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CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge

Aired August 7, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is standing by. Elizabeth, you're taking over with a special edition of "SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." and we're looking forward to seeing how our athletes are doing.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. They're applauding you here, if you can hear that, Deb, here on the banks of the Hudson. We're going to have a great show in a couple of minutes. We have a mile of swimming, 25 miles of biking, six miles of running. Just in a few minutes.

All right, we're starting now. You can see some of the athletes starting now. Three thousand athletes, about half have started already. Half are still going. We have several CNN producers competing in this race plus we have the six pack.

These are six people who in February, Deb, they had never done anything athletic in their life. They were couch potatoes. We gave them six months of training and they are competing today.

And that's the first part there and then once they're done with this one-mile swim, they will go on for 259-mile bike ride, which is along the banks of the Hudson and then they'll have the six-mile run in Central Park.

And we'll be there every step of the way. You're going to meet some of these really incredible people who, six months ago, had never done anything like this and now they're doing a triathlon. Deb --

FEYERICK: You know, there's too much going on there in New York. So take it away, Elizabeth Cohen.

COHEN: Good morning. Welcome to the special edition of SANJAY GUPTA, M.D. We're live at the CNN Fit Nation Challenge New York City Triathlon. Now earlier this morning, athletes dove into the Hudson River for nearly mile-long swim and among the six pack.

These are six CNN viewers took on the challenge to train for this race. Now just a short while ago, the swimmers got to the first transition area. They put on their bike shoes and hopped on those bikes.

And then what we're going to see is a late-breaking twist to this race. After training alongside these viewers, some of our producers for the past six months, Sanjay Gupta, my friend and colleague is not in the triathlon this morning.

Instead he's on a much more important story. He's plane to East Africa to shed some light on the famine that's unfolding in Somalia. And he told me that he wished he could have been in two places at once, but the story in Somalia is just too big and too important.

He got a unique opportunity to get into the country and tell the story. He broke the news to the six pack just yesterday. But before he left, he gave us a look at just what these athletes are up against in the race today beginning when they got out of the water.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN ANCHOR: So when it's time to get out of the water, that's going to happen here. We're about 79th in Riverside, which is about a mile away from the swim start, which is down there. I want to paint the picture for you.

There are lifeguards standing in this area physically helping people up out of the water after they finish that mile swim and then the race continues here. They are running up this ramp, they're wearing a wet suit. They start to peel it off because it is so hot outside.

And then they got about a quarter of a mile run down that road to get to the transition area. They're doing it barefoot. They got to get there quickly. Yes, they're running. It is a race.

On Sunday very early in the morning, starting around 4:00 a.m., this area starts to get packed. It's called transition. Lots of athletes, lots of bags and of course, bikes, which is get racked in this area.

Put all your gear in front of your bike. The six pack is going to come running in here, exchange their wet suits for their helmets, grab their bikes and quickly they're going to bike through there and off to the west side highway.

The bike course of the New York City Triathlon is full of rolling hills. That's how it's best described. You got a hill ride when you come out of transition and then you spin around this rotary over here, head out that way, 26 miles to the Bronx and back.

As you might imagine, the roads are closed. If it's a beautiful day, the views are great. So after the swim, after the bike, of course, comes the run. It is a triathlon. It is getting hotter and hotter during the day. This is 72nd Street in Central Park West.

The runners are going to run right down 72nd Street. They've got spectators will be up and down cheering them as they enter the park right about here. They have another five miles before they get to the end of the race.

After winding their way through Central Park eventually they'll get here, this is the finish line. There will be lots of people. There's going to be energy, music, people cheering, noisemakers, just really an unbelievable sight.

The six pack is going to cross this finish line. It's the end of this adventure for them, but in many ways as they know the beginning of a brand new life. Back to you.


COHEN: Now, for more on the race itself, we're going to turn to Victoria Brumfield who is here with me. She's the event manager for the Nautica New York City Triathlon. Welcome to our set here on the banks of the Hudson.


COHEN: Now as I walk up and down these lines of competitors, what strikes me is competitors come in every shape and size.

