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January 2017

La Vuelta Puerto Rico

La Vuelta Puerto Rico

3 Days. 375 Miles. 1 Island. Oh yeah - in January.

Honestly, I was not sure I could do it. My goal was to try to hang with the fast group - the ‘A’ group, but the first day was around 150 miles . . . the farthest I had ever gone in one stretch was 116 miles at Ironman Chattanooga. My friend, Justin Lowe, had started trying to convince me to do the ride back in September. It sounded like a good challenge - but I was still racing and was more focused on finishing up the season. Then came December. And cold. And gray. I had taken some time off the bike and when I started back I immediately was reminded of just how much I really, really, love to ride my bike. But the cold and gray - not so much. About that time Justin sends me this beautiful beach pic - you know the kind, blue skies, sunshine, palm trees - and the caption read “But this in January!”.

Something like this . . .

And - I was sold. Within 24 hrs I had registered and booked flights. Jeff and the kids were going to come, and two of my brothers (for the destination not the ride). Justin and his wife (my teammate Martha) have gone the past 3 years, (this was their 4th time) and another cycling friend of ours (Tom Gee) has been eight times. Our friend Mark Green was making his first trip there too - so we would have a good group.

Thursday fun ride - with Justin and Mark, and a whole group from Texas


Nothing like signing up to ride that much mileage in that short of time to inspire you to ride your bike - let me tell you. Cold and gray paled in comparison to not being able to complete the distance. Granted, I had a late start, and still felt I had nowhere near the miles I really needed to have a solid ride there - but I was going to give it my best shot.

Let the adventure begin! With Mark, Justin, Martha, myself, and Tom

Friday morning’s ride started in the dark. The ride was divided into ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ riders based on ability. We all rode together as a group for the first 16 miles at an easy pace, and then the groups divided. There was another girl in the ‘A’ group - my friend Jennifer Assali whom I have raced with as a teammate, and we have competed against each other. Let me tell you, I was SO excited to see her there! Her husband, Said, also rode with the ‘A’ group. When the group divided, the pace went from super easy social, to fast and furious. My goals were - to stay safe (ie avoid potholes and sketchy riders), stay out of everyone’s way, to hang with the ‘A’ group as long as I could, and - to have fun. I managed to stay with the group to the next stop - breakfast. And, so it went - stopping every 20-30 miles or so for a break, and then off we would go again. There were some ‘easy’ pace moments - and some ‘race’ pace moments. There were times I wondered if I could hang, and there were times I wondered if I should - ie. by going so hard was I going to be able to make it the entire distance? And - how would tomorrow go? My decision was just that I wanted to see how long I could stay with the group - worse case scenario I would have to drop back . . . but I would face that when it happened.


We had such a fantastic group of riders. There were a group of Puerto Ricans that rode for a local bike shop - “The Bike Shack”. Included in the group was Xavi - a world champion triathlete. Then there was my buddy, Angel. He told me, “My name is Angel, but I am called ‘Velcro’ - ‘cause when a gap opens up, I’m the one who pulls it back together”. And - he could. He took care of me throughout the weekend - often looking back to make sure I was on his wheel, and giving a nod of approval when he saw I was.

With "Velcro"

Justin was one of the team captains, as was Bobby Lea (a 3 time Olympian in track cycling, and multi-time national champion) and one of the nicest and most humble champions I have ever met.

With Bobby Lea

Everyone in the group was safe, supportive, and all were excellent riders. I got dropped on a few of the climbs, but was able to find someone riding my pace and we would chase until we all regrouped. One - Miguel - I found was my climbing buddy - he was a little stronger than me so I always tried to just hang with him as long as I could.

My climbing buddy - Miguel

The scenary was beautiful. We went past sandy beaches, winding roads through small towns, farmlands, and roads lined with trees like tunnels. There were hills to climb, and some fun descents, a lunch at a lighthouse overlooking the ocean, and a night in the surfer town of Rincon.

Justin and I at our lunch stop on the first day. Not bad for January, let me tell you.
Our TN group upon arrival in Rincon

The last morning our ‘A’ group was down from around 40 riders to about 18. We took a pic with the ocean background, and as everyone was heading down to start Bobby Lea tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Look, there is a whale out there”. As we paused and watched, there it was - surfacing for a brief moment . . . what an amazing sight.

"A group" - final day

As Justin, Martha and I rode back in towards Old San Juan together, we glanced up and realized there was a perfect rainbow stretched across the sky in front of us. A pretty appropriate finish to an amazing cycling adventure.

