Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Interview by Kevin Koresky of Finishline multi sport Wednesday 18th Feb.2009

In endurance sports, there are a variety of events that can test your mind, body and will. Endurance events can help you discover who you are in many ways. There are so many amazing athletes and they all have great experiences to share. Today I am excited to bring you the experience of Suzy Degazon aka Ultrawomen. 

KK: Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Athletic background? What were the paths that lead you to Ultraman?
SD: I grew up in England, born in London but lived in North Yorkshire. I have NO athletic background! I hated sport in fact I spent my time playing a Clarinet and was always the last kid to get picked for team events! I remember being put on the cross-country team and I ran out of the school sat at the park and then ran back in. I really hated sport!

KK: What is your educational background?
SD: I am a professional Pastry Chef!! Studied in London and worked in some of the best hotels in the world!

KK: Please tell us about your first triathlon experience?
SD: In 1993, in Puerto Rico I found myself taking a taxicab to my first triathlon. In addition to the standard $10 passenger fare the driver demanded I paid an extra $50 for transporting my borrowed bike! But at the end of the day I brought home a trophy by placing first in my age group, but more importantly I won my cab fare back!!

KK: What were the paths that lead you to Ultraman?
SD: I have had my fare share of adversities, the least of which had been the exorbitant taxi fare!! In the depths of my 10 year battle with Anorexia Nervosa I weighed a mere 50 odd pounds, I was put into mental institutions more times than I care to remember placed on strict bed rest, tubes up my nose being tube fed! It was in one of these places when I was allowed a TV I saw a marathon in New Zealand and I told my doctors I was going to do that one day and they laughed at me and told me I could not run to the toilet! I certainly had the last laugh, at 80 pounds I left England and went backpacking through South East Asia in 1990 after nearly dying in hospital, I chased my dream of being a fish and learnt to scuba dive! Everyone was skinny in Asia so I blended in well. I soon began covering my bones with flesh and worked in Australia.

KK: How many races have you done? What are some of your accomplishments? What have you gained from all of this?
SD: As I reflect on my path I have had some great moments in sport, with over 350 different races of all sizes and challenges I have been the 1999 Puerto Rican National Triathlon Champion, 2006 athlete of the year for Hawaiian Tropic International
Placed first in over 80 of my races, and had a few DNFS!!! But most of all from humble beginnings in the sport, no coaches just friends, books and a determination to get to races! I have enjoyed the journey, I enjoy passing on my knowledge, and have been blessed with great sponsors. Now that I am married and living in California, I have a wonderful husband who helps me with my racing and always a fridge full of good food!! I am not alone any more and can share my experiences with family.

KK: Just so our readers know: Ultraman is a 3 day event each day having a 12 hour cutoff, Day 1. 6.2-mile ocean swim and 90-mile bike to volcano, Day 2. 171mile bike around the island of Hawaii, & Day 3. 52.4-mile run. Oh yeah, there are cut offs that you have to beat for each day and each event.
KK: You have competed in 12 Ultraman events all around the world. That is an incredible feat. How did you get started in this distance?
SD: I have been doing Ultraman since 1998, and there is only two places were they are held that is Canada and the World Championships in Hawaii.
SD: As well as Ultraman Hawaii, which I cherish! I also have done other Ultra Triathlons taking me all over the globe. Triple Iron distance races are out there, I did my first in 1996 in France but had an accident in the night on my bike as it was snowing and I was freezing!! So in 1997, I went back to Le Defi de L"Endurance de Mondial and took 3rd place female! In 51hours and 41minutes! I was really happy especially since 2 weeks prior to that I won money as 10th place elite woman in the NICE Worlds long distance tri!! I also placed 3rd in the Austrian championships in Mooseburg in 2006, also under 52 hours. The distances for a Triple are 7mile swim; 336-mile bike and 78 mile run non-stop!!! SO they go through the day and the night. It was at the Race in France 97, that another athlete Eric Seedhouse recommended the Ultraman in Hawaii as the race every ultra athlete should do! I have done double iron distance races; again these are non-stop and consist of 4.8mile swim, 224mile bike and 52 mile run.
SD: These events have taken me to Austria were I competed in 2003 and 2004, both times I placed 3rd female. Ecuador, which I did a few times were the swimming conditions will remain as a nightmare for the rest of my life! It was in a lake at altitude very very cold and awful green slimy bottom! I kept asking my crew for hot water to put down my wetsuit! The bike was on a race course and run also. I did this race 3 times!! Cool trophies! Quebec Canada, Beautiful location swims in a river with kayak assistance. In 1999 I did my first race there and placed 2nd, I have been to this race several times and actually in 2003 had my best race and won Gold!! One of the best doubles in is Virginia USA!! They also hold a triple distance, I have done this race twice, placing 3rd in 2002 and 2nd in 2006. It is held Lake Anna State park, and if you do not want to swim you can kayak!

