Profiles

Profiles

Cleveland Triathletes

Look Who’s Tri-ing

Local Athletes Compete on Land and In Water

 

By Stacy Rhea

 

 

 

Swimming, biking, running.

The sport of triathlon is when an athlete does all three in one long, grueling race. It’s not just for the young and buff. Watch any triathlon and you’ll see a wave of 50-plus athletes mixed in — and they’re not in the back of the pack.

 

The length of each portion of a triathlon varies. Sometimes the swimming portion is in a lake or the ocean. Biking is the longest section — 50 or more miles is not uncommon. Distances for the running portion are shorter, but still tough because they come at the end of the triathlon. Ironman triathlons tend to be considerably longer than conventional triathlons.

 

So why would anyone want to do it? Meet three Northeast Ohio triathletes and find out why one type of competition isn’t enough — they want all three.

 

 

 

Barb Thomas: 61
Residents: Broadview Heights
First Triathlon: 2012, Fairport Harbor

 

Sports have been part of Barb Thomas life since she was a child. Her mother played semi-pro softball and her father was a track star, so its no wonder Thomas is a lifelong athlete. At 14, Thomas won the YWCA nationals.

Later, as a mother of four, Thomas supported and coached her children in a variety of activities. One of Thomas fondest memories is when her daughter and son competed in the USAT Nationals with her. Her daughter won a national title in her age group.

 

A High Point:

Ironman 70.3 World Championship, Sunshine Coast, Australia, September 2016. She finished 13th in her age group.

 

Thomas Advice for a Newbie:

Start out slow. Keep moving and just go out and have fun.

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Veterans and Dogs: A Match Made in Cleveland

Profile

 

Rescued

Dogs, Veterans and a Match Made in Cleveland

 

 

When U.S. Army veteran Frank DeLorenzo learned there was a three-year wait to get a medically prescribed service dog from an out-of-state organization, he and his wife Jeniffer began doing research that became life-changing for many veterans.

 

With the help of dog trainers, they adopted a puppy and began working with her to become Frank’s service dog.

 

Frank’s position as the Army Wounded Warrior advocate at the Wade Park Veterans Administration campus in Cleveland led doctors and other veterans to ask about his service dog. The couple worked with other veterans to help train their dogs, and the organization grew from that need.

 

The DeLorenzos co-founded Wags 4 Warriors in 2011 to help veterans who have been affected by their combat experiences that challenge them every day. Service dogs help with anxiety or focus issues, giving the veteran a reminder of where he or she is and that all is calm.

 

The group is a nonprofit agency that accepts tax-deductible donations to help with the adoption, veterinary care, training and equipment expenses.

 

“We didn’t want to see families struggle the way we did,” Jen says. “We wanted to make sure that if there was something we could do to help a veteran, we would. We quickly realized there was a huge need here in Ohio. We wanted to help veterans without causing them any financial burden or strain.”

 

Wags is the only organization in Ohio that does this free of charge for veterans.

 

As of 2017, the program has helped rescue more than 350 dogs and warriors.

 

“Ninety percent of these canines are rescues from shelters,” Frank says. “We have had approximately 50 or more Vietnam veterans and another 50 or more ages 50-plus in the program.”

 

Recently the program moved into a new training facility in Broadview Heights.

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Celebrating the Future – Grads Find New Opportunities, Fun in College

Adults returning to or beginning college late life is a growing trend throughout the country. Juggling work, family and other commitments while attending college part time — often, one class at a time — requires dogged perseverance. They might get tired. They might get frustrated. They don’t quit.

Judi Kostos and Nick Pykus are two such people. So-called “nontraditional students,” they are among a select group of committed adults who are earning college degrees decades after graduating high school. Here are their stories:

MATH HOMEWORK AND A COLLEGE DEGREE

Seven years ago, Judi Kostos’ grandson, Robert, needed help with his fourth grade math homework. Kostos was stumped. She couldn’t do it. The increasingly complicated problems and “new” techniques for solving them were just too tough.

Kostos helps take care of her five grandchildren after school. A full-time stay-at-home mom and grandmother of five, she was frustrated she couldn’t help with math homework. Kostos knew this was only the first of many math challenges, so she enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College’s Western Campus in Parma.

