The United States’ top paratriathletes will compete for national titles in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, this Sunday at the 2017 USA Paratriathlon National Championships. We caught up with three defending champions to hear about their training, tips for newbies and why they’re looking forward to racing at Nationals.
Aaron Scheidies, PTVI, Seattle, Wash.
USA Triathlon: What are you most looking forward to about competing at the 2017 USA Paratriathlon National Championships?
Aaron Scheidies: I am most looking forward to seeing all my paratriathlon friends at Nationals. My life has been crazy and with everyone living all across the country, this is one time when we all get to unite, compete and share stories from life and from the race!
USAT: What’s a typical day of training like for you?
AS: Lately, life has been butting its way into training so my training schedule has been like a collage of some here and some there. We just bought a new house, my wife is pregnant and I am working over 40 hours a week, so after you take all of this into account there is not too much time left for training. I don't really know what to expect from my body at Nationals this year. We will just have to see.
USAT: What are your goals in triathlon and cycling for 2017?
AS: The 2017 year is pretty much a "take a deep breath" year for those who competed in the 2016 Paralympics [Scheidies competed for the U.S. Paracycling Team]. Many of us, I believe, are trying to take a step back and set only a few goals as we all need some time to refocus and reset our competitive spirit for the next run. I will be competing in Paratriathlon Nationals and the Edmonton World Paratriathlon Series race in July. From there it is my hope to go to Paratriathlon World Championships in Rotterdam in September and defend my title. These are some pretty big challenges based upon the life events that I have in front of me as well, so we will have to see what happens.
Mary Kate Callahan, PTHC, Chicago, Ill.
USAT: You already have two big podium finishes in 2017: first place at the 2017 Sarasota CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championships and second at the ITU World Paratriathlon Series stop in Gold Coast, Australia. What’s your goal for Nationals and the season as a whole?
Mary Kate Callahan: Wow! I actually kicked off my triathlon career at this race, Pleasant Prairie, seven years ago! It's pretty neat that our National Championships are being held at the same race — it's like it's all coming full circle. This season has been pretty great so far! I always like getting the season started early, so CAMTRI and Gold Coast were some great races for me. I graduated from the University of Arizona the same weekend as Yokohama, so when planning my race schedule and training blocks with my coach, I knew those two early races were going to be crucial.
As far as this season goes, we began a new Olympic cycle at the start of this year, which is super exciting. While the Women HC classification was not represented in Rio, we are all hopeful we will be able to be there in Tokyo. What has been even more exciting is having new women HC athletes coming into the sport from around the world. It's making every race super unpredictable, which makes it thrilling as an athlete. While the decision as to Tokyo 2020 is completely out of our control, I'm focusing on what I can control. I've just missed the podium at World Championships the last two years so I'm doing everything in my power to make sure that I know I did everything I could to be on that podium when September rolls around.
USAT: What advice do you have for first-timers competing at Paratriathlon Nationals?
MKC: Always remember that all of us were first-timers at some point! I was only 14 years old when I got into this sport, and the sport seemed overwhelming at the time. However, I looked up to all the athletes who were older than me and they are the reason I stayed in this sport. I think what sets paratriathlon apart from many of the other sports is that we love helping each other out, whether its questions about training, racing or equipment! I learned a lot of what I know today from other athletes and coaches I've met over the last seven years. We are a group that trains hard, races fast, but still likes to have fun along the way. In this sport, you learn something every day. Enjoy that part because not only are you growing as an athlete but you'll be growing as a person.
USAT: What does it mean to you to represent Team USA?
MKC: Walking out to the pontoon of a race start, wearing the stars of stripes is a feeling that will never get old. I think we can get caught up in the data, training and racing on the day-to-day basis. In the moments leading up to the start of a race, we are reminded that this is our time to represent something that is much larger than ourselves. I'm proud to represent the USA.
Omar Bermejo, PTS4, Casper, Wy.
USAT: Congrats on earning the national title in 2016! What did that mean to you?
Omar Bermejo: Winning the title of National Champion solidified my training efforts to get to the next step in my journey to become a summer Paralympian. Having competed in Sochi just two years before and deciding to switch to triathlon was a tough endeavor, but I knew I had the motivation and character to get it done.
USAT: How did you get your start in triathlon?
OB: I got my start in triathlon when I used to use it as cross-training for cross-country skiing. In the summer of 2015, after having competed in Sochi, I wanted to do something different. I started to compete, and little did I know, I was pretty good. With help of coaches and other institutions, triathlon has become my sport of choice and I love it.
USAT: What has your training looked like to prepare for this event?
OB: In order to prepare for this triathlon season, I have procured the help of new coaches and I have attended many specialized camps that have help me find better ways to train and be faster. I am looking forward to competing and showing what I can do.
Read the race preview here, and follow live coverage on Twitter @USATlive and usatriathlon.org.