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Editor's note No. 2: As the image shows, Lisa Barefoot is so much more than a runner. She's preparing to compete in not only Ironman Lake Placid, with Dana Nicoletta, on July 25, but she'll go to Utah for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship on Sept. 17. She's also so much more than just an athlete.
55 (will turn 56 Tuesday)
Mother, Frances Barefoot (age 91); father, Hugh, died in 2016
Group exercise coordinator, cycle instructor and personal trainer, Bryan Family YMCA, Greensboro; retired, Guilford County Schools (2017; 15 years at Kiser Middle School, 14 years at Weaver Academy)
Why I swim, cycle and run
"Trying to inspire people to do things, live healthy lifestyles. As a kid, I was very fortunate because I loved to play outside. I was very active. I teased my brother (Lee); I think my dad was disappointed that I seemed to get all the athleticism and my brother not so much. He's three years older, but I think I was the better athlete. But I'm just fulfilled when I'm doing something active, when I'm out running or cycling. That's my joy. And when I can combine a challenge with an athletic or a physical endeavor – my own father said I was stupid when I said I was riding my bike across the country (2006, with Debbie Phillips, fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association). He had a fear of me being on the road; he was afraid I'd get run over. Some of my prouder moments have been when I've accomplished things like that.
“And if I can inspire people by doing an Ironman (Lake Placid, July 25, with Dana Nicoletta), then great, but this particular event means so much because, one, I'm doing something that I absolutely love doing. When I'm on my bike, and I'm on my feet running, that's my happy place. But two, just to be able to accomplish something so challenging is kind of symbolic for me at this point in my life. I've been through a lot of challenges. And I like to view challenges as opportunities to get stronger. I'm not gonna let 'em beat me down; I'm gonna come through it. It might not be the way I want to, but eventually, I'm going to get to the other side. And when I do, I'm going to be better for it. Even all the tough struggles I went through, helping my brother with his cancer journey, watching my dad battle Parkinson's, watching Lisa (Robertson) lose her life to ALS. I've made it through all that, and I've carried my lessons forward. Life's not ever easy. It's always going to be challenging. And if it's not, you're not doing something right. ...
"I still run into former students here at the Y. Cassidy Harding went to Weaver and she ended up at Carolina, and she was on their triathlon team. Her first triathlon was Belews Lake, while she was still at Weaver, and I have a picture of us together after the race. Years later, when she was on Carolina's team, she did it again. And I have another picture. So we laugh about the comparison. She credits, 'You helped me to develop that love for triathlon.'
"And Kaitlynn Mann (Gruchacz), she says that I had a lot to do with her falling in love with running. So that just reminds me I can inspire especially younger people to lead healthy lifestyles.
"Now it's just about 'Can I get better?' Not ‘Am I better than Dana or better than whoever?’ I want to be the best version of me. And not just in triathlon, but in all aspects of my life. I want to show up for the people I care about. And I've learned that in order for me to be that best version and show up for other people, I've got to take care of myself, too. ...
"I like the three disciplines. I like that one of them is really challenging for me; I'm never going to be a great swimmer. But I do see that consistency has helped me to progress. I'm much more comfortable in the water. I mean, I'm not going to drown. I'm going to make it. I might not be as quick as others, but I'll get out and feel good enough to get on my bike and go. I love the bike. Love the bike."
What I'm doing when I'm not training or competing
"I'm in this program called Optimize Coach (with Debbie Phillips; founded by Brian Johnson). "It's pretty demanding. It's pretty intense. I'm doing a lot of reading. We have fresh modules on Monday, and then we get an off week to catch up because with each module, we have to watch videos, we have to do reflections, we have to read, it's pretty intense. And there's a lot of practices we have to do. I call it my Optimize Me time.
"I have a dog that I love (Hannah Rose, pit bull mix). One of my favorite things to do is just go hiking. What I miss most about Greensboro is walking the trails. I've got Tanglewood; I can be in the park in less than a mile. Sometimes I'll get on their horse trails just to feel like I'm out in the woods. Have a camper. But obviously I enjoy spending time with my mom."
My training tribe
"Definitely Dana. Nathan Myers. Joni Garrett. A cycling group in Lewisville, Cecilia Lecompte's group. Phil Adams. Dave Fleshman. John Reilly.
