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Michigan native Avery Evenson will join the Elite Triathlon Academy in January.

Expanding Elite Triathlon Academy Building for 2013 and Beyond

Standout Michigan prep runner and swimmer Avery Evenson to join the program in January

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When it was launched in June 2011, the Colorado Springs-based Elite Triathlon Academy’s stated goal was to develop potential Olympic triathletes into medal contenders on the sport’s biggest stage.

And with one full racing season under its belt, that goal remains the same, if not more specific. According to ETA Director Keith Dickson, the aim of the program is to develop of a group of triathletes capable of representing the U.S. at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The ETA is a landmark program that provides the United States’ up-and-coming triathletes the opportunity to receive a top-notch college education while benefitting from full-time coach Romas Bertulis and the nation’s best training resources.

Featuring world-class support from USA Triathlon and the U.S. Olympic Committee, ETA student-athletes attend the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, one of the fastest-growing universities in Colorado and the nation, and have full access to the resources of the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Despite some admitted struggles in year one of the start-up, ETA athletes posted some impressive results in 2012 starting with a runner-up finish by Kelly Whitley at the March 3 Clermont ITU Pan American Cup and concluding with Erin Jones, a former Oregon State runner, earning her elite card and logging a top-10 pro finish at the Toyota U.S. Open Triathlon.

Along the way, Whitley raced for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team at the ITU World Triathlon San Diego, Ryan Bice finished fourth overall at USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals, Kevin McDowell finished fifth in his Olympic-distance pro debut at the Dallas ITU Pan American Cup and ETA athletes — Luke Farkas and Breanna Hemming — swept the USA Triathlon Junior Elite National Championship titles.

“We were trying to figure it out along the way, and, yes, we encountered challenges. We encountered different organizational issues,” Dickson said. “We huddled together at the end of the year to make our changes. Now we’re ready for next year.”

Next year means a full season with Hemming, Jones and fellow June 2012 newcomer Ryan Peterson training under Bertulis in Colorado Springs, as well as the addition of Avery Evenson, a talented swimmer and runner from Hartland, Mich., who will graduate early to enroll at UCCS in January 2013.

To Dickson, Evenson represents the kind of athlete who can thrive in the sport of triathlon. After winning her first race (the June 2012 Tri-Goddess Triathlon in Chelsea, Mich.) riding her bike in running shoes, Evenson was fourth overall at 2012 Junior Elite Nationals in August in just her third-ever triathlon. With little to no work on transitions and few if any brick workouts under her belt, Evenson was holding her own among nation’s best juniors.

“If you have that kind of athlete, triathlon is a great sport. You get the ability to spread that athleticism across the board,” Dickson said. “That’s the kind of person Avery is. She’s a real athlete as evidenced by her single-sport performances in running and swimming. We have enough time to develop her.”

Despite being a relative newcomer to multisport, Evenson turned down NCAA Division I offers from Alabama (running), Iowa (running) and Navy (swimming and running) to become the ninth athlete to join the ETA. “After visiting the Elite Triathlon Academy, I cancelled my remaining recruiting trips and committed,” Evenson said. “I was honored to be invited to attend and can’t wait to get started in January.”

Evenson certainly earned her spot at the ETA with her prep performances, but it was her soon-to-be-teammate McDowell who first recommended her to Dickson as a possible addition to the program. The 2010 Youth Olympic Games silver medalist was watching highlights of the 2011 Nike Cross Nationals Midwest Regional, where Evenson placed third, and heard the announcer mention that Evenson also was a top swimmer. That combo peaked McDowell’s interest.

“I looked into it a little more and saw she was highly successful in swimming and running and sent the information on to Mr. Dickson,” McDowell said. “I feel her background of being highly competitive in swimming and running makes her a good fit, and when she came out to visit it seemed she was a good fit for the team and what the program needed.”

That Evenson was comfortable choosing the second-year ETA over well-established Division I programs speaks volumes about what Dickson, Bertulis and the athletes are building in Colorado Springs.

“I think it says a lot and is great for our program,” McDowell said about Evenson’s ETA commitment. “This is a great step and shows that people are taking interest in the program.”

And people are indeed interested. Dickson said he regularly fields inquiries from athletes and their parents from the U.S. and abroad with questions about the program. In fact, it was Jones herself who reached out to Dickson after learning about the ETA and thinking it might be a better fit for her athletic future than returning to Oregon State as a senior. (Click here to read more about Jones from osubeavers.com.)

According to Dickson, the academic environment at UCCS is a great fit for the ETA and its demanding training schedule. “The school at University of Colorado Colorado Springs is the perfect size. It’s the perfect tempo for someone who has to train as much as those kids have to train,” Dickson said. “It’s a good school, and it’s quiet enough that you can all your stuff done and still be fresh enough to face all those hard training sessions.”

In addition to receiving a top education, the access to the world-class facilities at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the presence of a full-time coach is invaluable. “We were able to have access to the best food, the sports medicine center and all the training facilities like the 50-meter pool and strength and conditioning room with treadmills,” McDowell said. “Having a full time coach — Romas Bertulis — was very beneficial and was another great thing. He is at all the practices and is hands-on, which is great.”

The ETA student-athletes often train alongside Colorado Springs-based USA Triathlon National Team Program athletes, including fellow rising star Lukas Verzbicas, who became the youngest-ever U.S. athlete to earn an ITU World Cup win in 2012.

This combination equaled the perfect collegiate fit for Evenson. “When she saw the set up, I think she said right away this is what I want to do,” Dickson said.

Evenson, an all-state performer in cross country, track and swimming, is looking forward to “the challenge and opportunity to train with the best” that the ETA presents.

Meanwhile, McDowell and his teammates are excited about what 2013 and beyond hold for the ETA.  “I’m looking forward to seeing how we progress and move forward, especially with some more people on the team. I feel each person brings important traits to the program and will only help the team progress more in the future,” McDowell said.

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