Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Truly Exceptional Woman - Barbara Warren, Ph.D., RIP

Today the cycling community is in shock, learning that a woman who inspired us, motivated us to reach our goals, and told us that we had the power to become exceptional people, has died tragically after a bicycle crash during the Santa Barbara Triathlon on Saturday.

Here is the email I received through Big Ring Racing:
August 28th:

It is with such a heavy, heavy heart that I share with you of the passing of Barbara Warren, last night, Tuesday, August 26th, 2008. She was at peace, and she was beautiful. She will be so missed but she is with God now and her spirit will be with us all stronger than ever, guiding us.

You will feel the spirit of Barbara profoundly today, in this moment she is in our hearts and our thoughts. When the moments, and days, and months pass, and we are living our lives, she will be watching us. When you need strength, tap into the spirit of Barbara, she has an abundance to share and she shares generously and lovingly. She is a gift, she is a blessing, and it has been such a true honor to have known Barbara.

The family would appreciate 24 hours of solitude. We all want to be there for Angelika, Tom, Ingrid, and Katrin, but for now, please, lets give them the time and space that they need.

From the Associated Press
10:14 AM PDT, August 28, 2008

SANTA BARBARA -- Barbara Warren, one of the world's elite endurance athletes in her age group and one-half of a well-known pair of triathlete twins, has died after breaking her neck in a bike crash at the Santa Barbara Triathlon. She was 65.

Warren, of San Diego, died Tuesday at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital when her family told doctors to take her off a ventilator, her twin sister Angelika Drake told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Warren crashed her bike on a downhill road about halfway through the 34-mile cycling section of the race on Saturday, race director Joe Coito said.

Warren was paralyzed from the neck down and was breathing with the aid of the ventilator.

Drake said her sister told the family by blinking and nodding that she wanted to die.

"I talked to her and she nodded over and over and over again. She wanted to leave," Drake said. "No athlete would like to have a life with only their eyes talking."

Warren's two daughters and her husband Tom were also with her at the hospital when she died.

Warren won her age group in the 2003 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii. She competed in the race, the world's top triathlon, 13 times and finished in the top five in her age group eight times.

The two sisters alternated riding bikes in the Race Across America, covering 2,983 miles in less than 10 days.

Warren also competed in a seven-day race across the Sahara Desert, and finished a triple Ironman in France that included a 7.2-mile swim, 336-mile bike ride and 78.6-mile run.

Warren was well-loved among younger triathletes.

Michellie Jones, who won a triathlon silver medal in the 2000 Olympics and won the 2006 Ironman World Title, was also a twin who remembered her fondly.

"She always asked about my sister," Jones said. "She understood the bond."

Warren's twin said she lay next to her sister as she died.

"My heart and my soul are gone," Drake said. "She was everything in my life."

I'm at a loss as to how to even react to this news, but more than mourn her loss at this moment, I want to celebrate her life, and remember her impact on me and on all those who knew her.

I met Dr. Barbara when I was trying to coordinate a "Ladies Night" at the bike shop, and wanted someone to come speak to the women. I knew I wanted a woman speaker, someone who was strong and celebrated her strength, but yet who was not so much of an elite athlete that she intimidated the audience, or talked about training in such a manner that the women could not relate to her. I had no idea I could find one of the most elite female athletes in the world, who was also a professional motivational speaker, who was so personable, and loved people so much that anyone would feel comfortable asking her questions and feel a connection with her.

When I called Dr. Barbara and approached her with the idea of being our speaker at a Ladies Night, she got very excited about it, asking questions about the evening's agenda. I told her it would be for the women of my Friday Girls Ride, and anyone else who wanted to come. She then asked about my Friday Girls Ride, and I told her I had started it so that people, especially women, would have a place to learn to ride and get individual coaching with shifting and bike handling, and have no fear of being dropped. I told her the Ladies Night event would be for women only, mostly because of the fashion show, so we could model the clothing ourselves and talk about what we liked or not. The agenda would include the speaker, a fashion show, and a question/answer time, then a big ride the next day. She agreed enthusiastically to be a part of it.

