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Center Snapshot: Carter Ficklen
Center Snapshot: Carter Ficklen. Image above: Carter Ficklen surfs and competes in running and triathlon events when he's not working as an Industrial Hygienist at NASA Langley. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Cleanup is complete at NASA Langley, and whatever damage suffered during Hurricane Irene is being put into lessons learned.

In his office on the second floor of Building 1232, Carter Ficklen can look at his own reminder of the storm, which he helped the center prepare for as program manager of Safety and Quality Assurance Alliance’s effort in support of the Safety and Facility Assurance Branch.

A yellow surfboard is on the floor, running lengthwise under a wall of windows. Two weeks ago, his friend Chip Quinn, who works for ROME at NASA Langley, called from Rodanthe, on Hatteras Island, where Ficklen keeps a camper trailer and shed for his surfboards.

"He said he had room to bring two boards, so which ones do you want me to bring?" Ficklen said. "I said to grab my long board. It's one I don't have multiples of. He brought it out here the day before the storm."

It's stayed in the office, because Ficklen's trips home each day include 3-year-old son Braxton from the Child Development Center. That means no room for a surfboard.

Then again, Ficklen suffered a neck injury while surfing a month ago and has had to stay off a board. That left him more time to prepare for his next Outer Banks sojourn, which was Saturday for a Half-Ironman competition, near Manteo.

Carter Ficklen.

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Carter Ficklen competes in the "Half-Ironman," which involves a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bicycle race and 13.1-mile run. Credit: Courtesy of Carter Ficklen.

A year ago, he finished second overall.

"My goal was just to finish," he said.

That changed after swimming 1.2 miles, riding his bicycle 56 miles and moving at a good pace in the last quarter mile of a 13.1-mile run.

"When I realized I was up near the front, it kind of blew my mind," Ficklen said. "In the last quarter mile, a guy was coming up on me fast, and I tried to sprint. The guy was trying to tell me he was part of a relay."

Teams often enter triathlons, one person swimming, one riding the bike and a third running the half-marathon. While they are mingled with the "triathlon" competitors, they are scored separately.

Ficklen learned that after gasping across the finish line.

With a larger field this year, his goal was to win his age division: 35-39. But moderate goals aren't valid when you've already accomplished more.

"Every time you compete, you have something to compare it to," Ficklen admitted.

He started running to stay in condition for surfing, which he began at age 14. Even before that, he came to Langley with his father, who is also named Carter.

"He did radiation safety, and I saw the work that he did," Ficklen said. "A lot of the guys who worked with him still work here, and they would show me the monitoring and sensing equipment. I was a kid, seeing gadgets and it looked pretty neat."

Neat enough for him to go to Old Dominion University to study environmental health. And neat enough for him to work at the center twice in the Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars program.

The proximity of ODU was a vocational aid, but more important back then, the school was near the beach. Ficklen surfed at any and all opportunities, including competing in the annual East Coast Surfing Championships at Virginia Beach.

He was less impressed by that competition than by a long day of surfing at Hatteras.

Ficklen won an age-division award in one East Coast competition – the trophy is in his office – and made the finals in his age group two years ago. That doesn’t mitigate his problems with competitive surfing.

"They are frustrating," he said of surfing contests. "You wait around at the beach all day, and then you have 20 minutes out there."

Flat surf or just bad waves during that 20 minutes kill your bid for another trophy.

"If I'm going to take a day off, I'd rather spend it surfing at Hatteras," he said.

Increasingly that's done with wife Jen, a fifth-grade teacher in Hampton; and 6-year-old daughter Skylar, along with Braxton.

And increasingly, the responsibilities of a family outweigh his time on the water. Where once he traveled to Costa Rica, Australia, Barbados, New Zealand, Hawaii, California and anywhere else he could fund in pursuit of waves, a family makes him more conscious of the time and money involved, as well as the potential for problems in big water.

"Priorities now are, 'A' home; 'B' work and our daughter is 6, so that means in 12 years we'll be paying for college," he said of reasons to forestall a coveted trip to surf in Indonesia.

So, instead, he runs, twice in marathons, five times in half-marathons and, this weekend, in a second half-Ironman.

Besides winning his age group, Ficklin (Ficklen) had a second goal at the Outer Banks. If he recovered well enough after the Saturday race, he wants to get back on the water Sunday on a surfboard.

There was one beckoning to him on the second floor of Building 1232.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
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