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Military Athletes Find Home at Collegiate Nationals

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It would have been easier for Matthew Mohnacky to place his triathlon training on hiatus. Early in his eight-year stint with the United States Coast Guard, he was spending months at a time on a 210-foot vessel patrolling the East Coast. Time, resources and space to train were difficult to come by. 

Most people would have thought twice about committing what little free time they had to grueling multisport workouts in trying conditions. But as he had a reason to step away from workouts and a commitment to the sport he loved, Mohnacky only dug deeper and manufactured ways to continue his preparation onboard the ship.

Logging what he estimates to be 1,000 laps per night running on the flight deck and struggling to simply maintain his balance in heavy seas on a small exercise bike, Mohnacky used every opportunity he could for his training. It was not a difficult decision. It is that dedication that Mohnacky has in common with most members of the United States Armed Forces and especially those who also choose to pursue the sport of triathlon. 

At its core, the U.S. Armed Forces is built on commitment and hard work. They pride themselves on overcoming adversity and remembering the reasons not to quit. These are the same traits that epitomize the lifestyle of a multisport athlete.

With a large contingent representing military academies or within the U.S. Armed Forces, this week more than 1,200 collegiate triathletes from around the country will converge on Tempe, Ariz., for the 2014 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships, April 4-5. 

They are all there with a common purpose.

“Triathlon requires daily training and in the Coast Guard it was every single day,” said Mohnacky, who has found a home on The Ohio State Triathlon Club following his service with the U.S. Coast Guard. “It’s that dedication to keep getting back into practice. That military life goes into sports, period.” 

United States Naval Academy Midshipman Clay Petty, Mohnacky and North Texas’ Tyler Marshall are among the Armed Forces members competing in Tempe.

Clay Petty – United States Naval Academy
Shortly after the Collegiate National Championships, Petty will travel to Washington, D.C. for a nuclear reactor interview and potential position within the submarine warfare community. 

But first he will lead Navy into the Collegiate National Championships with hopes of a win in the Armed Forces division.

His third time competing in the event, the Collegiate National Championships are a favorite for Petty. 

“I have done some of the larger races in the past (New York City Triathlon and Escape from Alcatraz),” he said. “Those are unique events, which I love, but Collegiate Nationals is in a league of its own. There is such an energy about it with all the athletes from other schools and all the pride. We are proud to be members of the Armed Forces. We wear our blue and gold proud and we are excited to be competing.”

And for Petty, the relationship between Navy and the sport of triathlon is a natural fit. 

“Triathlon teaches more than just how to be fit or how to lead a healthy and active lifestyle,” said Petty. “That’s important, but there is certainly a mental toughness factor that you can’t find in a lot of other sports. I like to challenge myself physically and mentally. Triathlon plays to that. That definitely ties in with the types of officers from the service academies once we graduate.”

Matthew Mohnacky – The Ohio State Triathlon Club
It was difficult for Mohnacky to hide his excitement over his first time competing in the Collegiate National Championships this year. At 32 years old, he calls himself a “non-traditional student.” 

Along with serving as a Boatswain Mate, he spent four years in Key West, Fla., conducting search and rescue and law enforcement where he spent his free time organizing training groups with other members of the U.S. Coast Guard. In that time, he was able to complete two Ironmans.

And through all of his experiences, triathlon has stayed at the forefront of his priorities. He later intends to pursue a career within the sport of triathlon once he completes his degree in sports industry next year. 

Tyler Marshall – North Texas
Shortly after the completion of this year’s Collegiate National Championships and his spring semester at North Texas, Marshall will head to Ft. Bragg, N.C., to serve active duty in the Army as Platoon Leader at the 82nd Airborne Division.

Marshall will bridge stints in active duty with competing in Tempe where he will step down from his preferred distance of the half-Ironman. Marshall is quick to see a connection between his strong commitment to the military and his passion for the sport of triathlon. 

“I agree with the philosophy of a lot of triathletes that I have met,” said Marshall, who is also president of the North Texas Tactical Athlete Training group. “There are so many variables that go into it. It translates to anything in combat arms for sure. Attention to detail and you have to be so in tune with your body and your mind. It’s as easy or as hard as you want to make it and it’s a gut check the whole time.”

Marshall compares the grind of a half-Ironman to lifelong family ties to the military where his father currently holds the rank of Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army. 

“You really have to dedicate your time to training,” he said. “You have to work one degree below boiling point at all times. That distance (half –Ironman) resonates with me. It’s hard, but doable. That’s how I try to live my life.”

To learn more about the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships, visit www.usatriathlon.org/USATCN14.

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