TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

I had the honor recently of talking triathlon to Judi Carbary, a great lady who has been worth her weight in gold as the TCSD Youth Triathlon Coach. Judi has only lived in San Diego for a few years, but she has made a huge difference already. I wish we could clone a few more Judi’s! 


Craig: What was your athletic background before you got started racing triathlons?


Judi: Before starting triathlons, I played tennis on the high school tennis team, started running when I was in college, then saw someone swimming fast in our community pool.  Since all the other adults were always laying on the chaise lounges, I asked him what he was training for.  He told me triathlons. So I thought it might be a great change from just running, since I didn’t have to be as fast as a” real” runner, swimmer, or biker.  At that time I was only doing some side stroke for fun, so I started side stroking 1 more lap at a time until a got up to ¼ mile, and biking and running the distance of the shortest upcoming triathlon I could find to compete at.

Craig: What was your first triathlon like? 

Judi: So I signed up for the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Triathlon in September 1985.  Driving the course the day before I was scared to death seeing the steep hills on the bike and run course, since I was just training on flat roads, and seeing the river current I had to swim in, after just swimming from one pool wall to the other.  I knew I had made a big mistake.  To top it off, since the race didn’t start until 11am, my friend took me to an all you can eat breakfast to carbo load, and carbo load we did.  I felt so stuffed I was nauseated and sick to my stomach the whole swim, but kept side stroking so I wouldn’t drown until I finished the swim.  After finishing the swim, I was so relieved to be done, the hills on the bike and run actually didn’t seem as hard as they had looked on the drive the day before.  I was so happy to just be able to FINISH a triathlon!

Craig: What has motivated you to keep doing triathlons and duathlons for almost 30 years?

Judi: Being able to finish my first triathlon inspired me to start really training to do more and actually try to teach myself freestyle swimming!  Trying to balance triathlon training with a full time job and 2 young children was the next challenge.  I started running in the dark before work, and biking or swimming at lunch to get in enough training to hopefully finish.  I began placing in my age group, and qualified and competed in the 1997 Triathlon World Championship in Perth, Australia, but my swimming always was my challenge.  So a friend suggested, kindly, that I might do better if I did duathlons.  So, taking that as a challenge, I signed up for Duathlon Nationals, and wound up qualifying for the 1999 Duathlon Worlds without much real training.  After experiencing and enjoying the Team USA “club med” travelling and camaraderie lifestyle, I began “real training” to be able to keep qualifying each year for Worlds to keep up with my friends.

Craig: It’s a small world.  I was on the same Team USA with you at the 1999 Du Worlds in Huntersville, NC and again in 2001 in Rimini, Italy.  You have told me the Rimini race was one of your greatest races.  What was this experience like? 

Judi: So in 2001, I was nationally ranked 3rd in my age group for duathlons, and qualified to do the Duathlon Worlds in Rimini, Italy.  Arriving at our hotel on Sept. 11, some teammates turned on the TV and saw some buildings exploding, but the language was all in Italian.  We were horrified but didn’t know what was happening.  Somehow we found out what had happened and feared for our families and friends back home, but getting a call or email out at the internet café was next to impossible.  Over half of the Duathlon Team USA never made it to Italy, unable to get a flight out.  USA Triathlon was so concerned for our safety abroad that they had a meeting to inform us that we would not be racing in our World Championship.  Later that week, they changed their mind and said we could race, but not wear our Team USA uniforms, then changed that to us wearing black armbands.  I remember race day rain, with wet pavement on a curvy flat course, and feeling scared, like a moving target, not knowing what would happen during the race.  Many of the Italians seemed to laugh at us and at the US when we were out in the town.  I don’t know if it was my trying to go as fast as I could to retaliate for this crisis situation, or because I was scared and didn’t want to be a target, or because half the team couldn’t make it to the race, or because I had trained well, or a combination of all of this, but I wound up having one of my best races ever, and finishing 2nd among the Americans, and 6th in my age group.

Craig: On what other occasions have you raced for Team USA and was there anything particularly memorable about any of those opportunities? 

