It’s impossible to spend time with two-time XTERRA age-group World Champ and 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ, Tammy Tabeek, without feeling a bit like a Padawan. Talking with her is like spending time with a master – which of course she is.
Tabeek has been an athlete for over 45 years, starting off-road motorcycling as a kid and playing softball and basketball in high school. She found mountain biking in her twenties.
“In 1987 I worked for a guy and he was like, 'Tam, you grew up off-road motorcycling. You gotta try mountain biking.’”
Together, they went to North Park Cycling Tunes in San Diego where Tabeek bought her first bike – a blue Miyata Valley Runner. It was $674 and she would pay for it over the next year in fifty-dollar installments.
Next, they went to Mission Trails, a popular place to hike and mountain bike in the hills east of San Diego.
“I was like, ‘Holy smokes this is just like riding a motorcycle," says Tabeeek. “Except you’re pedaling.”
It wasn’t long before Tabeek began competing in both mountain and road races.
“I was full bore,” she admits. “I became a professional mountain biker and downhill racer. By the time I was competing in masters races on the downhill circuit, I had two world titles.”
And yet, this full-bore, self-described jock credits meditation for her positive outlook and ability to balance a busy job, training, and life.
“My job is super demanding with people wanting stuff yesterday. It’s running and gunning all the time. In order to keep a level of sanity, I meditate. It’s crucial because my head gets a little too busy - and not always with the information I need to hear.”
Tabeek was introduced to meditation by her close friends Dr. Simon Marshall and two-time XTERRA World Champion, Lesley Paterson.
Perhaps this is a well-deserved payback, because it was Tabeek who taught Paterson how to mountain bike.
“Simon and I have been friends for about 20 years,” says Tabeek. “When he brought Les to the states, he told me she wanted to learn how to mountain bike. At that time, I was riding mountain bikes professionally and I was running a business with my ex-husband. I was like, oh jeez, I’m right in the throes of my career and I have to teach somebody?”
Tabeek laughs. “Instantaneously, we became best friends.”
And as these things go, it was Paterson who nudged Tabeek away from her focus on mountain biking and encouraged her to try XTERRA off-road triathlons.
“Lesley said, 'Tam, you should try this XTERRA thing,' and I said, ‘Well what do I have to do?’ She asked me, ‘Well, you run a little, right?’ and I said ‘Yeah, for like five minutes.’ And she said, ‘You swim,’ and I said, ‘Not really.”
Paterson and Marshall, who coach amateur and professional athletes through Braveheart Coaching, created a training plan for Tabeek.
“The first thing I had to do was a twenty minute run,” says Tabeek. “After five minutes, I got a cramp. I had to stop and was like, holy crap, how am I going to put 20 minutes together, much less an hour?”
Tabeek felt the same way about swimming. “Good God, I can only breathe every other stroke? How am I going to get air?”
Tabeek kept going, literally putting one foot in front of the other. Once she was able to run for 30 minutes, she started working out with the San Diego Track Club and began swimming with a masters program, which she felt was a turning point for her.
“It was progressive,” she admits. “Baby steps. What really made a difference was training with people my same ability. Once I got comfortable, I could raise the bar, and I got better.”
In 2007, she entered XTERRA Big Bear – her first - and was third place in the women's division. After that, Tabeek was hooked.
“Tam is one of the toughest chicks I know,” said Paterson. “Not only is she just a complete badass in everything that she does - especially downhill mountain biking - but she has a level of passion and commitment that you rarely see. She taught me what I know on the mountain bike but more importantly she's been my soul mate through all of my hard times. She’s my best pal.”
“I’m a calculated risk taker but I’m also a realist,” said Tabeek. “I know myself pretty well by this point and I figure I can do anything provided I have a plan.”
Tabeek also acknowledges that while age can be a benefit in terms of wisdom, it can be challenging when attempting to come back from injuries, and humbling to discover that the body does indeed have limits.
“Here’s the thing,” says Tabeek, “When you are new at something, you have a goal and you’re getting better all the time. But when you’ve been there already and you know what you can run or swim or bike, it’s much harder to make a comeback after an illness or injury or whatever life throws at you. Those are the real challenges and struggles.”
Still, Tabeek makes it look easy. Despite being an athlete for over 40 years while also creating a successful career, she has no plans to slow down. She recently returned from a three-day mountain bike stage race in Moab, where she was 5th over all in the 40-plus age group.
But don’t count on that.
“I keep saying I won’t go to Worlds, but in the back of my head, I’m like, if I nail Utah and I’m feeling good, well, maybe I’ll go to Maui.”
We will keep our fingers crossed.