Here’s my story on how I arrived at the start and finish line of my first ITU race.
I grew up in New Jersey, swam on a team from age 8 to 17 and was an ocean lifeguard. I then headed out West to run at the University of Colorado. I was recruited from running into triathlon by Barb Lindquist and Bobby McGee. They said they believed in me as an athlete, and that if I worked really hard, I would have a chance to be a successful triathlete. I got invited to a “swim camp for runners” and the Collegiate Recruitment Program (CRP) Olympic Training Center camp. These opportunities and experiences gave me the confidence to tackle the sport. After winning the Age Group Nationals sprint triathlon in August 2017, I became more excited by where the sport could take me!
I first really started training for triathlons in October 2017 when I visited Coach Jono Hall and his squad who were holding a month-long training camp in Colorado Springs, which was convenient as I was living in Boulder at the time. It was a try-out period to see if I was a good fit for his group and if the group was a good fit for me. Before the visit I was very nervous, because while I had been doing some swimming and biking over the summer, I was going to be training with USA No. 1 Kevin McDowell and a bunch of other experienced and talented triathletes. The visit ended up going well, and I joined the group!
After a month away (their offseason), I reconnected with the group in December 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. I was extremely lucky to be in this situation because I was surrounded by some of the best in the world and supported by USA Triathlon to do so. I was truly able to see what it took to be a world-class triathlete.
The hard training was put to the test in my first ITU race — the Mooloolaba World Cup. Having never done a draft-legal or professional triathlon, my only frame of reference was high-level running. As a result, I wanted to be rational and stay calm and realistic about my expectations. As you might expect, I was pretty nervous about the unknown nature of the race, specifically the draft-legal aspect of the bike. Because this was a World Cup, most of these dudes have been doing draft-legal triathlons for years. In fact, there were quite a few Olympians in the field.
Furthermore, I can’t count the number of triathletes who have told me how hard the bike would be, and how much I would get knocked around in the swim, and that basically I would likely fail! Bobby McGee was part of the USAT support crew at the race and I have a great coach in Jono Hall, so they helped me calm my nerves for the most part.
Going to the pre-race swim also gave me more confidence. The swim was in the ocean and it was a little bit rough. I was a junior lifeguard and ocean lifeguard from age 8 to 18, so the surf didn't bother me. Seeing some of the other more experienced triathletes struggle in the surf showed me that over the course of a triathlon, everyone is going to be uncomfortable with something.
I was ranked 52 out of 51 going into the race. No joke — they don't have a number 13 — and being my first ITU race, I was ranked last. As a result, I had the worst position on the starting line. This was all the way to the left, while the current was pushing right to left. I didn't care. I probably had to swim a bit further than most, but I had clean water. I went all out sprinting into the ocean and to the first buoy. I had no idea of my position, but I just swam as hard as I could. On the way in, a couple other guys and I caught a solid wave. I am a decent sprinter (run), so I ran up the beach into transition pretty hard, passing a couple guys.
I was told later that I was second out of transition ... not bad for a runner in my first ITU race and it being World Cup, I thought!
I had made it to the bike in solid position! I was a bit excited. Tyler Mislawchuk, my good friend and teammate, came up on my wheel and told me to calm down. I took a deep breath and tucked into the bike pack. Thank you, Tyler, for helping me.
The race ended up coming together into a pretty big pack of riders. I rode mostly in the back of the bunch. This is not ideal for conserving energy, but being my first big bike pack, I wasn't exactly comfortable moving up and around the pack. The last mile of the bike was insane — a big downhill into a narrow transition meant people were sprinting to get to the front. I just stayed in the back as I thought to myself, I've run a 13:32 5k; I will catch these guys regardless. (Turned out to be a BIG mistake, haha!)
In the end, the gap from the leaders of the bike bunch to the back (me) was probably close to 15 seconds. Being the cocky runner, I decided I could close that gap in the first mile. Well, I didn't. The closest I got to the leader and eventual winner Richard Murray was second place, about 5 seconds back. I suffered hard the second mile and fell back out of the top 10 at one point. Then I pulled my head out of a dark place and closed the last mile to finish seventh.
Looking back this was a solid first race for me, even though I thought my run was my worst part of the race. I still think I should be running the fastest split of anyone. Sometimes it’s good not to knock it out of the park your first time out, because it makes me more motivated to crush it next time! I’d like to thank Barb Lindquist, Bobby McGee, Jono “The Brain” Hall, my teammates, and a long list of other people for getting me to this point.
You can watch highlights of the race here.