert video of Trace Bundy and young guitarist wunderkind, Sungha Jung in respectful musical collaboration.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Most Popular Marathon In The World

‘Few things in life match the thrill of a marathon.’ ~ Fred Lebow

Run For Your Life – The Fred Lebow Story is a documentary of the fascinating founder and maverick promoter of the New York City (NYC) Marathon. The Romanian immigrant started the race with 55 runners and it phenomenally grew into 43,660 participants in 2009.
Boston may have been the oldest marathon in the USA, but the way Run For Your Life tells it, it was the New York City Marathon (NYCM) that put the idea of the big-city, road race on the map, which accelerated the popularity of running in general. In 1970, the first New York event consisted of four circuits around Central Park. It then progressed in 1976 into its much-hailed ambitious route, when the race expanded to include all five of the city’s boroughs. The NYC Marathon attracted some 2,000 athletes, including Olympians Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers (who went on to win it four years in a row). It has attracted media celebrities like Lance Armstrong to race in it seriously.

The success of the NYCM was due to the vision and persistence of the marathon’s founder: Fred Lebow. He was a influential businessperson (and celebrity in the fashion circle) in the garment industry (where he was skilled at copying expensive designs and selling them as 'knock-offs') when he became a long-distance running aficionado.

In this documentary, Lebow’s coterie of friends, foes, family, politicians and athletes reminisce about him in producer-director, Judd Ehrlich’s film. They described Lebow as everything from a brilliant promoter and entrepreneur to a ‘chaos creator’ and a ‘master manipulator’. One thing is unarguably clear - they all agreed that without him, the NYCM would never have hit its stride. It was Lebow who wooed the sponsors (then an unheard of proposition for a running event), attracted the best runners (also including Grete Waitz, who won the women’s division an amazing nine times, and Alberto Salazar, another multiple winner), and convincingly earned permission from the city officials into closing bridges and streets along the route. He also dealt with major controversy, including disqualifying the notorious Rosie Ruiz, who allegedly cheated (and won) in the New York race before achieving lasting infamy by ‘winning’ the Boston Marathon in 1980.

It is interesting to note that Lebow did not compete in his own race until 1992, when he took part a few years after being diagnosed with brain cancer (still single, he died, in 1994). Waitz ran it with Lebow, who completed it in about 5:35; Waitz never ran another marathon after that. Run For Your Life includes the director’s commentary, deleted scenes, and more. (Available in Singapore at video shops, under the Imported section).

Every year, the lottery for entry (which costs US$11) to the NYCM (which costs US$30 million to organize) attracts about 110,000 runners. I missed the chance for slot this year, and will attempt again next year by results and/or lottery. Keep running, and hopefully, we meet in the five boroughs in November next year.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Adidas King of The Road (KOTR) Race, Singapore

This morning, I almost missed the inaugural KOTR race since I could not get a cab to my destination. I, eventually, walked home and called a cab and arrived at the Padang about 6.45am, with about 15 minutes to warm up. I found a spot in the second wave, barricaded behind a resilient-looking chain, and a stern-looking technical official. I jogged on the spot and waited for the first wave to be flagged off. 10 minutes later, my wave was released from its tensed pen.
I ran alongside Izzu who was fasting (and certainly not drinking water) during this Ramadan season. He kept up a good pace (we averaged 4:04-4:15 for the first few kilometres) until he dropped me (unintentionally) when I spent too much time at the aid-stations. I have learnt to drink at each aid-station for my sweat-rate is usually high, or pay a high price in muscular fatigue for it. So, I was on my own aiming to overtake as many runners of the first wave. I assure you that I felt fairly uncomfortable for the remainder of the race, in wanting to secure a good time-trial time. Thankfully, a few shouts of encouragement by friends like Charles and KK Chin helped spur me on. Cheers, mates!
Fortunately, I scored a PB at the 10K and 16.8K marks! I averaged about a sub-4:30/K, which meant I may be able to do a 1:36-1:38 next week at the Army Half-Marathon. I am optimistic that with a structured training week ahead I may be able to stay fit to enjoy that goal. On 11 September, I will race in the inaugural long-distance triathlon, Mega-Tri. My Long-Course route will comprise a 2K swim, 102 ride, and 27K run. I hope I have enough reserves to complete it in decent time.
I enjoyed meeting up with several friends including Reeves Lim, Ed Kor, SK Lim, David Tay, David Tan, Danny, Richard Leong, Nicholas, Baoying (who also was top-three in the Women's Local category) and running couple Li Zi and Rachel Poon. Poon’s wife won second place in the Local Open Category (Women) – an amazing athlete considering that she trains on minimal mileage. Elite amateur athlete, Anne Date was champion for Local Women's category.

