TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent (From December 2012)
I had the chance to talk triathlon recently with the Tri Club's Jonathan Jefferson. JJ's most visible position with the TCSD was as our Beginner Open Water Swim Coach, but he represents the true spirit of the TCSD as he always seems to be there doing the "heavy lifting" as a volunteer whenever needed. Please join me as we get to know this great guy.
Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved in triathlon?
JJ: I started swimming on a team at the age of 6...spent most of my time on the pool deck in the summer. Mom would bribe me to get to a 7AM swim practice with a chocolate covered donut. My brothers both wanted to play Little League baseball and my parents made me play, too. They would pull me out of the pool and take me to baseball practice. I would be the only DORK there in shorts...just in time for sliding practice. I thought every pitcher was hurling the ball right at my head. They managed to hit it several times too! Not a good experience. Growing up I would ride my red 10-speed bike everywhere. When I was old enough I would ride it 10 miles to the pool...do swim practice...then run around all day. I was a little triathlete in the making. I was on my community pool swim team for 11 years. My only team sport was lacrosse. I started playing in 5th grade through high school. I loved to play. But like swimming...I was passionate about the sport, but not the best at it. That didn't matter though. I was on the team and loved it. By the end of high school I had become a lifeguard at a local reservoir. Fellow TCSD member, Shawn Moran used to swim there as a kid...while I was lifeguarding there! We would not meet for another 25 years. I probably had to yell at him a few times...I'm sure. My lifeguarding experience culminated with a stint as a pool manager/lifeguard at a country club. Let’s just say the pool area at this country club was "big cat country"...cougars around every corner. A 19 or 20 year old college student/pool manager didn't have a chance. I survived.
Craig: What memories do you have of your first triathlon?
JJ: The Major Walter Murphy Memorial Triathlon on Staten Island held in 1984 was my first triathlon. I trained pretty hard for the race. I was always swimming and running with guys that were faster than I was...and still riding my bike to work every day. When I told them I was hoping to get in the top ten at the race they gave me a quick nod and a good luck but didn't mean it. Even my father...in the kitchen of our house on race day said to me "are you sure you are ready for this?" I said "Dad...if that was your pep talk, thanks...now let’s get to the race." The swim was held in Great Kills Harbor and if you think you have swam in dirty water...the water you were swimming in was Perrier compared to this stuff. Engine oil on the surface...chopped up fish and jelly fish floating everywhere...and other things...don't ask. The first time I actually got any in my mouth I dry heaved. I was 2nd or 3rd out of the water...5th or 6th on the bike...and 10th overall. Back then the song Eye of the Tiger was new and they played the heck out of it. All through the run people were playing it on their boom boxes thinking it would help us run faster. I ran faster just to get out of ear shot of the song. I’ve got to admit...I like hearing it from time to time today. After the race everyone was congratulating me and I found my way to the beer garden. Bud Light taps coming right out of the side of the Bud Light beer truck. Triathlons were going to be OK in my book, forever!
Craig: I know you've been racing forever and have done everything from 50k running races to half ironmans, but what race result are you the most proud of and why?
JJ: I have done many races between 1984 and today, but none really stand out as best races. I always trained and raced with guys...and girls that were faster than me. As a result I was always finishing behind them. I was seldom very pleased with my results. I brought home some hardware (awards) from Bud Light USTS and other races here and there. But nothing memorable in my book. My first triathlon is up there and the 50k I did. It was all trails and through streams. Tough race. My time for that race is faster than the last few marathons I have done! I would have liked to have been on Wide World of Sports' Survival of the Fittest competition. Scott Tinley mentioned doing that when he was at one of our meetings. I always thought I would have done well there. The only race result I will consider notable will be completing the Hawiian Ironman. No ETA on that one.
Craig: What is the dumbest thing you've ever done as a triathlete?
