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Team Aspect Sets Collegiate Triathlon Apart

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At a time of year when most college students are focused on the end of spring semester, collegiate triathletes are packing up and heading to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to compete in the 2011 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship. The event, set for Saturday, marks the peak of the spring triathlon season for nearly 1,600 collegiate triathletes who are preparing for tough competition coupled with team spirit.

The team aspect of Collegiate Nationals is what sets the event apart from other multisport events.

“The team atmosphere gives you so much more energy and passion for the sport,” said Troy Stram, a member of the Penn State Triathlon Team. “You aren’t just out there swimming, biking and running for yourself. You’re doing it for your teammates and for your school.”

Teams are allowed to have seven men and seven women competing in the Olympic-distance championship event. The top four men and top four women for each squad combine for an overall team score, which is modeled after cross country running scoring — the lowest score wins. Having a full team of 14 is often a goal for teams like the University of Texas, a growing club.

Each team has a unique approach when it comes to training for Collegiate Nationals. The team at Texas meets every morning for a group workout. They have session leaders that write the practices for swim, bike and run, including strength training as part of the routine. Some teams have special training events, like Penn State's 10-mile Tadpole Time Trial.

Every step of the way, athletes are supporting their teammates, whether it’s pushing them through those tough training sessions or en route to the event.

“Anytime a teammate needs help, we're there to lend a hand,” said Oklahoma State's Keith Kotar. “We have a couple beginners, so the more experienced members have been trying to guide them along and will probably do so on the big day as well.”

Though triathlon is an individual event, teams proudly display their school spirit in any way possible, even if that means bursting into cheers or wearing bright orange overalls. Athletes have even logged on to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to root for their team leading up to the event and give updates on travel plans, using phrases like “Bama or Bust.”

The team competition is serious business, at least until the race is complete. Another aspect of Collegiate Nationals athletes look forward to is meeting students from states that they may otherwise not have a chance to compete against at a regional level. This annual event doubles as a different type of networking opportunity, allowing athletes from all over the U.S. to connect for a common purpose.

From beginners to multisport veterans, athletes heading to Tuscaloosa know that the event offers a little bit of something for everyone. 

“For the top athletes it is a great development opportunity to compete against other rising stars of triathlon,” Kotar said. “The race is also a good way to reach out to more people that never thought about triathlon and get them involved in the sport. Getting started is so much easier when you have someone else to train and race with.”

With more than 120 teams represented, competition is stiff and though most teams are gunning for a win, or at least a spot on the podium, the sense of accomplishment and team togetherness are also an important part of the event. Though he’s involved in other activities at Penn State, Stram said, “The trips to and from races and the experiences shared together at events rank among some of my favorite collegiate memories.”  

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