Q&A: Sarasota-Bradenton Triathlon Festival

By Cassandra Johnson | Oct. 05, 2017, 12:52 p.m. (ET)

This weekend, athletes from across the world converge on Sarasota, Florida, to compete in the inaugural Sarasota-Bradenton Triathlon Festival, an event that combines elite, paratriathlon, collegiate and age-group events. We caught up with five athletes to hear about their seasons, why they’re looking forward to racing in Sarasota and more.

Taylor Spivey

Elite, California

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You’ve raced a lot on the international circuit this year, including two podium finishes at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Leeds and Madrid ITU World Cup. Why are you looking forward to racing on home turf?
It has been a long year racing abroad, which has been a huge learning experience both through the season’s highs and lows. To think back to the type of athlete I was at my first race of the season (ironically here at the Sarasota Continental Cup), so much has changed. I have absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge and am getting closer to the athlete I know I can be. Tasting success has showed me what I am capable of on a good day, and my failures have taught me even more about how to get over the bad days. Filled with disappointment in the back half of my season, I look forward to my last bit of redemption on a familiar course with a home crowd cheering me on. 

How would you describe the atmosphere at a World Cup event, and why should folks come out to watch?
Watching a race on TV or via split checking doesn’t do it justice. ITU races, especially, cannot be understood from splits. Race dynamics change quickly and can only be appreciated when experienced firsthand. That’s why I always hang around after my race to watch the men’s race in person (which usually happens immediately after).

Racing in front of huge crowds has been my favorite part of this season. After all, my two best performances occurred on a stage that attracted the greatest spectator presence thus far. The atmosphere at both Madrid and Leeds fueled my fire in race, and I would love to draw the same kind of excitement in the USA. After all, we have the best women on the circuit right now — why not come see us race in person!

What’s up next for you after Sarasota?
After Sarasota, I may race the last two Asia World Cups or end my season. I prefer to take the end of the season one race at a time. Until then, I will focus as if this is my last and do my best to finish on a high note. I will make a final decision after this race.

Allan Armstrong

Paratriathlete, Colorado

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You’re relatively new to the sport after participating in a paratriathlon introduction camp in 2015, but have had a breakthrough season with wins at USA Paratriathlon Nationals and the Magog ITU Paratriathlon World Cup. What has the journey been like for you?
If I were to describe the journey with one word, it would be challenging! But with the challenge, there have been so many opportunities. It’s only been two short years, but with Army reassignments and kids, the only thing that remained constant was training. While completing medical recovery, I began paratriathlon at an introduction camp provided by The Given Limb Foundation in San Antonio, Texas. Paratriathlon gave me the opportunity to remain an active-duty soldier when I appealed the ‘unfit for duty.’ I was able to prove I can still serve with the proof that I am physically fit enough to complete a triathlon and therefore fit enough to fulfill Army’s physical standards.

Since then, I returned to full-time duty and moved to Fort Hood, Texas, and less than a year later accepted into the Army’s World Class Athlete Program and again moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. While working, training and attending every race my work would allow, I am also fathering three daughters, two of which unfortunately still live in Texas as I continue to parent from a distance. The journey hasn’t been easy but exciting, and I look forward to seeing where it takes me.

You were recently named to the 2017-18 USA Paratriathlon Development Team. What are your goals for the future in the sport?
My main goal is to represent Team USA, the Army, and my family in Tokyo 2020. Earning a spot on the development team was the first step. Next, breaking into the top 10 world ranking, rack up some podium wins in 2019 then rank within the world’s top 5, a WPS win, and finally of course winning Worlds. I’m also serving as a mentor for the 2018 Army’s Warrior Games and would like to recruit more adaptive athletes into the Army’s World Class Athlete Program.

Why are you most looking forward to competing in Sarasota?
I’m looking forward to competing in Sarasota to join my teammates and other strong athletes and friends. Sarasota was my first-ever ITU race in 2016 and served as an introduction into the ITU circuit. It’s a great course and it will always be close to my heart.