My preliminary results for today: Rank 175, Timing 1:15:42, 6K (26:24), 9.4K (42.02), 13K (58:28). My Garmin data showed me consume more time at my 11K pee-stop/refueling station, which consumed more than a minute. I am not too fussed about my downtime, as I may earn this back next week with some proper time management. Note to self: hitch a ride or dial a cab, have a pee before the race, and park myself with the fast pack near the front.

Ironman Canada 2011 is on now. All the best Team Singapore!

Photo-credits: David Tan, a member of Triathlon Family

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Open-Water Swimming Sessions Resume

This morning, I met up with our regular lagoon swimmers. It has been a while since I swam with them, as I had been working on Saturday mornings. Now that that gig is over, I can now resume my swimming development. Other than the occasional diversion from floating debris, sea-parasites and one jellyfish I had a taste of the sea and being at the end of the obviously well-trained swim-pack. I was glad for sticking to the 4-lap menu, and I was aware of my lack of aquatic fitness. However, I was pleased to swim only in my swimming tights, my cap, goggles and my imagination (which was rampant and abundant, at times). I look forward to Monday’s pool swim with the squad as my strokes are more steady and I am more buoyant. I need to focus on building reliable speed and endurance to prepare for Ironman New Zealand 2012.

At the Marina 21K Run held in July, the emcee Ross conducted an impromptu interview with a Kenyan participant, and asked him his time for his fastest half-marathon. The candid reply was ‘1 hour 2 minutes!’ Hailed as one of the best distance-running nations, Kenya has continued to produce world-class champions. Have you ever wonder what it is like being a professional distance runner? How would a Kenyan runner train? It is not necessarily a bed or roses! I enjoyed this read, and it led to some shifts of my mindsets about these amazing athletes. What do you think?

Today, I went to the polls to elect our new national President from a choice of four candidates. Each of them possessed leadership qualities, and expressed their values clearly. It will be a close call come results time. For each voter, it is our personal show of leadership: to demonstrate our decisiveness, diligence and discernment.

Leadership Lessons: Make a choice. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. Make an informed choice, rather than an infirmed and random one. Decide and stand by it. Live and learn.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dealing with Double Exposure

In photography, a multiple exposure is the superimposition of two or more individual exposures to create a single photograph. It is a technique in which a piece of film is exposed twice, to two different images. The resulting photographic image shows the second image superimposed over the first. The technique can be used to create ghostly images or to add people and objects to a scene that were not originally there. It is frequently used in photographic hoaxes. It is sometimes used as an artistic visual effect, especially when filming singers or musicians for cinema posters or music albums.

Can this analogy be transferred to our relationships?

Have you faced over-exposure in your business/profession? Speakers, trainers, celebrities and entertainers can suffer from over-familiarity. Their perceived value drops when they are advertised and engaged extensively. Holding back from additional work, working on new material, taking a sabbatical, re-branding, and focusing on the business can be worthwhile options to inject a sense of freshness and relevance. That is why delayed self-gratification is taught as an early age, so children appreciate the relevance and usefulness of holding back (and reasoning through it) before they act on an impulse.

Being under-exposed is just as disadvantageous. If you fail to promote yourself, you may be over-looked. This can be overwhelming to your confidence when your competencies are under-appreciated and marginalized. Playing up to expectations and positioning yourself as an expert and one with expertise, can augur well for your career and sustainability. Certainly, shameless and self-promotion can be detrimental and exacerbate an already unpopular reputation. Express the change you want to see. Behave appropriately that aligns with others' expectations and values.

Leadership Lessons: What can you do to stay in focus, while you are focused on the job? Weigh your position: are you over-exposed or under-exposed? What can you do to shift your position? How would expose yourself to the employment market? What would be your exposure factor be like on LinkedIn?
I took a total of four days off from training last week, partly due to my weekend vacation. I had to redeem my frequent-flyer points or risk losing them all. Thus, I preceded the trip with a few swims, rides and runs. Since my return, I have done four consecutive sessions, some of which were superimposed onto each other:

Monday: Run 10K (tempo); 45-minute of swim drills [brick day]
Tuesday: Road riding (2 hours)
Wednesday: Morning swim drills (1 hour); run 10K (tempo) & core stability workout
Thursday: Road riding (3 hours)
Today: Rest and active recovery; flexibility and core stability work
Saturday: Open-water swim in lagoon (4-6 laps of 350-400m each); short run (optional)
Sunday: 16.8K road race/time trial; active recovery (pool)

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Sheila Taormina has represented her country four times in the Olympics since 1996. Born in Livonia, Michigan she earned a business degree from Georgia in 1992, and added an MBA in 1994. Parents, Sam and Moya, currently reside in Livonia. Sheila has a twin brother, Steven, and six older siblings. She has bungee jumped and skydived, and regularly enjoys reading and hiking.

