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The Atmosphere of Collegiate Nationals

By Brady Thomas | April 16, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

bradyIt’s Christmas and prom night all rolled into one, except better! It’s not a let down like prom and you don’t have to be around any family you might not want to hang out with. Plus triathlon is involved. What’s not to love?

I get more excited for Collegiate Nationals than for any other day of the year. I’m sure this sentiment is echoed by almost everyone else who has been to a previous Collegiate Nationals. For those of you who are making your first voyage, get amped. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Most of you are probably like me. You go to a school of about 15,000-20,000 students. There are maybe 30 people on your team. That’s about the extent of your triathlon universe. Once your team descends upon Tuscaloosa, that universe is going to explode to over 1,500 students who love the same sport you do, and the invigorating realization that you’re a part of something much bigger and cooler than you expected will set in.

bradyEvery bus, van, and trailer you see on the road will be filled with athletes and bikes. Other teams will flood the lobby of your hotel. Saturday night, a collegiate triathlete you’ve never seen before will reach for the same beverage as you in the gas station. (If they do, show how classy your school is and let him or her have it.)

My first experience at Collegiate Nationals was as an outsider in 2008. I was at nationals for the Twenty12 Talent ID Race as a freshman at a tiny college that didn’t have a tri club. As an 18-year-old you’re typically one of the youngest ones at any race. Being surrounded by 1,000 triathletes who were my age was brand new to me.

That first impression stuck with me when I decided to transfer schools and I chose Clemson over a much smaller school without a triathlon team. I would be lying if I said the triathlon team and the opportunity tobrady race at Collegiate Nationals wasn’t towards the front of my mind when I made my decision.

Focusing just on the racing is missing half the picture. I remember driving down last year with a girl I liked at the time on my mind and asking my teammates every five minutes, “Seriously, you think she’s into me?” Until after a few hours my teammate Edge finally yelled “Shut up!” I remember the stress of being president giving me a twitch over my right eye for the five days leading up to nationals last year. I remember making the mistake of eating raisins before the race which subsequently caused me to have to make a pit stop on the run course.

Despite all these things you might perceive as negatives, I reluctantly left last year having learned something about myself (besides don’t eat raisins), stories I’ll always remember, a stronger bond with my teammates, and more enthusiasm for our sport. I know I’ll leave with the same feeling this year and I know the majority of the athletes will too. 

Get excited. Safe travels. Look for Clemson. We’ll be the ones rolling in like the “Otis” video. 

For more from the 2012 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship, visit the event coverage page.