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An Athlete's Perspective of Transitioning From One Sport to Triathlon

By Justin Roeder | Feb. 08, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

I was a D1 runner at Butler University.

My journey in multisport began roughly eight months ago when my career as a competitive runner officially ended. This occurred at the NCAA East Regional Meet in Bloomington, Ind., where I proudly wore the words Butler across my chest for the final time. While I had decent success as a high school and collegiate cross country and track runner, becoming a professional runner did not seem to be in the cards for me. My track bests of 14:13 for 5,000 meters and 29:52 for 10,000m may seem impressive for a triathlete, but for a D1 runner these times barely make a dent in the regional rankings.

The closing of one door, luckily busted down another. The idea of competing in a triathlon had gone in one ear and out the other my entire college career. At the time, my mom and dad had been competing in local sprint triathlons, and my dad has been insisting that I try one. So after I exhausted my eligibility as a collegiate athlete, I decided to attempt a sprint triathlon, partly to measure up against the old man, but also to get him to give up the idea of me storming the scene of this triathlon business. Deep down I didn’t want to let up the dream of running as a career, but gift cards can’t pay the bills.

So that I didn’t waste any time or lose any fitness I had remaining after college, I jumped in the first sprint triathlon I could find, Morse Park Summer Triathlon. My overall finishing result was amazing and unexpected, but the individual battles within each discipline were grueling, thus I became addicted. This sprint tri was the first of three consecutive wins in my new journey. This early success presented me the opportunity to be in email correspondence with Barb Lindquist, 2004 Olympic triathlete and USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Coordinator.

My first triathlon was a sprint - the Morse Park Summer Triathlon.

The USA Triathlon Collegiate Recruitment Program and Barb seek out collegiate swimmers and runners who have used up their eligibility, but might have the ability and desire to compete in triathlons at the professional level. USAT’s goal is to develop a deep field of quality professionals with the driving theme being one day competing at the Olympics. And who better to mentor us than an Olympian who has previously been on the same path as we are about to embark on.

Having a late start on the season, I wanted to keep the winning streak alive and compete one final time before the season was complete. With the guidance of Barb and the support of my family, I traveled to Burlington, Vt., to battle at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship. Going into this race I knew virtually nothing of the swim, bike, or run course…WHOOPS! Unlike the central Indiana triathlons, this community has hills and exploits them. My race was similar to the course, up and down. The ups would be my run split being the fastest in the entire field and placing 18th overall, the downs were mostly due to inexperience. Unexpectedly, the swim started in a mass start with over 100 competitors all lined up and bobbing up in down in open water, which was the first time I had experienced anything like this…OUCH…lots of hitting and kicking. The bike went smoothly until the turnaround where I slipped gears, popped the chain off, and ended up on my back in the ditch dazed and confused. Losing time, I did the five-second “assess the situation” I learned in First Aid and frantically fixed the chain, hopped on,  and cranked the final miles home. Due my lack of bike handling skills and the crash, I consumed zero fluids and no gels, which led to the sweet taste of lactic early in the run phase. But I was able to finish ninth in my age group and 18th overall, which was definitely uplifting for me.

At a local triathlon in Indiana.

Furthermore, the aforementioned race gave me the opportunity to prove that even with minor hiccups I have the potential to become a decent triathlete. More importantly, after the completion of my season I officially became a bona fide collegiate recruit! What’s this mean? Well it’s kind of like Fight Club with Brad Pitt, we don’t talk about it. No, but in all seriousness, it’s like receiving the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, except instead of chocolate it’s triathlon gear, and the factory is the U.S. Olympic Training Center! It is with the generosity of both USA Triathlon and Barb that I am allowed to compete with a sense of purpose and belonging. In addition to their support, I am grateful to say that they are aiding me with USA sponsored products to minimize my expense while maximizing my performance.

USA Triathlon and Barb helped me locate and narrow down several local triathlon coaches that we thought could continue to guide and assist me to that next level. This is when I met Sean Edwards of Personal Best Triathlon. Sean and I met a couple weeks after my summer season when I was looking for someone to coach me, and immediately after speaking with him I knew we could achieve great things. Sean has a very positive, energetic, and fun personality that I believed would be beneficial to me as an athlete and person. I wanted, and needed, a coach who could push the limits, but also listen and respond to the athlete’s needs and input.

My journey thus far has been short, but I am learning and excelling exponentially. I do want to thank all of those who took the time to read this blog, and feel free to post any comment, suggestions, or topics you would like to hear more on. Again thank you!