by Lexi Foldenauer
John Toof, an ESLA instructor at Whatcom Community College, was at Civic Field one Saturday afternoon with his son, when he noticed a woman who looked very familiar practicing sprints on the track. The following week at school, Toof was surprised to learn that it had been his colleague, Daphne Sluys.
“I thought wow, I didn’t know that side of Daphne,” said Toof. “She kind of transcends, she’s kind of multi-faceted.”
Daphne Sluys, director of the math lab and an adjunct math teacher, scored 4,390 points in the track and field division at a competition over the summer in Shoreline, Washington. A decathlon is a two-day event that challenges athletes in every dimension, from physical endurance to mental and emotional, Sluys said.
“I see the decathlon as a celebration of overall athletic excellence,” said Sluys, in an e-mail.
So, how exactly does one transition from being a math teacher to a national record-holding decathlete?
One of her early memories of becoming interested in competing in decathlons was during high school in South Africa. She sat and watched an Olympic highlights movie with Bruce Jenner in it. At the time, women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Decathlon in the early 1980s, but that did not stop her.
Although that rule remains unchanged, Sluys said her dream is to one day witness the first women competing in the Decathlon at the Olympic Games.
“I tend to be a bit of a rebel – if somebody tells me I can’t do something, I want to do it,” Sluys said.
It was not until years later, that Sluys heard of an upcoming event that sparked her interest. In 2009, there was a national multi-event championship for “masters,” competitors age 30 and older, in Shoreline, Washington.
“I couldn’t resist,” said Sluys.
She began training for the event, and had received no prior training in any of the areas in which she would be competing. In fact, six out of the 10 events she had never even done before. At the competition, there was only one other woman in her age group, and 16 women competing total, ages ranging from 16 to 69 years old.
Sluys pulled through, and scored points in all 10 events, and left the competition a national champion, with an American record in tow. One of the things Sluys is most proud of about her award is that 2009 marked the first year that decathlon records for women have been officially recognized and published in the United States.
“Hard to believe, but true!” said Sluys. The first time Masters Women were able to officially compete in the decathlon in the USA was in 2006. It took another three years to acknowledge and publish their records, she said.
To this day, women under 35 are still unable to compete in an official decathlon. That fact has not seemed to stop females from gaining both national and world recognition in track and field divisions, however.
Sluys had the pleasure of competing with two female world champions, Nadine O’Connor, 67 and Rita Hanscom, 55, and continues to keep in touch with both women.
“They give me moral support and technical advice,” Sluys said.
As an athlete, Sluys recognizes the importance of having a set routine for her diet and exercise regimen. She said she can see a noticeable difference in her performance even days after she has eaten something that is outside of her normal diet.
“You can actually give more if you take care of yourself better,” said Sluys, of being a teacher, mother, wife, and decathlete.
Massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, and chiropractic are just a part of her average routine. Sluys attributes some of her success to physical trainer, Alex Harrison, a Western graduate student from the exercise science program. He is also a team captain for Western’s track and field team and a top decathlete.
“Alex volunteered to train this middle-aged woman in a month,” Sluys said with a laugh.
Harrison’s training has really helped Sluys’ performance, she said, as she has seen a noticeable improvement in her times at races.
When she is not working with her trainer, Sluys prefers to train alone, mostly at Civic Field, and at Western Washington University on occasion. Sluys also meets for pole-vaulting at the skate park twice a week with a program through Bellingham Parks and Recreation—the same program where Sluys originally learned the sport.
In her spare time, Sluys enjoys reading non-fiction books, particularly ones that relate to her role as a qualified hypnotherapist. She recently read, “Stroke of Insight,” which discusses recovery from a stroke. Sluys enjoys books that have to do with brain development, particularly because she uses mental imagery in both sport and relaxation.
On her Web site, Sluys has created a tool for her students to calm their math phobias, and help with success in school. Sluys wrote the focus exercise herself, and encourages students to personalize it and use it to pertain to their own needs, by making a recording in their own voice, for example.
Sluys has designed her Web site to not only be helpful to students taking her courses, but as an informative tool to help get people more actively involved in sports. Her Web site can be accessed on the faculty page, by clicking on the Web page link.
As for her plans, Sluys will be heading to Kamloops, British Columbia, for the world indoor championships in March, and it will be her first experience at such an event. From there, she will head to Missouri for a decathlon in June. Since Sluys turns 50 this summer, it is her last year to improve prior records before switching to a new age group.