We got on the bus to DIA last Thursday a group of hopeful, excited and admittedly nervous triathletes.
We came back national champions.
On the CU Triathlon Team, that’s how it’s done. We train hard all year, pushing each other and pushing ourselves, in hopes of winning big in April. This weekend, we captured our third straight and 13th overall national championship at the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team.
Going into nationals, we knew we had the potential to win the combined team title. Three of our top four racers from last year’s men’s team were returners, and our women’s team had more depth than ever.
This year, in addition to the overall title, we had another goal: a long-overdue women’s team win.
The overall team win is determined by combining the men’s and women’s team scores. In previous years, the men have won big, taking first by a long shot so that even a second or third-place finish by the women would result in an overall title.
Not so in 2012 — the women’s team wanted to earn a championship just as much as the men.
We got our chance on Saturday morning, with the women’s race the first event on the schedule. Just before the first wave went off at 7:30 a.m., our whole team, men and women, gathered around me as I led our classic repeat-after-me cheer:
Iki la boomba (Iki la boomba)
Iki la wikki likki (Iki la wikki likki)
Affa la waffa laffa (Affa la waffa laffa)
What’s that spell? Colorado!
What’s that mean? Victory!
With adrenaline pumping, our first girls headed down to the water for the swim start. We knew that all of those killer swim practices, endless bike rides and painful runs we had gone through together were about to pay off.
I was in Wave Three with teammates Heidi Spees and Maggie Scanlan. I knew they were stronger swimmers than me, but I still wanted them by my side when the gun went off. Though I lost them almost immediately, I focused on keeping good form, being efficient and staying calm throughout the swim.
Once out of the water, I stripped off my wetsuit, grabbed my bike and put on my game face. It was time to catch some girls.
I felt fast, passing entire groups of Wave Three cyclists with ease. Looking back at the results, I went from 220th place overall coming out of the swim to 51st place coming off the bike. It was my fastest bike time ever.
But my strength, the run, was yet to come.
I transitioned quickly, re-racking my bike and slipping into my run shoes for the final stretch. As I headed out of transition, I heard a familiar voice calling my name — there, on the side of the course, was a graduated teammate and good friend from my freshman year who had come out to Tuscaloosa to cheer us on. I smiled and picked up my pace, knowing I had the support of so many.
During the first two miles of the run, I caught and passed the teammates I had started with in Wave Three. A few minutes later, I passed my coach, Mike Ricci, timing from the sideline.
“Come on, Caryn — pick it up. We’ve got to win this thing,” I heard him say. I realized I may be one of the scoring four, and that meant my mental strength on this run could affect the entire team. I pushed harder.
Around mile four, I was hit with the worst cramp I’ve ever experienced in a race. My breathing became suddenly shallow, and my pace slowed way down as I tried to fend off what felt like a knife in my side. There were only two miles to go, but they would be the hardest of the whole race.
Whether you run fast or slow, this cramp is still going to hurt, I told myself. It can’t get much worse, and the faster you move, the sooner you’ll be done.
My run time wasn’t what it could’ve been sans-cramp, but I finished as strong as I could and ended up in 32nd place. The other scoring CU women finished 11th, 15th and 17th. We had a shot at the women’s title, but we would have to wait until the awards ceremony later that night to know for sure.
For now, it was time to cheer on the guys.
Watching the men’s race gave me an adrenaline rush all over again. I am constantly impressed by the talent and work ethic our men’s team has. Our top four men ended up in second, fourth, fifth and 14th place. There was no doubt they had earned the men’s team title.
We spent the rest of the day cheering on our athletes in the open and relay races, eating barbecue with our team parents and anxiously awaiting results. Finally, at 8 p.m., it was time.
The awards are always more of a party than a ceremony. Teams traditionally dress in themed costumes, and it’s not unusual for flash mobs or loud team cheers to erupt from the audience. This year, the University of Wisconsin rolled into the awards ceremony on Razor scooters.
CU chose “Noah’s Ark” as our awards theme. Dressed as animals (or, in one case, Noah), our athletes proudly took the podium to receive both individual and team awards. Graduate student Rudy Kahsar, dressed as a buffalo, was recognized for his overall finish and for recording the fastest bike split of the race. Freshman Jak Hamilton, wearing pig attire, earned a third-place podium spot in the men’s open race.
Next, the women’s team titles were announced. We had finally done it. By a narrow six-point margin, we edged out Duke University, the University of California and the U.S. Naval Academy for the first-place women’s team title. Our win marks the first women’s team title for CU since 2005.
The men’s team was recognized next, having won the title over second-place University of Arizona by a hefty 98 points.
And finally, by a margin of 159 points, the CU Triathlon Team was announced as the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Champions for the third year in a row. Navy, our biggest rival, would have to settle for second place behind the top triathlon team in the country.
National championships do more for our team than just celebrate our top athletes though. They reflect the commitment that everyone on this team has to the sport and to each other. As our coach always says, we have no slow athletes. When we train, the fast ones push the faster ones, who push the fastest ones to win championships.
My teammate Morgan Burrows, a graduating senior, said the night before the race that she would rather be 13th on the Colorado Tri Team than be first or second on any other team. To be a CU triathlete is to be a part of something special, something irreplaceable.
I have one more year left on this team, and I will savor every moment of it. The CU Triathlon Team is my family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Caryn Maconi at Caryn.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Thom Ward