PLEASANT PRAIRIE, Wis. – Eleven of the nation’s top paratriathletes earned national titles on Sunday in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, at the USA Triathlon Paratriathlon National Championships.
The race was held in conjunction with the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon at Lake Andrea, and paratriathletes covered a sprint-distance 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run. Athletes competed for national titles in six paratriathlon sport classes, revised for 2017.
2016 U.S. Paralympian Chris Hammer (Salt Lake City, Utah) was the first athlete across the finish line, winning the men’s PTS5 division with a total time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, 1 second.
“It’s always fun to race with my USA teammates. It’s nice and cool this morning, so that felt really good coming from Salt Lake, which has been around 100 degrees,” Hammer said. “I just wanted to try a few different things in this race that will hopefully help me for worlds [in September in Rotterdam, Netherlands]. My wife is due with our baby in a few months, so I don’t really have any more races until worlds. Everything I do, I just want it to be aimed toward giving me the best chance to get on the podium there and have the best race I can.”
Five-time ITU Paratriathlon World Champion Aaron Scheidies (Seattle, Wash.) and guide Todd Smith (Chicago, Ill.) crossed a minute and a half behind Hammer in 1:04:31, bringing home a decisive win in the men’s PTVI division.
“The race was awesome,” Scheidies said. “I had a new guide today – I had trained with him, but I’d never raced with him, so it was a good learning process for each of us. We had fun, and that was really what it was all about this time.”
Scheidies, a veteran of the sport, said he was happy to see so many newcomers on the start line.
“It’s amazing, there are so many people here who I don’t know, and that just means that the sport of paratriathlon is growing,” Scheidies said. “I coach a few of the athletes racing here today, and depending on where I go with my future, I hope to be coaching more of them and getting some of them to [the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games] and beyond.”
Omar Bermejo (Casper, Wy.), a Paralympian in Nordic skiing who competed at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, successfully defended his 2016 national title with a win in the men’s PTS4 division. Bermejo was the third finisher overall behind Hammer and Scheidies with a time of 1:10:37. Joel Rosinbum (Austin, Texas) finished a minute back from Bermejo to take the runner-up spot for the PTS4 men.
In the men’s PTHC division, Howie Sanborn (Denver, Colo.) was crowned national champion with a finishing time of 1:19:45. Allan Armstrong (Colorado Springs, Colo.) took the men’s PTS2 victory in 1:20:01, and Brian Norberg (Chicago, Ill.) defended his 2016 national title with a win in the men’s PTS3 division in 1:21:19.
Kendall Gretsch (Madison, Wis.) was the first overall female finisher, earning the women’s PTHC title with a time of 1:18:40. It was a close finish with Ahalya Lettenberger (Glen Ellyn, Ill.), who placed second for PTHC women in her first national-level paratriathlon competition in 1:18:51.
Lettenberger, a swimmer who won gold in the 100m backstroke at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, exited the water ahead of Gretsch and held onto her lead through the 20k bike. Gretsch would ultimately catch Lettenberger on the run, breaking the tape in one of the closest finishes of her elite paratriathlon career.
“Ahalya is just so fast, it was super fun to race with her,” Gretsch, who is also training in Nordic skiing as a hopeful for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, said. “I’ve never really been in that spot where I’ve been behind someone on the swim and the bike, so it just made it really exciting and fun to run together out there.”
“I knew I was ahead after the swim, but I thought Kendall had passed me on the bike,” Lettenberger said. “So when we got to the run, I was just excited that I was so close to her. It was super fun, and I can’t wait to do it again.”
2016 U.S. Paralympian Liz Baker (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) and guide Emily Kratz (Milwaukee, Wis.) took home the win in the women’s PTVI division, crossing the line as the third overall female finishers with a time of 1:19:11.
Ruth Ann Reeves (Hattiesburg, Miss.) defended her title from the 2016 Paratriathlon National Championships with a win in the women’s PTS5 division in 1:26:51.
Hailey Danz (Chicago, Ill.), who won a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, earned the women’s PTS2 division crown in 1:30:50.
One of the most decorated athletes in the field, Danz said she is still getting used to her status as a role model for less experienced competitors.
“It’s funny because I still think of myself as the new kid on the block, but sometimes I have to remind myself that there are people here who are looking up to what I’m doing, and that’s an honor,” Danz said. I’ve had so many mentors who have paved the way for me, and I look to them all the time for inspiration on how to carry myself. They were the role models who shaped who I am, and I hope that I can be that same presence for other people.”
Patty Collins (Alexandria, Va.), also a 2016 Paralympian, crossed 12 seconds behind Danz to bring home the win for the PTS4 women.
Andrea Walton (Washington, D.C.) placed second in the women’s PTS4 division, crossing the line in 1:32:32 before getting engaged to fellow paratriathlete Andre Cilliers (Washington, D.C.) in the finish chute.
“At our last race in Sarasota, Andre was sick at the finish line and was kind of keeling over, so today I thought he was in bad shape again when he got down on one knee,” Walton said. “I was asking him, ‘Are you okay? What are you doing on the ground?’, and then I heard him say, ‘Will you marry me?’ This is kind of my hometown, so having my family here and Andre here, I knew it was going to be an amazing day – but obviously, this made it even more amazing.”
In total, more than 50 paratriathletes competed on Sunday as part of either the National Championship race or the Physically Challenged Open division, which has no qualifying criteria and does not award national titles.
The top-performing athletes in Sunday’s race who were not already members of the USA Paratriathlon National Team will be considered for the USA Paratriathlon Development Team Program, designed to identify and develop athletic potential leading toward the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. More information on the USA Paratriathlon Development Team Program is available in this PDF document.
The elite paratriathlon season continues with a World Paratriathlon Series stop in Edmonton, Canada, on July 28, followed by the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Sept. 15.
2017 USA Triathlon Paratriathlon National Championships*
750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run
Male PTVI: Aaron Scheidies (Seattle, Wash.), 1:04:31
Female PTVI: Liz Baker (Signal Mountain, Tenn.), 1:19:11
Male PTHC: Howie Sanborn (Denver, Colo.), 1:19:45
Female PTHC: Kendall Gretsch (Madison, Wis.), 1:18:40
Male PTS2: Allan Armstrong (Colorado Springs, Colo.), 1:20:01
Female PTS2: Hailey Danz (Chicago, Ill.), 1:30:50
Male PTS3: Brian Norberg (Chicago, Ill.), 1:21:19
Male PTS4: Omar Bermejo (Casper, Wy.), 1:10:37
Female PTS4: Patty Collins (Alexandria, Va.), 1:31:02
Male PTS5: Chris Hammer (Salt Lake City, Utah), 1:03:01
Female PTS5: Ruth Ann Reeves (Hattiesburg, Miss.), 1:26:51
*Complete results will be posted at pleasantprairietriathlon.com.
About USA Triathlon
USA Triathlon is proud to serve as the National Governing Body for triathlon, as well as duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, winter triathlon, off-road triathlon and paratriathlon in the United States. Founded in 1982, USA Triathlon sanctions more than 4,300 races and connects with nearly 500,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work with athletes, coaches, and race directors on the grassroots level, USA Triathlon provides leadership and support to elite athletes competing at international events, including International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of the ITU and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).