Judi: Besides competing in 1997 World Championships in Perth, Australia and in 2001 in Rimini, Italy, I have qualified almost every year since 1999, but with work commitments was able to compete in 7 world championships.  Each time, along with training hard, it offered an opportunity to travel around the world and experience the Team USA camaraderie and “club med” lifestyle.  By this I mean, I trained hard, but then was worn down after travelling to our destination and partying with our team, instead of training together like the other teams, and found out “if anything can happen it will”.  For instance, in Perth, the Australian teams were coached in the pool and on the race course while our USA team went shopping, sunbathing, and experiencing the Australian lifestyle.

In Italy, our prerace dinner was at an Italian wine cellar.   Since I don’t usually drink, I decided to take sips to taste the various different wine samples.  It didn’t hit me until I woke up race morning with a severe headache and was so sleepy I almost didn’t wake up to make it to the race start. 

Before travelling to Calais, France, I was working the day before at my job as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and a child coughed right in my face.  I remember thinking, I hope those kid bugs don’t do me in, but sure enough, after all my hard training all year, I woke up in the middle of the night unable to take a deep breath.  I spent the day before leaving in urgent care receiving a taste of my own medicine and nebulizer treatments, still unable to breathe well and coughing continuously.  What was I going to do?  Well, since I had trained, paid for the travel and race, of course, I would go and finish off using up all my waning energy, to drag myself to the start line with the help of the Team USA doctor’s magic.  With my luck, the weather the day before was beautiful, then on race day, the temperature fell to 42 degrees with rain, as I set out in my bikini, expecting the weather to warm up as it had been doing all week, to race on the cliffs over the English Channel.  We were also not expecting steep climbs with hairpin 180 degree turns at the bottom since the race info USAT was given showed a flat course with little elevation which we had all based our training on. 

Then there was Affoltern Du Worlds in Switzerland, again with beautiful weather during the week before, which plummeted to 40 degrees with pouring rain race day.  On the looped hilly course, I remember seeing less and less people thinking I was really slow, and feeling my fingers and legs freezing up so I could barely change my gears.  Running on the muddy trails and down the hillside covered with bales of sinking hay and mud was another real unplanned for adventure.  I found out after I finished that over half the field had dropped out with hypothermia, so I actually did well just to finish.

Craig: You moved to San Diego 4.5 years ago from Columbia, MD.  What was your triathlon involvement back in Columbia? 

Judi: After competing in for over 20 years, I was ready to just race for the fun of it and help others learn how much fun it is to do triathlons and duathlons.  So after getting certified as a USA Triathlon Coach in 2005, and getting the approval from the Columbia Association, who managed all the city’s aquatic and athletic facilities, I began to coach an adult group triathlon training program, as well as giving private swim and triathlon coaching.  From that beginning, I found a triathlete friend who was willing to help me, and we began to expand our coaching program, TriUSCoaching, to provide open water swim clinics and triathlon camps to prepare our triathletes for their triathlon events.  About this same time, as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I was beginning to see an abundance of obesity in the pediatric population I was caring for.  There were no kids’ triathlon events in our area, and I felt that if kids had a goal to train for, like the adults, they would experience the same fun with their exercise as we do, to motivate them to have a healthy lifelong lifestyle.  So I began trying to coax my friend, Rob Vigorito, the Race Director for the Columbia Triathlon and Eagleman, and soon now the new Challenge USA race, to put on a kids triathlon, and I would provide a kids training camp on the same course to prepare the kids.  It took me 2 years, planning the race course and providing my kids triathlon camp and practice triathlon where kids could learn how to do transitions, swim, bike, and run safely, and finding a potential other race director who was willing to do it, that finally convinced Vigorito to put on the first Columbia KIDZ Triathlon in 2007.  He has held it every year since, growing from 100 kids to over 500 kids competing last year.

Besides coaching, I continued to compete in triathlons, duathlons, and World Championships, and to try to inspire others to experience a healthy lifestyle.  I was asked to, and became a member of the DU2R Multisport Racing Team, where my fellow athletes were nationally ranked and very competitive in World Championships.

Craig: How did you get involved in the TCSD? 

