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Happy Camper
By Tom Demerly

Doug Stern is your host and coach in Curacao.

06:31 hr.s Local, Outside Willemsted, Curacao, Dutch Antilles, Southern Caribbean.

I'm wearing another man's bathing suit and another man's goggles. I'm swimming in another country's pool. My stuff is lost. I have some of my hardware- bike and computer, roughly 80 pounds of gear, but I have no clothing.

My clothes are on the same impromptu tour of the Caribbean I was doing yesterday. Miami, San Juan, Puerto Rico, then Curacao. I've done this random tour before a few years ago, once landing in Port au Prince, Haiti- famous for zombification and civil unrest. Not famous for triathlon training. U.S. Marines guarded me in the "Transient Passenger Lounge" that was decorated with sandbags. Right now I'm hoping this trip goes better than that one.

In scrounged bathing garb I do a good swim workout. Doug Stern, our swim coach, gives me a shopping list of things I need to do to "fix" my stroke: "Open your hips at the right time, bring your hand in so you can see it, switch to a six beat kick. Start your stroke at your feet, don't finish your stroke, don't cross-over (have I already done that wearing another man's Speedo?). A tall Russian coach resplendid in his Ironman Brazil shirt and black KGB sunglasses, named Boris of course, and a fast talking, mega-buff, enthusiastic New Yorker bark commands at me. Doug, the New Yorker, Tells me the one thing I want to hear: "You will be twice as fast when you leave here next week."

That is why I'm here. To get faster. It is crunch time. My first big race of the year, Ironman New Zealand, is six weeks away. It is time to get faster.

I'm beginning my season at Doug Stern's Triathlon Training Camp on the Island of Curacao. Curacao is in the Dutch Antilles just north of Venezuela in the southernmost Caribbean. Swimming is a national pass time here.

I'm eight weeks out of a disasterous race in Thailand and I've come here to fix what went wrong.

Flying out of Detroit I meet Walt Pheeney and his wife traveling with Andrew and Irene Kennedy, all friends of mine and customers. It is five degrees below zero in Detroit, and it seems the toilets on our airplane are frozen solid. We learn that airplanes are not allowed to take off with frozen toilets, so we are removed from our aircraft while they turn up the heat to thaw them out. It works, but we miss our connection to Curacao through Miami and are placed on a maze of connecting flights throughout the Caribbean. Our route is circuitous, and our luggage does not follow. So I am swimming in borrowed gear.

I don't care though. This camp is worth the bother. Doug Stern provides an experience on Curacao so enjoyable and eclectic I would circle the globe to attend his camp. This is my fourth year in Curacao, and a number of our customers have joined me here. It gets better every year.

Many things go into making Doug's camp a success. Certainly Doug is the main ingredient. His enthusiasm and spirit are infectious. At sixty he has the exuberance of a 15 year old and the build of a 20 year old. Doug practices what he preaches, and what he preaches is swimming and his own New York city brand of life philosophy: Relax, have fun, work hard, enjoy the people around you and never miss a chance for a laugh or a good workout.

Another ingredient to the appeal of Doug's camp is the people themselves. Quartered at the Lion's Dive hotel, a quaint and nicely maintained SCUBA diver's hotel with a beautiful beach, fine restaurant and even great live music, a mix of forty amazing characters subject themselves to Doug's regimen of comedy, exercise and partying. The campers include bankers, financiers, executives, attorneys, doctors of every variety, famous authors, people who manage billions of dollars. Along with them is me, a guy who works in a bike shop.

The conversation at dinner is incredible. A woman tells me managing a state's $3 billion pension fund was "fun". A man reads from his latest book for us, providing colorful insight into his amazing life as a famous scientist and neurologist. Another man shows a video of his expedition to Antarctica. There are no boring people on this trip. It seems everyone has something interesting to say, an amazing experience to share. There are so many stories and experiences at Doug's Triathlon Training Camp it makes reality TV look like as lame as Ozzy and Harriet.