BRUMFIELD: Yes, it's incredible. This is such an attainable distance. It's a one-mile swim, 25-mile bike and 6-mile run so from our professional athletes from all around the world to the national championship. We have athletes of every ability, from every background from all over the country and the world.

COHEN: Tell me a little bit more about the para-triathletes.

BRUMFIELD: So we're actually, the USA Triathlon - on national championships. So this is where all of the top para-triathletes from around the country are competing. This is the only qualifier that they'll compete in to qualify for the world championships. It's a very big deal for them. We have a lot of athletes.

COHEN: I see people that don't have legs. They're able to swim a mile?

BRUMFIELD: We have no excuse because you have athletes who are paraplegic. They have missing legs, limbs, and nothing can stop them. They're so motivated and it's so inspiring. I think that's one of the reasons why you see so many athletes like you do from the regular couch to the river kind of athlete. They're inspired.

COHEN: You can be a couch potato and six months later be running a triathlon.

BRUMFIELD: Absolutely. You've seen revolutionary changes in people's lives. Once people decide to do it, it's not just about training. It's good goal setting and it's about lifestyle and it really changes lives.

COHEN: Now, I have sort of a logistical question here. I don't quite get how they're in the water, in their wet suits and then they're biking. How do they do that transition?

BRUMFIELD: It's crazy. They go - they swim one full mile in the river and you can see most of them wear wet suits. The river is actually pretty warm, but a lot of athletes wear the wet suit for buoyancy. They get out of the water, strip off their wet suit and hop on a bike and head out --

COHEN: Everything is set up for them.


COHEN: When they get out of the water, everything is there for them?

BRUMFIELD: You have what we call a transition. The transition is the hub of the race. So that's where they stage their personal items, their bike, when they come out of the river, everything is there, ready and waiting for them. They make the switch to the bike. Same thing when they come back from the bike, they transition into their run course.

COHEN: All right, so mile in the water, 25 miles on the bike, six miles running in Central Park. How long does it take most people to get this done?

BRUMFIELD: You know, the range, it's not like a marathon where it ranges from two hours to seven hours. Our fastest athletes will do it in two and the slowest athletes will do it in something like four hours.

COHEN: Four hours. That's great. Victoria, thanks so much. Incredible event you put together today.

BRUMFIELD: Thank you.

COHEN: More than 3,000 athletes out there right now on the course including six CNN viewers who are seeking the challenge of a lifetime. Up next, how they got here and how you could do it, too.


COHEN: Welcome back to our live coverage of the Nautica New York City Triathlon. Here at CNN, we have producers spread out all over the course of this triathlon. They're taking pictures of people who are in the water, who are biking and who are going to be starting to run at some point soon.

And I want to introduce you to six really special competitors. We call them the "Six Pack." Back in February, we told them, what do you think? Do you want to run a triathlon? They took that challenge up.

They come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but they all share one thing in common. This morning they're officially marking the end of that sedentary life that they used to lead and the beginning of a new healthy lifestyle that they will live for the rest of their lives. Here's Sanjay with their stories.


GUPTA (voice-over): Six regular people each with their own reason for wanting to take on the CNN Fit Nation Triathlon challenge. DR. SCOTT ZAHN, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: Recently, I saw my primary care physician for the first time in many years. I have high blood pressure. I have too many of the bad lipids and not enough of the good lipids. I left that visit on three new medications.

GUPTA: For some it was about breaking a cycle, of bad food and no exercise.

KENDRICK HENLEY, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I am 25 years old. I am 340 pounds and I often ask myself, how did I get to this point? What did I do?

STASIA CIRRICIONE, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I'm just a mid- western girl that was raised on sugar and fried foods and pop.

GUPTA: For others it was about setting a healthy example for friends and family.

JOAQUIN BRIGNONI, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I'm entering the tri-challenge for three reasons and here are my three reasons. Those are my little girls.

GUPTA: We chose these six CNN viewers to be a part of our 2011 triathlon challenge. Joaquin Brignoni, a father of three who drank soda so often that his 1-year-old started asking for it.