Heading back to Old San Juan

So - once again, I have been reminded that our limits are there to be tested. That if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. That I am so thankful to have friends to encourage and push me to have experiences like this. I would never have ventured to Puerto Rico had it not been for Justin’s . . . ‘encouragement’. But, because I did, I have new friends, a new confidence in my cycling abilities, great motivation to continue to work on my cycling, and some wonderful, amazing memories of an incredible adventure in Puerto Rico. Anyone want to join me next year?!?!?

Fun times - great friends!

And, for the record, I will not give a play-by-play account of the rest of my family's trip, but I'll let the pictures tell the tale.  I think they had a good time, but you can be the judge . . . 

Heading to the airport. Uncle Roman keeping Sebastian in line . . . or vice versa
A little pirate ship playground time after a Bioluminescence Night Kayak
Dinner time


Roman and Ty


Beach time


Waterfall trip in the rainforest


Sebastian's style
A happy girl!


And another happy girl . . . hahahaha




Do The Next Thing

January. Ohio and Tennesse. Swimming. 

100 x 100. Let me say that again. 100 x 100. That’s 10,000 yards. Of swimming. That’s a LOT of 100s.

On an absolutely frigid morning in January, a number of swimmers left their warm beds and homes (or came after working all night), and made the trek - many driving over an hour - to gather at the LIFT center in Jackson, TN. The challenge - 100x100 yards in support and honor of a dear friend of mine, Ron Turney. Many who swam know Ron, some do not. Many swam further than they ever have, some swam more 100's than they ever have, but all swam together for a common cause . . . a challenge of 100 x 100 yards of swimming to celebrate a sport that Ron loves, and to raise awareness for a terrible disease - ALS. A disease that has affected Ron Turney.

Our first group of swimmers in the pool

I would like to tell you about Ron. First and foremost, Ron loves to swim. LOVES to swim. He started swimming at age 10 in California (1966).  He has three brothers, and he says his mother had them do two things (in hopes of keeping them out of trouble) - swim and play a musical instrument.  While his brothers also swam, it was Ron who developed a passion and talent for the water.  During high school he would swim in the morning from 5:15-6:45, had band practice from 7 - 7:45, school from 8 - 3, and was back in the pool from 3:30-5:30.  (As an aside, Ron's chosen instrument was the trombone, which he also grew to love.  He played in college, and used to play for money while at the Citadel to help with his bills.)  He went on to swim collegiate while at the Citadel, and he became a Navy Pilot in 1979. He remained active with the Navy until 1995.  While at the citadel his 'fondest' swimming-related memory was "Wicked Wednesday" - 18,000 yards, over three pool sessions during the day (and yes, I am being slightly sarcastic).  


Ron later went on to get his MBA and eventually he began working as a pharmaceutical drug rep while living in Jackson, TN. Which is how he came into my life. You see, my father is a family doctor. He started getting into triathlons and would swim on his lunch break. One day back in 1989 or 1990 this drug rep noticed a speedo drying in the corner of his office, and they started talking swimming. Then they started swimming together. They discovered Total Immersion and the importance of technique and efficiency when applied to the swim stroke.  Then they started racing triathlons together. And he became a good friend - basically he became family. Ron was always my 'gold standard' to see where I stacked up when we raced together.  If I could come within a couple minutes of his swim time at the Memphis in May Triathlon - I felt like I had a successful race.

At the Memphis in May Triathlon in the '90s - (L to R): my dad, Jack, Ron, Shane, and Lance

 Ron moved to Ohio the winter of 1999. He continued to swim and race triathlons, and became very active in the swim scene there. He was asked to coach a kids YMCA swim team, which is where he met and became good friends with pro triathlete Amy Javens.  Eventually he went on to start coaching a High School swim team - he basically took a group of kids with no swimming background, taught them to be efficient swimmers using Total Immersion swim technique, and those kids went on to qualify for the district championships.  

Ron in Ohio

Ron continued to race triathlons pretty competitively, but in 2009-2010 he started having difficulty with his running due to muscle cramps.  At his annual physical he mentioned this and was advised to drink more water, that maybe it was just part of the 'aging process'.  He turned back to swimming to give his legs a rest, and swam pretty competitively with a masters group.  The muscle cramps continued though, affecting his shins even while swimming.  He then started feeling like he was losing some strength - he would do 'pop-ups' (like pushups) onto the pool deck and found them getting increasingly difficult.  Next the muscle cramps started occurring at night as well.  He knew something was really wrong when one day he found he could barely do 5 pushups.  Things finally came to a head around March 2014 when he noticed he could not snap his fingers on his right hand. He had right shoulder surgery in the past and thought that might have something to do with that.  He went to see his doctor who ordered an EMG (a nerve and muscle study) and the results showed a lot of abnormalities...which is when the doctor mentioned ALS was a possibility. Within 3 weeks he was seen by a specialist, Dr. Kolb at Ohio State University, (he also currently sees Dr. Selkirk through the VA) and the official diagnosis was made. 

