good friend of mine is sick and this is his get well
Doug Stern is a guy from New York City
who teaches swimming and runs a triathlon training camp
on the island of Curacao in the Dutch Antilles every
I’ve been to Doug’s camp in
Curacao seven times. In those seven years I’ve
learned a lot about swimming from Doug, and even more
about life and myself from him.
Doug is a teacher by trade. He used to
teach school, now he teaches people about swimming.
Like all people who were born to teach Doug has a way
of teaching you about yourself no matter what the subject
is. Doug is one of those rare characters with the talent
and wisdom to inspire and challenge people. As a result
he has a magnetic personality; people flock to him.
There is no more attractive quality in a person than
the charisma and intellect to always appear in command,
and Doug has that quality.
I first met Doug Stern after seeing an
article in Triathlete Magazine about his training camp
in Curacao. I had never heard of Curacao and couldn’t
even pronounce the name of island until I called Doug
to ask about the camp. A few months latter this guy
from New York was standing on the beach in the Caribbean
yelling at me. He was pointing to his elbow and his
buttocks in rapid succession shouting, “This is
your ass, this is your elbow- learn the difference!”
The article in Triathlete about Curacao
was written by author and neurologist Oliver Sacks.
Sacks has been a regular at Doug’s Curacao camp
for a number of years and is one of the colorful people
that flock to Doug for that rare, special brand of inspiration
and motivation. Oliver occasionally reads excerpts from
his books to a rapt audience during breaks in the action
at Doug’s camps. This type of spectacle is typical
of Doug’s gatherings: Interesting people, interesting
ideas and interesting places, all brought together under
the Stern umbrella.
The trip to Curacao has always attracted
an eclectic crowd of fascinating personalities. On my
yearly excursion to Curacao I’ve met instructor
pilots for the Concorde, Wallstreet traders, physical
therapists, two Olympic Gold Medalists, doctors, detectives,
authors, race directors, even salesmen who sell Airbus
airliners to foreign countries. This is the crowd Doug
attracts. Doug’s clients in his New York swim
and Deep Water Running Classes are almost all repeat
customers; same with the people on the Curacao trip.
We all keep coming back for more of Doug’s quirky
humor, sagacious insights and simple, up beat philosophy.
Curacao has become a reunion of sorts for the Stern
fans who make the annual sojourn from around the world
to the Dutch Antilles. One person on this year’s
trip commented that we have become a family of sorts.
Doug is the foster parent of this ad-hoc family and
I suspect we are not the only group he has fostered.
This year the government of Curacao honored
Doug and his liaison in Curacao, Ramey, for their contribution
to raising awareness and building tourism in Curacao
over the last decade. Doug’s camps have circulated
over 400 people through the Lion’s Dive Hotel
in Curacao for his triathlon training camp.
In never fails that by the time I get
to Curacao every year my wick has been burned at both
ends until little is left. I need a dose of Stern. Doug
has an infectious enthusiasm for life that pervades
everything he does and everyone he is around. I need
a recharge and Doug Stern always provides it.
For the first couple years I went to Curacao
and told Doug, “I am a rotten swimmer. Always
have been, always will be.”
Doug was quick to point out the first
opportunity to improve was to change that mindset. “You
are an improving swimmer, a swimmer ready to be better.”
Doug re-calibrated my thinking through his philosophy
and through a carefully orchestrated set of challenges
that increased throughout the week designed to systematically
raise the bar all the time you think you’re on
vacation. It’s learning and growth through fun,
Doug Stern style.
To Doug Stern, everything is an opportunity.
Doug teaches swimming to adults who have never been
in the water. He teaches people who have never been
in the ocean that there is little to be afraid of, but
much to respect. I’ve seen him lead a group of
newbie swimmers through rough, open water swims that
would challenge a Navy SEAL and get everyone back to
the beach with smiles on their faces. I’ve seen
more people overcome their apprehension about open water
swimming under Doug’s tutelage than I can count.
Doug has also opened our eyes to a simple, adapted method
of swimming founded on proven techniques both old and
new. And of course, no one understands motivation, education
and inspiration like Stern does.
Doug also has a way of reducing the most
complex challenges to summary. He speaks in staccato
sentences. He is one of those guys who can rattle off
a simple solution to a complex problem in under a New
York minute. It’s another reason people flock
“Doug,” people tell him, “I
am so afraid of the water, what about the sharks, the
jellyfish, the waves?”
“Simple”, He tells them. “Get
in the water and swim.” Coming from Doug it is
that simple. This is your ass, this is your elbow. Learn
Today Doug faces a challenge that many
faiths tell us is only allocated to a spirit strong
enough to rise to it. He has cancer. But cancer doesn’t
have him. Doug battles the treatment, battles the disease.
I bet Doug sees cancer as some sort of opportunity to
rise above- to become stronger. He is a man accustomed
to a fit body. The challenges of disease and its treatment
have changed his physical configuration temporarily.
But inside, he fights on, working for the opportunity
to be better. I read posts on Internet forums about
Doug, the updates and the well-wishes. I can hardly
reply to them with just, “Get well Doug”,
there is more to be said about this guy. There is more
to Doug than simply best wishes on a get-well card.
During the past few weeks when Doug posts on forums
I sense he has good days and days that are, in a Stern-ism,
opportunities for better days. Such is the nature of
his affliction. The nature of Doug Stern is that for
every tough day he faces, he will face one additional
better day of his own manufacture, the product of his
indomitable spirit and unflagging tenacity. I’ve
seen it myself, Doug makes good things happen.
Doug Stern is an anomaly among men. He
is a person who manufactures good will and good fortune.
Things go better with Doug. Because of this I look forward
to seeing Doug again and hearing his tales of cancer
recovery. He will no doubt put the jovial Stern spin
on them and have people in stitches with his monologues
about his trip down the road to recovery. And then Stern
will put another notch his belt for a challenge met,
lemonade made out of lemons. It’s the Stern way.
Get well soon Doug. See you in Curacao