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Get Well.
By Tom Demerly.

We invite you to post a get well message to Doug, please click here.


A good friend of mine is sick and this is his get well card.

Doug Stern is a guy from New York City who teaches swimming and runs a triathlon training camp on the island of Curacao in the Dutch Antilles every January.

I’ve been to Doug’s camp in Curacao seven times. In those seven years I’ve learned a lot about swimming from Doug, and even more about life and myself from him.

Doug is a teacher by trade. He used to teach school, now he teaches people about swimming. Like all people who were born to teach Doug has a way of teaching you about yourself no matter what the subject is. Doug is one of those rare characters with the talent and wisdom to inspire and challenge people. As a result he has a magnetic personality; people flock to him. There is no more attractive quality in a person than the charisma and intellect to always appear in command, and Doug has that quality.

I first met Doug Stern after seeing an article in Triathlete Magazine about his training camp in Curacao. I had never heard of Curacao and couldn’t even pronounce the name of island until I called Doug to ask about the camp. A few months latter this guy from New York was standing on the beach in the Caribbean yelling at me. He was pointing to his elbow and his buttocks in rapid succession shouting, “This is your ass, this is your elbow- learn the difference!”

The article in Triathlete about Curacao was written by author and neurologist Oliver Sacks. Sacks has been a regular at Doug’s Curacao camp for a number of years and is one of the colorful people that flock to Doug for that rare, special brand of inspiration and motivation. Oliver occasionally reads excerpts from his books to a rapt audience during breaks in the action at Doug’s camps. This type of spectacle is typical of Doug’s gatherings: Interesting people, interesting ideas and interesting places, all brought together under the Stern umbrella.

The trip to Curacao has always attracted an eclectic crowd of fascinating personalities. On my yearly excursion to Curacao I’ve met instructor pilots for the Concorde, Wallstreet traders, physical therapists, two Olympic Gold Medalists, doctors, detectives, authors, race directors, even salesmen who sell Airbus airliners to foreign countries. This is the crowd Doug attracts. Doug’s clients in his New York swim and Deep Water Running Classes are almost all repeat customers; same with the people on the Curacao trip. We all keep coming back for more of Doug’s quirky humor, sagacious insights and simple, up beat philosophy. Curacao has become a reunion of sorts for the Stern fans who make the annual sojourn from around the world to the Dutch Antilles. One person on this year’s trip commented that we have become a family of sorts. Doug is the foster parent of this ad-hoc family and I suspect we are not the only group he has fostered.

This year the government of Curacao honored Doug and his liaison in Curacao, Ramey, for their contribution to raising awareness and building tourism in Curacao over the last decade. Doug’s camps have circulated over 400 people through the Lion’s Dive Hotel in Curacao for his triathlon training camp.

In never fails that by the time I get to Curacao every year my wick has been burned at both ends until little is left. I need a dose of Stern. Doug has an infectious enthusiasm for life that pervades everything he does and everyone he is around. I need a recharge and Doug Stern always provides it.

For the first couple years I went to Curacao and told Doug, “I am a rotten swimmer. Always have been, always will be.”

Doug was quick to point out the first opportunity to improve was to change that mindset. “You are an improving swimmer, a swimmer ready to be better.” Doug re-calibrated my thinking through his philosophy and through a carefully orchestrated set of challenges that increased throughout the week designed to systematically raise the bar all the time you think you’re on vacation. It’s learning and growth through fun, Doug Stern style.

To Doug Stern, everything is an opportunity. Doug teaches swimming to adults who have never been in the water. He teaches people who have never been in the ocean that there is little to be afraid of, but much to respect. I’ve seen him lead a group of newbie swimmers through rough, open water swims that would challenge a Navy SEAL and get everyone back to the beach with smiles on their faces. I’ve seen more people overcome their apprehension about open water swimming under Doug’s tutelage than I can count. Doug has also opened our eyes to a simple, adapted method of swimming founded on proven techniques both old and new. And of course, no one understands motivation, education and inspiration like Stern does.

Doug also has a way of reducing the most complex challenges to summary. He speaks in staccato sentences. He is one of those guys who can rattle off a simple solution to a complex problem in under a New York minute. It’s another reason people flock to him.

“Doug,” people tell him, “I am so afraid of the water, what about the sharks, the jellyfish, the waves?”

“Simple”, He tells them. “Get in the water and swim.” Coming from Doug it is that simple. This is your ass, this is your elbow. Learn the difference.

Today Doug faces a challenge that many faiths tell us is only allocated to a spirit strong enough to rise to it. He has cancer. But cancer doesn’t have him. Doug battles the treatment, battles the disease. I bet Doug sees cancer as some sort of opportunity to rise above- to become stronger. He is a man accustomed to a fit body. The challenges of disease and its treatment have changed his physical configuration temporarily. But inside, he fights on, working for the opportunity to be better. I read posts on Internet forums about Doug, the updates and the well-wishes. I can hardly reply to them with just, “Get well Doug”, there is more to be said about this guy. There is more to Doug than simply best wishes on a get-well card. During the past few weeks when Doug posts on forums I sense he has good days and days that are, in a Stern-ism, opportunities for better days. Such is the nature of his affliction. The nature of Doug Stern is that for every tough day he faces, he will face one additional better day of his own manufacture, the product of his indomitable spirit and unflagging tenacity. I’ve seen it myself, Doug makes good things happen.

Doug Stern is an anomaly among men. He is a person who manufactures good will and good fortune. Things go better with Doug. Because of this I look forward to seeing Doug again and hearing his tales of cancer recovery. He will no doubt put the jovial Stern spin on them and have people in stitches with his monologues about his trip down the road to recovery. And then Stern will put another notch his belt for a challenge met, lemonade made out of lemons. It’s the Stern way.

Get well soon Doug. See you in Curacao this January.


We invite you to post a get well message to Doug, please click here.



© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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