The nation’s top high school triathletes will go head to head this weekend at the 2018 USA Triathlon High School National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. More than 150 athletes are registered to compete, including Jack O’Neil and Owen Cravens, two paratriathletes who have raced to podium finishes on the national level, including a 1-2 finish at the 2017 USA Triathlon Youth & Junior National Championships. O’Neil and Cravens, who are both members of the Dare2tri 2018 Junior Development Team, will be the first athletes to represent paratriathlon at this National Championship event. We caught up with the young athletes to hear why they’re looking forward to the event, what inspires them to compete and more.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
USA Triathlon: How have you been preparing for the 2018 USA Triathlon High School National Championships?
Jack O’Neil: I have been preparing for this race like no other race before! In previous years, I have trained but nothing to the scale that I am at right now. My coach, Melissa Stockwell, and my Dare2tri teammates keep me inspired and motivated, even on my busiest days. My day usually looks something like this … getting up early in the morning and either hopping on the bike trainer or going to the track. Some mornings, I do both! After my workout, I shower, eat breakfast, and head off to school. After I come home from school, I do my school work before I get in the car for my next practice, which is a swim practice with my club swim team, Pikes Peak Athletics. This schedule adds up to about 12 hours of training a week. I’m learning the importance of recovery and nutrition, so I spend a lot of time foam rolling, in the NormaTec and stretching. The training is definitely tough, but I really do love it. I actually enjoy waking up early to push my body to exhaustion, and chase new training PRs (especially on the bike because I am a numbers person). It is also quite easy to be motivated with such a supportive group of people around me, who want to see me succeed.
USAT: What inspires you to compete?
JO: As an athlete, my biggest inspiration is the competition. I want to be a strong competitor in every race against every (disabled or able-bodied) athlete that is competing. Everybody that loves to race loves the finish line and I find that finish line very motivating. One thing I have learned though is that the start line is just as inspiring as the finish line. It’s awesome that I get to be the first disabled athlete at USA Triathlon High School Nationals, and I hope that I can show other disabled triathletes that they belong in this race as well. To be the first is awesome, but someday I hope to see a start line full of paratriathletes.
USAT: You’ve competed at Youth & Junior Nationals before, so you know what it’s like to compete on the national stage. How would you describe it to someone who has never had that experience?
JO: Races on the national stage are my favorite because of the energy that is in the air. The competition is so good and with the sport of triathlon, anything can happen! I appreciate the opportunity to compete at these national stage events because it really gives me the opportunity to showcase my ability to able-bodied youth and high school triathletes. A lot of people are unaware of the level of talent and competition in the paratriathlon world. After these big races, I get approached by so many people who want to know about my running leg or how I bike with just one leg. I love talking with people and educating them on paratriathlon because it means people are paying attention and are interested in the Paralympic movement. Having people I have never met come up to me and say that they are really impressed by what I do is a great feeling!
USAT: What are you most looking forward to about competing at the 2018 USA Triathlon High School National Championships?
Owen Cravens: I am most looking forward to showcasing my athletic abilities in a competition with other high schoolers, including able-bodied athletes.
USAT: You’re a part of the very first paratriathlon wave at High School Nationals. What does that mean to you?
OC: It means a lot to me actually. When I first heard about competing in High School Nationals, I was nervous but now I am really excited. I want athletes with disabilities to know that they can compete at any level with their peers if they try hard enough.
USAT: How long have you competed in triathlon, and what do you like best about the sport?
OC: I have competed in triathlon since I was 7 years old, before I started losing my vision. The thing I like best about triathlon is that I can have a stronger sport, among the three to constantly improve my performance in triathlons.
Don’t miss O’Neil and Cravens in action. The 2018 USA Triathlon High School National Championships begin at 12 p.m. CT on April 27 with the high school men, followed by the high school women at 1 p.m. Find live tracking at usatriathlon.org/cn2018.