I had the honor recently of talking triathlon with TCSD legend Steve Tally.  I hold Steve in the highest regard as he has given so much to our club and the sport locally.  You will undoubtedly enjoy eavesdropping on our conversation and getting to this awesome guy!

Craig: What was your sports background before triathlon?  

Steve: Being from a Navy family I moved quite a bit during my early years.  I got into soccer while on the east coast and really enjoyed that, and anything else that involved running and a ball.  I’ve always loved the water and was also was on a youth competitive swim team during elementary school.  But when I moved to San Diego during junior high I discovered surfing and was WAY into that for many years.  I have always enjoyed running, but only in conjunction with a ball sport, so never went out for the high school track or cross country teams.



Craig: What led you to take up triathlon and when did you join the TCSD? 

Steve: During graduate school I found myself running more and more for enjoyment.  I finally decided to do some organized running and did some marathons and half marathons to give myself some goals.  But then during the summer of 2002 a friend of mine told me he was doing the Mission Bay Triathlon, and challenged me to do it with him.  He had done it in previous years with his company and so knew the ropes a bit.  So I bought a bike, started training, and made every rookie mistake in the book. As a matter of fact, that set of experiences (learning things the hard way) from my first few races is largely the basis of the beginner tips I give in the Tri 101 seminars.  I say, “I’m telling you this so you don’t have to learn it the hard way like I did!”  So I did Mission Bay, and was hooked (beat my friend too).  Immediately signed up for every race I could find including the next Ralph’s California Half Ironman (now Oceanside 70.3).  The following summer I finally checked out TCSD.  Like most, I joined TCSD to try and get faster or accomplish a specific goal.  Little did I know it would become like family.   Wished I had joined sooner! 

Craig: What is the best part of being a TCSD member?

Steve: I think this is a sentiment that is voiced quite a bit, but it bears repeating: the people.  Like many aspiring triathletes, I didn’t realize that TCSD was all about the people, and not just getting faster.  When I joined TCSD I found the most amazing, inspiring, and motivating individuals all around.  And they would take the time to talk to a complete newbie like me as if I was an elite athlete!  I love that the club is about the lifestyle of triathlon, and not just about performance.  To sustain energy and freshness for a lifetime in this sport it has to be about more than split times. Of course the great food, sponsors, events, discounts, and all the other legendary TCSD benefits are amazing.  But I really enjoy just being around the fantastic people that make up this club.  

Craig: What roles have you done for the TCSD? 

Steve: I started with basic volunteering for Expos and other events.  This was a GREAT way to meet other members.  At first I only did some odds and ends helping at different events.  Then, like so many others, I was recruited by President Jim McCann.  Jim and I were talking at one of the Desert Camps.  I was talking about my experiences learning about triathlon and ideas for helping beginners get the information they needed to get started in the sport.  Naturally, anyone who knew Jim can predict what happened next.  He recruited me as a volunteer and pointed me in the direction of the small (at the time) TCSD beginner team Dean and Christy Rosenberg.  They had been handling all the beginner queries at the time, and were doing a great job, but getting a bit overwhelmed.  This was at a point when the sport was starting to really get some mainstream appeal, and the club was getting more and more requests to be more ‘beginner friendly.’  We started revamping the beginner program, adding or increasing beginner bike rides, runs, transition clinics, surf entry clinics, beginner races, and providing as much info to aspiring triathletes as possible.  This is also where my hopefully now world famous monthly Tri 101 talks started.  You, Craig, were actually the inspiration for these. You had been holding your Ironman meetings before regular club meetings, and also holding Ironman info sessions at local shops.  We thought these would be great for beginners too!  We started by having beginner Q and A sessions for a few minutes before club meetings, but soon realized we needed much more time than that to truly answer all the beginner questions.  B&L Bikes offered us their shop for a venue, and we have been giving monthly Tri 101 sessions ever since.  Sometimes I look out at a race or one of the monthly meetings, and am startled to realize how many of the confident faces out there started as wide eyed beginners at one of the Tri 101 meetings.  It is one of my favorite things!  If I knew the power back then, I would have started a cult.  Since then, the beginner program has expanded ever since to keep up with the ever increasing popularity of the sport.  One of my proudest moments in the sport was when Dean and I were honored for our efforts by being named club members of the year in 2005, and were honored at the Competitor Awards.    If my house was on fire, my Competitor Award would be one of the first things I would grab.  We are fortunate to have an entire team of beginner coaches now.  From long time coaches like Steve Koci and Farah Hedwig, to newcomers like Bill Gleason and Bobbie Soloman,  and Flo Hedwig (and many more too numerous to mention here that help at beginner events!). And I must also mention Brian Wrona and Ann Kelly who are putting on the beginner races.