SD: I have only done a few Ironman races, 1994, Vineman I was second to last but I finished! I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into! Recovering from an accident and had a blast, I met Nancy Vallence, who told me the best race was New Zealand so in 1995 went there, the same year doing the great Floridian. Then I just did lots of racing tris, cycling, duathlons runs etc in 2005 I did Lanzarote Ironman and missed the podium for 3rd in my age group as I spent a LONGtime helping other women with sunscreen and pep talks!! But it was a great challenging course.

KK: What has you best experience with Ultraman? Why?
SD: Out of the eleven I have been apart of the OHANA (family), KOKUA (help) and ALOHA (friendship) is a huge part of this race. I have been truly blessed as I have made wonderful friends on the island to stay with, experienced the island from a local point of view, The Ultraman is much more than just a race, "Ultraman will be an experience like no Ironman will ever give you. It will humble you and make you stronger, and it will be mentally challenging as well as physically demanding!" I love this race!! The challenge, the course is beautiful, lava, ocean, volcanoes, palm trees, papaya groves, gullies and waterfalls! It might rain, it could be hot it could be windy or no visibility and blanketed in thick fog!  No drafting allowed and it circumnavigates the Big Island of Hawaii and covers 320miles!! Oh and I get to scuba dive with Manta Rays!

KK: How do you train for an event of this magnitude? What are some of the key ingredients to having a successful race?
SD: Important to maintain a good solid base, to eat right and get plenty of rest when the body is tired. To have a plan for when you plan to eat and take supplements, when you need to rest etc. A realistic goal so you are not disappointed if you make an unrealistic goal. Most importantly to have a good attitude and race your own race, I enjoy racing many types of events for training such as marathons, 50km trail runs and 200 mile bike rides to sprint triathlons!

KK: I have had some exposure to ultra marathoners and I have learned a lot from them about nutrition and hydration. What are the nutrition and hydration requirements of an Ultraman athlete?
SD: As with any Ultra distance sport, good nutrition and adequate hydration is a VERY important factor. I personally make sure I keep well hydrated; I use Hammer Nutrition products for fuel, Perpetuem, Endurolytes, anti fatigue caps and Gels. I avoid sugary drinks and junk when racing. I also use the same products I use in racing when I am training. If I am doing a non stop ultra event, on the evening I eat solid food, maybe pasta or mashed potatoes. I try to eat so many calories every hour and not overload my system.

KK: Hawaii hosts the Ultraman Championships every year over the Thanksgiving weekend in November; only 35 athletes are invited to do this race. How do they select the 35 participants?
SD: The selection process is based on the athletes experience in racing, which is reviewed by the race director and staff.

KK: Another important element to training is the people we train with. Who do you train with? Do you train with a group or for you prefer to train alone?
SD: I prefer to train with my friend Jodi who is a Hawaii Ironman veteran for long bike rides and runs. I do the bulk of my training alone. When I am working on my speed I cycle with my husband. As I have gotten older I also include Yoga in my training, which I try to do 3 times a week.

KK: I have had the opportunity to interview a few professional Ironman triathletes; you are the first Ultraman triathlete I am interviewing. After talking to the other pros I realize balance in life can be a complicated process at times. Please tell us how you balance your life with family, friends, career, training, racing and free time.
SD: Balancing my life since moving to California is not easy, I became a bride at the age of 43 in July 2007 (and managed to do an aquathon the morning of my wedding day!) I suddenly had a husband and stepchildren as well as a Yellow Lab! My friends all are athletes of some sort, so social time with friends might mean a bike ride or a trail run, Then I juggle time to go to car shows in my husbands classic 1971 Bronco, or I might run to the car show and my husband bring me back! I also make time to go to the girls open school, when they are playing soccer or doing cross-country, they are 9 and 14 years old. When we have the girls I spend time with them baking, hiking etc. I also make all the birthday and wedding cakes for the family!! If I have scuba classes I plan my training around them. I wish there could be a few more hours in the day! I also enjoy time with my granddaughter Abby. 