In her years as a triathlon professional, her achievements included:

2004 Olympic Team Member (Triathlon)
2004 ITU Triathlon World Championships, 1st 

2004 Race to Athens ITU International Triathlon, 4th 

2004 ITU Pan American Regional Championship, 1st 

2004 Bay Islands ITU International Triathlon, 2nd 

2003 ITU World Cup, 1st
2003 Clermont ITU International Triathlon, 1st 

2003 ITU Triathlon World Bay Islands International Triathlon/ITU points race, 1st
2003 Pan American Games Silver Medalist

2000 Olympic Team Member

At the 1992 Olympic Trials, her friend Joel Thomas became the first person Sheila knew personally to make the Olympic Team, which inspired her to attempt qualification again in 1996. She was turned down for the USA Swimming’s Resident Team program, so returned home, convinced that her swimming career was over. Age-group coach Greg Phill convinced her to resume training with him and his club of junior high school/high school-aged kids with this one reason: ‘We have water in the pool and you have a dream. That counts more than everything else down in Colorado Springs.’

Sheila had 22 members of her family cheering her on at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Her family raised money for the trip by selling T-shirts. Sheila started a business called to help future Olympians realize their dreams. To help others realise their dreams, she almost always carries her Olympic gold medal with her, so that she can let a person cradle it. The medal is an allegory for one’s dreams, and she encourages the person to seek their own ‘medal’.
She had a 50-metre lead coming out of the water at the 2000 Olympic Games, but later dropped back during the bike and placed sixth. She was photographed giving high-fives to the crowd as she happily finished the Olympic race. Sheila is a crowd favorite due to her positive attitude. She is now a full-time motivational speaker with her own company, Taormina & Associates. She is also an active coach.

EV: How did you manage your injuries? Which was your worst injury?

ST: Whenever I was injured I looked at it positively as a chance to rest my overall body, even on a cellular level. Injury also allowed me to be a person outside of sport that I wanted to be but never had the time to be when in heavy training cycles. I was fortunate that I never had such a severe injury that I had to sit out of training for more than a few weeks. I think I never got the really bad injuries because when my body signaled that something was not right I would rest it immediately instead of push through. I could tell the difference when something would be ok if I pushed and when something would be worsened to a detrimental point if I pushed. An athlete should know his/her body well and should listen when the body is talking.

EV: What are the factors that allow a swimmer to make the largest improvements?  

ST: These are in my book, Call The Suit. For over a decade I have really wanted to write about the key elements, the ‘secrets’ to swimming fast (but I never had the time until after the 2008 Olympics because of training :) One of the biggest ‘secrets’ is ‘understanding’ how to work with water. Water is a fluid, and that changes how we normally think about strength and power. I love to teach the gift of swimming ~ how to work with a fluid to gain propulsion. There is a position the arm must make when pulling in order to achieve this gift in the water, and it is not like any normal position a person does during the day. The core of the body is very much involved as well...everything is connected, and once a swimmer feels it they end up loving swim practice more than ever, and they get much faster. It is my joy to teach this.

EV: Can a professional athlete succeed without sponsors? How well were you sponsored during your competitive career?

ST: Sure, an athlete can definitely succeed without sponsors. I did not have one sponsor before the 1996 Olympics. I worked a full-time job, more than 40 hours per week in the automotive industry in Detroit. If an athlete has a dream planted in his/her heart that is strong, then that athlete will be willing to work to pay the bills and will find time to train. During my triathlon years I was very fortunate to have great sponsors, and this did help me succeed in that sport. I am so thankful for my sponsors because they did make life much nicer. But then during my first year in pentathlon no sponsors came on board...I think they may have thought I did not have much of a chance at making the Olympics in a third sport. I had to sell my house to finance my dream that first year. I was willing to do that to have a chance at my dream. Then, during my second year in pentathlon, after I did well at a few world competitions, a few sponsors came on again, and once again that helped tremendously. The bottom line is that an athlete will do what it takes if the dream burns strongly, but sponsorships do make it nicer in many ways.