Kostos was 50 when she started at Tri-C seven years ago. The Brook Park native’s first class was in medical technology because she wanted to better understand her aging parents’ medical treatments.

“The scariest part was taking the entrance test because it had been so long since I’d been in school,” Kostos admits. “I was nervous the first day, but the staff was so friendly. The students didn’t make me feel old. I made a lot of friends.”

BUSY LIVES, BIG COMMITMENT

Kostos, like most older college students, had a lot of responsibilities outside the classroom. She makes dinner for her mom, Ruth Marzec, every night. She continues to help care for her grandchildren — now six months to 15 years old — and she’s been married for 39 years to her husband, Kent.

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On A Roll – Bakery Owners Discovery Every Job Creates Opportunity

Debbi and Rick Sands’ lives are busy and fulfilling with a dose of fun thrown in to keep things interesting. Their jobs suit their interests and abilities.

Married for 37 years, the affable couple raised and launched two kids.

Rewarding? Sure.

Chance? Maybe.

The Sandses are a good example of people who have the confidence — and faith — to make mid-life career shifts. They’ve parlayed past jobs, current goals and an ongoing optimism into lives that work not only for themselves but for others, too.

BREAD AND MORE

Rick Sands is the kind of guy who doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. He gives off a mellow vibe that’s both unexpected and appealing — a vintage Volkswagen bus-owning sort of guy. In fact, he did have one, but sold it awhile back.

Rick and his wife, Debbi, own Great Harvest Bread Company in Stow in Summit County. Both worked hard to grow the popular franchise bakery into a must-visit stop for local bread lovers. These days, Rick is likely to be the one floating between the front counter and the ovens, offering up conversation and bread to customers. Baking bread and being a small business owner seems like a long way from his years working in warehouses and running forklifts.

Debbi, with an accounting and bookkeeping background, manages the bakery’s finances. More than a decade ago she transitioned away from daily bakery operations to focus on her own midlife career change: working as a Christian counselor.

Anyone who needs a nudge to make a mid-life job or career change would do well to take a lesson from the Sandses. They’ve been open to opportunities, willing to take risks and determined to make their work reach beyond the borders of Summit County.

Debbi grew up in Mentor and graduated from Lakeland Community College with an associate degree in business the same year she married Rick.

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Called to Serve – Elaine Geller Finds Meaningful Service Through the NCJW/Cleveland

In 2003, Elaine Geller moved back to Cleveland after many years in California. Her husband had recently died and she had just retired from her position as a vice president of the Federal Reserve System. She was looking for a meaningful, supportive community to get involved in, and she found it in the National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland.

Geller liked that she did not have to “put in her time” before she could start making a difference. NCJW has more than 18 community service projects with which she could immediately start volunteering. She also liked that though the organization is inspired by Jewish values, its mission is to help improve the lives of all women, children and families throughout Cleveland.

VOLUNTEER LEADERSHIP

Elaine Geller is the embodiment of the Jewish philosophy to “speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.” She’s been NCJW/Cleveland’s vice president of finance and treasury (four years), and recording secretary (two years), among other work. In recent years, Geller has felt that her responsibility as a NCJW/Cleveland volunteer extends beyond the community in front of her, to the wider community in which she lives.

This ideal drove her to learn about — and then lead — the Stop Human Trafficking committee two years ago, the first Jewish Cleveland organization aimed at advocating for and protecting trafficking victims, a $32 billion annual criminal industry.

Each year an estimated 1,078 Ohio children become victims, and 3,016 more are at risk.

BATTLING A SINISTER INDUSTRY

Geller and her committee drive to local hotels monthly to drop off pictures of missing children, to distribute posters listing signs to look for to identify trafficking victims, and to hand out free soap — labeled with the human trafficking hotline — to cleaning and hotel staff.

Geller and her committee have spoken to more than a dozen local organizations and businesses about human trafficking.

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Unseen Battle Scars – With Veterans: Ask, Don’t Judge

Each week, veterans — many with minds upended by both seen and unseen battle scars — enter Dr. Walter Knake’s Beachwood office.