Judi: Upon becoming a TCSD member in 2011 I approached the club President, Thomas Johnson about the need for coaching and offered to volunteer to organize beginner brick workouts, which I feel are a key endurance workout, on the 56 bike path.  This gave me the chance to meet many really nice people in TCSD, as well as the opportunity to help them with my triathlon coaching experience.  It was not long after that, I volunteered at a packet pickup at the Ironkids Triathlon, and coached at the National Youth Championships, when I met Andy Concors, a great guy who was also a University of Michigan graduate like myself, and longstanding TCSD member and the original founder and coach of the TCSD Youth Program, who was at Ironkids presenting a youth clinic. He was so welcoming, the kids were so motivated and fun to work with, and their parents so supportive of their kids efforts, I offered my coaching assistance.  Andy took me up on my offer and we started co-coaching the TCSD Youth Tri Program (SDTRIKIDS).  Andy had been coaching the youth program for the last 5 years and was getting very busy at work, and burning out trying to do everything himself, so at the end of 2012 he asked me to take over the youth program coaching.  Immediately I said that I enjoyed working with him and had no intentions of doing it without him, but before I realized it, he started to slowly phase himself out.  It was either continue the program on my own, while pleading for volunteers to help, or there would be no youth program.  Wanting to continue to work with such great kids and parents I decided to continue to coach the youth program.  I really enjoy the opportunity to coach the kids so that they can experience our healthy multisport lifestyle.

Craig: How is the Youth Program that you lead different from the TriJuniors group that Jim Vance leads? 

Judi: The TCSD Youth Tri Program focus is on introducing kids from 6 to 14 years of age to the sport to triathlon while keeping it fun to inspire them to continue to love exercise and lead a healthy lifestyle hopefully for their whole life. We meet on Sunday afternoons each week, and twice monthly in the off season.

The program focuses on teaching kids the basics of transitioning, triathlon sport specific techniques, and USAT safety rules, and then using these skills in practice ”races” at varying age specific distances.  As a Pediatric and Family Nurse Practitioner, as well as a USA Triathlon Certified Coach, I am very focused on safety, by teaching proper technique for injury prevention, as well as holding practices in a safe, well supervised location.  I recruit the assistance of parents and club volunteers to help keep the kids safe when we practice.

In addition to the basic TCSD Youth Program, I saw the need to have a “one step above the basic program” for kids that wanted more challenging training to improve their racing performance, but still wanting to keep their training fun and in balance with their other family activities and sports.  So in 2013, I formed the San Diego Youth Triathlon Team.  We meet once or twice weekly, per family/athlete preference, to do bike/runs, track workouts, open water swim workouts, aquathlons, and monthly timed practices.  Our youth team is open to any child who wants to join us who wants to challenge themselves to train a little more.  The kids on our team seem to love the camaraderie and have fun racing each other, as they all want to return in 2014.  We will still keep the team open for any child who wants to join us who wants to improve their race performance.

For a comparison of youth tri programs locally, while the TCSD Youth Tri Program focus is on introducing kids to the sport, and my San Diego Youth Tri Team is the next step up for a fun performance challenge, the Formula Endurance Program (formerly Tri Juniors) coached by Jim Vance, can be seen as more intensely focused on youth and teen athlete performance.

Craig: What is the Youth Tri Series? 

Judi: While working with Coach Andy Concors, at the end of 2011, we recognized the need for the kids to have a goal for their training, since Ironkids and Youth Nationals had moved out of the San Diego area, and there were no other youth triathlon events nearby.  Having experience producing my youth triathlon camp and other triathlon clinics and programs, I knew producing events would be a lot of extra work, so I began contacting several local race directors who were willing to add a youth triathlon to their existing events.  To help kids compete with others outside the immediate local area, races were selected within a 1-1.5 hour driving distance to include some destination mini family vacation races.  All the youth races also have adult races where parents can compete at the same time.  As part of the discussion with the race directors, they requested and I offered to provide prerace and open water swim clinics to specifically prepare the kids for their races, as well as supply parent volunteers to help support the extra youth participants during the race.   In 2012, TCSD offered to sponsor our first SoCal Youth Triathlon Series, and provide ads and award prizes for kids completing the series races and clinics.  The participation has grown each year in our youth series, from about 250 to over 400 kids participating last year.  2014 will be the 3rd year for our youth triathlon series.

