Olympic Triathlete Sarah Haskins came home for the holidays to High Ridge last week from her winter home in Florida, where she and her husband, Nathan Kortuem, live. Haskins is in training for a push to improve on her 11th place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympics triathlon. She is hoping to make the U.S. team that will compete in the 2012 Summer Games in London next August.
In addition to the usual holiday pursuits of visiting with family and shopping, Haskins took some time on Dec. 20 to teach a group of firefighters the benefits of healthy eating and cooking as well as speaking on Wednesday to two groups of grade-schoolers about setting goals and achieving them.
The meeting with members of the was an instructive look at the type of healthy eating that everyone "should" pursue and how to achieve it. The firefighters listened closely as Haskins and Kortuem, who is Haskins' coach and trainer, explained the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and following a more balanced diet.
Haskins father, Brian Haskins, a member of the board of directors of the High Ridge Fire Protection District, arranged the firehouse visit.
There were some humorous moments at the firehouse as one firefighter tried to find out, peristently, whether it is healthier to drink Coke Zero instead of regular, or even Diet Coca Cola.
"Which one is better?" the firefighter asked.
Kortuem's resonse? Water.
While Kortuem did not specifically forbid Coke or Coke Zero from a diet, he pointed out that any carbonated soda is loaded with chemicals that are not conducive to a healthy diet.
After the formal presentation, Haskins and Kortuem inspected the contents of the refrigerators used by the three fire companies with the HRFPD to determine which contained the most healthy foods. Just prior to the start of the fridge inspection, one firefighter made an effort to stack the deck by putting a bowl of fruit in his fire company's refrigerator. The effort received a fair amount of laughter and ribbing from his colleagues as the fruit bowl wouldn't fit in the fridge at all because it was crammed with other, less healthy, items.
The Dec. 21 meetings with students were at in Fenton where two student assemblies were scheduled to meet Haskins. Her message was clear and simply stated in three words: Think. Do. Achieve.
"Boys and girls, I want you to know that I started in athletics when I was about your age. I started swimming when I was 5 years old. And you can do it, too. You just need to find your passion and set goals," she said.
Haskins spent nine years on the Parkway Swim Club.
Haskins also talked about running a mile when she was in grade school with a goal of just finishing the distance and then finishing it faster than the last time.
Her athletic success as a grade-schooler parlayed into a successful high school career in swimming, track and field and cross-country at Parkway South High School, where she graduated in 1999. She still holds the record at Parkway South for the 2-mile run at 11 minutes even. Haskins also was a Missouri state champion in cross-country and swimming.
Her cross-country coach, Sandy Guyman, is still at Parkway South and remembers Haksins fondly.
"She was pretty much a natural, Guyman said. "She was really good all the way around and a kind and thoughtful person. She was successful academically too."
Guyman said Haskins fit into the track and cross-country programs easily because the endurance she developed as a swimmer helped her in the long-distance running she did in high school.
Haskins was named to the Parkway South Hall of Fame last year for her athletic achievements, Guyman said.
Following high school, Haskins went to the University of Tulsa where she pursued a degree in elementary education and where, in 2000, as a sophomore, she watched the Sidney Summer Olympics, which was the year the Olympic triathlon was introduced in the Olympics.
"I knew then that it was something I wanted to do," Haskins told the students at Uthoff Valley. "So I set that as my goal. And you know what, boys and girls? I did it."
Haskins began competing in triathlons in 2003, culminating in the Beijing trip in 2008.
The Olympic triathlon consists of a 1.5-mile swim in open water, a 40-kilometer bike race followed by a 10-kilometer run
Prior to her Olympic participation, Haskins had achieved success in a variety of triathlons including being the Under-23 national champion in 2004, U.S. national champion in 2006 and a silver medalist at the Pan American Games in 2007. Her first professional win was in the 2005 Los Angeles Triathlon.
She followed it up with first place finishes in the Race To The Toyota Cup series in 2009 and wins in 2010 in the Miami International, St. Anthony's LifeTime Fitness and Chicago triathlons.
This year has been even better.
Following a second place finish in the Clermont (FL) Sprint Nationals in March, Haskins posted victories in the Nautica South Beach Triathlon Race To The Toyota Cup in April, the St. Anthony's triathlon in St. Petersburg, FL in May, and two other May victories in the Monterrey (Mexico) ITU Triathlon World Cup and the Capital of Texas Triathlon- Race To The Toyota Cup.
July and August brought two more first place finishes—at the Lifetime Fitness Race to the Toyota Cup triathlons in Minneapolis and in Chicago.
Possibly Haskins' crowning achievement was the gold medal she won in October at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The Pan Am Games win ended her racing season, which now kicks into low gear until after the first of the year when she will start training in earnest at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, preparing for the Olympic qualifying event in May in San Diego.
"It's not going to be easy," Haskins said. She must finish in the top 10 triathletes in San Diego and among the top nine Americans to punch her ticket to the London Olympic Games in August.
Swimming, biking and running may be an individual sport, but Haskins isn't only running for herself. She actively supports Train for Autism, an organization that relies on the efforts of athletes and others to raise awareness and funds for treatment of those with autism and their families.
Haskins also supports Jenny's Light, a group whose mission it is to improve and save lives of those suffering from postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders.
Part of Haskins' commitment to the organizations is the "Making Every Mile Count," program where she donates $1 for every mile she completes during her triathlons. Not only does she enthusiastically participate in Making Every Mile Count, she has rallied other triathletes to join the program as well.
In addition to the $1 per mile program, Haskins said she has donated some of her racing equipment for charity auctions, including some of her Beijing Olympics gear.
Haskins estimates she has raised $7,000-$8,000 so far for Train for Autism since she has volunteered her efforts.
Why does she do it?
"Well, as an Olympian, I feel like I'm in a position to be a role model," Haskins said. "So, with young athletes, it's a way I can give back."
With her degree in elementary education, Haskins said she eventually will go into some sort of teaching, probably coaching, and most likely coaching young athletes. She already has a taste of coaching, having coached about 150 swimmers ages 4-18 during the summer months from 2000-2004.
In addition to coaching kids how to swim and bike and run, Haskins also teaches about the benefits of health and exercise. it's something appropriate not only for those young athletes, but also for those not-so-young firefighters.
Editor's Note: Fenton-HighRidgePatch Editor Dan Barger provided this article in lieu of SunsetHills-CrestwoodPatch Editor Alyssa Stahr's regular column.