My husband and I had always wanted to visit New Zealand, especially given that the town of Queenstown on the South Island was a sister city with our hometown of Aspen, Colorado. Wouldn't it be fun to visit another ski resort in a beautiful country in the Southern Hemisphere and make it a vacation? It helped that I had made friends in the preceding years who had participated on previous teams. They spoke highly of their experiences, relationships made and the honor of competing on Team USA. For the first few years of the world championships, you had to qualify in the top five in your age group. By 1994, qualification was 12 deep, so maybe I had a chance. My focus was to make Team USA.
Back then, you filled out your entry and mailed it in. You never knew who your competition was before arriving at the race site. There was no search engine to book a flight or hotel. Race results were only posted once a month in Triathlon Today, if at all. I headed to Columbia a few days before the race to see and partially swim, bike and run the courses. When I unpacked my bike box, to my horror, I saw that I had forgotten my bike shoes! Did I mention that my husband's parting words when we said goodbye at the airport in Aspen were, "do not come home if you do not qualify!" This was going to be the vacation we had planned and saved for all year. My problem-solving capabilities kicked into high gear. Ultimately given the timing, the solution was to air-ship my shoes in a box from the Aspen airport to Denver and then onto Baltimore, Maryland, where I would pick them up. No words could describe my panic and subsequent relief at picking up those bike shoes at the airport that evening before race day!
Race day dawned early, as usual. The swim was non-wetsuit legal, and so we raced in our "Speedos." The bike course was technical, hilly and on closed, winding, two-lane roads. By 1994, we were all riding with aerobar extensions on our road bikes, and even a few folks were riding time-trial bikes. At the time, I had a bike with day-glo yellow accent color. My friend and same age-group competitor from Boulder had learned to key into that color when we raced each other back in Colorado. She worked hard to catch me on the bike after the swim, as I was having the race of my life. Not knowing my placement at the time, I furiously caught back up to her on the run and passed her with 40 seconds to spare. I was fifth in my age group and had qualified for the ITU World Championships!
One of the great benefits of being on Team USA was the inclusive travel package offered, which they handed to us in a notebook shortly after the race with all the travel arrangements and costs included. Being a member of the team also entitled us to the use of a bike mechanic, masseuses, a chiropractor and a doctor. Services were both paid and free, allowing us to zone into race-mode focus prior to the big day. The mechanic's room was a wealth of good tri-bike information, and the masseuses and chiropractor helped prepare our bodies. The team manager guided our race-day requirements, answered questions and managed to fool our minds once again. Lastly for the women over age 40, there was an organized breakfast, where we made friends from all over the world.
So here it is 20 years and many memorable Team USA experiences later, I find myself qualified, entered, and once again eagerly anticipating a world championship race experience this September 1. There are many more team members now that we go 18 deep, trip arrangements are all made electronically and our uniforms are nifty, one-piece outfits with padded shorts. Instead of half-way around the world, racing at this year's Grand Final and World Championships in Edmonton finds me competing in my same time zone with our neighbor country to the north. My passport is ready!
Heidi Hoffmann, AIA is an architect and has lived in Aspen, Colorado, for 43 years, where she lives with her husband Tom Griffiths. She started out in triathlon in 1982 as a volunteer, and finished her first sprint triathlon three years later in 1985 and her first Ironman in 1989. After five years of rehabbing from various injuries and ailments, Heidi was diagnosed with breast cancer December 23, 2013. She had surgery and finished her radiation treatments May 20, 2014. She decided to go ahead and compete in all the races she had signed up for the previous summer and fall.