In A Class By Themselves

Whether we seek them out or stumble upon them, challenges are a part of life. And it’s how we respond that makes the difference in our lives. For good or bad, challenges help us grow and push us beyond our comfort zones.

The challenge for a group of women at The Villages Charter Schools has become the Danskin Women’s Triathlon Series, the largest and longest-running triathlon series in the world. The Danskin event began 19 years ago and has been held in Orlando for nine. It is also scheduled for seven other cities this year.

Women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and athletic abilities compete in the triathlon, where the motto is “finishing is winning.” Most notably, Danskin works closely with The Breast Cancer Research Foundation to raise funds and awareness. The Danskin Series is also aligned with the National Association of Team Survivor, a non-profit organization that provides women who have a present or past cancer diagnosis with free health education and support programs.

For the second consecutive year, a team representing The Villages Charter Schools participated in the May triathlon at Walt Disney World. The connecting thread among the team members is that cancer has affected their lives in some way. They also share a desire to lead healthier lifestyles.

Lake & Sumter Style visited with four of the women on The Villages Charter Schools’ team as they prepared for the 2008 Danskin Women’s Triathlon Series. The women participated in a modified triathlon that consisted of a quarter-mile swim, a 9-mile bicycle ride, and a 2-mile run/walk. Here’s what they had to say.

Stepping Up: After successful cancer surgery, Pam Roberts set her sights
on the 2007 Danskin Triathlon.

‘Just Go For It!’
Pam Roberts, Former
Middle School Principal

Full of life and in her prime at 35, the last thing Pam Roberts expected was an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

“It was one of those things that stops you and forces you to make changes in your life,” says Pam who was the principal of The Villages Charter Middle School at the time.

“Because the cancer was detected early, my prognosis was good,” she remembers. “But after the surgery, my doctor told me I had to lose weight for my health.”

Once she recovered from surgery, Pam took the advice to heart. One year later, she’d lost 50 pounds just by making healthier diet choices. That accomplished, she took her healthier lifestyle change further. Actually, a triathlon further.

“It was January 2007, and a group of us were talking about New Year’s resolutions,” recalls Pam, whose previous athletic career consisted of cheerleading at Ocala’s Vanguard High School. “Someone brought up the Danskin Women’s Triathlon and I thought that sounded interesting, especially when I realized the work the organization does for cancer research.”

Pam put the challenge to her co-workers via e-mail, and they “responded wonderfully.”

A group of about 16 trained together and individually, getting ready for the May 2007 event. For Pam, having grown up swimming in Florida’s lakes and rivers, the swimming event “wasn’t a problem.” Neither was the biking since she actually had a trail bike. Running was what Pam found most daunting.

“Everyone kept telling me that once I ran a mile, it would get easier,” she says. “That never happened, but I just kept toughing it out.”

And then the big day arrived.

“It was surreal,” remembers Pam, a vivacious brunette with a spattering of freckles across her face. “We were up at 4:30am, the orientation was at 5:30, and the event started at 6:00. When the numbers were painted on our arms, it was official. We were really going to do this!”

Pam completed the 2007 Danskin Triathlon in one hour and 11 minutes, crossing the finish line to the cheers of her teammates and family.

Pam, now 37 and healthy, is currently the coordinator of secondary education for the Marion County School System. But no longer being with The Villages Charter Schools wasn’t going to keep her from this year’s Danskin Triathlon. She joined the YMCA and even ran in a few 5K races. She and her Villages teammates began seriously training for the triathlon in January.

“My advice?” Pam offers. “Just go for it!”

Fast Track: Kim Wittenberger parlayed her love of sports into
a healthier lifestyle through triathlon training.

Is Possible’
Kim Wittenberger,
Fourth Grade Teacher

Energy rolls off Kim Wittenberger and infuses every word spoken in her distinctive Wisconsin accent. But it wasn’t always this way before she made the transition from studious to athletic, from sports spectator to participant.

“I was a good student and on the student council in high school,” says Kim, a fit, 28-year-old, blue-eyed blonde. “In college, I concentrated on getting good grades and wasn’t athletic at all.”