KK: Have you ever had to overcome any major setbacks or injuries in your sporting career? If so how did you overcome them?
SD: I have had a few, I have been hit by a car in January 94, while riding my bike, which left me with a damaged vein in my left leg! After a cast, and therapy I still managed to limp through my first Ironman in Vineman! I was also stung badly by a Portuguese Man of War while swimming the week before a triathlon, I swelled up and needed to go to hospital, but I bounced back. My most serious injury was in July 05, when I fell asleep on my bike during a double iron distance race in Quebec, I managed to break my left collarbone, and was told to write off my season. But I had Ultraman in November. So I went back to Puerto Rico, where I walked everyday on the beach, it was awful; I could not raise my arm, no cycling and no swimming!! I began healing, I would go in the Ocean and take off the sling and help my arm learn to rotate again! And I finished the Ultraman Hawaii 2005! Swimming 6.2miles! "It is the mind that gets you across the finish line!!" My most recent injury was Achilles tendonitis in BOTH tendons last year. I ended up taking off the whole of August, and going to Dr Bolton my Active Release Therapist. In September I entered an 8-mile uphill race and won my division! Sometimes the body just needs time to rest and recover.

KK: Please tell us about the Breast Cancer crusade of AVON; charity you are currently raising money for. If you readers are interested in making a donation, how do they go about doing so?
SD: In October of 2005, I had the good fortune to meet the General Manager of AVON of Puerto Rico. He was doing a press conference on the Breast Cancer Crusade. I wanted to help so told a friend to tell Mr. Jose Quinones I could use my feet to raise money for the Crusade. The next thing I knew I was going to Ultraman Hawaii representing AVON and their Breast Cancer Crusade .How it works is every mile I race they donate so many dollars, In 2006 I raised $14.684, in 07 I pulled in $16,284, but in 2008 I reached the total of $16,500 and at the check presentation in San Juan PR, they acknowledged my contributions and will name a room after me in the new 6 story facility being built for cancer patients. If any of the readers would like to contribute to the breast Cancer Crusade, they need only contact me via my e-mail address.

KK: I see that you're a Hammer Nutrition Ambassador, what exactly does this mean?
SD: I am a sponsored athlete of Hammer Nutrition, but also spread the word of Hammer Nutrition products whether I am racing, or training! I also do seminars on the use of Hammer Products for various tri groups, swim groups and cycling groups!!

KK: Here at, our goal is to help our sports keep growing. If you would, what are some tips that you would like to give to our readers about triathlon?
SD: If I knew back in 1993 what I know now I would do a lot of things differently. But the first thing I did was enjoy the sport; I love the training, racing and the friendships of this wonderful sport.
SD: Saying that I would say a priority would be getting a professional bike fit, to avoid knee, lower back, and shoulder and neck injuries/pain! etc. I would also recommend joining a swim group or masters workout where you can seek correct technique and speed. Finally the run, wear the correct shoes for your feet!! This might sound strange but if you have a high arch you need a different type of shoe to someone that has flat feet.
SD: When at the races always say thank you to volunteers, smile at competitors and congratulate others around you.

KK: Are you involved with any other projects other than training and racing?
SD: Well presently I am assistant director for the San Dimas Stage Race a 3-day cycling event put on by SC VELO, which my husband is the race director. I am also involved in a local scuba diving club. At the moment I am in the process of getting a web site completed and write a book!  I also write for and womensportreport. I am also very involved with helping women discover the joys of triathlon and have been guest speaker at various women's groups. I also do motivational speeches and am doing one for a girl's school in February. As well as a swim team of 60 high school athletes!

KK: I read on your website,, that you are into scuba diving, is this for leisure or are you an instructor? What else do you enjoy doing during the off-season or just to relax?
SD: I am an IDC PADI Staff instructor and do teach lots of different courses such as underwater Navigation and Night diving. My husband is my dive buddy and we both enjoy diving at Shaws cove and seeing garibaldi and other interesting marine life!
SD: As for my off-season I do not really have one. I tend just to slow down the pace, maybe not ride the bike for a few weeks but keep active. Hiking with the kids, walking Buster my Yellow Lab, and just doing family things!

