MILWAUKEE — Fifteen-year-old Clara James-Heer (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and 17-year-old Sam Tullis (South Bend, Ind.) earned overall victories Sunday at the Toyota USA Triathlon Sprint-Distance Age Group National Championships, leading a showcase of up-and-coming young talent among thousands of the nation’s fastest amateur triathletes.
Four of the six overall podium finishers came from the 15- to 19-year-old age group, a display of emerging talent in a field that featured competitors ages 15-88.
First held in 1983, Age Group Nationals is USA Triathlon’s longest-running National Championship event. The 2021 edition welcomed a record field of more than 6,000 athletes in total over three days of competition, including Friday’s Open Water Swim competition, Saturday’s Olympic-distance event and Sunday’s Sprint-distance. Participants throughout the weekend ranged in age from 15 to 88 and traveled to Milwaukee from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as well as nine countries and five territories.
Milwaukee hosted Age Group Nationals for three consecutive years from 2013-15, holding the previous participation record of 5,789 from 2014. USA Triathlon returns to the city after two years in Omaha (2016-17) and two in Cleveland (2018-19). The 2020 event, which was due to take place in Milwaukee, was canceled due to COVID-19. Age Group Nationals will also return to Milwaukee in 2022, with races set for Aug. 5-7.
Sunday’s course featured a 750-meter swim in Lake Michigan, followed by a 20-kilometer bike along Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge and Lake Freeway, and finished with a 5-kilometer run through Veterans Park and down Lincoln Memorial Drive. Athletes splashed through puddles along the course and at the venue in the aftermath of last night’s heavy rain and thunderstorms.
In the women’s race, the top-three overall finishers were under the age of 19. The 15-19 age group was the third wave of women to start — so when James-Heer, 18-year-old Freya McKinley (The Woodlands, Texas) and 15-year-old Ellison Wolfe (Columbia, Pa.) crossed the line in consecutive order within 32 seconds of each other, they effectively replaced the previous overall podium.
James-Heer had the best swim and the third-fastest run of all women — and her 9-minute, 42-second swim was the 15th fastest of the entire field, including the men. She crossed the line in a total time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, 43 seconds, followed by McKinley in 1:04:05 and Wolfe in 1:04:15.
James-Heer has already made waves in multisport at the national level, winning the 2019 Youth Elite national title, the 2021 Draft-Legal Duathlon Nationals overall title, and the 2021 Youth & Junior Nationals Mixed Relay title with MMTT Sammy’s Gold.
“Looking at the previous race results from years before, I thought I would have a chance to be on the podium,” James-Heer said. “I want to keep going, maybe go to college for triathlon, then Worlds, then the Olympics in a few years. I’m proud of the run because I had to take a week off from an injury, so I just knew it could’ve gone good or bad, and it ended up good.”
Ginger Reiner (Lincoln, Mass.) swept the women’s Masters national titles for the weekend, winning the division on both Saturday and Sunday — in a successful defense of the same sweep from 2019. The Grand Masters title went to Katie McCully (Eastham, Mass.) in 1:13:37.
“COVID changed everything,” Reiner, who finished in 1:07:29, said. “It made me realize that I love this sport for the sport, and that I was happy to continue training despite the lack of races, but it also made me realize how much I missed them. I really like the opportunity to test myself and go head-to-head with people — and also the community all coming together to push ourselves, no matter whether you’re first or last or somewhere in the middle.”
In the men’s race, Tullis took the overall win by the smallest of margins. His time of 56:29 was just 0.59 seconds faster than Ari Klau (West Hartford, Conn.), 24, who had crossed the line a few minutes earlier in a different wave. Todd Buckingham (Big Rapids, Mich.), a frequent podium finisher at Age Group Nationals, took third overall in 56:58.
Tullis came out of the swim behind eventual age group runner-up Braxton Bokos (Oak Brook, Ill.), but caught him on the second half of the 20k bike.
“I know Bokos, I raced against him last weekend (at Zone3 Youth & Junior Nationals) and his swim is phenomenal,” Tullis said. “So, the plan coming in was to minimize the gap he had on me coming out of the water. And then it was to stay with him as long as I could on the bike. I then wanted to open up as big a gap as I could on the run. It’s a phenomenal feeling. This is a big moment for me and really exciting.”
Second-place overall finisher Klau, a former NCAA Division I runner at the University of Virginia, is new to triathlon after an injury led him to cycling as a form of cross-training.
“Yesterday I was third overall by like six seconds over someone in another age group, so I was glad that I did run it in hard,” Klau said. “You have to treat it like a time trial — every second counts, so that’s how I was going into the finish. I knew I couldn't leave anything out on the course.”
The men’s Masters title went to Andrew Holland (Erie, Pa.) in 1:01:38, while Tony Schiller (Eden Prairie, Minn.) completed his sweep of this weekend’s Grand Masters category in 1:06:48.
Reiner, Schiller and Sharon Johnson (Andover, Mass., F60-64) successfully defended their Sprint-distance national titles from 2019. Reiner and Schiller also swept their respective age group national titles on both Saturday and Sunday, as did Minori Minagawa (Dublin, Ohio, F25-29) and Christian Waterstraat (Naperville, Ill., M45-49). Linda Johns (Portland, Ore.) also won the Time to Tri Open Female 60+ division on both days.