The 5 event youth triathlon series features mostly USAT sanctioned youth races with age specific distances and awards 3 deep in each age group (7-8 years, 9-10 years, 11-13 years, and 14-15 years) at each race.  The focus of the series is on participation at safe, fair, fun youth events.  I offer youth coaching at 2 open water swim clinics, and prerace clinics, with a practice course and transition area preview, review of USAT youth rules, and practice of course specific triathlon skills, before each race, to make sure the kids are safe and well prepared for their youth races.  The Series Championship race is open to all youth and culminates with our series awards, awards buffet, and a challenging race course.

Craig: How can parents get their kids involved in the Youth Program and the Youth Tri Series? 

Judi: I feel it’s important for parents to be involved in their child’s triathlon training and racing, and I recruit their assistance, for helping to make sure they are safe on the courses when we practice, for encouraging or helping them when they need it, for reinforcing what they learned when training at home, for volunteering at our youth tri series races, for cheering on their youth athletes when training and racing, and by being healthy lifestyle role models for their young athletes. 

Any parent who has a child from age 6 to 14 is welcome to come and try out our youth program practice to see if their child enjoys it before joining TCSD as a youth member.  Any well-fitting youth road or even a mountain bike that is in good working condition and bike helmet is fine.  Before investing in expensive tri gear that kids will outgrow anyway, they just need to practice consistently to build their endurance.

Any child from 7 to 15 yrs. can participate in our youth triathlon series.  An annual USA Triathlon youth membership is required for the USAT sanctioned events and is only $15 for the whole year of events, or $10 for a one day membership.   Participating regularly in our youth program practices, as well as our prerace and open water swim clinics, will well prepare kids for their youth races.

Craig: You have also been involved with USA Triathlon on the Duathlon Committee.  What has been your involvement with USAT? 

Judi: In 2000, I became a member of the Mid-Atlantic Duathlon Committee, where I helped to form a regional duathlon series, with awards for top finishers in the series, to help to increase duathlon participation. Subsequently, in 2002, I was selected to become a member of the USA Triathlon Duathlon Committee, to help provide ideas and develop a USAT National Duathlon Series to spark the regrowth and participation nationally in the sport of duathlon.  This series allows our TCSD members to travel only a short distance, to Orange County for instance, to compete in the OC Duathlon as one of the races in the series.  By competing in 2 or more series’ races you are eligible for series awards, and possibly qualify for the Duathlon World Championships.

Craig: What are your goals for future triathlons and duathlons?

Judi: Competing in World Championships were my favorite highlights in triathlon and duathlon racing.  Although I decided to take the pressure off competing and just enjoy racing for the fun of it when I moved to San Diego, when I’m ready to get serious again, I hope to have the time, strength, health, and energy to qualify again for World Championships.  It requires a strong commitment to train hard to compete among the best in the world.  Until then, I’m enjoying trying out all the fun local races and experiencing the challenging ocean swims and different venues.

Craig: What are your favorite benefits of TCSD membership?

Judi: My favorite benefits of TCSD membership are meeting all the wonderful people who are members.  When I’m not busy coaching the kids, I love the cove swims, club races, and seeing other TCSD members and athletes I have been coaching at races!

Craig: How can people contact you for your coaching services or to help with the Youth Program? 

Judi: The best way to contact me is by email: jcarbary@triclubsandiego.orgfor private adult or youth coaching, more info on our TCSD Youth Tri Program, more info on my San Diego Youth Triathlon Team, or more info on our SoCal Youth Triathlon Series, or to volunteer with our youth triathlon program or series.

The youth triathlon program webpage is at:, Training, Youth Program.

This webpage has all the latest info for the TCSD Youth Tri Program and our SoCal Youth Tri Series.

One of these days I’ll get around to updating my coaching website,

Craig: Judi, thank you so much for sharing your story.  You have been such a difference maker in so many people’s lives.  Both the young and “less young” are grateful for your services. 

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