COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Triathlon today announced its roster of 2018 Age-Group Triathletes of the Year, as selected by USA Triathlon’s Age Group Committee. Headlining the talented group are Justin Lippert (Middletown, N.J.) and Missy LeStrange (Visalia, Calif.), who were named men’s and women’s Overall Age-Group Triathletes of the Year, respectively.
Lippert had a breakout 2018 season in which he became a three-time overall national champion. He swept the men’s sprint- and Olympic-distance titles at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, and three months later grabbed the overall USA Triathlon Long Course National Championships victory in Miami. Lippert also founded Full Send Triathlon, a team of like-minded young athletes from across the country, during the 2018 season — an accomplishment he counts as the highlight of his season.
“When I reflect back on 2018, it’s the meaningful connections I made within the community that I remember the most,” Lippert said. “My hope is that people can look at this as inspiration for themselves to raise the bar on being their best. I’m just an average kid doing above-average things. Don’t settle for mediocrity, and everything is possible.”
LeStrange was the 2017 Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year, but this is her first time being named Overall Triathlete of the Year. Her season highlights included four age-group world titles (F65-69) in the span of six weeks: the ITU Age Group Triathlon World Championships sprint- and standard-distance races in Gold Coast, Australia; the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in South Africa; and the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. LeStrange also collected top honors this year in the Grand Masters category.
“Training keeps my body strong,” LeStrange said. “Saturday bike rides with my buddies have built enduring friendships. Swim workouts with TNT Swimming — a youth program — cheer me up, keep me young, and motivate me to work hard with a positive attitude. Racing keeps my mind sharp, tests my ability under pressure, and takes me on incredible journeys where I meet people with truly inspiring lives.”
For 2018, for the first time, Triathlete of the Year awards also featured an Open category. This award recognizes the top performers in general age-group competition (vs. a junior, masters, or grand masters category). Lippert doubled as the men’s Open Triathlete of the Year, while Kirsten Sass (McKenzie, Tenn.) was named Open Triathlete of the Year for women.
Sass, the women’s Overall Age-Group Triathlete of the Year for three straight years from 2015-2017, had yet another standout season in 2018. She won her age group (F35-39) at both the USA Triathlon Age Group Sprint National Championships and the ITU Age Group Sprint World Championships. In addition, Sass traveled the world as a sighted guide for elite paratriathlete Amy Dixon, who is visually impaired. Together, Dixon and Sass raced to the podium in two ITU World Paratriathlon Series races and two ITU Paratriathlon World Cups, capping the season with a World Cup gold medal.
“I am honored, humbled and grateful,” Sass said. “2018 was a very difficult year for me, and I am so thankful to all who helped me through it. This is dedicated in loving memory to my Papa, who introduced me to triathlon and was my biggest inspiration — and continues to be.”
Junior Triathlete of the Year honors went to Zane Grenoble (Playa Del Rey, Calif.) and Katelyn Elliott (Porter, Texas), with Elliott claiming the title for the second consecutive year.
Grenoble’s 2018 season included a top-15 finish in the men’s 16-19 age group at the ITU Age Group Sprint World Championships, an age-group silver medal at the ITU Aquabike World Championships in Fyn, Denmark, and a top-five age-group finish at the ITU Aquathlon World Championships, also in Fyn. He topped the 2018 USA Triathlon National Rankings for his age group in the disciplines of triathlon, aquathlon and aquabike.
Elliott had a successful 2018 that began with a third-place finish at the USA Triathlon High School National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She went on to compete at the ITU Age Group World Championships in Gold Coast, earning bronze in the women’s 16-19 age group in the standard-distance and a top-15 finish in the sprint.
Lee Walther (Oklahoma City, Okla.) took back-to-back Triathlete of the Year honors in the men’s Masters category. At Age Group Nationals in Cleveland, Walther earned his third straight Olympic-distance age-group win. He went on to represent Team USA in Gold Coast, where he claimed a men’s 55-59 silver medal in the ITU Age Group Standard World Championships.
The women’s Masters Triathlete of the Year, Beni Gras-Thompson (Roanoake, Va.) had a defining performance at the 2018 ITU Long Distance Triathlon Age Group World Championships in Fyn, Denmark. Gras-Thompson finished not only as the women’s 45-49 age-group winner, but also as the women’s overall champion. In addition, she was the third-place overall female amateur finisher at IRONMAN New Zealand.
Jeff Cuddeback (Longwood, Fla.) was named men’s Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year, while LeStrange doubled as the women’s Grand Masters honoree. Cuddeback won the men’s 60-64 age group at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida, as well as in three IRONMAN 70.3 events (Gulf Coast, Raleigh and Augusta). He capped the season with a runner-up finish in his age group at the IRONMAN World Championship.
