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Collegiate Recruits Aim High at Age Group Nationals
The USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships has been held each year since 1983, and though the event has evolved over time, one aspect remains the same — the event is host to the nation’s best amateur triathletes. The event is considered an assessment of skills by some, a way to see how they stack up against the best of the best in their age groups and the overall field. In recent years, the event has included athletes who have come to the sport through the Collegiate Recruitment Program and are competing with the goal of earning an elite triathlon license.
Barb Lindquist, a 2004 Olympian and the coordinator of the Collegiate Recruitment Program, sees the Olympic-distance race as a perfect opportunity for collegiate athletes who are turning their focus toward triathlon.
“This weekend is a huge assessment tool for the program,” she said. “I encourage athletes to go to nationals so I can teach them how to look at a course the day before, see them in a pressure situation on race day, and work with them post-race at a 6-hour clinic focusing on technique.”
A goal for the collegiate recruits is to get experience in what they hope will be their career one day soon, as they make the shift from a full-time swimmer or runner to a full-time triathlete.
“I had no idea how to train for triathlons and it has been a real learning process,” said Katie Hursey, who was a runner at Syracuse and is now working with a triathlon coach. “The support of everyone from USAT, family, friends and the people I continuously meet at races is so wonderful. There are always people there for you cheering, supporting and teaching you new things.”
Hursey swam competitively as a child, and began running in high school as a way to keep in shape for soccer. She won the 1600 at the Maryland state meet as a high school sophomore, and decided to stick with running. Though she enjoys her new sport, she says it is also a challenge trying to balance the skills of three sports. “I have never done a sport where you relied so much on a piece of equipment,” she said. “With running and swimming you just go do it, with little equipment needs. I have found that with the bike I almost feel like I need to have a relationship with it to give it the care and upkeep it needs.”
Steph Sasolfelt is also learning what it will be like to balance three sports one day. Right now, she is competing in her last season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers as a member of the cross country and track teams, though she swam for two years before making the switch to running.
“There are many details that I would have most definitely overlooked if not for Barb’s ornate emails,” Sasolfelt said. “I have used each swim workout and have been motivated by reading where other athletes in this program have gone.”
Former college runner Justin Roeder competed at Age Group Nationals in 2011 and loved the experience. “Nothing can describe the atmosphere. Bikes, triathlon car decals, compression socks and Zipp wheels scattered all over the town. I was definitely overwhelmed at first; everyone was dressed in the latest gear and gadgets. The triathlon community is unlike any other, so friendly and chatty, it’s addictive.”
The Collegiate Recruitment Program identifies top swimming and running prospects who may also excel in triathlon and provides opportunities to turn triathlon into a career. The most recognizable name from the program is 2012 Olympian Gwen Jorgensen, who saw success early on in her triathlon career. The current members are grateful for what the program has to offer.
“The most influential thing in my training has been going to the Olympic Training Center camp,” Hursey said. “It provided me with so much knowledge and skills and the timing was perfect in that I had just begun to train for triathlons so I was able to quickly deter bad habits and learn swimming, cycling, running and transition skills the correct way. The Recruitment Program has also provided me with so many new relationships with athletes, coaches and specialists that I can't wait to continue to meet up with in the future.”
As the coordinator of the program, Lindquist says that Age Group Nationals is a great benchmark for collegiate recruits because of the talent-rich field. “It’s an investment for the athletes to travel to this big of a race this early in their careers. Some athletes racing have only been focusing on the sport for two months. It’s a risk to put themselves against the best when they are so new, especially when they have tasted success in college in single sport. I’m just so proud that so many are not afraid to see where they are in the sport and race the best.”
Though Hursey and Sasolfelt are still relatively new to triathlon, Roeder has been aiming for a top performance at the Olympic-Distance National Championship all year.
“Like many others, my goal is to win my age group and I would love to take the overall individual title as well,” he said. “Triathlon is an up-and-coming sport filled with tremendous talent, and depending on the day any athlete could take home the title. Ultimately, I just want to put it all on the line and reap the rewards of all my hard work from the past year.”