ALS.  Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  Lou Gehrig's disease.  A progressive neurodegenerative disease which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, robbing the brain of it's ability to initiate and control muscle movement until it is completely lost resulting in total paralysis.  For anyone, but especially an athlete, worse than your worst nightmare.

Two years ago, Amy started this swim challenge in Ohio - to honor Ron and bring awareness to this terrible, terrible disease.  I contemplated traveling to Ohio to join in this year, but then thought maybe there would be enough interest locally to do our own challenge here in TN. So, I ‘tested the water’ and found there was, and so - we did. 

Some of the 2016 Ohio Swimmers - Amy on the left and Ron's son, Ryan, is in the middle

I contacted Amy, and she was 100% on board when I inquired about doing an event the same time and date as hers, but here in TN. I then approached the LIFT Wellness Center, a state of the art facility in Jackson, TN, where I do a fair amount of swimming and training; and they were also 100% on board as soon as I mentioned the idea. They opened early, made sure their staff was available, and donated all proceeds to ALS. My husband, Jeffery M Sass, was a huge help in coordinating everything so I could swim, and was one of the first ones in and the last ones out of the pool at the end (although there was a little hot tub time in there....)

Just keep swimming . . .

 As I was trying to coordinate the event as well as participate, I did not have an opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to those who came. So - thank you. As a group we swam over 25 miles. Although the challenge is to draw awareness and raise money for ALS, for many it became a personal challenge to test oneself - mentally as much as physically. It is so easy to become complacent and take for granted the things we can do....until we no longer can. I hope this challenge will continue - for ALS as well as to remind us how lucky we are to be able to do what we do, and to test those limits. I would also like to say a huge thank you to Ron. No one knows how many lives they touch, in countless ways. Suffice it too say, you have touched quite a number. On this day, we swam for you. You cross my mind frequently, in so many ways - your strength is an inspiration.

Ron with his wife Robyn

A few days before the swim, Ron called me. He was very touched that we were doing a swim challenge for him. He proceeded to tell me how he has a saying kind of like the ‘Keep Moving Forward’ idea. His is “Do The Next Thing”. You see, he told me, one day last year he wanted to ride his bike. He tried several times, but kept falling because his muscles and balance just would not let him. Now, there are many different possible reactions Ron could have had. It would have been easy to get angry, or depressed, or give up. But instead, he told me - “So, I just moved on to the next thing I was able to do - “Do The Next Thing”. And, folks, that has got to be one of the bravest, strongest, most optimistic and amazing things I have ever heard. Although I wish I could say I would be so strong I don’t know that I would. I have thought about that a lot in the days since. When the weather is cold, gray, and windy and I need to get out on the bike. When it’s dark and raining and early and I’m heading out to run. And, especially, when I am swimming. Somehow my excuses and lack of motivation evaporate when I reflect back on those words . . . “Do The Next Thing”.

Ron and Robyn

I spoke to Ron again just before completing this story.  He told me his last triathlon was June of 2015.  He had to do the backstroke for the swim (freestyle was just too difficult), but he still managed to crank out the 15 mile bike at 19mph.  The run, however, is what really hurt - but of course he refused to walk. It took him 2 weeks to  recover. And he knew, that was too much.  His last time in the pool was fall of 2015, and again the fatigue afterwards and  extended recovery-time brought the realization that his swimming days were also over.

Nothing is a given. No one knows what tomorrow may bring. Seize your opportunities and make the most of what you have. Use your talents to their fullest. Chase your dreams. Refuse to settle. And when all else fails - Do The Next Thing.

Thank you Ron for being an inspiration.

I am proud to know you.

