Culture

Meet The CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge 6-Pack

Meet the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge 6-Pack—a group of six newbie triathletes currently training for the Nautica New York City Triathlon held August 7.

The 6-Pack trains in Hawaii. Photo: Amanda Sloane/CNN

Meet the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge 6-Pack—a group of six newbie triathletes currently training for the Nautica New York City Triathlon held August 7. Last winter they all applied and were accepted to train with CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Deep into the training, they took time out of their schedules to discuss how their lives have changed by taking on this goal.

Joaquin Brignoni: Young Father of Three

Fit Nation triathlete Joaquin Brignoni starting a bike ride through the Mauna Lani Bay resort in Hawaii. Photo: Amanda Sloane/CNN

Joaquin Brignoni, 36, is a father of three young girls and leads a busy life balancing parenting, work and now, triathlon training.

So why a triathlon? He had never completed an endurance race previously, but reading Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s article “The Journey,” in which Dr. Gupta described the process of training for a major race, inspired him to apply for the CNN Fit Nation triathlon team. “I was at a time in my life where I needed a change. I wanted to eat better and set an example for my kids. I felt like training for a triathlon would be like preparing for that test at the end,” said Brignoni.

And Brignoni is doing just that. After waking up at 4:30am to train, he arrives back home just in time to help his children get ready for the day, during which they ask about how far he ran or biked. “I think they are proud,” he said.

But this level of training has not come without challenges. “Swimming has been the hardest. I’ve had to learn proper techniques, how to breathe bilaterally and build my confidence,” he explained. But working on his core strength has eased his stroking ability. He is also finding it more mentally hard as the workouts get longer.

To prepare for Nautica, Brignoni recently participated in his first multi-sport race: a duathlon. “That really helped prepare me to adjust mentally to a racing environment. The race was quiet with open roads, probably the opposite of what New York will be,” he said.

He also must deal with the heat and humidity, living in Winter Park, Fla. So he hydrates the night before, especially for the weekends when his workouts are generally later in the day.

Brignoni has experienced substantial changes to his life. “I’ve lost 20 pounds and I’m at a weight I feel comfortable with. I sleep better and have a boost of energy mentally. There is this sense of accomplishment early in the day, which transfers into a great day at work.”

Best piece of training advice received:
Give it your personal best. Focus on that and you can’t go wrong.

Stasia Cirricione: Youngest Member of the Team

Coach Laura Cozik rides with Fit Nation Triathlete Anastasia Cirricione through the lava fields on Hawaii’s big island. Photo: Amanda Sloane/CNN

Stasia Cirricione, 23, had a Midwestern upbringing in a rural area, raised on sugar and fried foods. Growing up she never had a weight problem, but later in life a sedentary job caused weight gain. Desiring a change, she signed up for the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge. After acceptance, she learned she was the youngest member of the CNN Fit Nation 6-Pack team.

“I am the youngest by quite a bit and thought that would work to my advantage, but we are all a little competitive, which I don’t mind at all,” Cirricione said. And so far the experience has been “overwhelming,” but in a good way. So far, she said, “CNN has rolled out the red carpet, from coaches to travel. We met with pros. CNN has gone above and beyond what is needed.”

The group spent a week in April in Hawaii training with two-time Ironman world champion Tim DeBoom and multisport coach Laura Cozik. “Hawaii was amazing—getting to bike on the Queen K Highway and just have such a triathlete-rich environment,” explained Cirricione.

The training has also changed the relationship with her husband. They have plans to participate in an Xterra race together and both spectated the Ironman Kansas 70.3.

The biggest surprise for Cirricione has been adapting her schedule to meet the needs of the training. “I come home and just want to sit on the couch, but can’t.”

But she’ll keep juggling a full-time job, married life and triathlon training until she crosses the finish line—and from the sounds of it, for much longer.

Best piece of training advice received:
Take one day at a time.

Kas Seerla: Motherhood and Career Woman

Fit Nation triathlete Kas Seerla eyes the ocean in Hawaii, hesitant to jump in for her first ocean swim. Photo: Amanda Sloane/CNN

Kas Seerla, 34, grew up in India where sports were not for women. She moved to the U.S. for school, studying science and technology, leaving little time to be outside. She has since had two children, ages 21 months and 4 years, and focused her time on raising a family. But it was time to do something for herself, something she didn’t have the chance to do for so many years: participate in athletics.

So she completed first 5K race and liked the idea of racing. “I was able to measure progress by time and not by numbers on a scale. I am going to the gym and not just doing a spin class for an hour. I’m building on something,” Seerla said. One day the coach she was working with brought up triathlons, which got her intrigued. She always liked biking and swimming, so the three-disciplined sport sounded like not only an achievable goal, but something she could really enjoy.

Now she is a member of the CNN Fit Nation 6-Pack and training for the Nautica New York City Triathlon all the while balancing motherhood with long workouts. “It’s been a challenge. I was a stay-at-home mom who never had babysitters. So I must plan a week ahead. If my husband is unavailable to watch the kids, I’ll ask friends. If I can’t find any friends, I’ll ask babysitters. It’s really just about planning and organizing,” Seerla said. But this experience has changed motherhood for her, “I’d like to have my kids live an active lifestyle. Now I have the ability to coach them.” She feels she can run better, swim better and is more aware of how to train for a race.