Most days start with sunrise coffee overlooking the ocean and a 3.5 mile run to the 50 meter pool we train in; also overlooking the ocean, of course. Doug does his best to sharpen our stroke there. His assistant coach, Boris Talon, is an elite amateur swimmer from Russia. His dashing Slavic good looks and Russian accent make him an imposing figure, but he is a clown at heart. The two dash and dart from lane to lane, video taping us and pantomiming stroke corrections to us during our workout. We do thousands of meters of drills, kicking, more drills and intervals. Then there is another 3.5 mile run back to the Lon's dive for breakfast- you guessed it- overlooking the ocean.

All of the workouts are optional and campers pick from the full daily workout menu "ala Carte", you do what you want and rest when you want. But this is crunch time for me so I not missing many workouts here. I've done so much kicking in the pool my fins have worn the skin off my toes.

Following breakfast Doug's bike coaches take over and administer the first of two daily rides. Coaches J.P. and Chad buzz up and down our ragged pacelines like busy queen bees on the hive. They are the dry land equivalent of swim coaches Doug and Boris. J.P. is a fine cyclist and a bit of an intellectual also. He is a frequent writer on the topic of cycling, contributing editor to the coffee table glossy Asphalt magazine and won a bicycle race here on the island last year. Chad is the manager of a major U.S. professional cycling team. Chad's girlfriend Emily, a movie-star beauty, former gymnast and oncology nurse in New York City is along as well. She is, of course, a triathlete. Chad and Emily are one of several "Ironcouples" at the camp.

Our rides span the island from east to west, including a semi-epic through heat and hills to the west end of the island and a marvelous barbecue at Knip Beach. The return trip is into the wind and most people climb on the support bus but a few of us soldier on into the Dutch Caribbean headwind.

Arriving back in the capitol town of Willemsted we find the odd floating drawbridge is retracted and for shipping traffic and wait for it to swing back into position. Then it is a very fast 3.5 miles through town back to the Lion's Dive Hotel.

Dinner at Doug Stern's Triathlon Training Camp is always a social affair and the conversations are the main course. Also on the menu is the excellent local seafood. All the restaurants we visited are at least very good, although the island level of service can tend toward the leisurely.

Morning's come early for the run to the pool so evenings are generally early also at Doug's camp. A new feature during the last couple years has the been RBTT/Fatum Triathlon Fest Olympic Distance Triathlon. This is the biggest race in the southern Caribbean and a major event for athletes in northern South America, the Dutch Antilles and European athletes in the area. Competition is stiff and the field is strong. Conditions in the race are brutally difficult, making the RBTT one of the toughest Olympic distance races in the world.

When I left Detroit the weather was so cold it froze the plumping in our airliner. Training in those conditions is misery. Training in the sun and sea of Curacao is utter indulgence, the best our sport has to offer. Combine ideal training conditions with 39 other like-minded, interesting multisport athletes of all ability levels and you have a recipe for success, and a great way to get ready for the upcoming season.


Our luggage does the tour of the Caribbean.


The Michigan contingent on the way down to Curacao, delayed in Puerto Rico.

 


Morning swim practice at the 50-meter outdoor chlorine-free pool.


And the beginning of the afternoon open water swim in the Caribbean.


Royal Dutch Navy and Curacao Coast Guard along with the French Navy provided lifeboats for our 2 mile, open ocean swim.


Swimming with dolphins in the lagoon next to our hotel
.


Ironyoga inventor Anthony takes the group through a session on the beach at sunset.


Beautiful sunsets are on the menu from the hotel beach every night.


My new Guru Trilite with Shimano Dura-Ace 10 speed in the transition area at FBTT/Fatum Triathlon.


From left to right: Samantha, Amy and Anthony- all on the podium from their great races at RBTT/Fatum Triathlon.


And, of course, another beautiful Curacao sunset.

 

 

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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