Monday, January 23, 2012

Member Spotlight: Last 4 Presidents

by Scott Kleekamp

Maggie O’Toole. Mike Hollywood. Meredith Harjes. Laurie Damianos.

I am just listing four people who get up before I do each day. They also swim faster.

They are also our last four presidents of BTT. I sat down with Maggie, 2005-06, Mike, 2007-08, Meredith, 2009-10*, and Laurie, 2010*-12, to discuss the past seven years. And we ended our chat by throwing in a classic twist on Bob Eubanks’ Newlywed Game for good measure. We call it “El Presidente Game”.

*When Meredith got pregnant, her doctor told her “nine months is full term”. She thought he was referring to her BTT Presidency. So she vacated the position after nine months. Laurie was forced to intervene -- not as Meredith’s doctor, but as the new BTT President.


“What should we drink?” Maggie asks. She is the first to be seated, which is odd, given her habit of never finding any place on the first try.

“How’d you get here so quick?” I wonder, audibly.

“I actually thought we were meeting someplace else, got lost, and stopped in here for directions. Then I saw you.” She fumbles with her iPhone, shutting off its ringtone.

“Is that a George Michael song on your ringtone? Aren’t you dating yourself a bit with that?”

She slowly lowers her purse to the floor, her modulation following it nearly as far. “It’s Wham. And no.”

Well then.

“Let’s drink beer.” I start anew.

“Two Harpoons,” she says, waving her arm at the bartender.

“IPA’s?” he asks from across the room.

“Yes, two IPA’s.”

She turns back to me: “and what are you drinking?”

Never a dull moment with an O’Toole. Hopefully the others show up quickly.

And they do. First Laurie, then Meredith, and Mike a few minutes later. Small talk wanders between them, as if they were at Helen’s restaurant following a Walden Pond swim.

Things such as “I think I’m going to go for IMLP in 2013,” and, “didn’t see you at 6AM master’s swim today,” go back and forth.

I insert myself, trying to stay relevant.

“I did an Ironman because I wanted to be a changed person. I was sick of always being humble and having toenails.”

And like that…it was silent.

Until the food came. Then we get down to business.


How did you all get involved in triathlon?

Laurie: Hyannis Sprint in 1997. A group of colleagues at work dared ourselves to train for and compete in our first triathlon. We had 5 weeks to prepare. I was swimming then but nothing else. Of 5 of us, only 3 of us finished, and I was pleased that the woman won! I was hooked after that.

Maggie: Colonial Beach, Virginia. Olympic distance in 1997.

Meredith: Mooseman Olympic distance in 2006.

Mike: Fairlee in 2001 – pseudo-Olympic distance (loved the short run!).

What’s the worst race “malfunction” you’ve ever had?

Maggie: In my first Ironman I was so nervous about nutrition that I overloaded my “Bike Special Needs” bag and when the volunteer hung it over my handlebars it weighed so much that it made my wheel turn sideways and I fell over. A well meaning teammate had told me that having chicken broth on the course was really helpful so I put a couple of cans of broth in my bag. Not sure how I planned to open them since I didn’t pack a can opener…

Mike: I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. Flatted at Timberman once. Oh, and raced Boston in 2006 on NO training. Got to mile 20 and the wheels didn’t just come off, they disintegrated explosively.

Meredith: Hmm, I’ll go with Devilman ’07 when I had the bright idea to bring a bottle of spray sunblock on the ride and attempted to apply while moving. I was successful only in covering my sunglasses, the interior of my aero bottle, and the competitors behind me (oops…).

What’s the best triathlon you’ve ever done (in terms of scenery, experience, promoter, etc…)?

Maggie: Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP).

Laurie: I have to say that I love the Even Up Aquaman race. Not only is it a race of unusual distances, but it is absolutely gorgeous. It is also the first race I have ever done that was longer than an Olympic, and it was incredibly inspiring to me when I finished. Prior to that race, I had never believed I could train for that long of a run.

Meredith: IMLP 2008… first and only ironman, a great experience.

Mike: I am a huge IMLP fan. And while the race management was suspect, I have to say that the Napa Valley Vintage Half Ironman was about as picturesque as it gets.

What’s the one race you’d love to do?

Meredith: There are lots, but since I love Burlington VT I’d like to do the Olympic up there someday.

Mike: Kona, duh.

Laurie: I’ll let you know when I think of it.

Maggie: The Amazing Race with my sister!

What’s the worst triathlon-related impulse buy you’ve ever made?

Maggie: I don’t have one – I am not very impulsive – closest I could say to that would be Jelly Belly Sport Beans…yuck!

Scott: Way to kill off a potential sponsor Maggie.

