TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
I had the good fortune recently of talking with Tracy Cohen-Peranteau about running, triathlon and just about everything else under the sun. Tracy is the ultimate ambassador for the TCSD! I don’t think you could fit any more goodness or enthusiasm for life into a person. I know you will enjoy getting to know Tracy.
Tracy at the 2009 Ironman Arizona with son Sasha and daughter Megan
Craig: What was your athletic background before triathlon?
Tracy: I was raised by parents who believed that children are "seen and not heard," which is hilarious, for everyone who has met me as an adult. I spent my childhood playing with Barbies, being a good student in school, and earning all of my Girl Scout badges. My parents took me to the local YMCA so I could learn how "not to drown" in a pool. Growing up, the closest I came to any sport was volunteering to be the statistician for my high school baseball team. When I moved away from home to attend San Diego State, I wanted to fit in to the San Diego lifestyle, so I took surfing, water skiing, and sailing at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center for my P.E. classes. If America's Funniest Home Videos had been around back then - I truly would have been the star of the show!
I graduated from SDSU, became an elementary school teacher, traveled around the world during my vacations, and then I "settled down" to get married and have kids. In 2003, my whole life changed, when my mom passed away from breast cancer. Until that day, I had never known such a pain could exist. I had a husband and two young children who needed me, I had fourth grade students who needed me, and I had recently begun teaching aerobic classes, so those students needed me, too. I was so worried about all of the people who needed me that I didn't take care of myself. My friends suggested that I take sleeping pills or get a prescription for my depression, as a "temporary relief to get me through the pain." But I wanted long term relief, not temporary relief. Instead of lying in bed and staring at the ceiling for hours and hours every night, one night I just got up, and began to run. No one needed me at 4a.m. I was free. I could run for hours and mourn my mom. I could recreate happy memories and no one interrupted me. The more I ran, the more I wanted (and needed) to run. I became like Forrest Gump! As a result, I was a happier mom, wife, and teacher. When a friend suggested that I run in the 2004 Rock N Roll Marathon, I said, "Are you CRAZY? A marathon is 26.2 miles!!!" She convinced me to run the marathon with her, and I finished seventeen minutes from qualifying for the Boston Marathon! At 40 years old, I could finally call myself an athlete. For the first time, I felt success participating in a sport! I trained and successfully qualified for Boston, the following year. The same year, my only sibling passed away, and I ran to deal with the pain. The next year my marriage crumbled, and I continued to run, as my coping mechanism. I was officially addicted to the “running drug.”
Craig: How did you get introduced to the TCSD?
Tracy: I ran and ran until I got my first injury: a stress fracture in my heel. The doctor told me that the best way to heal was to bike and swim: cross train. I knew how not to drown, but I had no idea how to swim freestyle. I'd been on a mountain bike before, and I knew how to turn the pedals.......
One month after I got the stress fracture (2007), my friend Bill Gibbs told me that his friend, Jim McCann, the president of TCSD for many years, had passed away from a stroke. I wanted to support Bill, so I showed up at La Jolla Shores for the first McCannMan Aquathlon. I was in absolute amazement - there were over 200 people at this gathering. Everyone was telling stories about this inspirational man who had an amazing gift of bringing people together and creating this wonderful family called the TriClub. I wanted to be a part of this family! What would it take, and where do I sign up???? This was truly a Celebration of Life to a man who was dearly loved by SO many people. Sadly, I experienced that type of gathering again, in 2015.
Craig: What was your first open water swimming experience like?
Tracy: Bill encouraged me to attend a sprint triathlon at Fiesta Island. I doggie paddled the entire swim, and was very discouraged, when the lifeguards were bringing in the buoys, before I was finished. I laughed, when Buck Williamson told me that I had put my helmet on backwards, when I was getting onto my bike. Oh, how far I have come, in the past seven years!
I went to the pool at the gym where I now teach spin and weightlifting classes and my dear friend Lisa Rehberg tried to teach me how to properly swim. I was SO humbled. "I've run the Boston Marathon, I can do this!" Learning to swim as an adult has been such a challenge for me. Seven years of Master’s Swimming twice a week, and I’m still in the slowest lane. But that’s okay – I will never give up!
The first time I attended the Thursday Open Water Swim at Mission Bay, Jonathan Jefferson tried not to laugh, when he told me that the wetsuit zipper goes in the back. Seriously? That made no sense to me! JJ literally held my hand, as he led me into the water. I was petrified! The first buoy seemed so far away! My first time swimming at La Jolla Shores, where there were WAVES, I had a death grip on Thomas Johnson’s hand as he showed me how to duck under the waves. I could hardly breathe, I was crying so hard, from fear. To those of you who fear open water as I do, there is hope. Since I first swam in the open water (2008), I have completed 12 Half Ironman and 8 Full Ironman races.
Craig: What are some of your memories from your first 70.3 and Ironman?
