Success story from an IRONMAN finisher: ‘I had signed up for my first triathlon and didn’t know how to swim’

Editor’s Note: Coach Fitz received this email message from Sue this week, and she gave us permission to share it with our fellow Blue Dolphins. 

Hi John,

Email from a Chicago Blue Dolphins client who recently completed the Boulder Colorado IRONMANI’m 100 percent sure there’s no way you’ll remember me, but we met in April of 2009. I had signed up for my first triathlon and didn’t know how to swim. I took your Learn to Swim for adults (Nick Early and Jess Stephens were coaches then), and I finished two triathlons that August (Naperville Sprint and Chicago Triathlon).

After that, I sort of drifted away due to ongoing injuries, etc. Fast forward to 2015 when I returned to the pool after a 6-year hiatus. I took up with San Ramon Valley Aquatics Masters (I moved to California in 2013) when I decided that I was going to attempt my first Half IRONMAN and first IRONMAN in 2016.

I had a disastrous 2016 season where I tried to register for, had registered for but the race was canceled, or had registered for but the race was rained out Half IRONMAN. I was going into my August IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene untested in long course.

Prior to August, I did manage some open water swimming and completed a 5k swim and a 1-mile ocean swim successfully, which was thrilling. Then came the big day in August where I was trained and ready and had a great race plan. My 2.4-mile swim when off without a hitch, and I was dead on my 1:30 plan for the swim. My day ended 80 miles into the bike, however, after illness caused me to stop eating and drinking on a record hot day. It was my first DNF ever. I was devastated but not beaten.

Back in California, I started making plans for an IRONMAN redo. Through advice from my primary coach and the coach I had at Masters swim, I decided not to go for the revenge race and sign up for Coeur d’Alene again. Instead, I signed up for Vineman 70.3 (local race for me) and IRONMAN Boulder (which had been my first choice in 2016 but felt it was too early in the season to be ready).

I continued to swim with my Masters team and my first open water swim of the 2017 season was Vineman 70.3. I had a rough swim but made it through fine. Then came the big day on June 11, 2017. I was, once again, at the starting line of an IRONMAN and much more nervous about finishing this time. I had been consistently pool swimming but only had one OWS (open water swim) under my belt at that point. Well, here I was as the starting line and there was nothing I could do about that now. So I got in the reservoir and did what you taught me to do….”grab for that jar of peanut butter on a shelf.” I finished another 2.4-mile swim at 1:30, right on plan. I had a great day out on course and crossed the finish line of my first IRONMAN at 15:43:26. It was once of the proudest days of my life.

So why am I telling you all of this? It’s very simple. I’m convinced I would have never gotten here without your coaching and without your Learn to Swim class. I have good swim coaches now, but without that solid base of fundamentals that I got from you and Chicago Blue Dolphins, I would just “get by” in the swim rather than feel like I swam strongly and finished just as strongly. I also wouldn’t have any foundation in which to improve, which I am doing slowly but surely. So I just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you. Your excellent coaching helped me achieve some pretty huge goals, and I think about that every time I put on my wetsuit.

My very best regards,
Sue Pilipauskas


From Coach Fitz: A heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS on your IRONMAN finish. Of course I remember you.  How can I forget a woman who I nicknamed, “Soupy?”  It was wonderful for me to hear how you’ve taken what you’ve learned and have make some great achievements.  You were an eager student, and that always make the teaching go more easily. Thank you for reaching out. Getting emails like this reminds me why I run the business that I do.

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