A DIFFERENT KIND OF WINNING

THREE HEAD COACHES COMPETE IN LOCAL TRIATHLONS

WRITTEN BY EMILEE MAE STRUSS | PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF LISA SALO AND DAN ANDERSON

THEY’VE PUT IN THE PRACTICE TIME: before school, after school, and on the weekends. These three Brainerd High School coaches have put in the time poolside, courtside, and trailside. A combined eighty-seven years of practice time as head coaches, to be exact.

Lisa Salo, Brainerd High School Girls Head Tennis Coach; Dan Anderson, Girls Head Swimming and Diving Coach; and Dave Herath, Boys and Girls Head Cross Country Coach, decided it was time to train themselves. Train for something with not just one event, but three–a triathlon.

“I watched my daughter, Mikinzee, do a triathlon in 2017,” said Salo. “And then my daughter-in-law, Sarah, did the Lakes Country Triathlon in 2018.”

Lisa Salo, Brainerd High School girls head tennis coach, and previous BHS tennis player, Kayla Kraemer, at the finish of the 2019 Lakes Country Triathlon.

The Lakes Country Triathlon takes place at Whipple Lake in Baxter, Minnesota. It’s a “sprint” triathlon distance that begins with a ¼-mile swim, followed by a 14-mile bike ride, and finishes with a 3.2-mile run. The event is a fundraiser for area youth and community programming. So far, the event has raised over $40,000.

“It was the fall of 2018,” Salo said, “And I was sitting with my lunch friends,” pointing at Anderson and Herath. “These are my lunch friends, whether they know it or not,” Salo said with laughter.

Herath and Anderson told Salo that they were training for a triathlon in Nevis, Minnesota, called the Northwoods Triathlon, another sprint triathlon.

It was originally Anderson’s idea to sign up for the Northwoods Triathlon. He suggested that Herath do it with him.

“I’m not getting any younger, and you need to get back into shape,” Anderson said to Herath.

Herath added that, at that time, he was in the worst shape of his life. But not because of laziness. Herath was stuck in a completely different type of battle–a battle against cancer.

The previous year-and-a-half, he spent doing chemotherapy treatments after he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. He was cancer-free by June of 2018. The Northwoods triathlon was in the fall of 2019. Just a one-year difference between when Herath wouldn’t have been able to walk a 5k to competing in a full three-event triathlon.

The two had their minds set on signing up for the Northwoods Triathlon, which is a very well-attended triathlon. To secure spots, they had to sign up on the exact day registration opened, which was January 2, 2019. They called each other and celebrated after they both got in.

Salo’s day of registration wasn’t quite so thrilling.

Much to Salo’s surprise, her entire BHS varsity girls tennis team showed up with signs and ran to the finish with her.

“The Lakes Country Triathlon doesn’t sell out that quick, so I had time to procrastinate and think about it more,” Salo said. “I realized that if I paid, it’s more of a commitment.”

She settled on the fact that, even if she didn’t do it, her registration fee would go to a good cause. She filled out all of her information and then pressed the registration button. She immediately felt nervous but also excited.

Salo started swimming at the Brainerd YMCA, in anticipation that the swim would be her most challenging event. She practiced swimming all winter. However, in regards to training for the biking section? She didn’t even own one.

“I didn’t even have a bike until a month before the event,” Salo said.

Salo says her original inspiration to try a triathlon came from her daughter, Mikinzee Salo, who competed in a triathlon in 2017.

She borrowed a bike from Kayla Kraemer, a previous BHS tennis player and friend of her daughter’s. She biked three times a week the month before the event. She also didn’t dare run because she had a bad knee, which she was nervous about making worse before the triathlon.

“I walked three miles at a time for training,” Salo said.

She also asked her husband, Bill, to canoe next to her in their lake so she could get used to open water swimming.

Anderson and Herath also borrowed bikes. Although very different types of bikes. Anderson borrowed his wife’s forty-year-old Schwinn. Herath borrowed a bike from Casey Miller, a highly competitive long-distance runner and triathlete from Brainerd.

“I looked really good getting on that bike,” Herath said, laughing.

Anderson was fifty-seven years old at the time of the competition and says that his only goal was to “beat six people.”

Post-triathlon, Herath and Anderson both said they could be convinced to compete in another.

Herath joined in on that goal. In contrast to their prior competitive spirits of competing to win–this time, they just wanted to finish… and beat six people.

While they’re not sure how many people finished before them or after them, they did cross the finish line. And then they celebrated with ice cream cones.

Both Anderson and Herath were present to watch Salo finish her triathlon. Anderson and Herath, as coaches of swimming/diving and cross country, respectively, volunteer with their teams to manage the Lakes Country Triathlon.

Their athletes are the ones at the aid stations, helping get swimmer’s time-chips, and doing all the set-up and take-down.

Salo’s tennis team had a big week that week. At the start of their season, they had competitions or practices each day. Some of the competitions starting at 6:00 am and ending after 8:00 pm.

The triathlon was on a Sunday. The day prior was an all-day event with an overnight tournament commencing on Sunday, just a couple hours after the triathlon Salo was about to compete in.

“I told the girls,” Salo said. “If I don’t show up at the tournament later that day, it’s because I’m still wandering the streets of Baxter or biking the wrong way and completely off course.”

Anderson says the running portion of the triathlon was the most challenging section to train for.

To her surprise, as she rounded the bend towards the end of her last event, she could see a group of people with signs cheering loudly.

“I thought, ‘Oh! Someone has fans! I better act like I’m athletic,’” Salo said with laughter.

Then, she noticed she knew who those people were—it was her varsity tennis team all cheering her on. In waves, more girls joined Salo until the entire team was there running alongside her to the finish line.

“It was empowering and inspiring,” Salo said. “They took time out of their Sunday morning to be there for me. I had so much gratitude.”

All three athletes celebrated with their families following the triathlon, and said that truly, anybody can do it.

“If you have an inkling to try a tri, just go for it,” Anderson says.