Four members of university's triathlon club compete in national championships
From positive thinking to personal mantras, the triathletes all had their own techniques to help them tackle the race comprised of swimming, cycling and running.
Four members of the university’s triathlon club competed in the 2014 USA Triathlon National Championship last weekend in Tempe, Ariz., marking the first time members have competed at the event in the club’s three-year history.
Sophomore Austin Barth achieved her goal to place in the top quarter of the women racing, finishing 110th out of 451 competitors with a time of 2:21, according to race records.
“In December or January, I decided I wanted to go under 2:30, and I had no idea whether or not I’d be able to do it,” says Barth. “That was a really far-reaching goal for me, and I was really nervous coming into it, but I’m happy with my performance.”
Junior Alyson Leppla placed 256th with a final time of 2:34. Leppla says she was a member of the women’s varsity track and field team before she decided to follow her sister’s lead and try triathlon.
Leppla finished with a personal record in both the run and swim, the latter of which she says is the most difficult discipline of the three.
“The hardest thing about the swim in a triathlon is that it’s in open water,” says Barth, who swam in high school. “It is really different than swimming in a pool. You just have to stay calm and just get through it.”
While the members of the club vary in experience level, freshman Tess Walter had raced in several triathlons prior to joining the club. However, the Olympic distance consisting of a 1500-meter swim, a 40-kilometer bike and a 10-kilometer run was a first for the freshman, who had previously competed in sprint triathlons, consisting of a shorter 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike and a 5-kilometer run.
Walter, who finished 190th with a time of 2:28, says she focuses on thinking positively and takes time to visualize the entire race while waiting at the start line.
While the athletes are proud to have completed, the race did not go as planned for some.
Freshman Kevin Calzavara fell victim to two flat tires during the bike, the second leg of the the three-part race. Equipped with only one spare tube to repair a flat tire, he had to wait for a repair truck to help fix his bike.
Despite the hardships, Calzavara says the overall experience was positive.
“I did meet a very nice police officer,” Calzavara says. “Honestly, I was just looking for the experience.”
In addition to the four athletes, junior Andrew Kuczmarski attended the race to support the team, filling in for senior Sara Mitchell, who was unable to race due to an injury.
Kuczmarski joined the club last year after completing his first triathlon the summer before his sophomore year. He says he had little preparation for the race and competed with a mountain bike rather than a more aerodynamic road bike with which triathletes usually compete.
After falling in love with the sport, Kuczmarski says he is taking a break from competing after finishing a heavy race schedule last fall.
Like Kuczmarski, Barth says she was drawn to the inclusive culture of the sport.
“You pass someone and they’ll say ‘good job,’” Barth says. “It’s not something you see in every sport, and I just fell in love with that.”
Preparation began long before the race began, says Barth, who spends about eight hours per week writing workouts and preparing the team for races. She also coordinated and planned the trip to nationals.
“My mother would hate that I say this, but sometimes I have to put it before school,” Barth says. “That’s how much it means to me.”
The athletes struggled to train during the harsh winter and were often required to practice indoors, Barth says, a difficulty that proved challenging when competing against schools from warmer climates.
“I would have felt better having another month of training, but I think anyone feels that way before a race,” she says. “It would have been nice to have nicer weather and to have been able to get out and do a track workout, but I was happy with my times and I felt strong in the race.”
Despite the difficulties training, Kuczmarski says the athletes were eager to race.
“You have two choices,” Kuczmarski says. “You can reflect on your training and wish you had done more or you can look back on your training and say I’m ready.”
The athletes have developed strategies to cope with the physical and mental demands of the sport that can often intimidate competitors.
“If one negative thought runs into your head, it will shut you down,” Kuczmarski says. “There are times when you think, ‘I just want to walk.’ You’re tired and exhausted and you think ‘Why not?’ but then there’s something in the back of your mind that just says ‘Keep going.’ That’s also what’s interesting when you see these mentally tough people. It’s unbelievable.”
The team competed against schools with more than 30 members, including the top-ranked University of Colorado, which, according to race records, placed first for the men’s team competition for the fifth consecutive year.
The university’s club, which was founded in 2011, has grown to 25 members, who can pay either training or competitive dues depending on their preference, Barth says. Members who pay competitive dues, including the four athletes who attended nationals, are encouraged to attend every practice and compete in collegiate races, while members on the training track are offered greater flexibility.
This is the first year members have raced collegiately, which Kuczmarski says would not have been possible without the help of Barth, who functions as a collegiate representative for the club.
Members who pay competitive dues receive 50 percent reimbursement for each race, which Barth says is incentive for members to race collegiately, while members who pay training dues receive 25 percent reimbursement for their first race.
“It is kind of designed to fund for the people who want to be really serious about it while including everyone in it because we want everyone of every level to be involved,” Barth says. “It’s really just a fun atmosphere.”
Kuczmarski says the sport is a lifestyle and believes it is important to practice small skills in order to gain confidence.
“It’s about learning life skills,” Kuczmarski says. “It’s about learning how to approach things. The people it attracts are dedicated and disciplined. They’re down to earth people. They love the sport. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I hope they’ve learned some things from me as well.”
Triathlon recently became an NCAA emerging sport for women, with several schools creating a program for the fall. While Leppla says she doesn’t think Delaware will create a program in the near future, the team is looking to increase their membership and see the sport further progress.
“It’s unlike any other sport,” she says. “You just have to get out there and try it.”