[Ed. note: BTT’s official view is that Jelly Belly Sport Beans are a potential part of a well-rounded nutritional plan that may or may not be appropriate for a multisport athlete.]

Maggie: Okay, Scott, first of all, that’s your note, note the editor’s, and BTT has no official position on Jelly Belly Beans. I should know, I was the President. And I change my answer. My worst triathlon-related impulse buy was agreeing to pay for your five highway pit-stops of McDonalds when I drove you to IMLP in 2006 and you complained that your were going to pass out from low blood sugar every fifty miles.

Scott: Maggie, I thought Lake Placid was right over the New Hampshire border, and you know I hadn’t eaten dinner that day. Let’s take this off-line. No need to be inappropriate.

Maggie: Scott, honestly, how many times a day do you have to ask people to “take this off-line”? My guess is about thirty. And you never apologized for leaving all of your junk food bags thrown all over my car.

[Ed note: let’s move on]

Maggie: There you go again. Look, anyone can type brackets around their words and make it seem like they are the editor. [See I am doing it now.] And I don’t seem to recall being the one who started this whole, “let me put brackets and editorialize the comments” thing, so I don’t think it’s me who needs to move on.

Mike: Hi, there are three other people here. Anyways, my impulse buy would be my “[Lord’s name in vain deleted] wheels” (ask SP).

Scott: Okay, Maggie -- before you yell at me again, I bracketed Mike’s answer, but not as me, I was really being an editor that time.

Meredith: A wetsuit I bought when I hit race weight for IMLP. Never fit me again (in fact I’m pretty sure I ripped it the next time I attempted to put it on).

Laurie: I am definitely an impulse buyer but have no regrets for triathlon-related purchases (yet).

Maggie: Laurie, isn’t that a “recovery mini-skirt” you are wearing?

Laurie: No regrets Maggie. Not yet.

What were some of the challenges you encountered, or changes/initiatives you helped usher in as team president?

Maggie: You.

Scott: I was only a “Friend of BTT” in 2005, try again.

Maggie. Okay, you, in 2006.

That, and revamping membership requirements. The sport was growing rapidly and new triathlon groups were forming almost as quickly. BTT was inundated with applicants and could no longer take on everyone who applied. We needed a way to effectively manage our growth and distinguish BTT from all the other clubs and groups. Katie O’Dair was instrumental in spearheading the committee where we ultimately made the decision to cap membership, set criteria for new members and establish requirements to continue on in the newly formed categories of Active, Out of State, and Associate.

A big part of this decision came from the almost unanimous feeling that our members wanted to be a part of a close knit team – where we would know each other at races and be able to cheer for each other by name.

It was incredible to be a part of the team during a period of such dynamic growth. When I joined in 1998 we were CRP (Charles River Park) Triathlon Team and the application process consisted of sending in a check for $35 with your name and email address – no training weekends, very few group training activities and no uniform -unless you count the cotton tank top that said CRP in light blue letters!

Mike: Oh man. Sponsorship was eternally an issue – we’re in a much better place now then we were then. It was at the end of my term/beginning of Meredith’s that we made the switch from our previous bike shop sponsor to Landry’s. I really wanted things to work with the previous sponsor, and inertia can be a powerful force, so it was tough to have to “fire” them. But in the end, it’s one of the best decisions we made. Uniforms, too. It’s tough to keep everyone happy.

Meredith: The BTT Time Trial… very proud of what that event has become!

Laurie: I’ve been trying to get more team members involved so that it’s not just the EC or a core group of people running the show. I really think people take more pride in their team when they are an active part of it. We are also in the process of restructuring the team and the EC – for the better. There will be more about this in the coming year. I initiated the Sponsor Night and brought back some of the old favorites like membership cards, Week in Review, and Member Spotlight. The challenges are usually around making decisions that affect the whole team. I have come to realize that you cannot make everyone happy all the time, but I still try.

What part of being team president surprised you the most?

Mike: The email. It’s ridiculous how much email you get. One “off” message on BTTPrivate or Public could mean 10x that in my inbox that night. That, and I don’t think I bought a single beer for myself at any team functions during my tenure. So there are perks, too.

Meredith: The ridiculous amount of email that flooded my inbox.

Maggie: Having been on the EC for several years prior to becoming President I was pretty familiar with all the responsibilities so frankly, I wasn’t surprised by much. That said, when Pokress, Kurtz, and Hollywood started genuflecting whenever I came in the room, I was pretty startled.

Laurie: All the autographs people ask me to sign. Just kidding. I suppose what has surprised me most is realizing that being president is not about me or who I am; it’s more about fulfilling a role and doing a job. The president hears a lot of crap, and I just have to remind myself not to take it all personally.