EV: What is it like being a motivational speaker? Tell us more about your experiences.

ST: The best part about being a motivational speaker is that after I give a talk people come up to me and share their inspirational stories. I have learned so much about people and their dreams. I love it.   

EV: What are three of your pet peeves in life?

ST: Oooooh…you're getting into some good juicy questions…Okay, here are three pet peeves:  Firstly, when people do not say ‘thank you’ if someone does a kind act, such as holding a door open. Secondly, if an athlete is arrogant, and thirdly - cold weather...I really do NOT like cold weather!!!
EV: Then, you’ll be fine in Singapore. We have warm weather year-round. Who are your strongest supporters in your career?

ST: Of course my mom and dad and sisters and brothers and their spouses and their children (my nieces and nephews). None of them took sports past high school level, but they all went to the Olympics and cheered so loudly for me. They cheered the same if I was winning a medal or not winning. The community (in Michigan, and also the triathlon and swimming community in general all over the world) also supported my family to get to the Olympics financially, so more than 20 of my relatives were at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and the Athens Olympics in 2004. I am so thankful for the support of the community because, otherwise, my family could not have afforded the trip. Only five relatives made it to Beijing but that was because it was so difficult to get visas and figure out logistics. My parents have been to every Olympics, even dad was 84 and my mom 80 years old in Beijing. It amazes me that they made the trip all the way from Detroit. They are the most wonderful loving parents.

I must also add David Greenfield from Elite Bicycles to this list of biggest supporters. He would call me and give horse-jumping advice, and also shooting tips during my pentathlon years, and of course he made the most awesome sweet bike I could ever dream to have to ride in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics!!!

EV: What would you look forward to doing in Singapore in October?

ST: I am very much looking forward to meeting the triathletes and swimmers and getting to know them. I want to help them swim FAST to reach their goals.  

EV: Which lessons do you think we can learn as athletes, both amateur and professional?  

ST: How to have grace in all circumstances. We will face disappointment and elation. Both have their right place in life, and it is up to us to see that both are just fine.

EV: What is your view of mass participation sports like marathons and triathlons? Are we headed for a trend or is there a lifestyle review?

ST: It sure seems like the numbers keep growing, and I think that it will continue. Human beings are designed to be active, so it is natural that we are seeing the mass participation. Also, the Internet disseminates information so easily and this helps people learn what they need to do so there is no excuse for not signing up for some physical challenge like a marathon or triathlon.
EV: What drives a competitive athlete to excel?

ST: The spirit within. And opportunity. Life is an open slate with so much opportunity, so take every ounce of your spirit and write your book - the best book you can.

EV: What are your mantras when you train and race?

ST: Two mantras: Firstly, A happy athlete is a fast athlete, as I mentioned earlier in this email. Secondly, Call The Suit! This is the title of my book and it means to be bold, to look at what you are dealt in life, and make your dreams come true with what you HAVE...never think about what you don't have.  Only look at what you have and get going to work on those dreams!

EV: Thanks for the interview, Sheila.

ST: Ciao, ciao.  
(End of Interview)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


4-time, Olympian Sheila Taormina takes her dreams, and those of others seriously
Sheila Taormina (pronounced ‘Tar-meena’) is an Olympic athlete who has competed at four consecutive Olympic Games (1996-2008). She is also the only woman to compete in three different Olympic sports. At the 1996 Olympics, she earned a gold medal as a member of the USA's winning women's 4X200m freestyle relay team, and was a triathlon world champion.

At just over 5'3" tall, and not having made her first Olympic team until the age of 27, Sheila Taormina appears to be an unlikely candidate to have competed at four consecutive summer Olympiads in three completely different sports. However, she did all that and earned stunning accolades, and more.

