Triathlon isn’t all fun and games at Texas A&M University — but it’s a big component.
The Aggies had three top-five finishes in the past three years at the USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships. A couple of members have joined the ranks of professional triathletes in recent years. One of them, Michael Arishita, serves as team coach.
But club leaders focus as much on having fun, making friends and attracting newcomers to triathlon as they do on podium finishes. With 130 members, Texas A&M is one of the largest collegiate teams in the nation.
“The big thing to me is that it’s all about bringing people into the sport and teaching them how to exercise for the rest of their lives,” said club president Ryan Morse, 22, a senior in exercise physiology.
“If we only recruited people who did triathlons before we’d have a small pool of people,” added Sarah Ray, 21, who calls herself the “Fun Officer.” “We pride ourselves on building athletes rather than recruiting them.”
The club is a diverse group. Some members train several hours a day. Others are happy getting together a few hours a week to swim, bike and run.
Ray, a senior in chemical engineering, represents the mainstream member. She was on the swim team in high school, but she didn’t take up triathlon until her sophomore year at the university.
“I didn’t even own a bike,” Ray said. “But I had a blast when I joined, so I decided to stay. You think we’d go to practice and train and it’s all serious. But it is just a really good way to stay fit and have a social life.”
Morse shares a house with three other members of the club, including Zachary Henthorn, 21, a junior in civil engineering. They take part in team workouts held normally in evenings to avoid class conflicts. But they also bike or run together early in the morning or after class. At the peak, they train three and four hours a day on top of school demands.
“We pretty much don’t have social lives,” Morse said with a laugh. “But with Nationals approaching, it’s time to hit the gas.”
The team comes up with amusing ways to keep things light. Henthorn is reigning champion of the Chocolate Milk Mile. The challenge is to run a mile while pausing four times to guzzle 12 ounces of milk. He did the distance in a speedy 5 minutes, 52 seconds. Another workout is a variation on the game Capture the Flag. In the A&M version, flags are a half-mile apart. Competitors log eight or nine miles before victory is declared.
Ray said the team also has get-togethers that have nothing to do with triathlon. For example, Texans take football very seriously, and triathlon club members are often found sitting together in the stands when the maroon and white take the field.
The Aggies will bring about 30 athletes to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for Nationals. They placed fifth as a team in 2015 and fourth in 2016 and 2017. They hope to do as well this year. That may be tough; six of the eight top men and women finishers in the Olympic-distance races graduated last year.
“We lost a lot of strong athletes,” Morse said. “But we have a solid up-and-coming freshman class. They show a lot of promise. I’m really excited to see how they do.”
Win or lose, the A&M Triathlon Club feels like they’ve already taken home a prize.
“At our first meeting every year, the first thing we say is that we’ve done well at Nationals, and winning is great, it’s awesome,” Henthorn said. “But, the best part of triathlon is the friends I’ve made. I think it’s the one thing our team does better than others, the fun aspect. We’re really good friends.”
The A&M Triathlon Club will be competing at the 2018 USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on April 27-28. Learn more about the event on usatriathlon.org/cn2018.Scott Richardson is a USA Triathlon Level I and U.S. Masters Swimming Level 2 Certified Coach and founder of Beyond Normal Fitness, Normal, Illinois.