Elementary-school physical-education teacher by day. Spinning instructor by night. As if that isn’t enough, Suzy Serpico is also a triathlete — and a highly ranked one, at that.
Serpico, 32, finished in fourth place in July’s Ironman Lake Placid competition, swimming 2.4 miles, bicycling 112 miles and then running a marathon of 26.2 miles, all in a combined time of 10 hours, 14 minutes and 22 seconds.
She’s come a long way since the teenager whose first triathlon was the Columbia Triathlon, which was just — just! — 0.9 miles in the water, 26 miles on a bicycle and ending with a 6-mile run. Now she is competing professionally, all while teaching at Hammond Elementary School and leading spin classes for Columbia Association at the Columbia Athletic Club and Columbia Gym.
The lifelong Howard County resident now lives in Kings Contrivance with her husband, Danny.
How did you get into triathlon training?
“I got into triathlon training when I was in high school. The Columbia Triathlon is actually put on right here at Centennial, and I would always see them biking by. I said, ‘Hey, Dad, I want to try that.’ They bought me a bike instead of going to Senior Week, and I did the Columbia Triathlon, and from there, I’ve never stopped.”
What were you doing before that?
“I played volleyball competitively for about 12 years. I thought I was going to do that in college, but decided that I liked the individual sports better.”
How do you do such long races?
“It takes training. It’s not just something that you can just jump into. It takes a good year to fully prepare for it. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just something you get up and say, ‘Hey, want to go do this?’ You do it, but you have to pretty much eat, sleep and train Ironman for a whole year.”
How many triathlons have you done?
“How many have I done? I can’t even… I keep track of my Ironmen now. I just did Lake Placid, and that was my eighth Ironman. I would say that I’m hopefully getting close to the century club for how many triathlons I’ve done, but I’m not sure.”
Where have these taken you?
“The three top places I’ve been are Switzerland, Australia and two years ago I finally made it to Kona [Hawaii].”
What do you think led to your career-best time at Lake Placid this year?
“Experience. Patience. I know that my goal is to break 10 hours. I think that I’ve been dedicated to the sport. I understand it. I appreciate it. I know that there’s going to be ups and downs. When it’s bad, it’s bad, but those bads also lead to good. So just being patient and not having too high expectations and just going out there and, most importantly, having fun with it. A key factor to having a good time is having fun with it.”
What motivates you?
“There’s a lot of things. I think living in Columbia, having it be a huge triathlon community, and seeing everybody else doing it, hearing their great experiences, them encouraging me. When I was in Lake Placid, the number of people that sent me messages, emails, Facebook posts, just coming back and seeing people following me. I think being a role model for a lot of females — kids, especially, because I’m a teacher — that kind of pushes me. But I think I’m one of my biggest motivators. If I don’t get up in the morning, I don’t want to say I get mad at myself, but I’m a very type-A personality.”
You’ve been instructing spin classes for more than a decade now. What do you enjoy about it?
“I enjoy just seeing people be happy. I have some dedicated members that have been taking my class for about 10 years now. And then you get that following that comes, and they just love it. … I just enjoy hopefully having a positive impact on somebody, whether or not they’re going to go do triathlons or they’re going to bike ride. Hopefully it’s going to lead them to a positive physical lifestyle.”
-Interview by David Greisman. Video by Erin McPhail.