JJ: Back in the day...90' or 91' me and a few other guys were going up to a run-bike-run race in LA. There was one guy with us who would not...or could not shut up. Good guy...and a strong runner and biker...but talk talk talk. We were in the line of traffic waiting to get on to some military base. The race was held on an air strip. I could not take the talking any longer and decided to get out of the car and do a little warm up run. I would hook back up with them and get my bike after they parked the car. Well, I found the guys and they pointed in the direction where the car was so I could get my bike and helmet. There was a sea of cars, I could not find it. Running around the parking lot I finally found the car...ripped my bike out of the back and ran to the transition area to rack it. I forgot my helmet. By this time my heat start was just minutes away and I could see them all waiting behind the current heat being sent off. I was a hundred yards from where I needed to start and had no helmet. A spectator was standing behind the fence...with a helmet in hand. I took the helmet, yelled out my race number and thanked him for letting me use his fine helmet. Then...the nightmare we have all had...seeing your heat start and you are running to catch them because you are late. DUMB!
Craig: What was your experience like as the TCSD's Beginner Open Water Swim Coach?
JJ: Like joining the club in the first place...coaching beginner triathletes how to conquer their fear of swimming in open water just felt right. I had just joined the club and was sitting next to the then current coach Steve Koci at a club meeting...I think it was the last meeting Jim McCann presided over...and Steve stood up and asked for some help with the beginner swim. I knew I had to step up. As it turns out...Steve had a pretty busy schedule that year training for an Ironman and traveling so I ended up running many of the sessions in the latter part of that season. The next year he decided to let me take over as coach. I enjoyed many fun filled workouts with fledgling triathletes...many of whom are coaches for the club today. But what makes my day/year/life is when someone comes up to me and thanks me and tells a friend how much I helped them get over the fear of open water and made them a better swimmer. What a great reward for doing something you love to do anyway! I get back to those workouts when I can.
Craig: You have been very involved in fundraising efforts for the Challenged Athletes Foundation. How did you get started with that and what have you done to raise money for the CAF and what have you done to raise funds for CAF?
JJ: CAF is one of the main beneficiaries of our club members’ fund raising efforts...and for good reason. They help change the lives of so many people who are faced with physical barriers to sports. I got involved after attending CAF fund raising events held by other club members over the years. At those events I met fellow supporters of CAF as well as the beneficiaries of those efforts. These athletes who get the equipment needed in order to have the freedom of going on a bike ride, or run...or play basketball...or ski are so very gracious and thankful. They work harder than any one of us...they have to learn to use their new leg or arm or chair. In return, many have become the ambassadors we meet today at our meetings and at races...everywhere. They are always donating their time and leading by example. There are endless stories of inspiration among the athletes of CAF. Raising funds for CAF can happen in many ways...sending requests to friends and family, fun events, raffles. I have never considered myself a good fundraiser. But what takes my mind off of the task at hand...getting cash from others for a great cause...is the notion that in talking to the greatest number of people about a worthy organization I am possibly giving someone else the motivation to continue our effort.
Craig: What was your experience like doing the 2011 CAF Million Dollar Challenge?
JJ: The Million Dollar Challenge is a cycling event held each year where 100 people pledge to raise a minimum of $10,000 each. The fund raising effort culminates with a 7 day bike tour through our state's most scenic roads from San Francisco to San Diego. The ride is 620 miles. I actually GAINED weight on this ride! You are treated like a king...or queen for this week. The best hotels, food and support like you have never had on any ride in your life. We rode with many of the challenged athletes that have benefited from our efforts. You get to know their stories and learn more about them outside of just riding or running. What got me going on the idea of joining this effort was watching John Skoglund, one of my spin class buddies, experience the joy of raising funds via parties, mailings to friends and family, "selling some stuff" as he put it, and finally reaching his goal. I actually gave John a donation after he had already made his goal of $10,000 and I could almost see tears in his eyes. John was moved by the generosity of others. John did the ride in 2010. He trained hard and was in the best shape of his life. Shortly after the ride, John discovered he had a battle of his own to fight. After a long battle with cancer John passed away. I told John that he motivated me to join the Million Dollar Challenge so in a big way he helped CAF through my efforts. When someone invites you to an event benefiting the Challenged Athlete Foundation...GO...and bring some cash! You are guaranteed to have fun and feel really, really good knowing you are helping a great organization and others in need.
Craig: What is your new business venture and how do you hope to incorporate that into the TCSD?