What issue got the most team feedback/complaints when you were president?

Laurie: Having a coach as a sponsor.

Maggie: So many applicants, so few spots resulting in some tough decisions where membership was not offered to some spouses and significant others. This resulted in endless emails, phone calls, EC meetings and unfortunately damage to several friendships. Second to that was the “eBay Uniform Selling Scandal of 2006” that crossed international borders. Don’t make me bring that up!

[Ed note: It was not me. I am a proud eBay virgin.]

Meredith: Tie between uniforms and BTTPrivate email volume.

Mike: Uniforms. Sponsors.

How would you describe a triathlon team’s obligation to act (and encourage its members to act) as stewards of the sport?

Laurie: BTT has always been actively involved in giving back to the community and supporting other triathletes, and that is one of the reasons people see us out there and want to join the team. We also have a history of incredibly generous sponsors. Part of our obligation to our sponsors is to support their races as volunteers which is why we created the volunteering requirement. It’s not a hardship and, in fact, it’s a lot of fun. It’s also a great way to return the favor – we all know what it’s like to be racing and have good support out there. Lastly, it’s a great way to show off our team colors and to meet new people.

Maggie: This reminds me of the discussion process we went through years ago when our contract with Wheelworks ended and a group of us wanted to move forward without our name having a direct tie to a bike shop. We brainstormed tons of names, thinking about colors, logos, etc. and ultimately felt that Boston Triathlon Team identified us most accurately. As athletes, we represented Boston and the surrounding communities and believed that by taking on this name we also took on a responsibility to be ambassadors for the sport of triathlon. I don’t think that volunteering is the only form of “stewardship” but it is one way for the team to support our sponsors as well as local race directors and to establish additional criteria for membership.

Mike: I think this has become a necessity as the sport has grown – 10 years ago, there were not as many races, not as many athletes, not as many teams, etc. so it was almost a necessity for athletes to volunteer at races that they were not running, just to make sure the race happened safely. Because of the abundance now, I think we see more complacency and entitlement among athletes when it comes to helping out, so it’s really incumbent on our organization to hold the torch and give back to the community from which we derive so much enjoyment.

Meredith: Every one of us has benefited from the support of volunteers. This sport just wouldn’t be possible without them. They are out there in all kinds of weather… rain, shine, heat, cold. The least we can do is return the favor. Pay it forward, folks!!


El Presidente Game!!!

Okay smartypantses! Let’s see how well you’ve gotten to know each other during the past seven years of training weekends and wetsuit swapping. You all know how this works.

For Round 1, Meredith has already filled out her answers. I will ask five questions, you each fill out your card, and we will compare it to what Meredith says. For every match you have, you each get 1 point. Here we go!

ROUND 1 -- MEREDITH’S QUESTIONS (and Meredith’s answers in parenthesis)

1. What’s the longest training run Meredith has ever done? (20 miles)

Mike: 20 miles. (+1 point)

Laurie: 20 miles. (+1 point)

Maggie: 20 miles. (+1 point)

2. How many swim caps does Meredith own? (Meredith’s guess is 20)

Mike: Too many. (+0 points)

Laurie: 10. (+0 points)

Maggie: 37. (+0 points)

3. If your post-race food options were a banana, a cupcake, or a piece of pizza, which would you choose? (I am sure Mary Beth influenced the presence of this question. I’d go for the cupcake. Anyone who gets this wrong hasn’t witnessed me at training weekend or post ironman).

Mike: A cupcake. (+1 point)

Laurie: Banana. (+0 points)

Maggie: Gluten Free pizza…..or the banana. (-1 point for guessing, and being wrong, twice)

4. Which one of you (Maggie, Laurie, you, Mike) is most likely to get lost on the way to a race? (Really?? Is this really a contest? Sorry, Maggie…)

Mike: Maggie. (+1 point)

Laurie: Maggie. (+1 point)

Maggie: Maggie. (+1 point)

5. At an amusement park, what ride would you never get on? (Roller coaster. Never have, never will.)

Mike: Meredith is pretty fearless, I’d say she would go on everything. (-1 point for being so wrong, + 1 point for being so complimentary to Meredith)

Laurie: Rollercoaster. (+1 point)

Maggie: Anything that goes upside down. (+1 point since rollercoasters could be included in that, -1 point for being so overly inclusive -- I mean, you might as well have said, ‘anything that requires a ticket’)


Mike: 3

Laurie: 3

Maggie: 1

Meredith: 0

ROUND 2 -- MIKE’S QUESTIONS (and Mike’s answers in parenthesis)

1. Which one of you is the fastest swimmer? (Yikes, they’re all faster than me now. I’d say Maggie, probably.)

Laurie: That’s not fair. I am going to offend someone. I am definitely not the fastest. I think Mike will say that Meredith is the fastest. (+0 points)

Maggie: Mike. (+0 points)

Meredith: 4 way tie. Swim off! (+0 points)

2. Which on of you owns the most number of BTT logo-apparel items? (I think this has to be Maggie too, if only due to tenure.)