Tracy: My first triathlon training partner, Alan MacNeilan and I were overjoyed to complete Vineman 70.3 together. We both called ourselves runners, and to call ourselves triathletes, was something we never thought was possible. We cheered for our TCSD friend Lisa Rehberg at IMAZ, and knew that a Full Ironman would be our next challenge. We swam. We biked. We ran. We practiced transitions. We did brick workouts. We joined the many weekly TCSD workouts. We became immersed. The one aspect of Ironman that I learned the hard way, was proper nutrition while racing for that many hours. I really wanted to break 13 hours at my first Ironman, and I finished in 13:04. I learned many lessons that day, but my biggest joy, was having my daughter and son at IMAZ, to cheer for me, and to see what their mom is capable of completing. The support of the many TCSD cheerleaders out on the course, truly got me to the finish line. When I doubted I could take one more step, there was Brian Long, yelling to me how close I was to the finish line….. Now I am an Ironman. I feel like I can do anything!
Craig: Over the years you have been an active supporter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. How did you get involved in the CAF?
Tracy: Through TCSD I have met many incredible and inspirational people. Bob Babbitt is one of those people. His part in creating The Challenged Athletes Foundation and The Best Day In Tri is history in the making. Please watch the four minute YouTube video “Challenged Athletes Foundation 15th Anniversary.” The amount of lives changed as a result of CAF, is an unimaginable gift that keeps on giving. Even if you are not racing, PLEASE attend and/or volunteer at The Best Day in Tri (La Jolla Cove on October 18th). It will be difficult for you to ever be more inspired, by the athletes you see, that day.
Craig: What was your experience like on the Million Dollar Ride?
Tracy: Joey was a kindergarten student at my school who was born with Spina Bifada. I watched him sit in his wheelchair daily, while all of his classmates were running around the playground, at recess. I had raced the TriChallenge with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, when TCSD had a team. I wanted to help Joey be a part of a team. I decided to raise the minimum $10,000 to join the Million Dollar Challenge. One hundred people raise $10,000 and ride their bike from San Francisco to San Diego over a six day period. I asked CAF if they would allow a portion of my fundraising to help Joey get a sports wheelchair, so he could participate in sports. They agreed, and both challenges began. I had never raised that kind of money, nor had I ridden my bike 620+ miles in one week. My TCSD friends Daniel Powell, Jonathan Jefferson, J.T. Lyons, Diane Hyat, Ryan Morton along with basketball star Bill Walton, cycling legend John Howard and 95 of our new best friends, embarked on quite the adventure in October of 2011. Joey met me at the finish line near La Jolla Shores, and asked if I would ride the Million Dollar Challenge with him, when he turned eighteen. Hmmm, by then I’ll be 60. I answered, “Of course!” The following year, I watched Joey as he crossed his very first finish line of the one mile kids’ race in his new handcycle, at the Tri Challenge. Tears poured down my cheeks, when he proudly showed me his finisher’s medal.
Craig: The TCSD lost a great friend when JJ passed away earlier this year. What did you do to honor JJ at the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon?
Tracy: I was as shocked as everyone, when our TCSD friend Jonathan Jefferson was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, in 2013. He was the epitome of athleticism and paying it forward. He had taught me how to brave the open water and even gave me his first place relay team medal at my first Olympic distance triathlon, since Super Seal did not give finisher’s medals. He was my riding buddy at the Million Dollar Challenge and was truly a special friend. My favorite JJ story, was when Bob Babbitt wanted to gather a world record amount of Running Elvi (plural for running Elvis’) at the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon in 2011. Jonathan designed a 25 pound SpongeBob Elvis costume (made with PVC pipe) in which to run the marathon, as he joined the 200+ other Running Elvi. When Jonathan’s cancer moved to his bones, and he had to have hip surgery, I asked him if he would let me run the 2015 San Diego RnR Marathon, wearing his coveted SpongeBob Elvis costume, in his honor. He agreed, and it became a joke between us, to see if I could finish the marathon faster than his seven hours. Since he passed away four months before the marathon, our “Running For JJ” team donned SpongeBob shirts, socks and made quite the scene at this year’s marathon. My two bathroom stops along the course took a very long time, as this costume was too big to fit into a porta potty or the handicap stall in the McDonalds’ restroom. As a result, I finished in 7:20, and barely passed the 92 year old woman, who completed her marathon four minutes after me. The outpouring of support from our TCSD family, as we celebrated JJ’s life continues to fill me with so much love. I want to thank Clay Treska, Rick Kozlowski, Daniel Powell, Paula Munoz, Lori Godwin, Steve Tally and Jonathan’s wife, Marilou for including me in the many celebrations we have shared, in remembering Jonathan. May we all lead a life so rich and full, as JJ did.
Craig: What are some of your favorite destination races?
