I had the chance recently to talk triathlon with Tri Club member Vickie Alexander. Vickie qualified for the Hawaiian Ironman with her stellar performance at Vineman 70.3. Please join me as we get to know this world class athlete.
CZ: What was your sports background prior to triathlon?
VA: OK, no laughing but I grew up a swimmer. When my best friend and I were about 8 years old our moms signed us up for the local YMCA's swim team in Sacramento. I hated it at first, but my mom said I just needed to try it for one week and if I still hated it I could quit. Well at the end of that week I had made some friends and our moms gave us donuts on the way home from practice so I agreed to keep going, and I kept swimming all the way thru college at UCSD (1973-76; the Natatorium was our only pool). So that was 14 years of swimming. I say no laughing because I was never really that good at it. I think I swam because I liked the people and it gave me a good excuse to eat more. After college, there were no organized teams for me to join, no Masters back then that I was aware of, so I took up racquet sports; tennis, racquetball, and squash and did that for about 9 years.
CZ: How did you get introduced to triathlon and was there a particular person you can credit or blame.
VA: I was first introduced to triathlon in 1985 when I started my Ph.D. program at UC Irvine. I met a couple of guys in the program that wanted to do a triathlon relay in San Felipe and they were looking for a swimmer. It sounded like fun but I hadn't swam for 9 years. So I joined the UCI Masters swim team, had a couple of months to get in shape, and did the relay. It was great fun. We did another relay at Castaic Lake that year but then they graduated and moved on and that was it. A number of years later when I was back in San Diego for my Post-Doc I met up with my best friend and swimming buddy from college, Julia Van Cleave. She was doing triathlons and talked me into doing a women's Danskin triathlon in La Jolla in 1993. Only this time I had to do the whole thing. I could swim fine, since I was training with Sickie's UCSD Masters swim team at the time, but I rode some old bike I had in the garage and the run was pretty short so no training needed there. I was thrilled to have survived and finished it but I really wasn't interested in doing any more. My favorite part of the race turned out to be the run so I started slowly moving away from swimming and started doing some running with the UCSD Masters run team with Ted Van Arsdale. It was at the Masters run group where I met my husband to be, Jeff Alexander, and he was a triathlete (I can't get away from these people!). After a couple of years with Jeff I decided maybe it was time to get a decent bike and give this sport another try, so we did the Santa Barbara Long Course triathlon in 1995 and have been racing and training together ever since.
CZ: Which Ironman distance races have you competed in and what was your best age group placing?
VA: My first Ironman was Hawaii in 1996. I qualified at Mike and Rob's Most Excellent Triathlon, a Half Ironman in Ventura. I never thought about doing an Ironman and it was only about 8 weeks away and the furthest I had ever ridden my bike was the 56 miles I just did in the Half. Well, I did the Ironman and finished in 12:48. I suffered a lot in that race, especially on the bike, and vowed never to do another Ironman. That only lasted for 3 years. Since then I've done: 1999 Canada 11:08; 2000 Oceanside 12:23, 2000 Hawaii 12:42; 2001 New Zealand 12:21; 2002 Wisconsin 11:31; 2003 Hawaii 13:34; and 2005 Hawaii 11:56. My best age group placing was 1st at Canada and Wisconsin.
CZ: Which of those Ironman races was your favorite and why?
VA: 1999 Canada. The people were friendly and welcoming, we had great weather, I had lots of friends doing the race, and I felt good and had fun during the race.
CZ: Last year you and I both had the good fortune of racing in the Olympic distance Triathlon World Championships in Honolulu and 6 days later racing the Ironman in Kona. You won a bronze medal Worlds in Honolulu with an awesome performance. What was that experience like racing for Team USA and having such success at a high profile event?
VA: It was pretty low key. I stayed on the other side of the island with my parents at the home of some friends of theirs. It was very quiet there and I mostly just spent time with my parents. I came into Honolulu once to check out the race course, another time to participate in the parade, and then of course to do the race. I was thrilled to get 3rd and finished in 2:30:53, especially with my parents there, it made the award ceremony more fun for them.
CZ: How did that effort impact your performance at the Ironman?
VA: Both positive and negative. The positive being going over to the islands 10 days before Kona and racing 6 days before was probably good for acclimating to the conditions. It also was very clear that my focus between the two races was rest and recovery and having already raced, I was much calmer before Kona than I usually am. The negative being that I am 50 years old and I did race hard at Worlds so maybe I wasn't completely fresh for the Ironman, but all-in-all I felt pretty good mentally and physically.
CZ: I'd say you did pretty well - 3rd at Worlds and 6 days later you took 6th at Ironman. What is your favorite funny triathlon story?
VA: When I was volunteering at a run aid station at the 2001 Oceanside Ironman. A few friends of mine, including Dave Love, were also volunteering. At first Dave was hesitant about being there because he really wanted to do the race but was injured from a serious bike accident at the time. When the runners started to come by they were very friendly, thanking each of us by name for being there and saying how much they appreciated it. I could see the smile growing on Dave's face. After a while he came over to me and said "So many people know who I am, they are saying thank you Dave, good to see you out here Dave. I can't remember who most of them are, but they know me!" I said "DAVE, YOU'RE WEARING A NAME TAG!". I wish I had a picture of the expression on his face. Thank goodness Dave is the first one to laugh at himself, because I like to tell this story....a lot.
CZ: What triathlete do you most admire?
VA: I don't have a hands down favorite but I can give you a couple of examples. Dan Empfield is one. We were both swimming with UCI Masters back in the mid 1980's. He would talk about triathlons and how he saw a market there. One day he said he was moving (to San Diego?) and was going to design and market swim specific wetsuits. I thought he was nuts, I mean really how many people are ever going to do such a hard sport as a triathlon, and told him so. Well, he started QR and made wetsuits and bikes. I guess he got the last laugh now didn't he...what a visionary. The other is Steve Diggs. He loves the sport, is great fun to train with, and does a ton of volunteer work. I don't know where he finds the energy but there are a lot people that should be thankful he does.
CZ: Why are you so active in the sport?
VA: This one is easy, the social life. I just love training and being with the people that do this sport.
CZ: If you could waive a magic wand over the sport of triathlon, what would you change?
VA: I would make it more affordable for people.
CZ: Who will join you for the trip to Kona?
VA: Not sure yet. Last year I had nine family members there. Jeff and his brother, my parents, both of my sisters, 2 nieces, and one brother-in-law. The group could be as large this year. I couple of years ago I told my family that my goal was to get a Hawaii Ironman finishing medal for each of my 3 nieces and 3 nephews. I think they like coming over now and watching it happen. Four down, two to go.
CZ: Do you have any sponsors?
VA: I am on the Her Sports Magazine Elite Triathlon Team and we are sponsored by Sugoi, Asics, GU, and Zoot Wetsuits.
CZ: What do you do for a living?
VA: I work at a biotech company and oversee a couple of drug development programs. I need to understand the science behind the drugs and I get to organize people and their projects and make sure everything is moving along in a smooth coordinated fashion.
CZ: Vickie, you’ve got a great story. Thank you so much for sharing it with the Tri Club. Good luck at Kona and in achieving all your future goals. You are a sweet lady and have made everyone you know very proud!