Stasia Cirricione, a Midwesterner who felt drained of energy after eating so many processed foods. Dr. Scott Zahn, a pediatrician with a family history of heart disease.

Cass Sirla, a stay-at-home mom who was so focused on academics growing up she never had time to learn a sport. Kendrick Henley, a young health care professional who gained more than 150 pounds while in grad school.

And Nina Lovel, a baby boomer who told us that older didn't have to mean slower.

NINA LOVEL, CNN FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: The 60 is the new 40, we better be getting busy.

GUPTA: As participants in our challenge they would spend months training to race in the Nautica New York City Triathlon with me and my producers. Laura Kozic (ph) owns a triathlon team and trains new athletes often. She agreed to help the "Six Pack" along with April Berkey (ph), a professional triathlete.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For better or worse, I want to see two- lapse freestyle so just a down and back nice and easy freestyle.

GUPTA: The first time we all met was back in February.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to be 20 to 30 minutes tops. That's all you have to do. If you're not a strong swimmer get your endurance up. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really get your head down and under the water and kick. Let's see that again. Use that wall. Ready, go. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to ride up the whole west side of Manhattan. You'll be on the west side highway. You'll be looking over to the Hudson River.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now what I want you do is clip out of your right foot and pedal only with your left and good luck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The run is very difficult. It's hot. You've just finished already two hours and now you've got another hour and change to go. It's six miles. Once you feel comfortable, add a little speed if you want to. It you feel like you're where you need to be, just stay there.

GUPTA: It was time to look in the mirror. Sometimes if you want to do something big, you have to make big changes changing your diet.

(on camera): Getting rid of the fast food, how hard will that be for you?

HENLEY: I think it's going to be very difficult. It will be doable, obviously but difficult. I always say if I could -- I would work out two hours a day if I could eat whatever I want.

GUPTA: What was your biggest concern about entering this whole process?

BRIGNONI: Getting comfortable with the idea of getting how to swim in a way I didn't know how.

GUPTA (voice-over): There was no turning back.

LOVEL: You can tell by my license plate frame how excited I am about this triathlon.

GUPTA: When I reunited with the "Six Pack" three months later on the big island of Hawaii, they were stronger, faster, healthier and more confident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bike ride today, 23 miles. It seemed pretty hilly. There were a couple big hills that I barely made it up. Other times felt really good. Comfortable, happy I made it.

GUPTA: It wasn't all fun. We spent an afternoon in the emergency room after a spill on the bike. Nothing broken, luckily.

HENLEY: Kind of lost control of the bike and went into the gravel. Once I went into the gravel I kept going closer towards the lava fields and I flew off the bike and hit a lava rock, chin first. I went to the doctor yesterday, just a few stitches. You know, back at it again today.

GUPTA: And the Pacific is a tough place to do your first open water swim, which it was for Cass and Stasia. For Cass it was a nerve-racking experience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was not able to seashore. I got disoriented and started swimming away from the shore. Then I had gone too far and I didn't have the energy to swim back.

GUPTA: Back at home she took an open water swim clinic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Open water is my nemesis.

GUPTA: And eventually swim a mile in Lake Michigan. She's still a bit nervous, but says she's ready for the Hudson and so is the rest of the "Six Pack."

HENLEY: Transitioning.

GUPTA: Kendrick has lost more than 30 pounds and has an eye on the finish line. Joaquin developed tendinitis in his Achilles, but he's not going to let that stop him from showing his girls what dad can do.

Remember this guy? Take a look at him now. Scott now weighs under 200 pounds for the first time since the mid-1980s. He no longer needs any of his cholesterol or blood pressure medication.


COHEN: During the six months of training, the pediatrician you just met, Scott Zahn, he lost 70 pounds. Now we have an update on how the "Six Pack" are doing. We just heard that they are out of the water, all biking.

We have cameras all over this course to keep you updated on how everyone is doing. Into the biking segment and then we'll be into the running segment soon. This special edition, live of SANJAY GUPTA will be right back.