My dad and Ron


And . . . more pictures:


Our TN Swimmers


Don and Susan Vaughn


Shane Long
Dave Wood


Matt Joiner
Gwin Anderson
Our swim distance




Race Results: 2015-2017




Kirsten Sass

Race Resume 2017


Date               Race                      Place        


4/9           Los Locos Duathlon Sprint                      1-F

4/29         Long Course Duathlon Nationals           1- AG 

5/20         Memphis In May Sprint Tri                     1 - AF

5/21          Memphis in May Olympic Tri                 1 - AF

6/17          Duathlon Nationals Standard                2 -F, 1 - AG

6/17          Duathlon Nationals Sprint                    1 - AG

6/25         Chattanooga Waterfront Tri                 1 - F

7/8           Paris Landing Sprint Tri                   1-F

7/23        Music City Tri                                      1 -F  

7/28 - Edmonton ITU Paratriathlon

             (Guiding Amy Dixon)

8/6 - Riverbluff Olympic Distance                1 - OA

8/12 - USAT Olympic Distance Nationals    1 - F

8/13 - USAT Sprint Nationals                          1 - F

8/19-27:  Penticton 2017 ITU Multisport World Champion Festival

8/19 -  Sprint Duathlon, draft-legal               1 - AF
8/21 - Standard Duathlon, non-draft            1 - AF
8/25 - Aquathlon                                               4 - AG
8/27 - Aquabike                                                 2 - AG (3 - AF)

9/9 - 70.3 World Championship, Chattanooga     6 - AG

9/17 -  ITU Standard Dist Tri World Championship     2- AG

10/14  - Ironman World Championships, Kona         38 - AG
11/4  - Ironman Florida                                                   4 - AG

11/12 -  Aquabike National Championship                   2 - AG
                Long Course Tri Natl Championship             1 - F


F: Overall Female
AF: Amateur Female (for races which included professionals)
AG: Age Group
OA: Overall (Male and Female)



Age Group National Championships -6

Long Course, Sprint and Standard Duathlon

Sprint, Olympic, and Long Distance Triathlon


ITU World Championship Age Group - 2 Gold, 2 Silver

Sprint and Standard Duathlon (Overall Female)

Aquabike (Silver)

Standard Distance Triathlon (Silver)




4/10     Los Locos Duathlon Sprint                                1-F

4/24     Cape Girardeau Tri Sprint                                 1-F

5/14     Long Course Duathlon Nationals               4-F, 2-AG

5/21     Memphis in May Tri Sprint                         2-F, 1-AG

5/22     Memphis in May Tri Olympic                     3-F, 1-AG

6/5     ITU Duathlon World Championship            1-AF

          (standard distance)

6/25     USAT Duathlon Nationals - Standard           1-AF
              USAT Duathlon Nationals - Sprint                 3-F, 1-AG

7/9    Muncie 70.3                                                            1-F

7/24  Music City Tri - Nashville Olympic                   1-F

8/13  USAT Nationals Olympic                                    2-F, 1-AG

8/14   USAT Nationals Sprint                                       1-F

9/15  ITU Age Group World Chmp - Sprint              2 - AG

9/18 ITU Age Group World Chmp - Standard         1 - AG

9/24 ITU Age Group World Chmp - Long                1 - AF

10/9 Ironman Louisville                                               1 - F (no pros)

11/13 USAT Aquabike Nationals                                 2 - F, 1 - AG

           USAT Long Course Tri Nationals                    2 - F, 1 - AG



USA Triathlon Female Amateur Triathlete of the Year, 2016
USA Triathlon Female Amateur Duathlete of the Year, 2016

Age Group National Championships - 6,

ITU World Championship Age Group - 3 gold, 1 silver  




3/28     Whistlestop Duathlon 10k/40k/2mile     2-F

4/12     Los Locos Duathlon 2mi/15mi/2mile        1-F

4/26     Cape Girardeau Tri                                         1-F

4/19     New Orleans 70.3 1/2 Ironman                    1-AF

5/16     Memphis In May Tri Sprint                           1-F

5/17     Memphis In May Tri Olympic                       1-F

6/6     Duathlon National Sprint                                1-F

6/6     Duathlon Nationals Standard                         1-F

6/7     Escape from Alcatraz Olympic                 1-AG, 2-AF

7/11     Paris Landing Tri, TN Sprint                         1-OA

7/25     Music City Tri, TN Olympic                             1-F

8/8     USAT Nationals Olympic                             2-F, 1AG

8/9     USAT Nationals Sprint                                     2-AG

9/17     ITU Worlds Tri Sprint                                     1-AG

9/19     ITU Worlds Tri Olympic                                 1-AF

9/27     USAT Nationals Tri 1/2 Ironman                 1-AF

11/7     Draft Legal Tri Sprint                                        1-F

11/8     Draft Legal Duathlon Sprint                             1-F

11/14     Long Course Duathlon Nationals                   1-F


USA Triathlon Female Amateur Triathlete of the Year, 2015
USA Triathlon Female Amateur Duathlete of the Year, 2015

Age Group National Championships - 5

ITU World Championship Age Group - 2 gold