American Zofingen: A Sherpa Wife’s Tale

American Zofingen: A Sherpa Wife's Tale - Lessons on Success via @familysportlife

This past weekend was John’s first race of the season.  The American Zofingen Long Course Duathlon.  I am so exhausted from the travel, the schlepping, the spectating, and all the emotions that come with the job of a Sherpa Wife.

American Zofingen is a sufferfest like nothing I have seen before.  It begins with a 5 mile loop through the trails which is probably the easiest part of the day.  Except on this day, the course was sabotaged and the long course racers were sent 2-3 miles out of their way.

Next comes three loops of crazy climbs and harrowing descents.  The bike course is demoralizing and soul crushing.

Just when the athletes think they can’t take it anymore, they have to finish with three 5 mile loops in the Catskill Mountains – like they were a pack of mountain goats.

As a Sherpa, this race was a little more challenging because of the limited aid stations.  John could have given special needs to the volunteers (there weren’t many) at the aid station but it seemed easier to have me doing the hand offs.  The hand offs took place in the middle of a big climb and provided some very stressful seconds (for me).  John raced smart and his pacing was even the entire race.  He finished in about 9 hours and 30 minutes but that is his tale to tell.  His race report will be later in the week.

From the beginning I cautioned John to race smart and to be mindful of his health as we are 10 weeks out of Ironman Lake Placid.  As a wife, I was very anxious for John to finish this race in one piece! I worried he would twist an ankle and I will spare you what I thought could happen on the bike course.

However, as a behaviorist, I find spectating these events fascinating and insightful to the human psyche.  Observing the suffering, triumph, and unfortunately disappointment gives me something tangible in my pursuit to better understand athletes and human behavior.  Observing behavior in a sport type setting, any sport really, has wide application to our everyday lives.  There is something about Triathlon (and other endurance sports) that seem to eviscerate the soul giving way to great self-reflection.  I think it is the mental strength required to go the distances and the exhaustion that breaks down vulnerability barriers.  Yes, I know there are stereotypes within the Triathlon community but my observations tell me those athletes are the exception.  My observations are focusing on the many men and women who have a deep love for Triathlon/Endurance Sports as a lifestyle and are on a quest for personal growth.

I am deeply grateful for the moments where I can sit and listen to these athletes tell their tales, bear witness to their race day revelations, and learn from their experience.  The American Zofingen was the perfect race for this.  The small field of athletes celebrating  the completion of a legendary course led to some wonderful camaraderie.

Here are some lessons on success from the American Zofingen:

  • While you can physically train your body, success happens in the mind.
  • Everyone is out there for different reasons, having a clear vision of “WHY” is as critical as breathing.
  • Success is defined by the effort, initiative, and attitude one exhibits on their journey regardless of where you place in the standings.
  • Much can be gained by objectively reviewing your experiences and then letting them go.
  • Taking the lessons learned and making them a positive stepping stone to the next experience is key to long term success.
  • Success is nothing without integrity, honor, and good sportsmanship.
  • Failure and success go hand in hand – one isn’t possible without the other.

 [Tweet “Lessons on Success. What have you learned from sports? #triathlon #psychology”]

What are you lessons on success? What do you like about spectating sporting events?




  1. says

    You are amazing! I wish you were my sherpa wife :P It makes such a huge difference having a support system there for you to give you those little things that make alllllll the difference. I am sure John is very grateful for you!

    I could not agree more about the psychology aspect, distance endurance events truly force you to face your inner demons, and it is hard, exhausting emotionally as well as physically. I had a very hard time with that this weekend, but I know it is only making me stronger. Thank you for reminding me that everyone goes through it, but people like you make it just that little bit easier. :)

    • Tara Newman says

      I am playing catch up with blogs and am itching to get to your race report! It’s a weird combination of knowing you are NOT your thoughts but you are still having them so how do you address them. From my experience, positive affirmation works well but only if you are rehearsing them regularly so the are easy to access in a stressful state. What works for you?

      • says

        Ooops, sorry did not mean to post that random h! I use positive affirmation for a while, and yes, I agree that you do have to practice it a lot. I also am a huge believer in visualization. I envision the race and how I want it to play out, how I push through the pain, how I feel as I cross through the finish line. I find this helps with preparation, but also means you keep in mind how good it feels when you do finish, so you can continue to push. Towards the end I usually just have a few mantras that I say to myself; worked too damn hard to give up now, keep moving forward, the more tired you get, the faster you go (something my coach always says I do). There is also a point where my body takes over, I am starting to cave mentally, but my body is so used to pushing through that it continues to do so. That is one thing I believe you can only reach through intense training.

        • Tara Newman says

          Good point about visualization. I have had that experience where the more tired you are the faster you go. It’s a strange feeling.

    • says

      i wish we both were Tina! i love this Tara! You know i can relate, especially to this..
      Success is nothing without integrity, honor, and good sportsmanship.