After winning a gold medal for the 4X200m swimming relay in the Olympic Games of Atlanta in 1996, Sheila then, purposefully, plunged into the cloudy waters of two other entirely different sports: Olympic Distance triathlon, and Modern Pentathlon. Sheila has enjoyed many sporting successes in her life. Her glowing resume includes:

The only woman to compete in three different sports in different Olympiads
USAT Lifetime Hall of Fame
2008 Olympic Games, Beijing, Modern Pentathlon, 19th place overall (1st place in two of the five events: swimming (Pentathlon World record) and equestrian show jumping)
2004 Olympic Games, Athens, Triathlon, 23rd place
2004 ITU World Champion, Triathlon
2000 Olympic Games, Sydney, Triathlon, 6th place
1996 Olympic Games, Atlanta, Swimming, Gold medal in the 4X200 metres freestyle relay

David Greenfield, founder of Elite Bicycles, USA describes her: ‘All in all, I personally feel that Sheila Taormina is not only one of the greatest athletes of our century, she is also one of the greatest personalities and persons I have been fortunate enough to meet. I have great pride and am honored to have Sheila as an ambassador for Elite Bicycles; however I value the ability to call her my friend even more.  She is truly an inspiration, and a model of hard work, determination, and selfless Christian values.’
The Modern Pentathlon is a one-day event that comprises five disciplines: pistol shooting, show jumping, epee fencing, 200-metre freestyle swimming and 3K cross-country run. Sheila described them as the skills required for the horseback courier delivering the mail safely. She had to learn three completely unfamiliar disciplines within three years. However, dealing with the new was familiar territory for Sheila who successfully rode to a USA National championship title and a top-ten finish in the Sydney Olympics, a mere 18 months after she entered the sport of professional triathlon.

Sheila also expanded her resume to include author as another achievement. ‘Call the Suit’ is a comprehensive training manual that studies and creates diagnostic information about swimming. In her book, Sheila explains and describes all of the facets that create propulsion, feel for the water, and the critical components of a proper freestyle swim stroke that is utilized by the fastest swimmers in the world. In effect, the more efficient a swimmer is the less energy they use, thus allowing for greater strength and endurance for the two subsequent events that follow a triathlon. Several mantras pervade the book, including ‘Look at the hand you have been dealt’, ‘Be Bold’, and ‘Make the choice that is best for you, and who you are’.

In addition to promoting her best-selling, self-help book on proper swim technique, Sheila continues to conduct swimming clinics worldwide. She also continues her work as a highly acclaimed motivational speaker for schools, businesses, and community organizations. Sheila also volunteers actively and extensively within her community and has partnered with two national non-profit organizations to support their missions.

We caught up with the busy speaker, author and coach for an honest and introspective interview. Throughout the interview, you may intuitively detect her infectious energy and enthusiasm for life, and how it has positively translated to her speaking engagements, and competitive years as a renowned athlete and champion.

Sheila Taormina will be in Singapore in October for swim clinics and speaking engagements. As part of Sheila’s world tour on swim coaching, Singapore-based Elite Custom Bicycles will bring her in for a limited engagement. The premier customized-fitting and handcrafted bicycle company, Elite Bicycles, USA is a lifetime-sponsor for Sheila.

Enrico Varella: How does winning an Olympic gold medal change your life?

Sheila Taormina: Not much to be honest. I joke with people that when I returned home from the Olympics with a gold medal in my pocket no one was on my front door step offering to mow the lawn or do the dishes for me. Life is life [laughs]. Actually, what it does do to change life is to offer a few additional opportunities to make a difference in other people's lives. That is the fun part - to share what I have learned from great coaches and team-mates.

EV: Which was the proudest moment of your career?

ST: Never a proud moment; I only have thankful moments because it is amazing to me that I grew up in a family that supported my sports dreams, and that I lived during a time when women could take a sports career to great places. I did nothing to earn those things on my own. I am also thankful that my body stayed healthy for so many years. The most memorable moments of my sports career definitely include the Olympic gold medal day in swimming, the world championship win in triathlon, and winning the equestrian show jumping portion of the pentathlon in Beijing.
EV: Which is one thing we tend to overdo as an athlete?

ST: Many athletes definitely over-train. Athletes should remember that a happy athlete is a fast athlete. We need rest to be a happy person and also for our physical body to adapt to the hard work we do. Also, I think many athletes over-train the aerobic/endurance side of training and under-train the speed work and lactate (race pace) sets. The speed workouts are much shorter in length, but the intensity is very high. Athletes should enjoy doing a short intense workout and then this gives more time at home at the end of the day to enjoy things away from sport, especially spending time with the people we love. Do at least 2 days per week of short intense workouts.

EV: Which is the one thing we tend to overlook as an athlete?

ST: I think we overlook the big picture, sometimes. We think that every race should go perfectly, and the truth of the matter is that we are human and not every race goes how we want it to go. When those days happen we should remember to look at the big picture, that we have healthy bodies and the opportunity to be on the start line in the first, laugh, and be thankful.

EV: How important were coaches to you?