COHEN: One of our six packers, Kendrick Henley, he gained more than 150 pounds after college, but has completely overhauled his life in the past six months as part of our CNN's Fit Nation Challenge.

He is racing the morning with his two trainers who wanted to be by his side every step, stroke and pedal along the way. Now, before he left for Somalia, Sanjay spoke with Kendrick, Mary Anne and Keith.


GUPTA (voice-over): Elizabeth, thanks and we are joined now by Kendrick, by Keith and Mary Anne. The beautiful Hudson River behind you. Thanks for joining us.

Kendrick, we've talked about this before. You know, being in the health care profession, obviously this issue of becoming fit was something important to you. But still making the commitment to do a triathlon is a big deal for anybody. What was the moment that made you do this?

HENLEY: I think that I got to a pointed where I was tired of the same thing, so I wanted to try something new and make that commitment to a healthier lifestyle.

GUPTA: Marianne, you know, triathlons are a big deal. We don't want to minimize at all an Olympic distance triathlon is a real athletic event. Did you think that Kendrick could do this? Did you think you get him to this point?

MARY ANN SEDOR, KENDRICK'S TRAINER: We had no doubt that Kendrick could do it after the first meeting. We literally put him on the mat and he got two coaches staring at him and cameras on his face. And he got it done and really every single time we put a task at hand he had finished it. Be it a little quiet, a little grumpy at time, but he's gotten it done and we've enjoyed every minute of it.

GUPTA: People out there who are watching don't have coaches like you two, Keith and I'll ask you. Are there some pearls of wisdom you could share? I mean, they say they want to do something like this, but they don't quite know how to get started.

KEITH KLEBACHA, KENDRICK'S TRAINER: Well, in the words of Kendrick actually, one of the things he learned is take it day by day. Take each task, each workout and acknowledge what you are doing and rise up to the next one, whatever the challenge may be.

GUPTA: They are going to do this with you?


GUPTA: How did that come about?

SEDOR: You know, this is just part of it. I mean, I don't think Keith and I ever considered not doing it with Kendrick.

GUPTA: Really it's great and besides the inspiring nature. This is also that kind of activity that you guys have developed I think is really truly great as well. Congratulations in advances. Elizabeth. Pretty great? Back to you.


COHEN: So beautiful. Now, Marianne and Keith could have won this race or competed in this race by themselves and they would have had incredible times, but instead they chose to stick right by Kendrick's side.

Now one of the most rewarding parts of my job is to encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle and make good decisions. These two contended in the 2010 challenge. Sanjay had a chance to catch up with them ahead of today's race.


GUPTA: Well, Elizabeth, I guess, in many ways they were so inspired last year's triathlon they decided to come back and do it again. Dean Hannon and Linda, you guys were great last year, and I'm really glad you came back. You were going to do the race again, right, Dean?


GUPTA: And you wanted to inspire your other colleagues as well at work, right? How is that going over the last year for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've had a lot of cops come up and a little surprised because I am a little bit of a big guy, and I said, listen, you know, it's not how big or fast you are. It's discipline. It's nutrition. It's just being healthier, and it could save your life. That's one of the reasons why I did too. I think them realizing it, and you know, seeing me not smoke anymore, and --

GUPTA: So you are completely off the cigarettes?


GUPTA: Everybody is really proud of you and watched your transformation. Linda, you, too. You look fantastic, and you just embraced the lifestyle. Basically, you know, seven or eight months before the triathlon last year, you had never done anything like this. Now you are thinking about doing a half iron man as well. Is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, coming up in October.

GUPTA: What is this sort of desire -- where does it come from? Is this fitness? Is this personal sort of achievement? What is it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's definitely fitness. A lot for me is about inspiring, about inspiring myself, but about inspiring others. Fit Nation really gave me an opportunity to do that.

GUPTA: Congratulations. I'm glad you are both back. Elizabeth, if you can join us next year, think about it?


COHEN: We wish Dean and Linda the best of luck and maybe next year, some of this year's "Six Pack" will be back with us. We're tracking all of them and some of the producers, too, who are out there competing for Team CNN. We'll be back soon.