But it hasn’t come without challenges. As with many triathletes, the open water swim was her “freak out experience.” She explained, “I’ve had to learn ‘comfortability’ with sighting.” But her experience in training with the team in Kona, Hawaii has eased that stress. And luckily, the endurance part has come naturally for her.

Best piece of training advice received:
Focus on the intention and not the goal, and the goal will be achieved.

Watch a profile about Seerla this Saturday and Sunday, July 9th and 10th, 2011 on CNN.

Kendrick Henley: Back in Shape

Kendrick Henley rides his bike during a Fit Nation team trip to Mauna Lani Bay, Hawaii. Photo: Amanda Sloane/CNN

Kendrick Henley, 25, is a market researcher from Chicago who started gaining weight in college, as many undergraduates do. But in graduate school, the weight increased. Wanting to get back into shape and be held accountable for it, the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge was the perfect solution.

He thought the idea of a triathlon was very interesting. “I like the idea of doing three sports. I found that triathletes were very fit-looking people, very muscular, very toned, more so than really thin marathon runners. But I also see all shapes and sizes and all walks of life doing it. I found that all very interesting,” said Henley.

So he took up the challenge of training for the Nautica New York City Triathlon this coming August, but has experienced plenty of difficulties along the way. In April, during a team training camp in Kona, Hawaii, Henley had a bike accident in which he lost control of his bike while cycling through the lava fields, fell off and hit a lava rock. A trip to the emergency room and two stitches later, he wasn’t deterred from riding again. At the end of May, Henley was up to riding 30 miles and feels he has much better technique with road biking. He is surprised to have hit so many milestones in such a short period of time.

The ability to run has also been a process, moving from running on a treadmill to running outdoors—to simulate the racing experience. But Henley plans to keep giving the training everything he can. “My goal on race day is just to say I’ve done everything I could do to prepare for this event,” he said.

Best piece of training advice received:
Accept your journey. You see people who can run faster and bike faster and find yourself getting discouraged. Accept where you are and make improvements from there.

Dr. Scott Zahn: Pediatrician Needed to Practice What He Preached

Fit Nation triathlete Dr. Scott Zahn listens to a lecture on open-water swimming techniques in Hawaii. Photo: Amanda Sloane/CNN

On November 10, 2010, Dr. Scott Zahn, 46, a pediatrician from Green Bay Wisc., visited his doctor for a check-up and was told he had high blood pressure and needed to lose weight. That very night he was on the CNN website and came across the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge, which precipitated the whole process of getting back into shape and practicing what he preaches to patients everyday—live a healthy lifestyle.

So he started working out and switching his usual fast food diet with whole fruits and vegetables. In very little time, he had lost 15 pounds before even being accepted into the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon team. Now he is deep into the triathlon training, exercising six days a week and is down 60 pounds, under 200 pounds for the first time in 20-25 years. Plus, he just went off the blood pressure medication.

Throughout the training, swimming has been his biggest challenge. “Just trying to breathe the right way has been hard, but I feel more comfortable in the pool now,” he said. Dr. Zahn also described the other hardship: finding time to do it all. “Juggling my schedule has been hard. As the workouts have gotten longer, it’s gotten harder. I have four children, ages 4, 9, 11 and 18, but it’s coming together.”

Dr. Zahn also spent time with the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon 6-Pack in Hawaii this past April and that really helped with the brick training and giving him his first open water swim experience. “It’s tough to do all those transitions,” he said.

But he has been enjoying the training and his changing lifestyle habits. “I still eat pizza, just not as much of it, or I have a salad with it.” And despite his busier-than-ever life, he has more energy than ever.

Best piece of training advice received:
Have fun and enjoy the process.

Nina Lovel: No Stopping this 58 Year Old

Fit Nation triathlete Nina Lovel prepares for a swim in the Mauna Lani Bay in Hawaii. Photo: Amanda Sloane/CNN

Fifty-eight-year-old Nina Lovel works as an informational manager for a college and is sedentary all day long. Growing up, she described herself as a “chubby little book worm” and more academic than athletic. But that had to change. So she took up tennis and kayaking, adding more activity into her daily life.

She had a friend who trained in a “Couch to 5K” program and felt inspired by the daily workout updates this friend posted on Facebook. “That got me all excited. So I started doing it,” Lovel said. She distinctly remembers when she first ran a mile without walking and what an overwhelming sense of accomplishment she felt that day. But it was time to take the training to another level.

Lovel would read the health articles on CNN and one day came across an advertisement for the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge and applied, telling her work colleagues “I’m going to do this triathlon in New York…and they just rolled their eyes,” she said.

Turns out Lovel was right and on August 7 of this year, she will be crossing the finish line to the Nautica New York City Triathlon. She is training with the CNN Fit Nation team and thoroughly enjoying the experience. “I can’t believe all the nice people I’ve met. All the people at CNN want us to succeed. Everyone just wants us to succeed,” said Lovel. Even her pastor is a cyclist and took her out on a training ride—her community has really been supportive of this goal.

And the benefits of the training are immense. “I’ve lost 22 pounds. I didn’t know at my age you could change your body composition like I have. I’m down a few dress sizes and I had someone tell me I look fit. I hope it never goes away.”

For Lovel, swimming was the easiest, as she was a lifeguard in college and always felt comfortable in the water. But biking was the most difficult to master. She had coordination issues with the clipless pedals and fell six times.

But she kept getting back up and soon will be biking on the N.Y. course.

Best piece of training advice received:
Listen to your body. It knows best. If you have pain, something is causing it.