ST: My coaches were a massive part of my success as an athlete and they were the reason why I stayed in sport so many years. They kept it fun. They taught me life-long lessons and prepared my body to reach its full potential, which meant days of training that were super-hard and also days of training with rest. They were very smart about how to design the overall plan. I would have never made it to the Olympics if I did not have the coaches I had.

EV: How did you decide to switch, successfully, from swimming to triathlons to modern pentathlon?

ST: It was never a life plan to switch to triathlon and then to pentathlon. I thought I would be finished with sport forever after swimming in the 1996 Olympics. What happened was that I did zero exercise for two years after '96, and I got out of shape. I entered a local triathlon in 1998 just to get back in some sort of shape, and a gentleman who saw me race said he saw potential. He convinced me to take triathlon more seriously, and he taught me enough to make the Olympic team two years later in 2000, and then again in 2004. For the modern pentathlon, a representative from that sport recruited me, and he brought to my attention that no woman had ever made an Olympics in three completely different sports before. That piqued my interest. It was a unique opportunity I saw and at that moment, I felt healthy enough to continue competing, so I decided to give pentathlon a try to see if I could make Olympic history.

EV: Of your three competitive sports, which was the toughest discipline for you?

ST: I learned that every sport is equally difficult, but in different ways. For instance, shooting is not as physically exhausting as swimming a 200-meter freestyle, but shooting presents an equally difficult challenge in that the athlete must learn to stay composed mentally when a big prize is on the line. It is very challenging. Every sport was just as difficult as the others. I appreciate what athletes have to master in all disciplines.

EV: After competing successfully in three crossover sports, which is your favourite sport?

ST: My favorite sport ends up being the equestrian show jumping. My spirit soars when I am on a brave horse flying over the jumps! I like cornering really fast on the bike too, though, so cycling on a technical course ranks high on my list of favorite things to do in sport.
EV: What is the ‘difference that makes the difference’ for a world-class athlete? What separates a national-ranked athlete from an Olympic medalist?

ST: Great questions you opinion on this question is that the last 10% of athletic preparation is what separates the world-class athlete from the almost-world class athlete. That last 10% entails the ability to push oneself to levels most people cannot access, and this has a mental component and grit component, not just during a race but also on a day-to-day basis in training. A top athlete knows how a weakness can reside in sneaky places, and he/she is willing to tap deep into those places everyday in training so the weakness can be stamped out.  
(We continue with Part 2 tomorrow)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Eating Correctly For Your Blood Type

I read the book, Eat Right 4 Your Type a few years ago and found it interesting after comparing notes with the characteristics of each haemotype: O+, A+, B+, and AB+. Being a universal donor, O+ my blood can be used for transfusion for all four blood types. However, O+ donors can only receive from O+ donors.
What arrested my attention were a few features of the O+ population:

1)    Indulge in intense exercise such as aerobics, running and martial arts.
2)    Focus on more animal protein in our diet.
3)    Food allergies.
4)    A robust digestive system and immune system.
5)    Inflammation of joints, including a propensity for arthritis.
6)    We have to avoid wheat.

Whether this alternative approach to nutrition is valid or not, is best left to our experimentation. The authors have been slapped on their wrists by skeptics for not being scientifically validated, since some of their theories are weak or under-tested (for instance, being vegetarian as an A+ type). Since it is about food, it is time that we explore healthier options that do not sap our energy, immune system and health. Being endurance athletes, we should be discovering which foods help us recover faster, so that we can train without over-reaching and being depleted.

On Dr Mercola’s website, I tested my Metabolic Type and found that I am partial to a mixed diet. In effect, I can eat an omnivorous diet comprising both protein and carbohydrate. I can eat vegetables with my meat without arousing food allergies. So far so good (most of the time), or according to O+ type, I have a strong stomach for diversity. By a simple process of addition or elimination of certain food types, and monitoring my responses to them (allergies, sleep patterns, energy levels for sports, etc.), I have been able to direct my lifestyle through nutritional aids. By reducing my intake of soda/carbonated drinks and sugar, I have become more energized for longer. The addition of one or two whey protein drinks daily, I have felt stronger and my recovery has been enhanced after each intense training session.

Food is a personal thing. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Food is a matter of preference. We acquire (learn) a taste for certain foods. Cultures support the preparation and consumption of certain food. I acquired a taste for beer, sashimi (raw meat), cured foods, Power Gels and Power Bars.

Tomorrow: The Sheila Taormina Interview.