Then came the part I held my breath for.

"Um, I understand you do a lot of speaking engagements. What... what do you usually charge for something like this?" I asked her, closing my eyes.

"Well," she responded, "what do you charge for your Friday Girls Ride?"

"Oh, it's free. I don't charge anything," I told her.

"Then I don't charge you anything either," she said.

"Oh, wow. That's so great!" I laughed.

"Besides," I could hear the smile in her voice, " I don't think you could afford me anyway."

We laughed, and I agreed. We discussed a few more details of the evening, then she asked if
she might bring a friend. I was so honored that she would not only want to be a part of it, but want a friend to be a part of it as well. Of course!

We exchanged emails over the next few days, working out the details of her presentation. She sent me the working title of her talk: How to reach PASSION AND GLORY as an athlete.

Ooo. I hesitated. This was a bit advanced for us. I wrote her an email with this message:

Hey Barbara,

A little more info about your audience, I think very few of them actually see themselves as "athletes" at this point. I remember being there (mentally). I had been gritting my way through triathlons, and finally even the Wildflower Half, but was still hesitant to call myself an athlete. I still saw myself as a chubby, not-so-athletic woman --about 6 years ago I wore a size 14; I am now in a 6-8, almost where I was when I was in college.

You will be speaking to a group of women, many of whom are reluctant to call themselves athletes, and some who don't even acknowledge that they are "cyclists." Your unique ability to encourage people to not only see their potential, but light a fire under their belief in their potential is what I was hoping to capture.

I wouldn't want the title to scare anyone off by thinking this talk does not pertain to her, because she doesn't race, or is not used to thinking of herself as an athlete. I hope I have stated this such that it makes sense.

I have a hard time coming up with an alternative title, however, because I don't know what you are going to say. Your book titles are pretty powerful on their own, though! Become Exceptional... The Power to Complete Your Goals... these are already tremendous. Frankly, I look forward to reading your books!

Part of me wants you to let these women know that they SHOULD think of themselves as athletes, and that even if they don't see themselves as particularly athletic, if they have chosen to become fit and strong and healthy, they already have an athlete's heart or soul. It is their right to become an athlete, and that most of the things holding them back are constraints they themselves have created.

I don't know if this is any of your philosophy, but this is what I see over and over again. This is the attitude I lived. Even after completing a half-marathon and a century ride, I still protested to people that I wasn't really an athlete, because my brain hadn't quite accepted it. The idea is still somewhat foreign to me, but the results of my life and the medals on my wall, and my "remarkable recovery time" noted by my doctors confirm that truth to me. And even after I'm in my 80s, I will cling to the words: I have the heart and soul of an athlete.

THIS is what I want to give to these women. Is this possible?

Let me know your thoughts.
She wrote me back quickly, telling me that I was a wise girl, and suggested the title: Turning into an Athlete in Heart and Soul.

Wow. Yes. That was it exactly.

Unfortunately, we were never able to have our Ladies Night, as the venue we had chosen became unavailable and the event was not a priority for the shop. I was sad that I wouldn't get to hear her speak, but took encouragement from our brief encounter nonetheless.

In every way, she seemed to approach life with such a zeal that you wondered if she hadn't faced death before, fought it off, and vowed to use every minute the best she could. Few people have that kind of passion, and it was truly exceptional and truly inspiring.

Dr. Barbara's mission in life was to encourage others to become exceptional, to overcome the obstacles that inhibit their personal achievement, and to develop strength of character that would allow them to achieve their goals. Ambition, passion, courage - these are the behaviors she cultivated in people, and these are the traits she possessed.

Thank you Dr. Barbara for
continuing to inspire me to become exceptional, for being a faithful steward of the talents that God gave you, for motivating me to use my time here on earth well, and for cheering for me and encouraging me to be a hero.

May your memory be eternal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Laura, I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. Such a beautiful thing you wrote. I'm still wiping the tears away. My thoughts and prayers are with your and her family.

Marcia in PA