"These two really don't know they've inspired me, and I haven't really trained with one of them other than just we swim sometimes, but Shawn Greer. She's probably the final, convincing conversation when I decided 'OK, I'll do it.' And the student, Cassidy Harding. Tristan Pike is the girl who inspired me to go to Utah. Nancy Sutton; she's not doing tris anymore, but she's riding her bike like crazy."
When I'm training
Where I'm running
"For this particular event, it's roads. I wish it could be trails."
A workout I hate
"Hill repeats. A close second would be a time trial swim. I had to swim 3,000 yards straight; that was quite an accomplishment."
A workout I love
"Anything on the bike. Intervals on the bike."
"Beautiful Day," U2.
"It's usually, oatmeal, a banana and almond butter."
"McDonald's French fries. And a McFlurry. Oreo."
Brush with greatness
"When I met David Thompson. I was a huge N.C. State fan. When I was a kid, I loved watching basketball. I remember very vividly N.C. State, Tommy Burleson, Monte Towe, David Thompson. When I was at Kiser, we took a group of kids to the ACC Tournamania, and he was there. I was so excited about the opportunity of meeting him. Not only did I meet him, but he signed his book for me."
Worst athletic mistake
"I've got two. Big picture, one of my biggest regrets is I gave up playing basketball when I graduated from high school. I had opportunities to play in college. My dad was pretty hard on me, pretty critical as a coach. I'm burned out. I wanted to go to college and have fun. I feel like I missed out because there's such a camaraderie being part an athletic team for me. I really missed that in college.
"The other one, when Debbie and I did our cross-country trip, our second day riding, we didn't have Garmins or Wahoo. We literally had our routes written out on cards. We purchased bike routes from this bicycling company. We neglected to notice a detail about a particular road. It was called Carson's Pass (California). We started climbing, and we got to the entrance of this park and there's a sign that says 'snow park.' What does snow park mean? We were in short sleeves. This is June, right? We climbed this huge pass, and when I say pass, we're just uppity, uppity, uppity. I don't remember at what point, but her husband (John) called. He said, 'Y'all gotta turn around; the road's going to be closed? Did you not read the map? The snow cover; you can't get through.' And we're like, 'There's no snow up here. We're fine.' About an hour and a half later, we started noticing, 'it's getting chillier up here.' It started getting dark, and all of a sudden there was nothing but snow. We're not going to be able to get through, so we start trying to call. Didn’t have a phone signal. So we had no choice: We had to turn around and go back down. It was freezing. We ended up flagging down this guy; he was out doing owl research in his pickup truck. He had a dog named Charlie. I told him, 'I'll give you all the cash I have on me if you'll take us back down.' We were freezing. We had our bikes in the back of his pickup truck, and we're getting in his truck. And this SUV pulls up: Eldorado sheriff. 'We're looking for two females cycling.' So the sheriff took us back to meet John. He was so mad as us. That was a lesson learned. We're going to actually read the maps and pay attention to detail."
Back into triathlons and heading for retirement
"When I got back from my cross country (cycling) trip in 2006, the following June, my brother (Lee) was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. We didn't have any cancer in our family. 'Where did this come from?' I went home that summer and stayed at my mom's house and saw him through his surgery, took him to radiation every day at the Derrick Davis Cancer Center, all through that summer. His story is amazing because initially, they were like, 'This doesn't look good; he may have two years.' And he came through the surgery, he did the radiation, we went to Duke, they put him on an oral chemotherapy. And here we are, 2021, and he's still working at Tanglewood. But it was during that time when I was living at home, taking him to treatments every day, I was getting on my bike. I was running. I was working out at the West Forsyth YMCA (now Jerry Long Family YMCA). And I saw a flyer for this Angels triathlon (Tanglewood Park, September 2007); do it to honor somebody. This is what I'm going to do. I want to help my brother, and I want to do this triathlon. So that kind of got me back into triathlon after my cross country trip."
"After we did Raleigh (2013), not only was my father diagnosed with Parkinson's, Nancy got diagnosed with colon cancer. Here I am, caretaker mode again. ... My best friend Debbie's (Phillips') husband died of lung cancer. So I'm witnessing a lot of illness. ... I kind of fell into caretaking and got away from it. ...
"When I go back to retirement, losing Lisa (in 2018) was tragic for me because we had talked about, 'Oh, when we retire, we're going to do this; we're going to do that.' I adjusted going through that grief process. But then I realized, 'I've got to start doing more for me.' Life's too short. And my mom would say, 'Lisa, don't not do something. You're retired, you're healthy, you're young. You need to go do stuff while you can. Enjoy life.'
