By Tom Demerly.
According to our calendar June 25th marked one
year since triathlon and swim coach Doug Stern succumbed to
his battle with cancer.
I find myself writing a lot of these tributes
over the past couple years- friends and people I admire passing
away and leaving us with… memories for one thing, but
Nature abhors a void and the void that is left
by these people is palpable. We feel it, we know it, and it
hurts. It’s also part of being 40, then 45 and on toward
50. The second hardest thing about growing up is losing friends.
The first hardest thing is trying to fill their shoes. It is
up to us now, we become that next generation of admirable people,
and that is a big responsibility and heavy burden.
Doug Stern shouldered the responsibility of being
a leader with the effortless abandon that natural leaders do.
If it was ever difficult for Doug to coach swimming or somehow
distasteful I never saw him show it. Even when he was frustrated
with a swimmer he owned the pool deck like a man who loved what
he did and did what he loved. Doug was also a connector and
in the often impersonal world of metropolitan New York City
Doug Stern brought many people together. I can think of at least
three couples who are together now because of Doug and one couple
Doug presided over at their wedding: My wife and I. Doug is
what some people refer to as a “connector”. He brought
There are others too. Michael R. Rabe died in
a bicycle accident in 2003 and since then no one person has
been able to muster the dedication to the sport that Rabe did.
His well-attended cyclocross practices help propel the sport
forward but disappeared after his passing. We simply couldn’t
fill those shoes. Sometimes we try them on, but in terms of
dedication to the sport and the development of new athletes
Rabe wore a size 14 Wide and we barely need a size 6.
So, what do we do?
Firstly, we remember. My wife marked the anniversary
of Doug’s passing on our calendar at home. I’m glad
she did. It prompted me to write this. More importantly it helped
me remember Doug and the legacy he left behind.
Secondly, we move forward. Doug’s legacy
is continued by his good friend Kate who has taken it upon herself
to do an excellent job continuing and growing the annual Curacao
Triathlon Training Camp. When I was on the run of the St. Croix
70.3 Triathlon earlier this year swim coach Boris Talon, one
of Doug’s contemporaries and assistant coaches, rode up
next to me on a bike to offer encouragement. Boris has a unique
accent and a kind way about him. Having him there for just a
moment on the run made all the difference in the world. The
strength of Curacao, of Doug, of all the fine people I’ve
met and come to know over the seven years I’ve been to
Doug’s camp on Curacao came through in that instant and
the void was filled by Boris and Kate. Thank you guys. These
strong people have stepped up to the plate to heal the wound
left by Doug’s passing. Curacao lives on thanks to Kate
and also to Boris and the others who had the courage to pull
it together and keep what Doug built alive.
There are other people who are working now to
bring new athletes into cycling and triathlons and offering
them technology, support and coaching resources that help them
explore the sport. They are filling the void left by people
like Doug Stern when he passed away. Here are just few of them:
Ken Gutowski of the Ford Athletic
Swim and Triathlon Club has organized early morning swim practices
and advised new athletes for years. He is a top level corporate
executive with a family and an experienced triathlete himself,
one of those odd magicians of time management that makes it
appear he is always at ease, always ready to help. Mention Ken’s
name to many new athletes and they will tell you he helped them
with advice or they have attended one of his basement Computrainer
rides or well organized swim practices.
Jim and Joyce Donaldson own Elite
Endeavors, a race management company that produces some of the
longest running classic triathlons in the world. As I write
this, Joyce is in Beijing preparing to officiate at the Olympic
Triathlon. She also serves as a Technical Delegate for U.S.A.T.
and is an I.T.U. Official. Perhaps more importantly she is often
seen before the grass-roots Women’s Only Triathlon giving
first timer clinics to new athletes. All of Joyce’s efforts
are done despite some serious back problems that haven’t
kept her down for a single day from promoting and building the
sport and bringing new athletes into the fray. When she is away
working for the sport, Jim is back here organizing events like
the Bikesport Ann Arbor Triathlon and pulling together organized
training for the Toledo Triathlon Club.
Lew Kidder of Ann Arbor along
with his wife Karen McKeachie are long time
advocates of the sport. Lew’s legal background ideally
prepared him as an administrator and director of the sport at
the highest level, serving as a top official for U.S.A.T. and
founding one of the most successful triathlon publications,
Inside Triathlon, started by Lew Kidder as Triathlon
Today. Kidder assisted local star Sheila Taormina in here
first ever bid for the Sydney Olympics in Triathlon. This year
in Beijing Taormina makes history by being the first ever Olympic
athlete to have competed in three different Olympic sports.
Dan Empfield founded a company
that invented the triathlon bicycle and the triathlon wetsuit
as we popularly know them today. He went on to innovate across
a broad range of mediums within the sport from products to events
to media and even bike fit. He founded the first systematic
approach to triathlon bike fit, the Fit Institute of Slow Twitch
(F.I.S.T.). His concept of sizing bikes by “stack and
reach” made comparison of bike geometries possible and
set an industry standard for how to size and fit bikes. As a
result of stack and reach, almost all bike manufacturers made
a significant single year improvement to their triathlon frame
geometries. He spearheaded the internet influence in our sport
by being the first manufacturer to have a triathlon website
and the first person to develop a dealer website. His on-line
has become the fastest moving, most feature packed publication
in triathlons. He, along with former professional triathlete,
lifeguard, paramedic and bon vivant Mark Montgomery
hold training camps and fit education seminars at their
desert compound, Xantusia, in California.
Todd Briggs has been a long time
triathlete and swim coach in the eastern suburbs who fights
for cyclists rights as an attorney and coaches triathletes in
the evening when he isn’t getting ready for racing himself.
Todd owns a slew of impressive Ironman finishes but more importantly
has personally pulled a significant number of new athletes into
the sport by holding ad-hoc indoor triathlons at health clubs
and motivating young athletes in school swimming programs to
continue their experience in endurance sports by using their
fitness in life long sports like triathlons.
Russ Hudson took a buy-out from
his previous job and splits his time between road riding, triathlons,
X-Terra and volunteering at seemingly every triathlon in the
eastern hemisphere. It seems as though every transition area
you pull into in an Elite Endeavors event has Russ Hudson guiding
athletes and using his experience to maintain the flow I the
transition area. Russ frequently trains with Jim Donaldson and
this pair pull together winter time Computrainer sessions and
open water swims and beginner triathlon clinics for new and
experienced athletes. Russ has enjoyed the sport for years at
every distance but has taken it upon himself to give back with
a level of vitality and experience few athletes can even approach.
These are just a few of the names that come
to mind when I wonder who fills the shoes of people like Doug
Stern and Michael R. Rabe. No person can be replaced but the
energy of people like Kate, Boris, Ken, Jim, Joyce, Lew, Dan,
Mark, Todd and Russ are indicative of leaders in our sport and
help fill the void when we look back on the mournful loses of
people who were so important to our sport and to us personally.
Reflecting back on the one year anniversary of Doug’s
loss, I am glad to know these people and the many others who
help fill the void.