December 2016 - ATHLETE PROFILE
One step at a time. One drop at a time.
Hometown: Clifton Park
Family: Spouse, Kathy Simmonds; Son, Charlie, age 23
Sports: Triathlon, Cycling, Open Water Swimming, Sailing
Occupation: NYS Licensed Massage Therapist, A Peaceful Place Massage and Wellness, Clifton Park
By Kristen Hislop
Most endurance athletes don’t grow up as competitive athletes. It is usually the desire to conquer a fear or surmount a challenge that puts them on the path. Once on that route they often find it hard to diverge. Virginia Touhey is no different. As a kid, Virginia loved to ski, sail and swim. Like most kids of her generation she ran errands on her bike and was out playing with siblings and friends until dusk. Her love of the outdoors and an athletic challenge was honed at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, Colo. The school has always had a focus on sports and outdoor trips as a way to develop character and learn skills such as resilience, perseverance, collaboration, self-confidence and humility. Graduates leave with a deep appreciation for the outdoors and an understanding of the importance of giving back to their community.
After being away from home for high school she headed back to her Northeast roots for college. She still gets back to Colorado a couple of times a year as she serves on the board of the school. She knew she had had a privileged upbringing, but it was in her 30s when she decided she was done with as she says “playing.” As often happens when you open your mind to new challenges and opportunities it seems things appear in front of you. It was then Virginia became aware of community organizations focused on helping those with physical, mental, emotional, financial and other needs. The more Virginia reached out the more she saw a need. Over the years, she has supported many different organizations via volunteering, serving on the board, and even racing or riding to raise funds.
One of her first forays into the challenge yourself and raise money for a great cause was a cycling event. In 1987 she signed up to cycle 3,400 miles across the United States to raise money for the American Lung Association. She joined already accomplished cyclist and publisher of this magazine, Darryl Caron, along with two other local riders on this journey. Virginia jumped in with both feet despite not having a clue about what it would really entail.
The ability to conquer her doubts about her own abilities fueled a new passion. For quite a few years Virginia rode her bike, swam in Lake Champlain, and worked to stay in shape. But there was more brewing, more that could be done in her community, and more that she could accomplish athletically. The Lung Association ride also started her love for bike touring, which were subsequently followed up with trips through Central New York, Canada, New England, Holland, Italy and Ireland with family and friends.
Fast forward to 2008 when two passionate women signed on as coaches for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training triathlon program. Yours truly and Beth Gryzboski encouraged Virginia to fundraise and travel to Washington, DC for the Nation’s Triathlon. As we sat at the pre-event dinner we coaches were bursting with pride when Virginia’s name was announced as a top fundraiser! She had won a bike for her efforts. Virginia’s mother, Lila, trekked around DC the following morning to watch her daughter tackle this crazy adventure. She hit the course with the same passion and determination. Now she was, “Hooked no more to being a gym rat for no reason. I had competitions to train for!”
Virginia continued competing in triathlons. She adds, “In 2011 I became so confident that I was ready to tackle the Ironman Lake Placid. That year coach Kristen taught me the difference between working out and ‘training.’ Boy, I never knew my body could do all those strengthening bizarre things with a TRX. I learned to focus and believe in myself. I was so well-trained that I race-walked the marathon and crossed the finish line in flying colors. I was happy and healthy and beat my anticipated time.” In keeping with her tradition of fundraising while competing she decided to set the bar high and raise $15,000 for the “To Love a Child” organization.
Virginia was introduced To Love a Child by Cindy Schmehl, the executive director, selling African handicrafts at A Peaceful Place open house. Cindy’s goal was to send money to a small rural village in Zimbabwe. Virginia says, “I thought to myself, she can’t make a difference in that village. That’s just a drop in the bucket.” Today, To Love a Child is feeding a preschool, training men and women in skills they can use, providing school supplies, teacher wages, and micro loans for women to start business that provide for themselves, their family and many others that live with them. After a trip to Zimbabwe, Virginia realized “A drop in the bucket creates an ocean of energy.”
Both Virginia and her spouse, Kathy, are involved with TLC efforts in the region. In September, TLC received a grant for the construction of a women and children’s center in Zimbabwe. The project allows women to sell, knit and embroider, providing income as well as mentoring teenage girls. Virginia was honored by To Love a Child in November 2016 for her work on the board and her tireless fundraising efforts.
After getting married to Kathy Simmonds early in 2012, Virginia headed to Zimbabwe to see firsthand the work of TLC. She returned more motivated to enact change in our community and abroad. Continuing to work with TLC, she jumped back into the Team in Training family, fundraising for a century ride in Lake Tahoe, Calif. in 2013.
After saying she would never go the Ironman distance again – as she says, “The mind tends to forget” – always looking for the next challenge, Virginia decided to do the 2016 Ironman Mont-Tremblant. Once again Kathy and her mom cheered for her along the journey and on a long race day. “This time my goal was to learn to run! I had race walked all my past triathlons. I was determined to improve my time by running. This year I learned another lesson, ‘Drink before you are thirsty.’ By the time I got to the run that I was so looking forward to, I had no energy, no electrolytes, so I fell short of my goal. So now I have another goal! I am going to improve my half-Ironman time at Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid in 2017.” TLC and Ironman have become intertwined. Both of Virginia’s Ironman journeys have benefited the charity near and dear to her heart.
Virginia encourages everyone to share their time and expertise, or when shopping via amazonsmile.com, select “To Love a Child” to help build schools and buy bikes for villages in Haiti and Zimbabwe. Each step of Virginia’s Ironman races made a difference. As she knows,
“One drop at a time we make changes.”
Kristen Hislop (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Clifton Park is a certified multisport coach who wants everyone to ‘Do, Believe and Achieve.’