Laurie: Laurie. (+0 points)

Maggie: Maggie. (+1 point)

Meredith: Laurie. (+0 points)

3. How many weeks a year do you ride your bike more miles than you drive your car? (Zero. I drive a lot, because I live in the boonies.)

Laurie: 20. (+0 points)

Maggie: Zero – he has a super long commute so even in IM training he probably drives his car more miles. (+1 point for right answer, and + 1 point for knowing why)

Meredith: 2. (+0 points)

4. When your spouse leaves the house, what time is it? Time to ride, time to clean, or nap time? (Nap time)

Laurie: Nap Time (+1 point)

Maggie: Nap Time (+1 point)

Meredith: Depends on whether she brought the kid with her. (+ 1 point for being close enough)

5. What is the last fast food restaurant you ate at? (Does Starbucks count as fast food? If not, probably McDonald’s.)

Laurie: Boloco (+0 points)

Maggie: Boloco (+0 points)

Meredith: Dunkin. (+ 1 point for getting a sponsor plug in)


Laurie: 4

Maggie: 4

Mike: 3

Meredith: 2

ROUND 3 -- LAURIE’S QUESTIONS (and Laurie’s answers in parenthesis)

1. How many BTT team members qualified for Kona in the last two seasons -- 2010 and 2011? (4.)

Mike: 4. (+1 point)

Maggie: 3 total, 2010-Pokress, Dwyer, 2011-Strain (+0 points)

Meredith: Laurie would know the exact number. I don’t, so I will guess… 5?. (+ 0 points)

2. Of the following eight events, how many have you ever done? Skydiving, scuba diving, cyclocross, cross country ski, yoga, badminton, pumpkin carving. (5, but there were only 7 listed)

Mike: 6, of 7. (+0 points for wrong answer, +1 point for knowing Laurie would correct my bad counting)

Maggie: 6 (+0 points)

Meredith: Laurie would point out that you only listed 7 options, and that she has done them all. (+1 point for being right on the first part, +0 points for being wrong on the second)

3. How would you describe your transition area: Very organized, creative, or a disaster? (somewhat organized)

Mike: Very organized. (+1 point, since Laurie is improvising up there, and you’re close enough…)

Maggie: Very organized (+1 point)

Meredith: Very organized (+ 1 point)

4. When it comes to arriving at BTT socials you are: Always on time, mostly on time, always late? (Always on time, to a fault).

Mike: Mostly on time. (+0 points)

Maggie: Always on time. (+1 point)

Meredith: Always on time (+ 1 point)

5. What is your favorite room in the house? (kitchen).

Mike: Living room. (+0 points)

Maggie: Kitchen. (+1 point)

Meredith: Kitchen (+ 1 point)


Maggie: 7

Mike: 6

Meredith: 6

Laurie: 4

ROUND 4 -- MAGGIE’S QUESTIONS (and Maggie’s answers in parenthesis)

1. If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you’d spend it on: Pay off debts, buy a new bike, take a trip, something else? (Something else).

Mike: Something else. (+1 point)

Laurie: Something else. (+1 point)

Meredith: Take a trip. (+ 0 points)

2. What type of movies do you like the most: Action, comedy, drama? (Drama)

Mike: Comedy. (+0 points)

Laurie: Comedy. (+0 points)

Meredith: Comedy. (+0 points)

3. Who is your favorite singer? (Regina Spektor).

Mike: Alan White. (+0 points)

Laurie: [blank card]. (+0 points)

Meredith: Brittney Spears (just kidding… I have no idea). (+ 0 points)

4. How many triathlons have you raced in during the past two seasons -- 2010 and 2011?

(8 total (1 as a relay in 2010, 7 on my own in 2011).

Mike: 6. (+0 points)

Laurie: 13. (+0 points)

Meredith: 8. (+1 point)

5. Which class are you best at: Spin class, Math class, English class? (Math class).

Mike: Spin class. (+0 points)

Laurie: Spin class. (+0 points)

Meredith: Spin class. (+ 0 points)


Meredith: 8 -- EL PRESIDENTE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Maggie: 7

Mike: 7

Laurie: 5

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