Tracy: As much as I enjoy triathlons, I consider myself more of a runner- I like having my two feet on the ground. After I ran the Boston Marathon, my next running goal was to break 3:30, which I did at the California International Marathon (Sacramento) in 2007. My next goal was to run “longer than a marathon” so I ran the Tahoe Triple (three marathons in three days to circumnavigate the entire lake) in 2010. Then TCSD friend Cathleen Stafford convinced me to run an ultra (anything longer than a marathon), so we ran the Noble Canyon 50K in 2011. Four months later Steve Tally said, “What’s a few more miles?” So Lianne Chu, Deb Hoffman, Henk Overdest and I joined him at the Catalina Island 50 Miler. A few months later, I ran the Nanny Goat 100 mile run (first time in 26:56, second time in 25:22, third time in 24:06). Hence, the Crazy Tracy nickname. When people ask me, “How the heck do you run 100 miles?” I answer, “one foot in front of the other, until I cross the finish line.” Seriously, it’s the biggest mental mind game I’ve ever played……You just keep telling yourself to move forward. The minute you doubt yourself, you’re done. It’s truly a life lesson! TCSD friend Will Mayberry once said to me, “Why be normal, when you can be Tracy?” I considered that statement a compliment. I followed my first 100 mile run by completing the “Tahoe Triple Threat.” On a Friday morning in Tahoe, my crazy friends and I ran a marathon. Saturday morning we ran another marathon. Saturday night, we ran around the entire Lake Tahoe from 8pm-2pm (without stopping). Yes, that would be 124 miles of running over a 2.5 day period. Last summer, I joined 400 other runners, as we covered 120+ miles across the Colorado Rockies over a six day period (google: TransRockies Run). This event is like a Club Med for ultra runners. What an incredibly gorgeous adventure! I was singing John Denver songs the entire time! Definitely a “Rocky Mountain High.”
When I aged up to 50, I decided it was time to train with a coach for my next Ironman, rather than just swim/bike/run without a plan. I hired Mike Plumb and his individualized training plan helped me to earn my first age group award at the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe. One of my racing highlights in triathlon, is when Mike Reilly handed me that award. Not only do I swear by a training plan if you want results, but this really helped me to hold myself accountable. When I added yoga (thank you, Wendy Harp’s Bikram Yoga studio) and regular massage to my training, I noticed even better results. I am extremely happy to report that cross training (swim, bike, run, weightlifting, yoga, massage, nutrition, sleep) has kept me injury free throughout my entire eight years of triathlon training.
Craig: What is your current status in the pursuit of the 50 State Marathon Club?
Tracy: I ran my first international marathon on my birthday, in Athens, Greece on the original marathon course, finishing in the original Olympic Stadium. I would love to run more international marathons, but currently my goal is to complete a marathon in all 50 states. I just completed my 25th state (my 68th marathon+ distance, since 2004) and hope to complete four more states in 2015. The culture, the foods, the people, and the beauty of our country are the reasons I want to enjoy each of the states, one step at a time. In my opinion, the most beautiful marathon I have run, so far, is Big Sur. The most inspiring is Boston. The marathon with the most culture is Chicago. I was able to see the sun at midnight and a moose at the Anchorage Marathon (summer solstice). I ran across the famous Route 66 in Tulsa, OK. In the Bayou of Louisiana, I heard “y’all” used three times in one sentence, and it was grammatically correct. I sang Simon and Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” as I ran across the 59th Street Bridge, in NYC. And I ran through all four theme parks at Walt Disney World, in less than four hours! The people that I meet at the marathons and those crazy marathon maniacs who I see at the race expos multiple times each year make traveling to these races feel like a family reunion.
Craig: What do you love about the TCSD?
Tracy: “Family reunion” are the words that come to mind, when I think of TCSD. Every time I attend a TCSD sponsored event, it feels like a family reunion. My favorite events are the monthly meetings, the aquathlons, the La Jolla Shores/Cove group swims, the potluck dinners, the networking dinners, the camping trips, the group rides and the many birthday/wedding/baby shower/graduation/going away parties I have attended. Very few of these events have anything to do with triathlons, yet every time I attend an event, I make new friends and catch up with old ones. Facebook has become a wonderful way for us to support each other with both our celebrations and our challenges. At Oceanside 70.3 I know more people on the course, than the athletes I don’t know – like a hometown gathering of friends. I feel honored to have been chosen as a member of the TCSD Ambassador Team, and I strive to represent our club in a positive way. I recruit everyone I meet, to join our TCSD family. Since I wear my TCSD kit in every marathon and triathlon, I hope to continue Jim McCann and Jonathan Jefferson’s quest to “pay it forward” and encourage all new members to become more involved, and to feel that TCSD is their family, too. Every single day I stop to “smell the roses,” and to thank God for all of the experiences I have been fortunate to experience. When Lisa Rehberg gave me a Road ID for my birthday, she had it engraved with: “You Never Fail Unless You Stop Trying.” Definitely a mantra to live by.
Craig: What is your next adventure?
Tracy: Road trip to Colorado, with my TCSD family Nathan, Danielle, Randi, Jeanette, Alaina, Chris, Audrey, Ryan, Jim, Lisa, Jeremy, Lauren and Kyra. And while we’re there, we thought we’d throw in a little Ironman in Boulder……..State #26.
Craig: Tracy, thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so proud to call you my friend. I am blessed to know you and the TCSD is blessed to have you flying our flag. Good luck to you in all your future pursuits.
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.