The men’s Off-Road Triathlete of the Year went to Cliff Millemann (Davis, Calif.), while Deanna McCurdy (Littleton, Colo.) claimed back-to-back women’s Off-Road Triathlete of the Year honors. Millemann grabbed the men’s 60-64 age group title at both the USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championships in Waco, Texas, and the XTERRA Pan Am/USA Championship in Ogden, Utah. He went on to finish a career-best second in his age group at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui.
McCurdy was the overall women’s champion at both the USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championships and the XTERRA Pan Am/USA Championship. Then, on her fourth career attempt, she won her age group at the XTERRA World Championship, finishing fourth overall as the top amateur American.
“I am truly honored to win this award for the second year," McCurdy said. “It represents the cumulative results of a year of hard work and dedication, competing not only against women in my age group, but all women who race off-road triathlon in the United States. We age-group amateur athletes juggle family, work, and training just to do what we do. This award is as much for my husband, my two daughters, and my coach, Yaro Middaugh, as it is for me.”
The 2018 USA Triathlon Age-Group Triathletes of the Year and honorable mention selections are as follows:
Men’s Overall Age-Group Triathlete of the Year: Justin Lippert (Middletown, N.J.)
Women’s Overall Age-Group Triathlete of the Year: Missy LeStrange (Visalia, Calif.)
Men’s Open Age-Group Triathlete of the Year: Justin Lippert (Middletown, N.J.)
Honorable Mentions: Todd Buckingham (Big Rapids, Mich); Nick Dorsett (Salt Lake City, Utah); Christopher Douglas (Atlanta, Ga.); Clay Emge (Tyler, Texas); Ryan Giuliano (Oakwood Hills, Ill.)
Women’s Open Age-Group Triathlete of the Year: Kirsten Sass (McKenzie, Tenn.)
Honorable Mentions: Gabrielle Bunten (Forest Lake, Minn.); Emily Cameron (Lititz, Pa.); Hilary Fenton (Findlay, Ohio); Jacqui Giuliano (Oakwood Hills, Ill.); Dani Fischer (Greenfield, Ind.)
Men’s Junior Triathlete of the Year: Zane Grenoble (Playa Del Rey, Calif.)
Honorable Mention: Graham Tuohy (Lakewood, Colo.)
Women’s Junior Triathlete of the Year: Katelyn Elliott (Porter, Texas)
Honorable Mention: Emily Minjares (San Jose, Calif.)
Men’s Masters Triathlete of the Year: Lee Walther (Oklahoma City, Okla.)
Honorable Mentions: Jose Graca (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii); Bob McRae (Arvada, Colo.); Robert Skaggs (Solana Beach, Calif.); Richard Sweet (San Diego, Calif.); Brice Williams (Ogden, Utah)
Women’s Masters Triathlete of the Year: Beni Gras-Thompson (Roanoake, Va.)
Honorable Mentions: Kelly Phuah (Littleton, Colo.); Michelle Jones (Carlsbad, Calif.); Steph Popelar (Elizabeth, Colo.); Linda Robb (Juno Beach, Fla.); Sharon Schmidt-Mongrain (Lafayette Hill, Pa.)
Men’s Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year: Jeff Cuddeback (Longwood, Fla.)
Honorable Mentions: Jon Brown (Albuquerque, N.M.); Terry Habecker (Ithaca, N.Y.); Robert Plant (Woodside, Calif.); Gregory Taylor (Yankton, S.D.); John Wilson (New Canaan, Conn.)
Women’s Grand Masters Triathlete of the Year: Missy LeStrange (Visalia, Calif.)
Honorable Mentions: Kelly Dippold (Olathe, Kan.); Carol Hassell (West Palm Beach, Fla.); Sibyl Jacobson (New York, N.Y.); Leslie Knibb (Washington, D.C.); Donna Smyers (Adamant, Vt.)
Men’s Off-Road Age-Group Triathlete of the Year: Cliff Millemann (Davis, Calif.)
Honorable Mention: Chuck Olinger (Lewisville, Texas)
Women’s Off-Road Age-Group Triathlete of the Year: Deanna McCurdy (Littleton, Colo.)
Honorable Mention: Sharon McDowell-Larsen (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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 events and connects with more than 400,000 members each year, making it the largest multisport organization in the world. In addition to its work at the grassroots level with athletes, coaches, and race directors — as well as the USA Triathlon Foundation — 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).