Melissa Stockwell

Paratriathlete, Illinois

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Congratulations on the birth of your second child, and welcome back to racing! What has the journey been like back to the start line?
It's a work in progress! When I get to the starting line in Sarasota, I will have a 2-month-old at home with only three weeks of training after having her! So, this race isn't about speed or winning the race, it is about just getting back onto the course and finishing the year off on a high note. I am not concerned about how fast this race is — I may even have to walk part of the run! I learned after having my son that it takes many, many months to get back to where I was before I got pregnant. And the best way to take it is little by little and day by day. So, I just plan on getting out there and having fun!

Why are you excited to compete in a World Cup on home soil?
I always love competing on home soil! Especially a race of this magnitude. The energy and excitement is even more so when it's close to home. And I love that it's easier travel. 

What are your triathlon goals heading into 2018?
As I mentioned above, my goal is to take things day by day after having my daughter this past August. With two kids, life is a juggling act and it's a little more difficult to find the time for training. But my goals are to gradually get back into race shape, see where my times are, race as much as I can and evaluate my progress at the end of 2018. My hopes are that I am still competitive enough to qualify for World Championships and be on the road for Tokyo. It helps that I have two adorable kids at home and a supportive husband to motivate me to try and make that dream a reality!

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Raymond Campeau

Age-grouper, New Jersey

You have a long history in the sport and have competed in hundreds of races. What keeps you going?
When I started doing triathlons in 1980, it was a way to keep me out of trouble. I had a difficult childhood. I realized that not only did it give me an outlet for my competitive nature, I also developed long-term friendships with like-minded and positive people. Over the years, it has become an ingrained part of my identity, and I can't imagine life without some connection to the sport. What keeps me going is: being president of a multisport team I started 12 years ago (TMB Racing), being on the USA Triathlon Age Group Committee and sponsoring several youth athletes over the years. The main thing is knowing that, though I've accomplished many goals in my triathlon career (qualifying for Kona at IM Lake Placid, sub-4:20 results at Eagleman, winning the Wyckoff Triathlon, and multiple SOS finishes, etc.), there are still more goals to reach for. 

It looks like you have a background in cycling. How has that prepared you to compete in draft-legal triathlons and what is your strategy for the bike in Sarasota?
I started as a BMX racer in my youth, which helped develop bike handling skills. More recently, having competed in several criterium races has helped my ability to feel comfortable to ride in packs, taught me how to surge and recover, bridge gaps, time trial in a breakaway, and be tactical in my approach to racing in a group. My strategy for Sarasota is to sit in a pack until I get my cycling legs after the swim and get a sense of the group's dynamics (who seems strong that I can work with, determine who seems weak so I'm not stuck behind them in a gap). The challenge is to conserve energy without giving too much lead to the front packs while riding hard enough to avoid another group coming up. If a rider/riders pull(s) up to mine, I plan to jump in with faster moving effort, draft and hang on as long as possible. My goal is to make the others work harder than me and come away with something left for the run.

shourdsHeather Shourds

Age-grouper, Florida

Why are you looking forward to participating in the age-group draft-legal event at the Sarasota-Bradenton Triathlon Festival?
It has always been my goal to be on Team USA for triathlon. I get another shot an am totally stoked! This has been my dream to make Team USA and I did last year with duathlon. I had a test of the open water when I first started triathlon. I discovered my running ability after I lost weight. I like cycling, and swimming is my weaker point. I have come a long way. I didn't know how to swim at all before I started training for my first triathlon.

You mention that you’ve lost 100 pounds and kept it off for over eight years. What’s that journey been like and how does triathlon help you maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Triathlon has helped me grow personally and spiritually. I became a trainer and triathlon coach because of my journey and weight loss. I did it the old-fashioned way with exercise and nutrition — not a diet because with diets you deprive yourself. I have grown and have learned a lot about food. Before I started, my doctor told me I had food allergies, was prediabetic, had high cholesterol and headed for a heart attack and stroke at 31 years old. I think it would shock and scare anyone. I'm 41 now and I feel great — and better than I did at 31. My weight had been my struggle pretty much my whole life until a trainer got a hold of me. I want to change people's lives and help them feel free and just do things they never dreamed of doing! We have to learn to live beyond our limits. I never ever dreamed I would be a trainer or triathlon coach or even racing at this level.

Find the event schedule, coverage, results and more at usatriathlon.org/2017sbtrifest.