Jeff Manes: Winfield mom a triathlon warrior
August 3, 2012 4:36PM
Updated: September 6, 2012 6:00AM
“In the day, we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night, we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines ...
... We gotta get out while we’re young
’Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run.”
— Bruce Springsteen
Chris Wickard was born and raised in LaPorte. She also was born to swim, bike and run.
Wickard is an elite amateur triathlete sponsored by Power Bar, Brooks Shoes and Langer & Langer Attorneys in Valparaiso.
Wickard, 42, lives in Winfield with her husband, Dave, and their sons, Jake, 10, and Ryan, 8. Her maiden name is Tompkins.
Wickard works in marketing for a company called Esaote North America in Indianapolis, which sells ultrasounds and MRIs. The parent company is in Italy.
Childhood memories of LaPorte?
“LaPorte was a nice little hometown. Five girls lived right across the street, so I had plenty of people to play with. I loved LaPorte.”
“I have an older brother and a younger brother.”
Did you run distance for LaPorte High School?
“No, I was a swimmer. I also swam my freshman year at Valparaiso University. I started running with my husband-to-be while at VU.”
You must’ve been a very good swimmer in high school, since you swam in college.
“I was decent; I believe we went to state my sophomore, junior and senior years. I remember being cut from the basketball and volleyball teams in fifth grade. I always tell my kids that I didn’t really get athletic until college and after.”
“I started biking after college.”
Did you enter a few 5Ks before you got into triathlons?
“Yes, I entered my first triathlon when we lived in Indianapolis; I believe that was in ’98.”
Triathlons come in different sizes.
“Yes, there’s a sprint, an Olympic distance, a half-ironman and an ironman.”
Have you competed in all four distances?
“I have not done a full ironman. I think about it, but I don’t know if I want to put the time and effort in it.
Have you thought about how good you might have been had you run in high school?
“Yes, but I also wonder if I ran in high school, would I like to run now? Some people get burned out or injured.”
Swimming, biking, running — what’s your strong suit?
“Biking is definitely my strength. When I recently did Leon’s (Triathlon in Hammond), my bike time was the fastest of all the women.”
How did you fare overall?
“I was the first loser.”
You had won the two previous Leon’s Triathlons.
“Yes, it was almost a relief, coming in second. There’s pressure when you’re defending champion.”
How old was the woman who beat you?
“She was 33; Adrian Shields is a strong runner out of Chicago. I led off the bike, but I wasn’t feeling well. I figured she’d probably get me on the run, and she did. Hey, there’s a lot of 42-year-olds who can’t do what I do; I’m happy where I’m at.”
Do you still enter a few 5K or 10K road races?
“Yeah, I’ll do a lot of races with Karen Nagel. Karen is a faster runner than I am, but she said if she ever tried my sport, she wouldn’t even get second or third place.”
Karen is younger than you; Sandy Stefanski is older. Have you raced against Sandy?
“Oh, yeah. It has always amazed me how unorthodox Sandy’s running style is, but how fast she is.”
Leon’s Triathlon is a prestigious race.
“It was recently announced that Leon’s will be hosting the national championships next year; the competition is going to be amazing.”
In what other places have you competed?
“I’ve raced in championships in Minnesota, California, Arizona, Florida ... .”
Chris, 40 pounds ago, I ran the Boston and Chicago marathons. Nonrunners often made comments like: “Oh, how nice. You were able to see all those charming ethnic neighborhoods and historic sites along the way.”
To be frank, all I cared about was getting from the starting line to the finish line in the least amount of time.
“There could be people on the side of the road waving money at me and I wouldn’t even notice them. If you’re really competitive and have a goal, you’re focused in, you’re zoned, and that’s what you’re going to do.”
Leon’s is Olympic distance. Is that your favorite?
“I really like the half-ironman, which is a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. I’ve done well in all three distances I’ve competed in, but they’re different. I mean, the sprints and Olympics are difficult because they are all-out. In the half, you can scale back a little bit, but you’re still going pretty darn fast.”
A typical week of workouts?
“This year, because I’m not doing any half-ironman races, I’d say I probably average about 12 to 14 hours a week. I’ll usually swim, bike and run three days a week. I’ll also do strength training a couple days per week.”
You’re sporting a nasty blister on the inside of your left ankle. Have you ever lost it on the bike?
“No, I try very hard because it’s so dangerous. It’s not worth it for me, even if I’m in a race, to go crazy around a corner when it’s wet. To be five or 10 seconds faster isn’t worth it.”
Advice for newbies to the sport?
“People will tell me, ‘Chicago is going to be my first triathlon.’ I’ll tell them, ‘Don’t do it.’ It’s not a good first-time triathlon. It’s in Lake Michigan; it’s rough and it’s crowded. The local, lower-key triathlons like Valpo, LaPorte or Warsaw are better choices for a first-timer.”
In how many triathlons have you competed?
“I’m sure I’ve done more than 100. When I was pregnant, I didn’t race. The years that I gave birth — my sons were born in February and April — I raced both those summers.”
“When going from swim to bike, it’s going to take longer if you have to take off a wet suit. The hardest transition for people to do is going from bike to run.”
“Because you’re using your legs on the bike, then using them on the pavement. If you’re new, you have to get used to that feeling.”
Wickard has signed up for the Olympic Distance World Championships in New Zealand this fall. She is ranked eighth in the United States in her age group (40-44) by USA Triathlon.
Chris Wickard is the friendliest person you’d ever want to meet, but she’s as tenacious as they come once that starting gun is fired.