JJ: I recently got back in to a hobby from my childhood. Back in the woods of New Jersey where I grew up we lived on a small farm. My dad was an attorney but had this farm also. We had pigs, chickens, an occasional veal calf, a huge garden...and bees. The bees were my interest. We had 7 bee hives. I would bring our chicken's eggs and our bee's honey to church to sell each Sunday. When the county fair came to town every summer I would go with my 4H bee keeping club and be the crazy...or stupid guy putting on a safari hat filled with bees for everyone to see. I had more hair back then and the bees would get tangled in it every year. This past June while dad was visiting from good old NJ I got to talking with him about bee keeping. I said I have always wanted to get back in to it. We went out and got everything we needed to get started...except for the bees. Had the hive, the bee suit, gloves...everything...except bees. I looked on Craigslist and soon found someone with a colony of bees they needed taken out from under their shed. I went out to get them (thanks to Bob Cunningham for helping out...look for that one on video soon) and had my first bee hive...have not stopped growing my hive numbers since. I now have 20 bee hives. My plan is to become a sponsor of the Club! With 20 hives I will have roughly 2,000 pounds of locally harvested, raw, unfiltered honey...as healthy as you can get. A dollar of every pound of honey I sell to club members will be given to our club charity, TCSD Cares. I still make my living as a financial advisor but plan on having a lot of fun with my new small business. Marilou, my girlfiend, is my partner in this venture and we will be heading out to farmers markets as well. Some of the honey harvested will even come from our own Daniel Powell's back yard...which happens to be San Elijo lagoon. Look for a dark amber wildflower honey from this location...yum. I have long term visions of owning one to two hundred hives and getting involved with the almond polination in central CA. One third of all the food we consume each year comes from crops that need polination from bees. Without bees we would be in a serious food shortage.
Craig: I can’t wait for the honey to be ready, but I’ll leave that work to the professionals like you to harvest. What is your favorite part of membership in the TCSD?
JJ: The part of membership in TCSD that stands out for me is the endless opportunities to meet great people. Not just at races, workouts and club meetings, which are awesome. What I also enyoy is going to plays, dinners at people's homes, wine tasting trips...we even had the start of a book club. We all read Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat and got together for the book review. I missed the book review but read the book only because we had decided to read it together. There is such a rich mix of people to experience and get to know.
Craig: A couple of years ago you came close to getting elected President of the TCSD. What did you learn from that experience?
JJ: What a whirlwind that was! It was Friday evening and a bunch of us were at Jose's having some dinner and "re-hydrating" after a Cove swim when the topic of club president came up. I rattled off the obvious picks, Don Lopez, Brian Wrona, and you! A very attractive friend leaned across the table and said to me "what about Jon Jefferson?" This really knocked me off my barstool. I had given it some thought, but felt I had not been in the club long enough. She gave me the push I needed to run. I finished in the top 2...of two. I would consider it a privilege to help lead the greatest triathlon club on the planet and would consider running again sometime, but starting a small business combined with my current fulltime profession as a financial advisor and training for a few races each year really eats up a lot of time. Thomas has done an amazing job over the past few years as did Brian Long...each with the quiet strength and help of John Hill and an army of us as volunteers. But the job of Prez., it has been said by many, is like a full time job without pay! We are over 3,000 members strong and have a huge budget. There are so many events to coordinate and people to contact. Hats off to all you presidents out there...past and present. I would be honored to join your ranks some day. We have an election coming up this year...I think. I cannot wait to see who is willing to step up and take the position. One request for all club members...get out to vote! When I ran there were only 300 or so votes cast out of 2,500 members! Whoever gets elected, they can count on me to help them out any way I can.
Craig: What are your future goals in triathlon?
JJ: IRONMAN. But only one. Hawaii. This may anger some of the Ironman purists, but I will be happy to accept a lottery slot for the race...or a fund raising entry if I ever was awarded one. When you have you, Dean Sprague, Steve Tally...and many other fast guys in your age group getting a qualifying slot is like finding the golden ticket in Willie Wonka. Ever since I picked up the first issue of Triathlon magazine, with Dave Scott crossing the finish line at dusk, I wanted to do that race. The race has a certain destiny to it. I will be there. The day will play out however it plays out, but I will finish that goal and be very sad when it is over. In the mean time I plan on volunteering with fellow club members, doing a few club events...some involving triathlons and heading to a few destination type races like Wildflower.
Craig: JJ, thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s just a matter of time before you cross that Hawaiian Ironman finish line. Good luck with all you do!