KK: When people think of Suzy Degazon, what do you want them to know most about you?
SD: That I am very passionate about the sport! I have dreamed it and lived it! I love talking about the history of it all and reminiscing with other athletes the earlier days! But I also know that is not what makes me; I also have a wonderful family which is also part of my life now. And I also do other things such as hang with my family, and other sports.

Thank you very much Suzy.
Suzy Degazon (Ultrawomen)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Catalina Channel Ocean Swim

Catalina Island Crossing
July27th 2011
13 hours, 20 mins and 33 seconds Kamil Suran reached the shoreline of Palos Verde after swimming from Santa Catalina nonstop. He was accompanied by 2 Kayaks and a dive boat called the Bottom Scratcher out of San Pedro.

As he crawled on to the rocky shore with cliffs and light house looming over him there were no journalists, television crews or even a mass of spectators  just a few low flying pelicans and a mola mola who followed him for the last mile of the swim. On shore to greet him was Mallory Mead to officiate his finish.

It was a far cry from the pomp and circumstance of  January 15th 1927, when a then young William Wrigley Jr who had become controlling interest of Catalina Island in 1919 decided to offer a prize purse of $25,000 winner take all to the first person to swim the Catalina Channel to Pointe Vicente! His first challenge had been to Gertrude Ederle who was the first women to swim the English Channel in 1926 he offered her $5000 to do this swim via the New York Times, but he was besieged by other swimmers all wanting to have  ago at this challenge the prize purse was raised a lot of publicity given and before William Wrigley Jr knew it he was hosting the first Wrigley Ocean Marathon!

 Kamil swam in lycra swim trunks not a whole lot of grease he began his swim at 12.18am in the morning of Wednesday July 27th, if the ghosts of swimmers past had been watching over him from 1927 they started at Catalina Isthmus 102 swimmers 87 men and 15 women, most clad in suits and grease while 3 women and many of the men chose to swim naked with 10 pounds of black axel grease on their bodies! A women’s Christian group tried to oppose the nudity claiming it was “Brazen Vulgarity” but the Catalina Swim Committee appointed by Wrigley Jr approved it any way! They began their historical swim at 11.21am with 3,500 spectators!
Kamil stood in the dark the flag was raised and he entered the inky black Ocean, all you could see were green glow sticks on the accompanying Kayaks and on Kamils swim goggles! There was no hoopla just a swimmer from the Czech Republic turning over arm strokes at 55 per minute. The morning of the historical swim was quite a sight to behold and the LA times reported that it would be impossible to drown as each of the 102 swimmers had a fully equipped boat following them for support …there was also 8 Coast Guard Chasers and 2 cutters Tamaras and the Vaughan as well as many private yachts!

Meanwhile as Kamil was swimming in the darkness with Santa Catalina behind him the crews work was starting too. Karen Schuyler & Heath Perry were in the Kayaks, I was in charge of his nutritional needs every 15 minutes he planned to drink something , He also had two relief Kayakers in the form of Pamela Hoyt and Bob, with Jeff Rogers as his pace swimmer, we had Nancy Lootens as the galley chef extraordinaire  , cheer leaders Megan, Keisha & Kyle. The officials were Don Van Cleve and Mallory Mead from the Catalina Channel Federation.

The swim its self like any other sport had its rules and they were; 

1.    Swimmer not allowed to  have any flotation device

2.   Not allowed to hold on to the kayak to take feed
3.    If the kayakers want to come to the boat, we have to signal Captain to put the boat in Neutral before we can give feed to them or let them on board.
4.   Someone has to be on deck at all times over seeing the swim.
5.    The pace swimmer is allowed can do no more than 3 hours in total and at the most an hour at a time.
6.    No alcohol beverages allowed by anyone associated with the swim from shore to shore.
7.    Any swimmer under the age of 14 the Catalina Channel Swim Federation will not recognize.
8.   The swimmer to have no contact with any one or the kayak throughout the swim. 

Through out the swim Don Van Cleve checked the water temp, and at all times Mallory or Don were observing everything went correctly.

Kamil kept a steady pace and swam for about 3 hours in one place as the currents and winds were not working in his favor, so Captain Greg suggested to the officials that the course be changed to Palos Verde as around 5.30am in the morning. Karen noted it was like kayaking in a never ending pool!

While Kamil was swimming Nancy did a wonderful job of feeding the crew and Pam made some sweet delicacies, the cheer leaders made posters and humor was high on the Bottom Scratcher.

