Triathletes swim, bike, run to success

Pamela London

There is one sport that epitomizes pushing oneself to the limit: the triathlon.

Arguably one of the most demanding sports around, triathlon combines swimming, biking and running to test an athlete’s skill and perseverance. The Whitman Triathlon Club allows Whitties to do just that. The athletes recently put their talents on display at the annual Beaver Freezer Sprint Triathlon in Corvallis, Ore., with four competitors posting top-10 finishes in their respective categories.

The Triathlon Club was founded a few years ago by Carolyn Atwood ’09. Current senior Lauren Flynn signed as the co-founder, and the Triathlon Club officially became a part of the Whitman club sports program. Now, the club is led by Flynn and fellow senior Brian Wakefield, both of whom are also varsity swimmers. Wakefield, who began competing in triathlons after coming to Whitman, serves as the club’s president.

“Carolyn started the club because she was a passionate and active triathlete,” said Flynn. “We knew that triathlon was an up-and-coming sport, quickly gaining popularity. We were confident that people would be eager to join.”

And eager to join they were. The Triathlon Club began attracting a great deal of interest, and 2011 has brought in more triathletes than ever before. On April 2 at the Beaver Freezer Sprint Triathlon, Whitman College was represented by 13 triathletes, including eight first-years and sophomores. Out of 186 women in in the road bike category, Flynn took third place and junior Chris Bendix took sixth out of a field of 228 men. First-year Alyssa Goard placed first and senior Kristen Ballinger placed third in the 38-person women’s mountain bike category.

Several of the triathletes come from varsity sports, especially swimmers and runners. When most triathlons are held, varsity cross country and swimming are in their off-season, making it easier logistically for those varsity athletes to participate.

“The triathlon club is unique in our interdisciplinary and diverse contingency,” said Flynn. “Some of the more experienced folks bring their skill sets to the table to share with first-timers. Because our focus is more in getting people to races and not so much on competition or training, we are a really laid back, self-start, casual organization. For varsity athletes, triathlon offers a fun mental break from the rigors of in-season training.”

Triathlons give the opportunity to demonstrate skill and expertise in three different disciplines, allowing athletes of all intensity levels to compete and have a good time. Being exceptional at a single leg of the race doesn’t guarantee success overall, so many competitors set goals before and during the race and accomplishing those goals equals personal success.

“Within the race itself there are so many staggered starts and heats you don’t know how fast people are or if they are actually ahead of you,” said first-year Fernando Medina, who was a triathlete in high school and wanted to continue competing at Whitman. “So I set goals to just catch the person in front of me or try and do another lap of the 500-meter swim without stopping to catch my breath.”

For other athletes, triathlons are not so much about competing as they are about doing something they love along side others who share the same passion.

“Triathlons serve as motivation to stay in shape,” said senior Johanna Robertson, whose first triathlon experience was as a Whitman first-year competing in the varsity swim team’s annual fundraiser triathlon. “Some people are there to finish and some people are there to place … Going with a club makes it feel like more of a team sport : and then ASWC helps with the cost. [One of my] favorite parts of triathlons is people-watching on the biking section. All kinds of people do triathlons and it’s great to see everyone out there doing their thing!”

“Dozens [of Whitties] have not only completed their first triathlons with us, but have also been competitive, bringing home prizes in their divisions,” said Flynn. “This is one of the most exciting aspects of participation for me : seeing folks exceed their expectations.”

Since its inception, the Triathlon Club’s primary goal has been “facilitating and enabling first-time triathletes,” according to Flynn. If the number of participants and the level of success that they have achieved are any indicator, then the club has certainly accomplished its goal.

Anyone who is interested in the Triathlon Club and wants to get involved can contact either Wakefield or Flynn.

The club’s next competition will be the Whitman College Triathlon held on April 30 at Whitman College.