As for other roles, I have also served on the volunteer board for the club for many years, and headed up some efforts such as the organization of TCSD’s team at the Pumpkinman USAT Club Nationals.  One of the first things I do when beginners ask how they can get more involved in the sport is to tell them to volunteer for the club.  This is the first step of turning triathlon from a goal on a checklist to a lifestyle.        

Craig: Something I have always admired about you is how you exude tons of energy and enthusiasm for everything you do, but especially for your job as Beginner Coach.  What is it about that position that excites you the most?

Steve: I think coaching beginners is the most rewarding volunteer position in the club.  For beginners, Triathlon is about so much more than fitness.  It’s also about information!  There are lots of moving parts to this sport, and we try to get beginners the info they need in order to work on their weaknesses, know what equipment they need (and don’t need),  and know how to choose and approach a race.  As a matter of fact, I shy away from the term ‘coach’ when it comes to what we do.  I think we serve more as beginner instructors or teachers.  When we do our monthly beginner clinics, we start with a group of people with huge eyes, possibly wondering what possessed them to even be there at the meeting.   Our goal is to have them saying to themselves “I can do this!” by the time they leave.  Watching people go from scared beginner to confident athlete in a matter of weeks is the best.  Then we get to do it all again!  You see, we know how addicting and rewarding this sport is.   So what is more fun than being the one who gets to take a bunch of intimidated newcomers, introduce them to what will most likely be a life-altering lifestyle sport, and watch them discover what we already know?  It’s like being the ticket puncher at Disneyland.  I get energized just talking about it here!  I think a recent experience sums it all up:  I was helping out at the recent beginner race at Glorietta Bay, and standing next to race director Brian Wrona.  We were watching the glowing faces on the new members who were completing their first tri, and Brian turns to me and says “I totally understand why you find it so great to work with the beginners.”

Craig: Just what is TCSD Cares and how can people make a donation?

Steve: TCSD Cares was the brainchild of former TCSD President Brian Long.  Brian realized that, due to the nature of our non-profit charter, TCSD had no way to directly help members or local athletes and their families who were in need.  He put together the framework for a ‘giving arm’ of TCSD and I was honored to be asked to be the Director.  TCSD Cares enables us to provide small grants and other help to members and their families.  Brian even kick started the initial funding himself by taking pledges from people in exchange for fulfilling his promise to wear a Borat thong while cheering Tour de California racers up Mt. Palomar (quite haunting if you haven’t seen the video).  During our first year TCSD Cares has provided help to such members as Shelby Madden, Skip Gleavey, Clayton Treska, Linda Rich, Penny Hale, and numerous others.  We are in the process of working up their individual stories on the TCSD Cares webpage at www.tcsdcares.org.  Current prez Thomas Johnson has really jumped on board with TCSD Cares and we have some great fund raising events planned including a repeat of our hugely successful Team Solana Training Team for the Triathlon Club of San Diego Solana Beach Triathlon on July 25th.  You can learn more at the website.  Otherwise, TCSD Cares is supported by donations from members!  Anyone can donate by going to our website and clicking on one of the donate buttons or sending a check to TCSD Cares, PO Box 910618, San Diego, 92191.  The donations are tax deductible.

TCSD Cares is also honored to have been asked by the Martin family to administer the annual Dave Martin Award.    For those that do not know this award honors Dr. Martin who was killed in 2008 in a tragic shark attach at Solana Beach.  Hundreds of people touched by his story donated money to the Martin family. The Martin family deemed it appropriate that the money be put back to work in the community, and devised an annual award to help with educational expenses for deserving individuals.  The winner of the 2009 Dave Martin award was TCSD Member Jaclyn Trosper.  We are taking applications for the 2010 award right now!  You can apply by going to the TCSD Cares webpage and clicking on the Dave Martin tab.

Craig: What is one of your favorite TCSD experiences or stories?

Steve: Through TCSD you meet people that really break you out of your normal routine!  My favorite involves my recent habit of running the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon with the original running Elvi.  I was recruited by the local King himself, our own Bob Babbitt.  I borrowed a spare lycra Elvis outfit from another long time TCSD member and running Elvi, Bryan Chadwell (he had washed it first…I think that’s what he said).  I had no idea what I was in for.  Running with the original Elvi involves starting up front with the vintage baby carriage sporting a car battery, stereo, Elvis photos, gold fringe, horn, and of course a cooler to serve Elvis’s ‘hydration’ needs.  During this first time I found: (1) If you hold a steady line  in the middle of the course for the first few hundred yards of the race you will not trip any Kenyans running their 5:30 (warm up) first mile, (2) beer is a GREAT marathon hydration drink, (3) EVERYONE loves Elvis, (4) running 26.2 miles in formation with a baby carriage singing Elvis songs at the top of your lungs is a great way to spend the day, and (5) making someone smile at mile 24 when they are about to give up is as rewarding as it gets.  I have run with the Elvi quite a few times since then.  Last year was a highlight as I got to be the first mile ‘rabbit,’ running at the front behind the lead motorcycles for the photo opp.  When the photos came out, Bob emailed me one taken from the lead motorcycle that had me at the front of 20,000+ runners. His note said “I would have this one blown up big.” And I do indeed have that in a huge frame at my house.