The only sports Kim was involved in had to do with attending Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers games. She describes herself as a “serious” fan, a “beer-and-brats kind of girl.”

The impetus for her attitude change came when she accepted a fourth-grade teaching position at The Villages Charter Elementary School. No longer ensconced in long Wisconsin winters, the Florida sunshine had her thinking about being more active. She’d already started eating a healthier diet to shed a few extra pounds. Then she got another nudge.

“When Pam Roberts sent out the e-mail about the Danskin Triathlon, I knew I had to do this,” says Kim. “It would give me a goal, and the cancer cause touched me personally. My mother, Linda, who is my best friend, is a cancer survivor.”

She decided to do the triathlon for all of her friends and family who have been affected by cancer.

When the women began seriously training, Kim attacked it with gusto. She bought a road bike, began swimming laps at the club, and started walking, then running.

“The biking was the easiest for me,” says Kim. “The swimming is really tough. And thinking about swimming in the Disney lagoon scared me. I was worried about alligators and snakes, but I guess it’s safe or they wouldn’t let us swim in it.”

Much to Kim’s surprise, the running brought out the athlete in her. While the actual triathlon running event is only two miles, Kim was up to five miles in less than four months.

“I’ve come to love running,” says Kim. “I’m hooked for life. Even after the triathlon, I’m going to keep running. I’m already thinking of a half-marathon.”

And Kim knows this won’t be her only Danskin Triathlon Series either.

“I hope next year that my mom and I can participate together. That would be awesome,” she says. “Training for the triathlon has taught me that anything is possible.”

Diving In: Laura Kutz took on triathlon training — swimming, biking, and running —
in addition to her full-time career and four young kids.


‘If I Can Do It,
Anybody Can’
Laura Kutz, Media Specialist

When coming up with excuses for not living a healthy lifestyle, Laura Kutz had used them all. A full-time teaching career. Check. Married with kids. Double check. A busy social calendar enjoying life with family and friends. Triple check.

“There simply didn’t seem to be enough time to do everything that needed to be done in a day,” says Laura, 42, a mother of four, a teacher for 17 years, and The Villages Charter Schools media specialist for the past two years.

 “With each passing year, I knew I should be making more of an effort to live healthier,” she says. “But I’d always find more excuses not to start exercising.”

For most of her life, Laura had maintained her petite high school cheerleader-and-gymnast figure. But with each child, she gained weight until she was 40 pounds heavier. As fate would have it, being a cheerleader again led to her lifestyle-change epiphany.

She attended last year’s event as the official cheerleader for the teachers and employees who participated in the Danskin Triathlon.

“Watching these other women was so inspiring and humbling,” Laura recalls. “If all these women—who also had busy lifestyles—could do it, then so could I.”

On the spot, Laura made up her mind to participate as an athlete in the next year’s triathlon, but she knew that she needed to lose weight before she could begin any serious training. She joined a gym and made small changes in her diet.

“I started slowly, doing a circuit weight-training routine and the treadmill,” she says. “I didn’t really follow any particular diet plan, just tried to make healthier eating choices.”

Laura’s program worked. In six months, she lost 38 pounds.

“Every day, I felt better and better,” she says. “I had more energy than I’d had in years. When the group started training for the triathlon in January, I was ready.”

The women met early Saturday mornings, initially doing one activity, then two, before combining the swimming, biking, and running into one workout. They ran and biked on the golf paths throughout The Villages, and swam in a heated club pool.

“The first time we did all three, I was exhausted,” says Laura. “It took me a little more than an hour.”

The challenge has paid dividends for Laura in many ways. Not only has Laura become an active role model for her children, Aubrey, 10, Daniel, 9, Katherine, 5, and Timmy, 3, she has also influenced husband Eric. Like Laura, he’s increased his physical activity and modified his diet, losing 10 pounds in the process.

“I’m from a large family—eight siblings in all,” she says. “I hope we’ll put together a family team next year. If I can do it, anybody can.”

Want to Know More?
(click on “triathlon” at the top)

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