Several Challenged Teams from the Wisconsin chapter of myTEAM TRIUMPH took part in the PC Open wave for adaptive athletes. myTEAM TRIUMPH is an inclusive organization that pairs challenged athletes with an “Angel” so they can complete endurance events as a team. The organization provides specialized equipment, training runs and race-day support to foster increased self-confidence, a greater sense of purpose and a more inclusive community for athletes of all abilities.
“We kind of do the work for them and they give us the spirit to keep going,” said Brian McWilliams, Angel for athlete Jacob VanDenBerg. “One thing with Jacob, we’ve been doing this for eight or nine years, and just to see how he has blossomed — he used to be scared to go across the finish line, he would almost start crying, and now he just loves it. We can walk across the finish, which he could’ve never done before. So, to see the growth in him over the years, it’s just fantastic. That’s why we do this."
The fastest PC Open finishers were Ben Stuart (Grand Rapids, Mich.) with a time of 1:27:58, and Kayla Kudick (Sturgeon Bay, Wis.), with a time of 1:30:35.
The Sprint-distance race also included a beginner-friendly Time to Tri Open division, which did not require qualification and was separate from the National Championship results. Benjamin Babcock (New Berlin, Wis.) was the top overall male Time to Tri finisher in 1:11:22, while Michelle Richards (Madison, Wis.) was the top female in 1:23:36.
Recaps from all three days of racing at Age Group Nationals can be found at usatriathlon.org. The weekend’s top photos, taken by talented photographer Archi Trujillo, are posted on USA Triathlon’s Facebook Page. Archived livestream video footage is available at youtube.com/usatriathlon.
2022 Toyota USA Triathlon Sprint National Championships
750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run — Complete Results
Overall Female: Clara James-Heer (Grand Rapids, Mich.), 1:03:43
Overall Male: Sam Tullis (South Bend, Ind.), 56:29
Masters Female: Ginger Reiner (Lincoln, Mass.), 1:07:29
Masters Male: Andrew Holland (Erie, Pa.), 1:01:38
Grand Masters Female: Katie McCully (Eastham, Mass.), 1:13:37
Grand Masters Male: Tony Schiller (Eden Prairie, Minn.), 1:06:48
F17-19: Clara James-Heer (Grand Rapids, Mich.), 1:03:43
M17-19: Sam Tullis (South Bend, Ind.), 56:29
F20-24: Brooke Kelley (Keeseville, N.Y.), 1:05:58
M20-24: Matthew Guenter (Boulder, Colo.), 57:39
F25-29: Minori Minagawa (Dublin, Ohio), 1:08:23
M25-29: Ari Klau (West Hartford, Conn.), 56:30
F30-34: Michelle Stratton (Naperville, Ill.), 1:05:00
M30-34: Todd Buckingham (Big Rapids, Mich.), 56:58
F35-39: Jennifer Santoyo (Burien, Wash.), 1:08:02
M35-39: Ryan Giuliano (Oakwood Hills, Ill.), 59:21
F40-44: Ginger Reiner (Lincoln, Mass.), 1:07:29
M40-44: Andrew Holland (Erie, Pa.), 1:01:38
F45-49: Elizabeth Waterstraat (Naperville, Ill.), 1:11:11
M45-49: Christian Waterstraat (Naperville, Ill.), 1:02:30
F50-54: Becky Paige (Maynard, Mass.), 1:09:56
M50-54: Peter Valentyik (Boulder, Colo.), 1:02:18
F55-59: Katie McCully (Eastham, Mass.), 1:13:37
M55-59: Dougin Walker (Tampa, Fla.), 1:06:04
F60-64: Sharon Johnson (Andover, Mass.), 1:15:19
M60-64: Tony Schiller (Eden Prairie, Minn.), 1:06:48
F65-69: Susan Griffin-Kaklikian (Colorado Springs, Colo.), 1:20:10
M65-69: Phillip Friedman (Erie, Pa.), 1:11:54
F70-74: Cande Olsen (Morristown, N.J.), 1:30:46
M70-74: Mike Wien (Boulder, Colo.), 1:19:46
F75-79: Bobbe Greenberg (Highland Park, Ill.), 1:38:46
M75-79: Simon Butterworth (Lafayette, Colo.), 1:26:58
F80-84: June Black (Austin, Texas), 2:08:10
M80-84: Arby Kitzman (Morro Bay, Calif.), 1:36:37
M85-89: Kenneth Fleischhacker (Littleton, Colo.), 1:44:44
Time to Tri Open Female 15-39: Samantha Brooker (Milwaukee, Wis.), 1:25:18
Time to Tri Open Male 15-39: Benjamin Babcock (New Berlin, Wis.), 1:11:22
Time to Tri Open Female 40-59: Michelle Richards (Madison, Wis.), 1:23:36
Time to Tri Open Male 40-59: Joseph Tally (Fairport, N.Y.), 1:20:30
Time to Tri Open Female 60+: Linda Johns (Portland, Ore.), 1:42:23
Time to Tri Open Male 60+: Chris O’Donnell (Wexford, Pa.), 1:20:54
PC Open Female: Kayla Kudick (Sturgeon Bay, Wis.), 1:30:35
PC Open Male: Ben Stuart (Grand Rapids, Mich.) 1:27:58
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 4,000 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 World Triathlon Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. USA Triathlon is a proud member of World Triathlon and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).