      • Tara Newman says

        You would have loved this race. Such a throw back to the days where their was less pomp and circumstance. The RD was playing the bagpipes, we were surrounding by mountains, and lots of honor among men.

  2. says

    I too find spectating sports events fascinating. You really do get to see a full range of human emotions and reactions. I love your point about viewing your experiences objectively so that you’re able to learn from them and then let them go. It sounds like the detachment theory of Buddhism, which I think holds some wisdom for all of us regardless of our faith.

    • Tara Newman says

      I find the detachment really interesting because it doesn’t come from not caring. It’s a topic that deserves it’s own blog post.

  3. says

    I love that you are such an amazing sherpa for John!!!
    That course sounds brutal – hard for him physically but hard for you to observe and wait!!!
    I so agree with your observations – especially the one about success happening in the mind!!

    • Tara Newman says

      Kim – it was one of those experiences that knocks you down as it washes over you. I am still trying to process it all.

  4. Jason says

    Tara great post. Interestingly the lessons learned from your experience are also highly applicable from the coaching side of sports. Much of what you wrote in the list at the end are the core principles that we get our varsity basketball players to buy into every season. The teams who have players that fully commit to those principles experience a level of togetherness and success that goes beyond the court. It’s those principles and sacrificing ‘me’ for ‘we’ that are lessons that transcend sport and help our players become successes as college students and grown men, and I believe what keeps them coming back year after year to support the program.

    • Tara Newman says

      I love that Jason! Shaping the minds of men. Important work that you do. Especially at the high school level.

  5. says

    Everyone is out there for different reasons, having a clear vision of “WHY” is as critical as breathing.

    This is so important to remember as an athlete and not get caught up in what others are doing, especially in training. It can be difficult because we are Type A and want to ‘compete’ at all times but really the scenario is that you are competing against yourself in that moment in time. Once that moment passes you are competing in the next moment.

    In other words, live in the here and now and prepare yourself for the future.

    • Tara Newman says

      I always get nervous when athletes can’t articulate their “why” clearly. So much is sacrificed. It really ought to be worth it and not just another notch on the belt or bumper sticker for the car.

  6. says

    Fascinating about how success is in the mind. So true. And the definition is probably highly varied within everyone’s mind.
    I don’t really spectate many sports, if any. I suppose that will change some day. I do love watching my dad play softball, though!

    • Tara Newman says

      Awe. I love that your dad plays softball! That’s so fun. Success is in the mind regardless of what you are trying to be successful at!

    • Tara Newman says

      Yeah, that point has really stuck with me. That and how everyone needs to define success for themselves and not get trapped in how someone else defines success.

  7. says

    This was so interesting to read, because more often than not, we rarely get a ‘spectators’ perspective- especially one whom plays such an important role to the racer!

    Success truly is in the mind and is something I am completely behind!

    • Tara Newman says

      Success is also defined by the individual. Best not to get caught up in someone else’s definition.

  8. says

    This is so beautifully written Tara! I just agree with so much of what you have said about athletes and what happens over the course of the race. So, so many huge ups and crushing downs – you never know what will happen on race day and, this sounds like a brutal one! I can’t wait to read John’s recap, but I loved your insight. Can you please, please come sherpa a race for me??? I mean, you’re already in my head when i’m racing now so it just makes sense :-)

  9. says

    That race sounds brutal! I bet your husband is grateful for your amazing support. I agree that you can gain a lot by objectively reviewing your past experiences, even though when it’s hard to be objective.

  10. says

    What do I like about spectating? The fact that I don’t have to do the race! Hahaha
    Back when my husband was doing the Xterra series, I would do the run. And they were always crazy difficult. In one race, you had to climb over a rock wall after coming out of a river (not big and it wasn’t like rock climbing) but it was high enough that I was struggling with getting my footing. I felt bad because I was holding up a bunch of people behind me that couldn’t pass because there was no where to pass. And ducking under low tree branches w lousy footing so you had to watch your feet too…I don’t think I ever ran an Xterra course that wasn’t really hard. So more power to John! 9 hours is grueling, congrats to him!

    • Tara Newman says

      Your crack me up but I am with you. I don’t love racing…I have never figured out how to get my nerves in order.

  11. says

    Thank you for the lessons list. I’m going to share them with my son – they will be very helpful to him. We’ve been working on “success is in the mind”!

    • Tara Newman says

      Lana – I am realizing the importance of talking to teens and even early 20 somethings about success. I mentor a number of young adults starting out in their careers and it is very confusing for them. They have access to more information than I did. I wasn’t necessarily confused at that point in my life, just not well informed.

  12. says

    Wow, that race sounds so intense! I agree that so much of success in sports, especially endurance sports, is in the mind. Usually I am the athlete and my husband is the Sherpa, so I don’t have much experience spectating! I bet that will change in a few years as the kids get older and start playing sports.

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