Point Lookout attorney closes law books to train triathletes
By JOSEPH KELLARD
Kerry Simmons grew tired of figuratively banging her head against the wall as a civil defense attorney. So now her energetic voice bounces off the walls of the Hofstra swim center, where she trains triathletes full-time.
With stopwatch in hand, in sneakers and an oversized T-shirt, Simmons trotted back and forth along the length of the pool on a recent Tuesday evening, instructing and encouraging 13 triathletes in the water below her. Simmons directed the mix of men and woman to swim at full speed while crowded together, to simulate the chaotic start of a triathlon.
“Ready, go!” she yelled repeatedly, and as her charges churned through the water, she counted the seconds aloud: “… 34, 35, 36, 37…”
Meanwhile, her husband of three years, Kevin, an attorney, a triathlete and her business partner, worked poolside with a quickly winded newcomer, Joe DeSimone, demonstrating proper freestyle stroke technique. “The quick drills were just too fast for me,” said DeSimone, a Williston Park resident training for his first triathlon this summer.
Kevin Simmons explained that the drills he and his wife use on their trainees are designed to fatigue the swimmers from the start. “The race starts fast, you get tired and then you have to learn how to relax and change your pace for the middle of the race,” he said.
The Point Lookout couple started their new business, First Wave Tri, in January with six triathletes. Since then they have recruited some 40 more students of varying skills, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s. Kerry Simmons’s success in the sport has been a major draw: She is well known in the rapidly growing triathlon community in the metropolitan area and beyond, a three-time USA Triathlon All-American and a three-time Team USA national and world team member. She is ranked among the top 10 triathletes in the nation in her age group, 40 to 44.
Kevin, 57, a 25-year veteran of the sport, is ranked No. 1 in his age group in the Northeast. He is also the senior attorney at a practice in Syosset whose clients include Fortune 500 companies — and where Kerry worked briefly after a 10-year stint as a prosecutor for the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.
Most recently, she spent four years working for a civil law office, and that experience was the springboard to her new life as a triathlete trainer. “With civil law, it was just two opposite ends always butting heads,” Simmons said. “It just got difficult to spend your days fighting all the time.”
In what she calls her “aha! moment,” Simmons was working on a case in which her female client was suing a store where she injured her toe. Simmons was one of eight attorneys in a room taking her deposition while they argued among themselves. “I remember looking around the table and thinking, What are we all doing here?” she said, her voice as high-energy as her poolside demeanor. “What’s the point of this? It just seemed like an odd way to spend your life and career, fighting over a stubbed toe, on a case costing thousands and thousands of dollars that clearly could have been resolved on the first court appearance. At that moment I thought, I have to do something else. I have to do something I’m passionate about.”
In January 2008, after a long career as a competitive swimmer and seven years of competing in triathlons, Simmons earned her certification as trainer. A year later, as far as she and Kevin know, they are the only full-time triathlon team on Long Island.
“Our goal is to have a very close-knit group of athletes that get a lot of personal care and attention, that we coach on a really one-on-one basis – and that they know they’re getting from us a quality program,” Simmons said. “We’re very hands-on. We know all our athletes.”
In addition to their Tuesday swim drills, the group bikes together in a spin class on Sundays at North Shore Fitness in East Meadow, after which they run together in neighboring Eisenhower Park. When Jennifer Morrissey of Williston Park joined First Wave Tri in January, she couldn’t finish a lap in the pool, stopping four times along the way. A runner, Morrissey was looking for a new challenge, and now she is training for her first triathlon, in Pawling this June.
“They’re great, very encouraging,” she said of the Simmonses, then added, with a laugh, “And they’re not mean.”
The couple train athletes mostly for short, sprint-style triathlons that include a half-mile swim, a 12-mile bike leg and a 5K run. But others are advanced enough to compete in an Ironman, the sports’ most demanding event: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile second leg on a bike and a full 26.2-mile marathon.
Rob Kolb, a Long Beach resident and an educator in Lynbrook, is preparing for his first Ironman in Lake Placid this July. Kerry Simmons listens and leads better than anyone else he has worked with, he said. “I’ve had coaches with tons of experience, but it’s all about the person, it’s all about the character, it’s all about who you want to associate yourself with, who you want to emulate,” Kolb said. “That’s what I tell my kids: The person you want to emulate is the person who you want to coach you.”
The Team Orlando Tri training plan includes a detailed description of every workout, a nutrition plan, a focus on race goals, and Kerry’s high-energy, personalized feedback. “We bike, swim and run with them,” Roberta Leventhal of Roslyn, one of the elder trainees, said of the Simmonses. “They care more than anyone in the world and they’re fun. They’re a great duo.”
Leventhal has competed in a few triathlons, but didn’t fare too well. Now, under the tutelage of her new trainers, she anticipates better results, and her newfound confidence is obvious. “This year,” she said about her upcoming races, “I’m going to kick butt.”