They’ve competed in more than 500 multi-sport events, including Ironman triathlons, but on their list of accomplishments those finish a distant second to something much more meaningful.
Sharon and Skip Schanbacker have been competing in races for more than three decades and crossing the finish line in each one has given them great satisfaction.
Yet the feeling would not have much emotion without their desire to mentor hundreds of other aspiring athletes – not only in swim-bike-run technique but the proper mental approach to these challenging events.
The Doylestown couple recently received an Outstanding Community Service Award from the Bucks County Roadrunners Club.
Inscribed on the plaque: “In appreciation and gratitude for the many, many years of community service, dedication and commitment to the sport of running and the community at large.’’
This honor is well-deserved because the Schanbackers, both involved in education-related fields during their careers, have always embraced that spirit of passing their athletic expertise forward.
Using the Doylestown YMCA as their home base, they have founded programs such as “Zero to 5K’’ and “How to Improve Your 5K.’’
“We were an enthusiastic couple and we inspired people,’’ Sharon said. “We were always at the races with our passion.’’
Skip gives his wife credit for initiating these classes.
“I think part of it was she helped me,’’ he said. “And we felt we needed to help someone down the line, like pass it on.’’
Both attended Central Bucks High School in the 1960s before the East-West formation came about.
They dated during those years, went their own ways, then reunited in the late 1980s.
And what a reunion it was.
“Skip had already started doing 5Ks again,’’ Sharon recalled. “And he said, ‘Do you want to join me?’ So I started with the one-mile fun run at that time.
“He was the inspiration for me starting. And then it grew from my one-mile fun run to doing 5Ks in about a year.’
Quickly they progressed to longer distances. By the 1990s, the YMCA was churning out budding marathon runners.
“One year there were 38 runners who went down to the Marine Corps Marathon (in Washington, D.C.),’’ Sharon said. “And everyone finished.’’
The next step was the triathlon and ultimately the Ironman.
At the urging of the Steve Maurer family, Skip went down to Baltimore to participate in the USA Triathlon series event.
“I was hooked,’’ Skip said with a chuckle.
Sharon soon followed. She showed her mettle at a tri in Harrisburg. The transition area was in the middle of the Susquehanna River. It rained the night before and the water rose more than five inches, making the raging current seem more like the Colorado River going through the Grand Canyon.
“I figured if she could do that,’’ Skip said, “she’s as good as gold.’’
Sharon played field hockey and lacrosse in high school while Skip (whose official first name is Henry), ran track and played football. He went on to play soccer during his undergraduate years at East Stroudsburg and then earned master’s degrees from Trenton State (physical education) and Beaver College (environmental studies).
Later he would teach for 35 years in the Centennial School District. Sharon is employed by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit.
. Skip was a physical education teacher and tried to lead by example. Other teachers smoked and were overweight. That was kind of sending the wrong message.
“How can you expect kids to want to be fit,’’ Skip said, “when you’re not fit yourself?’’
He would come to school on Monday morning wearing shorts and the T-shirt he had received from his latest race.
“I wanted to present myself as somebody who is leading by example,’’ Skip said. “I had hall duty. The kids would come down and see what shirt I had on (from weekend races) Monday morning.’’
The BCRR award means a great deal but it wasn’t something the Schanbackers ever expected.
“It means a lot because when you look at it, we just did it because we did it,’’ Sharon said. “And we inspired people. We were like run, swim, bike. . .we can do it. For me, I was shy and I didn’t raise my hand in class and I didn’t like attention.
“But I found I could swim, I could bike, I could run. And all of a sudden I could mentor. I grew into that position, that encouraging ‘yes you can’ swim.’’
She recalls a protégé who had a lack of confidence at one of her YMCA classes.
“A person raised her hand and said, I can’t swim,’’ Sharon said. “I said get in the pool, it’s pool time. She said, but I can’t swim. I said but you signed up for a tri-class.
“I said, just swim across the pool and back. She did and said, ‘that was fun.’+’’
Sharon said it was putting all that together and then moving on, year after year. The classes, getting faster. There were hundreds and hundreds of people who were put through those classes.
“It was compete to complete,’’ she said. “Be safe, be happy and have fun.’’
Now to the origin of how Skip wound up playing the national anthem on his trumpet before local races.
He saw a famous trumpet player (Jesse McGuire) play before a car race in Dover, Delaware and then at the christening of Lincoln Financial Field.
So he vowed to play before a 5K and it went from there. Today, in his 70s, he can still hit the high note on “. . .and the rockets red glare.”
“I’m very blessed I can still do that,’’ he said.
The Schanbackers have three grown children and five grandchildren (Jamie, Stephen, Jeremy, Kyle and Angelina, all athletes).
As for racing, there’s no sign of a finish line yet. Skip has endured three back surgeries over the years and still competes at the top of his game.
Both are active in BCRR, Bucks County Tri and High Roads Clubs.
“We just keep spreading the spirit,’’ Sharon said. “When you inspire people and motivate them into something they want to do, and know they can do but need the support. . .you give them that and they can do it.
“Many of them become friends for life, become part of your circle, part of your friend family. That’s been so amazing.’’
Added Skip: “We never did this for recognition. We did it to spread the love. We just want to help people. That’s why you become a teacher, to help people.’’
Institute Woods 6K Trail Race, 10 a.m., Princeton. Contact www.princetonac.org