"I've got to get back into riding, and I started connecting here at the gym with Dana. She's like, 'Hey, you should ride with us sometime.' So I started riding bikes, the small group, and she was training for White Lake (half ironman distance). And she says, 'I'm going to do a full, and I'm going to do Lake Placid because my husband has family up there.' Every now and then, she was like, 'You ought to do it. You ought to sign up.' I was like, 'Why not?' When I retired, I'd said I'm going to do an Ironman by the time I'm 55. I was supposed to do Placid last year; I would have been 55.
"When COVID hit, we were like, 'What's going to happen?' We couldn't swim. So it was all about the bike – the bike, bike, bike. That was our outlet for dealing with COVID. We rode our bikes like crazy. We did running. I have issues with my right foot; I can't run like I used to. If I looked at triathlons, running was always my strongest thing. Like Marissa (Carter) used to always say, 'Let them pass you on the bike; you know you're going to catch them on the run.’
"Last year, we were supposed to do both the Virginia Blue Ridge 70.3 and Placid. We'll just have another year to train. Perfect. I can use more time to train. When things started opening back up, and I saw that Richard Swor (Trivium Racing) was going to do the Belews race, I said, 'Dana, think I need to do this race because it's been a while. I think I'll feel better, more confident, going into the 70.3.
"I did Belews in April; it was freezing that morning. I had not done a triathlon – it had been five years. ... I hope I never do another triathlon where it's that cold.
"We went up on June 5, a Saturday, for this Ironman 70.3 (Virginia's Blue Ridge, Roanoke, Va.), and the predicted feels-like was 95. So I went from one extreme to the other.
"When I came out of the water, we were close in transition. She was already getting on her bike, and I'm running up. I caught her on the bike, and I said, 'Come on, let's go.' She said, 'Go ahead on, girl.' I jammed. The bike right now is my strong suit. And I give credit to COVID because I rode my bike so much.
"But that run? It was flat. But there's no shade. Hardly any shade. My goal is just to stay steady. I'm really watching my heart rate. My first mile was under 10 minutes, which was surprising for me. And then my second mile was like 9:05. I was like 'Whoa, chill out. You gotta slow down.' I felt great until about mile 8. Left and right, I was seeing people cramping. I don't want that to be me. About mile 10, I started cramping. By mile 11, 'oh no, I'm in trouble.' I pretty much walked the last mile until I got within sight of the finish line. I was shocked because I finished seventh in my age group. That was good enough to qualify to go to St. George, Utah (Sept. 17, Ironman 70.3 World Championship), which I had no intention of doing. Ironman sends you a 'Congratulations, you've qualified for world championships; you've got 48 hours to decide.' I'll go back to my deathbed perspective. Life's too short. I can do this."
What the pandemic took away, what the pandemic gave me
"It took away my community, not being able to connect with people here at the Y. It took away the pool. I did not swim any. Pools were closed. I wasn't going to swim in open water.
"But there are two things that I look back on the pandemic I'm so grateful for. One is it gave me this opportunity to connect with a cycling group, Cecilia's group. I felt safer on the road, and for a while I was riding by myself. But when I got connected with Cecilia's group, that was tremendous because it gave me a sense of community and support. There are some strong cyclists in that group. They made me better on the bike. Being a part of that, I feel stronger and more confident on the bike.
"But also the time for self-development. That's when I made the decision to do that Optimize coating program. It's been good for me as far as reflection and setting goals for myself and working on figuring out my new why and purpose and goals for post-retirement and how to balance being a personal trainer. I really feel that personal training is taking the spot for me, as far as I'm not teaching kids anymore but I'm more in a one-to-one, helping people improve their health and lifestyles."
What I've learned about myself
"You're certainly never going to be perfect at it. The challenge I'm learning is learning grit, I've learned determination, how to stay with something. Just because the day doesn't go well or I have an off day with training or I don't do as well in a race, I know there's always the next day that I can strive to get better. But it's definitely taught me perseverance and persistence and commitment, discipline, zest. I'm learning more about how to balance my life in a sense to be that vibrant, zesty. I want to be a role model. I want to inspire people. And I think I'm learning that you're better inspiring people but not with just by words but your actions."
Words to the wise
"To train recovery as much as you train running. I'm pretty consistent with yoga and stretching, doing the things that I need to do to help keep my body functioning. But when I was younger, I didn't stretch. 'I'm not doing yoga.' But balance. Train recovery."