Navy snapped the University of Colorado's eight-year win streak to claim the 2018 Collegiate Club National Championships overall team title.
Buoyed by a family-like atmosphere, the reigning national champions from the U.S. Naval Academy think a repeat win is more than possible at the 2019 USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships in Tempe, Arizona.
“We don't train every day year-round to get second,” said senior Curtis Royek.
Navy triathletes fit swim, bike and run training in among their other responsibilities — such as learning to fly Naval aircraft — as they prepare to become officers after graduation.
“We’re definitely prepared for whatever they throw at us,” said Theresa Neubig, a senior and currently the top draft-legal female triathlete in her region.
Last year’s championship team included Stephanie Murphy, the 2018 women’s Olympic-distance national champion, and Daniel Lloyd, the 2018 men’s national champion in draft-legal sprint race. But as Coach Billy Edwards noted, the team still won it all that year despite the graduation of several top athletes in 2017.
“Everybody jumps into the holes,” said Edwards, also an academy grad.
“Every year we have some really good athletes graduate,” Royek added. “The older guys and girls instill the culture of the team in the new guys and girls throughout the year. The cohesiveness gets tighter and tighter until Nationals, comes and then we're all ready to perform. That's the cycle of the team.”
Neubig said the Midshipmen are energized by close bonds reflected in the team’s motto, “WOHO,” which stands for “workout, hangout.”
“We hang out so much together, it’s a family atmosphere,” she said. “We basically do our racing for each other rather than for ourselves.”
On top of spending up to 22 hours in class each week, training consumes another 20-25 hours. They swim together weekdays at noon, and run or bike outside after class. Winter means more bonding time during three-hour indoor training rides and while shoveling snow off the track before a run.
Edwards coaches remotely from his home in Boulder, Colorado, so he depends on input from team leaders on how the midshipmen are responding to the workouts, whether anyone is injured or needs more rest.
“Our success over the years is because we’ve had such strong leadership internally,” Edwards said.
“I think the fact we're on our own for most of the year is part of what makes us so tight,” Royek said. “There isn't a coach here to yell at us all the time. But we know cutting corners would mean letting down our team. And, everyone here cares about the team too much for that to be an option.”
Free time is spent together goofing off doing skateboard tricks in a parking lot, taking a ski trip or spending a weekend boating or camping.
Friendships last long after graduation, a fact evidenced by the recent out-of-state wedding of a former Navy triathlete. About two dozen current and former teammates attended.
Edwards said some athletes compete in triathlon after graduation. He mentioned a pilot who seems like she’s on her bike training whenever she’s not in her plane. And before Edwards became coach, elite IRONMAN triathlete Timothy O’Donnell got his start on the Academy team. But more important to Edwards than athletes staying in the sport is the way triathlon makes them better Navy and Marine officers.
“The workout, hangout lifestyle jives with the military lifestyle,” he said. “It’s about being ready for anything and everything. Our team has shown they can consistently do that.”
Added Royek, “If you ask most of the people who have been on the team, becoming better triathletes isn't really what it's all about. Becoming better, stronger people is. Winning Nationals is the common goal that we work hard to try and achieve every year, but it's the stuff we do in the process that really matters.
“I believe that being a good officer means understanding what it takes to unite a group of individuals via a passion to achieve a common goal. Nothing I have done at the Academy has helped me understand that more than the triathlon team,” he said.
Scott Richardson is a USAT L1 coach and founder of Beyond Normal Fitness in Normal, Il.
The collegiate club program helped me grow as a person as well. While on the team, my eyes were opened to the possibilities of truly challenging myself in all facets: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I learned how to take ownership and to be "the Captain of my own ship” by putting together training and racing plans, aligning with the right coaches, learning about bike maintenance, nutrition, etc.