Original story published in June 2011 issue of http://www.tri-magazine.com: http://bluetoad.com/publication/?i=68159 with additional segment by Noah Beyeler
Traditionally, triathlon is not a team sport. It requires hard work, determination, and perseverance on an individual level. For those who race USAT Collegiate Nationals, though, the sport takes on a completely different feel. Athletes are motivated to lay it all on the line for their teammates, not for themselves.
At the University of Colorado, that team atmosphere is truly something special.
I am a sophomore at CU, and while I joined the CU Triathlon Team as a freshman, this was my first year as a member of the Nationals team. I watched our team win the national championship last year, and I, along with the rest of my team, wanted more than anything to bring home the title for the second year in a row.
From September through April, we trained as a team. Together, we made it through some of the hardest workouts of our lives, pushing our limits more than we ever thought we could. We motivated each other on tough days, paced each other through painful intervals, and suffered together during the most difficult practices. Without my team, I would never have grown as an athlete as much as I have.
The members of the CU Tri Team, though, are more than just strong athletes– we are also best friends. In addition to spending hours a day training together, we also go out to eat after workouts, have fun on the weekends, and in some cases, even live together.
After our regional race in Lake Havasu, Ariz., about twenty of us chose to spend our spring break training as a team in Tucson. Mike Ricci, our head coach, gave us workouts that definitely scared us. Because we were in it together, though, we made it through. Something about suffering can really bring a team together, and we certainly suffered.
In the two weeks between spring break and Nationals, the anticipation among our team started to grow. We began our taper, and we felt the energy just waiting to come out on race day.
During a meeting a few days before we left for Nationals, my teammate Rudy gave us some words of confidence. A transfer student from UVA, he had come from a different team that wasn’t as connected to each other as we are.
“You don’t realize that you have an advantage just being on this team,” Rudy told us.
On race day, I saw proof that he was right.
Before the first wave of the men’s race went off, we huddled up for our team cheer:
Iki la boomba
Iki la wiki liki
Affa la waffa laffa
I don’t even know what language that is, but for some reason, it gets us going. We were all fired up, but the girls would have to wait to race for another two and half hours.
As the men started their swim, the girls watched anxiously, trying to control our adrenaline. We cheered our top males out of the water, then moved towards the transition area so we could see them come by on the bike. When Rudy finished the first lap of the bike, he was less than a minute behind the leader, Dustin McClarty– a swimmer who had gone to the Olympic trials.
Once we had seen all our males through the first lap, my teammate Tess and I started a warmup run. We ran next to the race course, and as we were jogging, we saw Rudy out on his run– in first place. He had caught McLarty on the bike and was building up a lead. Ryan Bice, our other first-wave male, was in third, looking like he was flying. He would go on to post the fastest run split of the race in 33 minutes, 31 seconds.
Tess and I made it back to the finish line just as the crowd was preparing to welcome in the winner. We heard a warning for the start of the women’s swim warmup over the loudspeaker, but we ignored it. Our boys were so close to finishing, and there was no way we were missing it.
Unexpectedly, McLarty broke the tape. He had had a great run and had passed Rudy in the final miles. Rudy came in less than a minute later, looking completely spent. When Ryan crossed the line shortly afterwards, I witnessed my favorite moment of the day: my two teammates, nearly keeled over from exhaustion, leaning on each other for support.
The wave of emotion I felt after seeing Rudy and Ryan finish reminded me that I was about to race. I grabbed my female teammates and we headed over to the lake. We couldn’t recreate the “Iki la booma” cheer with just half the team, but we formed our own huddle and reminded each other how hard we’ve all worked, how far we’ve come, and how this was our chance to lay it all on the line for each other.
It was go time.
Honestly, there’s not much to report about my race. The adrenaline, the physical effort, and the unbelievable heat combined to make my memories of that race a blur. The moments I will remember, though, are the ones where I saw my teammates out on the course, either racing or cheering from the sidelines.
The boys all yelled for us as we came out of the water. Seeing the intensity in their faces reminded me that they were depending on us for the championship. No matter how well they had just raced, they would need strong results from the women’s side to get the overall team title.
Since I’m a slow swimmer, I tend to start out from behind on the bike and make my way through the pack. I like that, since I get to see my teammates along the way. As I passed my teammate Molly, she reminded me to stay to the inside of the road to avoid a penalty. Looking back on how many penalties were given to our team, I’m thankful that she was there to keep me focused.
As I finished the second lap, I heard my coaches yelling at me to drink water– on a 90 degree day, I had forgotten to take one sip thus far. I made sure to stay hydrated over the last 12 miles, but I knew a painfully hot run was just around the corner.
Though I finished the 6.2 mile run in 43 minutes, 30 seconds, it seemed like a lifetime. Because of the intense heat and humidity, I felt like I could collapse at every step.
It was thanks to my teammates and coaches that I was able to finish the race.
I saw my coaches, Mike and Dave, just as I topped the last of the hard hills. They cared about my safety more than a fast finish, reminding me to drink water at every aid station.
Soon afterwards, I saw some of my male teammates. Their faces told me they had confidence in me, that they believed in my ability to run. I wanted to prove them right. All I had to do was keep passing people, one by one.
About four miles in, I saw my teammate Bryn. She couldn’t have been more than a minute ahead of me, but she had started in Wave 1– eight minutes ahead. She was supposed to be our second-fastest girl. What had happened?
Bryn looked over and noticed me.
“We need you,” she called out.
The team score is determined by the first four finishers. I am not usually a part of that four, but it was clear that something had gone wrong in Bryn’s race. Now, I would be a part of the team score, and finishing the race strong mattered even more.
When I got to the finish line, I vomited and nearly collapsed. When I was able to stand up straight and see clearly, some of my male teammates approached me.
“Hey, great race,” Rudy said.
“That was unreal,” said my teammate Bryant.
Coach Dave, who had been receiving and taking care of each of our girls as they finished, walked me to the medical tent. I sat down in an ice bath, totally spent. Later on, looking at my time, I saw that I finished third on my team. Bryn had flatted on the bike, so we lost her in the team score.
Our coaches didn’t relax until all of our athletes had finished safely. Our teammate Will had collapsed during the men’s race and been taken to the hospital, but we confirmed that he was doing okay.
There was nothing left to do but head back to the hotel and await the results.
The men’s team received multiple penalties for allegedly drafting or blocking on the bike – never on purpose – so we knew the team scores would be shaken up. Nothing would be certain until the awards ceremony, but we all knew that we had given everything on the course, and that was all we could ask of each other.
The awards ceremony gave CU its second national championship in a row and its 13th overall. Rudy ended up winning the male title due to a penalty by McLarty– not the ideal win, but Rudy deserved it nonetheless. The men’s team earned first, and the women third behind Navy and Army– an impressive finish considering we were without our No.2 girl. The men’s and women’s combined score was good for the overall title.
Together, we accomplished what we had been working for all year.
This team is a family. When we race, we race for the good of each other. I am motivated and inspired by each and every one of teammates, and I hope they can say the same for me. Collegiate Nationals was one of the best days of my life– not because we won, but because we were there for each other. We worked through the highs and lows, the tears, the pain, the frustrations and the victories, as a team.
That’s what CU Triathlon is about.