“Time to Be Young, Scrappy and Hungry”

By Andrew Santelli | Aug. 08, 2017, 10:02 a.m. (ET)

Andrew Santelli

“You know I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot …”

This lyric from Hamilton bounces around in my head on a daily basis. I’ve been preparing for the Olympic-distance race at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships on Aug. 12, and this uptempo anthem of ambition and striving has become a bit of a mantra for me.

Having been a middling athlete (at best) for most of my life, taking on this challenge has been an exciting and inspiring journey. Growing up in Pittsburgh, a sports-crazed town if there ever was one, I was active in rowing and swimming, but to call me a top-notch athlete would’ve been a top-notch joke. After college, I picked up distance running, even completing two marathons, but it was discovering triathlon and pursuing my own version of excellence in the sport that changed my life. Here are a few reasons why I can’t wait to put my efforts and training to the test in the heartland on Aug. 12:

Triathlon has shown me glimpses of what I’m really capable of. When I was strictly a runner, my thought pattern was largely “put one foot in front of the other and repeat.” I was in it merely to complete, not compete. While I’m proud to have run those races and hung those finisher medals on my wall, it’s taken some time to get comfortable calling myself a triathlete, rather than just a guy who does triathlons. Every time I set a personal record for a certain distance in the pool, get one of those little “PR” medals on Strava or finish a run imbued with increased confidence, I wonder what’s next and what I can do to get there. (The fact that I’ve lost 20 pounds this year doesn’t hurt either.)

This sport has helped me bring others along on the journey of self-improvement. I got started in triathlon when I moved from Orlando, Florida, to Los Angeles and joined the triathlon team at work. In those four years, I’ve watched my teammates improve and grow, seen their fears and concerns turn to smiles and confidence. Our team has a strong culture of continuous improvement rather than cutthroat competition, to always be better than our former selves, whether that’s doing something you told yourself you couldn’t do, or doing that tough thing even better and faster than the year before. (I’m excited that one of my teammates will also be competing in Omaha!)

My triathlon journey has helped raise funds and awareness for children in need. When I started with the team at work, it was to train for the Malibu Triathlon and raise money for pediatric cancer research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I’m continually grateful for the support of my friends and family who donate to this cause, and I proudly inscribe each of their names onto the helmet I wear in races, including the upcoming Nationals, and this year I hope to cross the $10,000 mark in total impact since I began participating in triathlon.

Andrew Santelli

I’m part of something bigger than myself. In the book “The Champion Mindset,” triathlon coach Joanna Zeiger reminds readers that even though triathlon may be an individual sport, it’s a pursuit you can only do with a collective of support alongside you. For me that team is led by my wife Jackie, who puts up with my training regimen (which included figuring out how to squeeze workouts into our wedding week this May), along with my riding partners, supportive co-workers (many who fall into both of those groups), the experts at my favorite bike shop in Newbury Park, California, fitness instructors at the gym, and of course my friends and family who encourage me. My younger brother James carried out the “support crew” job when I raced at the Pittsburgh Triathlon, and I’m really happy he’s coming to Omaha to reprise his role.

I’ve got a BHAG now. That stands for “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal,” and that’s what’s to come in Omaha. I’ve qualified to compete for a national championship and the chance to represent the United States (that country that’s young, scrappy and hungry). The competition will be stiff, but my plan is simple: trust my training and leave it all in Nebraska. Even if I come up short of that top 18, I’ll have done all I could, and I find great satisfaction in that.

See you in Omaha!

Want to learn more about the 2017 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska? Visit usatriathlon.org/agnc17.