A welcoming flame glows from an electric fireplace. An Oriental rug blankets the floor. Propped everywhere are stuffed animals. The vibe is cozy and soothing. Except for the American and military flags in a corner and a large bulletin board packed with medals, patriotic badges and pins, the clinical psychologist’s office could be the den in a suburban home.

FAMILIAR ISSUES

Each Nov. 11, Americans honor military veterans. Knake treats the ones who rarely feel honored or respected; much of their energy is consumed by the psychological effects of their military service.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one issue. Others may be dealing with traumatic brain injuries or relationship issues, alcoholism, drug addiction or a combination of problems. About 70 percent of Knake’s patients are combat veterans who hear about his practice through word of mouth.

An average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Aging veterans are the most vulnerable; 65 percent who died from suicide were 50 or older. Veterans made up 18 percent of all suicide deaths, according to most recently available statistics, but comprised just 8.5 percent of the county’s population.

Battlefield trauma and its long-term emotional consequences aren’t new. From the time people have fought wars, many carried the effects into middle and old age. Today’s PTSD was yesterday’s battle fatigue, shell shock or war neuroses.

As America continues losing its World War II and Korean War veterans, those who served in Vietnam are filling Knake’s appointment book. When people approach their 60s and 70s, most become increasingly reflective and have more time to think. For veterans, their thoughts often turn to their war experiences, he says.

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Give – These Are The Faces of Champions.

They won’t be cheered by thousands or earn millions. They give, not take. Their work is behind the scenes. They cut hair. They mend band uniforms. They encourage young children to read and frail adults to walk.

Meet a few people over 50 who are changing our area.

CLEVELAND AMBASSADOR Leroy Wilson Jr.

Leroy is a super volunteer — and he has an award to prove it. The 2016 recipient of the David F. Leahy Award for Volunteer Excellence by Greater Cleveland Volunteers, he is an ambassador at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport where he directs visitors and offers information to them, and he delivers meals to homebound people through the Southeast Clergy Meals on Wheels. He also serves on their board of directors.

Leroy says he found out about volunteer opportunities through GCV and that his life has been enriched because he can help others in need.

A ROCKER FINDS A HOME

Elaine Minch

Elaine is a long-time rock ’n’ roll fan. After retiring as a pharmacy technician, she began volunteering for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

“My family owned and operated the Rollerdrome, a roller skating rink in Euclid, and during those days, rising musicians would be booked with Bill Randle and his Cavalcade of Stars. They would perform live, sign autographs and mingle with the crowds at the rink,” she says.

Elaine also volunteers at the Rock Hall Library and Archives at Cuyahoga Community College, where she catalogs donated vinyl record collections for the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts at Cuyahoga Community College Metropolitan Campus.

A TUTOR WITH A PURPOSE

Elva Fosh

Elva helps students read and achieve as a literacy tutor/team leader and literacy booster for Greater Cleveland Volunteers in the AARP Foundation Experience Corps program. She’s backed implementation of projects across grade levels with slight modifications that challenge higher-performing students.

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Maggie’s Mission – Every Animal Needs a Hero

Sarah Aitken has been rescuing animals for more than 30 years. Today she works with Maggie’s Mission (maggiesmissionrescue. org), a Medina County-based organization that relies entirely on volunteers and foster homes to care for dogs, cats and horses.

Many of the dogs and cats are saved from urgent situations throughout Northeast Ohio, as well as from overflowing shelters. Horses and donkeys, such as the ones shown, often come from auctions where they were to be sold for meat.

Sarah says animal lovers can easily find a place to volunteer that suits their interests and time.

“Many groups, including Maggie’s Mission, have many options for volunteers. Maggie’s Mission shows pets at PetSmart in Montrose, Pet People in Strongsville and various other locations throughout the year. We always need volunteers to sit with a pet at these events, and they are only a couple of hours each. We also have the need for computer-savvy volunteers to help with inputting information and transporters to transport pets from shelters or to and from vet appointments.”

Her own interest started as a teenager. Birds, turtles, rabbits — if an animal needed help, she was there.

“When it’s in your blood, you can’t really walk away from it. You can take a break, but it draws you back in when you see a face that’s in need of help, and you know you can be the one to make a difference,” she says.

“We need more compassion in our world. We have domesticated these animals and it is our responsibility to take care of them properly.”

 

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