LaCamas group set to invade Canada

Local club taking 34 members to Ironman Canada

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter



Did you know?

• More than 40 triathletes from Southwest Washington are registered for Sunday’s Subaru Ironman Canada, including a group of 34 who train at LaCamas Swim and Sport.

• There were a total of 2,732 finishers to the 2010 Ironman Canada.

• The idea of Navy Commander John Collins and his wife Judy, the first Ironman triathlon was held in 1978 and combined three existing Hawai’i endurance races: the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112-mile Around-Oahu Bike Race, and the 26.2-mile Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles).

The finish line is in sight.

Oh, there’s still a bit of swimming, pedaling and jogging to be done — 140.6 miles worth, to be precise. But for more than 30 driven athletes who train at LaCamas Swim and Sport in Camas, the finish line will be right in front of them when they enter Okanagan Lake for the start of Ironman Canada.

As grueling as the test will be, Sunday’s 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run are a celebration for athletes who have sacrificed months of their lives to prepare. As individual as the pain, fatigue and doubt will be on the race course, this is very much a shared journey.

“You just get excited about training with the groups, and the next thing you know you’re roped into it,” said Nadine Taylor.

Among this group of 34 men and women who will represent the LaCamas Swim and Sport Headhunters in Penticton, British Columbia, are Ironman veterans and Ironman rookies.

One thing they all share — besides a triathlete’s devotion to fitness — is an inability to say no to LaCamas Swim and Sport owner Denise Croucher.

Croucher, who hopes to finish her third Ironman on Sunday, credits a culture of support for triathletes at the club for her success in convincing so many to tackle a daunting challenge. She said that most years, at least 25 LaCamas Swim and Sport members tackle an Ironman for the first time.

Most are not elite athletes. Their motivations are personal, with a shared passion for pushing their physiological and psychological limits.

Sondra Grable recently became a grandmother for the first time. She is one of three members of the Headhunters who are mothers of four children.

“We’re setting an example for our children that you can still have a dream and work and have a family,” Grable said.

A huge part of the challenge is the time it takes to prepare. Training for an Ironman can require 30 or more hours a week, a huge time commitment on top of work and family.

“These are people who are not only mentally tough, they have a great sense of humor and know how to have fun,” said Suzi Shoemaker of Camas. “They understand the frustrations of making time for training, for your family, friends and work. It is a fine balancing act.”

This will be the second Ironman for Shoemaker and her husband John. They did Ironman Florida five years ago to mark their 25th wedding anniversary. Their son, Stephan, is joining him this time, his first Ironman.

This is the fourth time Croucher has organized a LaCamas Headhunters team to enter an Ironman. In 2002, a group of 21 from LaCamas Swim and Sport competed at Ironman Florida. This group of 34 is the largest from the gym to enter an Ironman together.

“She has a way of inspiring people to go beyond what they think they are capable of,” Terri Anderson of Washougal said, describing Croucher as a good friend and a mentor.

Some point to peer pressure in explaining why they signed up.

Others blame their spouse.

Lori Saunders said seeing husband Jason complete an Ironman sparked her interest in the race, and so they both will test the Ironman Canada course. Mark Chandaria said he told Denise Croucher that he would sign on if Croucher could convince his wife, Sonjia, to join the team.

“I’m an idiot,” Mark Chandaria said with a big smile.

At age 56, Terri Anderson figured it was about time she tackle an Ironman. Being part of a team made the preparation survivable, she said.

“It’s all about supporting one another, whether it’s kudos for a job well done or encouragement when one needs it the most,” Anderson said. “It’s being accountable and committed to, not only myself, but to my teammates as well. This is what gets me through some of the really tough workouts.”

Much of that training is done in small groups as teammates gather to run, ride, or swim with those who share their schedule or pace. Come Sunday, they will arrive together at the starting line and know that the most difficult and rewarding part of finishing an Ironman is behind them.

“It’s the journey that gets to that day that really matters,” Grable said. “Anything can happen on that day, but you’re still an Ironman — or Iron Mother.”

LaCamas Swim and Sport Headhunters Ironman Canada 2011 team:

Terri Anderson, Natalie Benzel, Anita Burkard, Mark Chandaria, Sonjia Chandaria, Chris Clay, Glen Collins, Bob Croucher, Denise Croucher, Brian Cummins, Cara Denver, Michael Dornbusch, Cory Duncan, Denise Edmiston, Lisa Engel, Scott Essman, Mike Gilbert, Sondra Grable, Andrew Kallenberger, Stacey Lake, Jeff Macey, Alan O’Hara, Karen O’Quinn, Ian Rogers, Jason Saunders, Lori Saunders, Julie Seale, John Shoemaker, Stephen Shoemaker, Suzi Shoemaker, Deborah Skalbeck, Nadine Taylor, Tom Wortman, Lisa Wourms.