By Scott Prater
Adapt and adjust. Tech. Sgt. Tawanna Sellars has heard those words uttered countless times during her Air Force career.
When Lt. Col. Robb Owens stepped into the 50th Space Wing Safety office a couple of weeks ago and announced he had signed every active-duty member of the office up for Schriever’s Lazyman Triathlon, Sellars recognized an opportunity to put the words into practice.
“I was excited at first, then I learned I was going to have to swim 2.4 miles,” she said. “Before I even got the words, ‘I can’t swim’ out of my mouth, I knew I was facing an adapt-and-adjust scenario.”
The Lazyman Triathlon is Schriever’s February sporting event and is organized by the Schriever fitness center staff. Participants are tasked with completing an entire Ironman triathlon, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 26.2-mile run and a 112-mile bike ride. They have the entire month of February to complete the event, hence the term, lazy.
Sellars said Owens was adamant about 50 SW safety office participation and he isn’t one who readily accepts excuses or tolerates complaining.
She began developing her plan right then.
“I bought some goggles and rented a life vest that very day,” she said. “But I knew I still had a problem. I knew my fear of the water was still there.”
She remembers her first swimming encounter with perfect clarity. More than 20 years ago, she went to a pool with friends. Full of bravado, she climbed up on the diving board, and despite never having learned to swim, jumped off into the deep end.
“The lifeguards had to come and save me,” she said. “I was 13 years old and needless to say, I never went near another swimming pool.”
Until last week, that is when she used a foam noodle and a kick board to keep her self afloat at the Tierra Vista Community Center swimming pool.
That experience was one she won’t soon forget either.
“I forgot to bring my life vest, so I had to borrow one of the pool’s flotation noodles,” said Sellars, who spent the next 90 minutes struggling through 12 agonizing laps. “I looked around and saw everyone working their tails off…but nobody was working nearly as hard as me.”
Exhausted and overwhelmed, Sellars needed a couple of days to recover, but it was then that her friends and coworkers intervened.
Capt. Julie Ray witnessed the scene at the pool and advised Sellars on better form. Another coworker brought in a pair of flippers, thinking they may help her get some more production out of her kicks. The life vest worked wonders too.
“That second trip to the pool was a whole lot different,” Sellars said. “I still had to keep my head out of the water, but my form was way better and I could tell right away that I was actually moving in the water. I think I did 20 laps in that same 90 minutes.”
It didn’t take long for word of Sellars’ efforts to reach Schriever Fitness and Sports Director Seth Cannello. As director of the lazyman event, Cannello is often asked by potential participants if they could substitute other exercises for their lazyman events.
“I’ve had people ask if they could use the elliptical machine instead of running and things like that, but we try to keep the events as close to real Ironman triathlons as possible,” he said. “Sellars wouldn’t be allowed to use fins in a real triathlon, but she is swimming. I don’t have a problem with that. We try to encourage people to participate.”
Oddly enough, participation in this year’s event has ballooned beyond anyone’s expectations.
“The old record was 125, but this year, 262 people signed up,” Cannello said. “We’re unsure exactly why, but I’m told we marketed the event earlier this year. People started challenging each other and unit leaders encouraged their folks to take part.”
Sellars is well into her second week of the lazyman and has been running with her office mates and cycling on a stationary bike at the fitness center.
“I’m on pace for the most part and it’s helpful that my coworkers are doing the lazyman along with me,” she said. “I’m actually hoping to finish by Feb. 25 because I’ll be testing for promotion in March and need some time to prepare for that.”
Owens explained that he challenged his office in part to help build camaraderie within the unit.
“They’ve responded positively and it’s been awesome to see each of them lay out a plan to complete the event and come up with ways to overcome obstacles — even not knowing how to swim,” he said. “I think it’s important to break up the cycle of training every six months to a year for recurring fitness tests. This kind of thing really helps keep folks engaged and fit year round.”
Time is of the essence for Sellars now, but she plans to take swim lessons once her schedule lightens up.
“Come March 1,” Cannello said. “I’m guessing she might not need them.”