Elite triathlete Summer Cook finished on the podium at an ITU World Cup for the first time on Oct. 17. Cook (Thornton, Colo.) is wrapping up her second season as an elite after earning her pro card at an elite development race (EDR) in early 2014, and she shares how she got into triathlon in this Q&A.
USA Triathlon: How does it feel to have your first ITU World Cup podium finish under your belt?
Summer Cook: It feels great to have my first World Cup podium. I came close in Chengdu earlier this year with a fourth-place finish coming back from an injury. I was confident that I could put together a podium performance at this level as long as I set myself up to perform leading up to and throughout the race.
USAT: You’ve mentioned you’ve had some help along the way in your career – who has been the most influential for you?
SC: There is no way that I can name just one person who has been influential in my career. I’d be remiss not to mention my parents since they made huge sacrifices to ensure that I had access to any opportunity I desired and have always supported me no matter what.
Probably two of the biggest catalysts for my career in triathlon were my collegiate coaches. I started out at Villanova solely as a swimmer, but started running recreationally on my own during the offseason my freshman year. I decided to sign up for a pretty big road race — the Broad Street 10 miler in Philadelphia — as motivation, and surprised myself with my result. My swim coach, Rick Simpson, suggested I speak with the Villanova cross country/track coach, Gina Procaccio, about walking onto the team. I did so, and officially joined the team during the outdoor track season of my sophomore year. I’m grateful to Rick for encouraging me to pursue running in addition to swimming, and to Gina for taking a chance and allowing me to join the team. At the time, the cross country team was the defending two-time NCAA champions and I’m still amazed that I had the opportunity to be part of such a storied program, especially given my background. Had both coaches not been open minded enough to allow me to compete in both sports I may never have known that I have talent as a runner and I may never have ended up with an interest in pursuing triathlon or with the opportunities that I had upon entering the sport.
USAT: Why did you decide to pursue triathlon after swimming and running at Villanova?
SC: The Collegiate Recruitment Program (CRP) residency program played a big role in my decision to pursue triathlon after I graduated Villanova. Without the CRP I doubt that I would have considered pursuing triathlon seriously, if at all. I may never have even heard of ITU racing! The resources the CRP allocated to athletes within the program makes the transition to the sport as seamless as possible by helping with coaching, details on what to expect in ITU racing, equipment, and so forth. The program has brought a number of phenomenal athletes into the sport and the bar will only continue to be raised as more and more people learn about the sport as a result of the CRP.
USAT: What is better about triathlon than a single sport? What is harder?
SC: My favorite thing about triathlon is the diversity of the training. We train a lot, but it isn’t really that many hours of one thing — at least in comparison to spending 20 hours per week staring at the black line on the bottom of a pool!
I think one of the hardest things about triathlon is putting together an entire race. ITU racing is very unforgiving. You have to bring your physical, mental, and strategic “A-Game” for the entire race. You have to be responsive to what the group is doing and able to fight for positioning at all times while trying to conserve energy and maintain some degree of control of your own race. Split second decisions and minor errors can have catastrophic consequences. For example, in the Cozumel World Cup earlier this month I had an off swim and came out of the water near the back of the front pack. I probably would have been fine but I was flustered and struggled with my helmet and lost a few seconds in transition. I immediately found myself in the chase pack on the bike. Even though I had one of the fastest run splits of the race, my errors meant that I found myself fighting for a top-10 finish instead of a podium finish.
USAT: What’s your plan for the off-season? What are your goals for next year and the future?
SC: I have one last race in Catania, Italy on the 25th and then I’m heading to Colorado to spend some time at home. I’m looking forward to spending time with family and friends as well as catching up on rest!
I’m really looking forward to next season. Last year I relocated to the San Diego area to work with Paulo Sousa and The Triathlon Squad. I fully attribute my progress this past season to my training environment and the work I’ve done with Paulo. I’m looking to build on that progress next season. I would like to win a World Cup and notch some top-10 finishes at the WTS level, which I think are realistic goals for 2016 given the progress I’ve made as well as the experience I’ve gained this past year. Right now I’m just focused on the process and taking the next steps forward.
Follow Summer Cook on Twitter: @Sums01.