At around 7.45am with the mainland in sight and Catalina Island fading Capt.. Greg played the bagpipes, Nancy dressed up and every one was dancing taking photos and laughing while Kamil kept moving forward one arm stroke at a time!

Jeff did a stellar job with the pacing he wore a wetsuit and still felt cold! He faced his fears that night by jumping into the Ocean to help his friend for a while, he could not believe Kamil kept the pace he did and yes Kamil said there were Jellyfish but he actually liked to feel them as it distracted him from the task at hand!

Karen was the chief Kayaker and only took a break for 1 hour out of the entire swim! Heath did a mammoth session too, they were backed up by Pamela and Bob during their breaks.
When it came to Kamils nutritional requirements I was horrified to see his selection of nutritional drinks, and very thankful I came prepared with perpetuem, heed, anti fatigue caps, race cap supremes, Fizz and endurolytes as well as a few Montana huckleberry gels!
He started off with a hammer gel, and for the first  3 hours he is okay he is drinking every 15 mins, and starts to ask for hot Ensure, I am concerned as he is not putting in the calories and not drinking these drinks, He asks for sugar and cocoa I give him hot tea with honey, he tries chicken broth, and then he begins to suffer from cramping. For the last  8 hours I make up one bottle of plain water and the other bottle has perpetuem and gel, I get him to take endurolytes, anti-fatigue caps and race cap supremes every hour, We nick named the bottle of Hammer brew Hammer Rocket Fuel! We added hot tea to that concoction and Kamil drank it every 15 minutes!! 

Back in 1927, the food ranged from hot chocolate to sponge cake, chili and frijoles to hot tea! The Nourishment was thrown to the swimmer! Ederle never swam the Catalina Channel but in her advice to the swimmers she stated that:

Condition is everything, but too fast a pace or swimming in bursts can bring on cramp and fatigue. Steady tempo is best; the stomach is the key to success or failure!

An hour before Kamil would finish his swim a fin is spotted swimming behind the boats, not a dolphin and could not be sure but it was a fin, we climbed up to the top deck and realized we were being followed by a mola mola or sun fish I thought how cool is that! For the last 4 miles Kamil suffered through cramping groin pain so just let his legs be pulled along as kicking was too painful!

He was escorted to Palos Verde by Karen and Heath in the kayaks and Jeff as his pace swimmer on shore was Mallory to greet him. A few of us had tears in our eyes as he finished it had been a long and challenging night/morning but Kamil had finished. He was dragged back to the boat on the back of Heaths kayak totally spent he was cold and a warm shower and recovery was essential. 

Back in 1927 the young Canadian received $25,000  he had gone ashore surrounded by thick kelp swam an extra 7 miles to poor navigation once on shore he realized he was naked as he had shed his swim suit 2.5 miles into the swim and quickly entered the water again to get on the boat and cover up with blankets!! Wrigley was so impressed with 2 of the female swimmers who swam 19 hours 26 mins and 19 hours 6 mins and had to exit the ocean 1 mile and 1.5 mile from shore due to extreme currents he gave each of them $2,500!
He was the only swimmer to successfully finish out of 102 hope full marathon swimmers! A few of the swimmers did not go home and refused to be defeated, the one story I like is how a women went back to swim the channel herself a few weeks after the first official crossing,  her name was Myrtle Huddlestone, a 30 year old widow from Long Beach who had battled for 20 hours 42 mins, lost her support boat for 3 hours, was bitten by barracuda, hardly drank or ate, when truly fatigued drank whiskey!! she finally made the shore and had to be helped, her record as first female is disputed but no one can deny her perseverance to finish for her son!

 Kamil becomes the first Czech Republic  swimmer ever to complete the channel crossing, about 50 swimmers attempt this crossing every year, it is not cheap to fail and not cheap to succeed but bragging rights is priceless.

I would like to thank Kamil for giving me an opportunity to be on crew and for Lynne Cox who offered advice and encouragement via e mail and Ahelee Sue Osborn for her advice for the channel swim too.

What truly makes Kamil special is he had done previously a 100 mile run and a 100 mile mountain bike race the swim was after those two grueling events!

There is one thing for sure it is not on my bucket list!!

I found the history of the Channel Crossing by Dr Penny Lee Dean on the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation web site, very very interesting.