Craig: What are a couple of your favorite races and do you have an all time favorite?

Steve: My sentimental favorite is the Mission Bay Triathlon.  It was my first, and I still love the course and everything about the event.  In the past couple of years I have also experienced the Escape from Alcatraz which I loved!  I think every triathlete should check that one off of their list at least once during their tri career.  I also have a fondness for some of the smaller out of town events like the Las Vegas Tri.

Craig: What race performance are you the most proud of and why? 

Steve: I think I will always have a great memory of the first time I medaled at a local triathlon. Let’s face it, we live in a town with some tough competition.  Individual age groups here are tougher than entire races in other towns.   It was the Spring Sprint Tri about 4 or 5 years ago and I finished 3rd.  During my first 4 years in the sport I had been steadily edging my way up in the standings.  But moving from 5th’s and 6th’s up onto the podium takes some effort and patience.  So medaling that day and placing in front of some people who I had never beat before was very satisfying and motivating!  Now I try to keep that feeling in mind when I don’t place and start to get a bit grouchy after the race.

Craig: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you like to change?

Steve: It might be “what would I keep the same?” To me the best thing about triathlon is that it is largely an inclusive and non-elitist sport.  It is surprising to many that this is the case as on the surface you see fit, lean people, running around in tight clothes and riding carbon fiber. But I find a culture of acceptance and respect to fellow triathletes no matter what their experience or talent.  I hope that never changes as the sport continues to grow.

Craig: Who is your hero and why?

Steve: I am constantly inspired by the people I meet in this sport.  Both those who overcome adversity and those who give hugely to help others to do so.  Recently, TCSD Cares has teamed up with Tri-Club sponsor coach Sergio Borges to help out a Tri-club member named Clayton Treska.  Clay has been battling through Stage 4 cancer.  When I first met Clay in the Fall of 2009, the conventional odds for him to make it through the next few months were not good.  With some experimental treatments and an unbelievable attitude he is not only in remission right now, but just completed his first two triathlons on his way to Honu 70.3 in the summer.  (See Clay’s story at teamtreska.com).   Then there are TCSD Members like Andy Bailey who lost a leg in a tragic accident, and kept going, hardly missing a beat.  If you want to have many heroes to choose from, just volunteer or spectate at the San Diego Triathlon Challenge.  The race is put on and benefits the Challenged Athlete Foundation; an incredible organization helping exceptional people.  Finally, coming from a military family, I have a profound respect for those serving our Country.  Especially those I see coming home after severe injury, but going on to lead inspiring lives themselves.  Finally, my Mom and Dad who have survived a combined three bouts with cancer and also survived raising me (imagine the energy I have now times about 10).

Craig: In addition to your long time sweetheart Kris, whom you married in 2009, do you have any sponsors you'd like to mention? 

Steve: I have been helped by so many over the years in both an official and non-official capacity.  I have been a teammate of yours for the last 5 years for the B&L Bikes Triathlon Team.  B&L has always been a great supporter of the club and its members.  (but I am proud to say that you can say the same for all of the TCSD bike shop sponsors!)  I would also like to thank Xtraining and Coach Sergio Borges (www.sdxtraining.com) for providing me with great coaching and training plans for this year.  Sergio also gives back by volunteering for the club as a swim coach at the JCC workouts. 

My wife Kris is indeed a special sponsor and the best Tri-Sherpa a triathlete could hope for!  She has seen me through all of my obsessions over split times and schedule/training craziness, and never (mostly) complains when I stay after work several days a week to attend TCSD meetings, beginner events, or training.  She loves to mention that she has not had a non-triathlon related vacation for many years.  Now she just hopes that during each year I do a race in some exotic location (I found out that a weekend racing in Tucson, in her opinion, does not qualify as exotic OR as a vacation).  Of course she loves the lifestyle as well, and enjoys running and cycling as well as participating in the occasional triathlon or marathon.

Craig: What are your future triathlon related goals? 

Steve: I would love to go to USAT Worlds.  What could be better than racing for your Country with USA on the front of your uniform and your name written across your butt?  No one can take that away from you!  I move up in age group next year so that might be the perfect time.

Craig: Steve, thank you so much for sharing your story.  You are one of my heroes and I’m proud to call you my friend.  Good luck achieving your goals – the sky is the limit with your positive outlook.

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