By Abner Miralda
University of Louisville Triathlon is a novelty in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It finds itself as the newest and only collegiate triathlon club in the state. Despite its pioneer status, the UofL team is trying to follow suit in a state known for a racing heritage that includes the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Motor Speedway, and the country’s largest Ironman triathlon race—Ironman Louisville.
Comprised of 30 members, this student-operated team is the sister program of UofL Cycling. Together, the cycling and triathlon teams make up a joint venture to promote a healthy lifestyle at the university by competing with other universities throughout the Midwest at the club level.
Evan Cruson, the head of UofL Triathlon, is proud of his new team, saying, “This first year was a major milestone.” In its first year, UofL Triathlon competed in five collegiate events in the Mid-East Collegiate Triathlon Conference as members of USA Triathlon and several non-conference events throughout the local area.
UofL Triathlon is for everyone
According to Cruson, finishing a first triathlon is a perfectly achievable goal when striving for a healthy lifestyle. Nursing major and ROTC cadet, Caroline DuPlessis, had been looking for an opportunity to do just that. She said, “I’d always wanted to do a triathlon,” and when she met the team, she signed up for her first race—an Olympic distance event at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. DuPlessis went on to finish in a blistering 13th place of 66 women. “I loved it!” she smiled, “It was fast paced, but it was still my own race.” She liked it so much she competed in a second triathlon two weeks later.
Nick Reader, a retired Div. I cross country runner for the University of Louisville, recently picked up triathlon racing as well. His first-ever race was the University of Dayton Triathlon in Ohio. Even after struggling in the water at first, lightly admitting, “I wasn’t ready for the open water by any means,” Reader gained time in the bike and run portions to a 6th place finish of 33 men. Like DuPlessis, he was instantly engaged in the sport and competed in two more collegiate triathlons, saying “It’s a good challenge. The level of talent [of the competition] amongst the three sports is pretty cool.”
Even experienced triathletes have found a home in UofL Triathlon. Mike Baird is a
former mountain biker and has been racing triathlon for several years. A physical education student at UofL, Baird has known sports for a long time and has garnered a successful season that includes a second place finish at Michigan State amongst several top-10 finishes. Yet his excitement this year comes from looking ahead. “Next year we’ll be twice as good because we gained lots of experience,” he said. UofL Triathlon will only graduate two members of its racing core. “We won’t have to reload. We will add a few members, but right now we’re only going to get better.”
UofL Triathlon is a team
Triathlon is mostly regarded as an individual sport; not only do athletes typically train and race alone, but they are also forbidden from helping each other during races. Nonetheless, UofL Triathlon defies those solitary trends. The team swims together at the university’s Ralph Wright Natatorium and rides bikes together with UofL Cycling. DuPlessis credited the positive atmosphere of the group, stating, “Having them to support me was really important. I felt like I was part of a team.” Reader echoed DuPlessis, “It’s more inviting when people are doing it with you.”
Even Baird, with his traditional experience of triathlon training and racing, was elated to become a member. Baird raced five times consecutively for the Cardinals, taking pride in the volume of races he undertook. “I wouldn’t have raced all that if I wouldn’t have had a team.” Afterwards, he mentioned the lonely training and racing most triathletes do, “It’s the first time in my career I’ve raced for others. It was really motivating.”
UofL Triathlon is diverse
As a discipline, triathlon is unique because it combines three sports. This has allowed members from different athletic backgrounds and diverse strengths to join the sport. Rikus Van Zyl and Jacob Holtgrewe, accomplished track runners in high school finished their first ever triathlons in a UofL Triathlon uniform in 2015. The diversity also defies a male-dominated trend in the triathlon world. Of the 30 members of the team, 14 are women.
All the collegiate events are the International Olympic distance, meaning a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike, and a 10 km run. However, in 2015 alone, UofL Triathlon had two women, Catherine Benson and Ivy Nguyen, complete the Steelhead Half-Ironman Triathlon, and has had two Ironman finishers, Erik Seibt and John Dickens.
UofL Triathlon is looking ahead
Several athletes from UofL Triathlon have already qualified for the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships in Clemson, SC in April of 2016. Baird is primed to earn the organization’s first ever draft-legal berth, an all-star race in which only the best athletes in the country are slotted, and the other members: Reader, DuPlessis, Van Zyl, Nicole Knapp and Emma Coakley, will have an opportunity to represent the Cardinals in the traditional Olympic distance race.
The organization is also actively working to become a key player in the Mid-East conference, exploring options to host a collegiate triathlon at the University of Louisville. The goal is to expose more students to the idea of doing a race. Current coordinator Evan Cruson said, “It’ll be sustainable– the triathlon can be done.”
At the end of its first year, every member of UofL Triathlon can look back and be inspired by everything they’ve done. After all, some of the most inspiring stories the sports world has heard have come from the finishing straights of a triathlon. As Cruson puts it, “Having seen people accomplish what they have has been a huge inspiration.”
Edit: Nicole Knapp also completed the Steelhead Half-Ironman Triathlon alongside Ivy Nguyen and Catherine Benson.