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I had the pleasure recently to talk triathlon with Michelle Panik, the 2009 TCSD Female Club Member of the Year.  Michelle has done so much behind the scenes work for our club and she is definitely someone you should know.

Craig: What was your athletic background prior to triathlon?

Michelle: Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed running. I used to see the LA Marathon on TV every year, and thought those runners were so cool. As a kid I used to go out for runs, which seems sorta odd now, and would do the local Fourth of July 5k.

In junior high, a friend and I did a sport every season. So, along with running cross country and track, I was also on the basketball and softball teams.

Track was funny, because along with some running events, I also threw shot put. I’m not terribly big or tall, and I was terrible at the event, but I loved it. My dad recently found my old shot. Although slightly rusty, it’s now in my garage.

In high school, I was on the cross country and swim teams. In college at UCSD, I did my first marathon, the Rock n’ Roll, in 1999. And then I was hooked on long-distance running.

Craig: How did you get introduced to triathlon?  

Michelle: My senior year of college, I was an editorial intern at Triathlete Magazine. I’d always been fascinated by triathlon, and being at the Magazine’s office I felt like a voyeur, overhearing race and industry stories.

Craig: What prompted you to do your first triathlon?  

Michelle: I’d been fascinated by triathlon, but didn’t own a bike. Unlike most kids, I didn’t grow up riding a bike, and my handling skills were really shaky. I could run and swim pretty well, but was afraid of the bike.

When I met my future husband, Bryan O’Neill, he owned a road bike and helped me buy a bike and learn to ride it. After that, I knew I could train for a tri, and signed up for Mission Bay in 2004.

Craig: What triathlon performance are you most proud of and why is that?

Michelle: Superfrog in 2007, because of the conditions. A storm brought in big surf, wind, and rain. The swim was modified to four shorter loops (each one broken up by a beach run) so no one would be too far from shore. The bike was really windy. The weather was so crazy that you couldn’t help but laugh and enjoy the experience.

And either because I went easy on the bike—or because I’m just not that good on the bike—my legs felt great on the run and I passed people left and right. It’s pretty cool to chick Navy Seals during a half ironman. I loved every minute of this race.

Craig: You are entered in the Hawaii 70.3 on June 5th.  What are your goals with that race?  

Michelle: Of course I want a PR! Beyond that, I want to train well and go into the race knowing I did everything I could to prepare. And enjoying the race is always a goal of mine. Since my parents and brother live on the Big Island, they’ll be cheering me on. Having crowd support always makes for a fun race.

Craig: What was your most recent position with the TCSD?  

Michelle: Wendy Harp gave up the Membership Coordinator position in 2006, and Jim McCann was looking for a replacement. I’d already been volunteering at aquathlons, and I guess this showed Jim that I was dependable. When I emailed him asking to be considered for the Membership position, he emailed right back and said, “You got it.”

How memberships are processed has changed over the years. Applications used to come in part from, but now electronic registrations happen through our own website (Thanks, John Hill). I used to send out a comprehensive welcome packet with all kinds of info, but now everything’s electronic.

When Brian Long gave up his Presidency in late 2009, I thought it was a good transitional time to also give up the Membership position. Bethany Sotak is doing an awesome job as the new Membership Coordinator.

But two months after relinquishing the Membership position, I couldn’t stay away any longer. So I called up Thomas and asked him to give me a job. Since I’m a writer, Public Relations was a natural fit.

Craig: What would you suggest for a person to get involved in the TCSD?  

Michelle: Just say, “I want to help!” Really. And no, Thomas didn’t pay me to say that. There are a lot of opportunities.

I’ve volunteered with various nonprofits my whole life. I’ve learned that the best way to volunteer is to combine yours skills with a group you believe in. If you don’t both believe in the group’s mission and use your talents in a satisfying way, then the match isn’t going to work. People should be honest with themselves about this.

That being said, TCSD has a wealth of opportunities. And since members probably already believe in the club, they just need to find a job that utilizes their abilities.

Volunteering aside, if members simply want to get more out of the club, they should just show up at an event and begin introducing themselves. TCSD can be intimidating because it’s so big, but people are really friendly. If anyone ever sees me but doesn’t formally know me, please say hello and introduce yourself.

Craig: What is your favorite part of membership in the TCSD?

Michelle: I have many. Here’s a partial list:

1.    Companionship on long rides
2.    Training advice
3.    First-hand opinions of races
4.    Club meetings
5.    Watching you eat six slices of pizza at club meetings
6.    The classified ads!
7.    When wading into La Jolla Shores on a Monday night, I don’t feel so crazy because I’m with a few dozen people
8.    Aquathlon buffets

Craig: Bullets #5 and #8 are two of my favorite benefits of membership, as well.  If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?

Michelle: It’s a big business, isn’t it? I know triathlons are expensive to put on, but you can’t help but feel that some companies are making huge profits because the demand for races (especially long distances) exceeds the supply. Which makes TCSD club races all the more valuable.

Craig: What is the quirkiest thing to happen to you while doing a triathlon?  

Michelle: During the 2005 Oceanside 70.3, I was about 20 miles into the bike when I looked down and realized my pedal (Speedplay) had come off. It had unscrewed from the crank and was stuck to my shoe cleat! Eventually, with the help of a race volunteer, I was able to get the pedal off my shoe and back into the crank. But every five miles, for the rest of the race, I looked down to check that it wasn’t coming off again.

Craig: What do you do for a living?

Michelle: I’m a freelance writer.

Craig: What are your triathlon goals beyond the Hawaii 70.3?  

Michelle: I haven’t run a marathon in a couple years, so I’d like to do one this fall. Perhaps Long Beach, CIM, or the new one in Camarillo. I’ve qualified for Boston in the past, but have never gone. I’d like to re-qualify and then make that trip out east to do battle with Heartbreak Hill.

Craig: Michelle, it has been great getting to know you better.  Thank you for sharing your story.  I can see why you were the 2009 TCSD Female Club Member of the Year.  Good luck at Hawaii 70.3 and all your other goals!

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or