Where do you spend the winter months training?
University of Maryland Triathlon Team - the Road to Collegiate Nationals
The Road to Collegiate Nationals is Paved with Good Deeds and Hard Work
By Tracey Holman, founder of the University of Maryland triathlon club
“Blood, sweat, and tears.” This is what I was told it would take to start the triathlon club at the University of Maryland in the spring of 2008… and boy am I glad I didn’t believe it at the time. My whole plan, you see, was to do all of the administrative start up work, then pass the team along to someone else to run. I was very happy playing rugby 3 days a week, going to school full time, and working at least one part time job.
But like so many of us out there, for some reason we always need to do more, and I wanted to do a triathlon. I also knew there was no way I would train for one if I didn’t have people to do it with. On top of that, the University of Maryland was one of the few big schools in the region that did not have a triathlon team. The University of Virginia, The Naval Academy, Virginia Tech, Pennsylvania State University, Duke University, James Madison University, and Georgetown had tri teams! Where was Maryland’s? I knew that if I started the club on campus, people would come running and someone else would want to take it over and lead it. Right?
Finding Fellow Teammates
Reality set in but eventually we progressed over the semesters, slowly recruiting members and gaining recognition both on campus and in the larger triathlon community at races and with sponsors. Even so, Nationals was never on the radar except maybe as a five year goal for the team. When recruitment jumped significantly in Fall 2009 due to the addition of two recruitment chairs (one of them now our current President), we began to get more serious in competitions and the number of experienced members grew. After competing at the Collegiate Regional Championship against VA Tech, JMU, and Liberty University, several members on our team had the itch to participate in more college races. Several people mentioned the possibility of going to Nationals, but I was always hesitant, telling people it was not going to happen this year. However, a long time friend and senior member of the team, Matt Adams, said he wanted to do it before he graduated - I finally caved and agreed to at least look into it.
Heading to Nationals 2010
This year, the Collegiate National race was held on April 17 at Buffalo Springs Lake in Lubbock, Texas. Besides being a challenge to gather enough interested members to participate, we had to work out the logistics and cost. Our National’s interest meeting in November 2009 drew almost 20 interested members despite the estimated price to be about $250 per person and three days of school lost. We had interest from 7 men and 7 women at this point.
Despite our best plans, learning how to navigate the school funding system and readjusting our plans took almost as much effort as training for the race itself. We shifted our plan from driving to flying per rules laid out by the Student Government Association. How the funds were spent was also dictated by rules, but there were also way to modify and adjust these rules for our circumstances. At the higher cost for travel, our team diminished from 14 to 5 - not even enough to qualify as a scoring team.
Overcoming Financial Issues – A Lesson in Red Tape
While all the chaos on transportation was going on, I was in Europe for a study abroad. On my plane ride back from Europe, I wrote any ideas for fundraising I could think of from bake sales to websites to raffles. I knew there were less people who had raised more money in less time for other races, and I knew we could do it if people were willing to put in the time and effort. Was I willing to put in the effort?
I found the answer a few days after getting home while sitting on the floor listening to music. It wasn’t that I was dying to go to the race before I graduated or that I was getting excited to go, it was because it was not going to be money and some school policies that were going to stop us. We could do this.
So I recruited and convinced 4 guys and 4 girls (minimum to create a scoring team) to stick with us, offering to help some with their portions of fundraising if money was an issue. We pursued every funding option at our disposal; funding web sites, USA Triathlon grants, and eventually writing a bill to change SGA rules. We were awarded $2,000 toward plane tickets. We also applied for the SGA emergency fund and after a personal phone call to the VP of finance, were awarded $2,500. Finally things were looking good.
Nothing is Ever as Easy as it Seems
At this point, it was early April and we had already purchased our National’s slots and had entered in all of the competitors’ names, barely making it before the deadline because there were some registration issues. We booked hotel rooms at the Overton (host hotel) and worked on getting car rentals and plane tickets. At this point, though, all of the SUVs, vans, and bigger cars were already taken and the plane ticket prices were very high. We had to settle for one SUV and one car and brought bike racks with us so we could fit everything and everyone once we got to Lubbock.
A few days later (three weeks from race day) the hotel cancelled on us, saying they didn’t realize they were out of rooms reserved for teams but they had other, twice-as-expensive rooms with which breakfast would now be included. Instead of opting for the $100 breakfast, we frantically looked online for a vacant hotel and luckily found one not too far from the race site or host hotel. Plane tickets? Check. Car Rentals? Check. Hotel? Check.
Two days before leaving, half of us had a bike packing party on my lawn. Bike boxes, bikes, tools, and newspaper were splayed all over and none of us were exactly sure what we were doing. We measured the boxes too and realized they did not meet the airlines size requirements. What if they don’t let us bring them? They were standard bike box sizes - did we have another choice? We had to count on Southwest letting us slide by with boxes just a little big. About three hours later, just as the sun was going down, we had the bikes ready to go.
Finally, the Race – What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
The plane ride was pretty uneventful, with travelers beside us wondering why we would want to go to Lubbock - “it’s all dirt.” When we got there, it was all mud. Lubbock, TX gets an average of 10 inches of rain per year and they got three between the Thursday and Friday we were in town. Roads were flooded, there was a constant 20 mph wind, and everything was a nice shade of brown. Friday we checked in to packet pickup then headed to the race site before going back to the Overton for the pre-race meeting. The conditions were beyond bad. I could not figure out why anyone would choose this as a race site.
We saw the transition area, the lake and the monster hill we had to climb immediately out of transition. We had two people stay with the car to go to the course meeting, which never happened, and the rest of us went back to the warm and dry Overton. I attended the pre-race meeting with the current club President, Anuj, and we got to see the multitude of teams that had arrived to race. When we broke into our region I saw many teams that, despite being close by, I never saw during the year: Navy, UVA, Penn State, Duke, VA Tech, Georgetown, Drexel, JMU, UNC-Wilmington, Liberty University, and George Mason (one person) were all there.
Saturday morning - race morning - arrived. The only improvement in weather conditions was that it stopped raining for the race. The wind was still a constant 20-25 mph, the air temperature was about 55 degrees and the water had dropped to a frigid 54. The race director decided to shorten the swim from 1500m to 750m to minimize the number of cases of hypothermia and the run course was made into 2 loops because the original course was flooded. Great.
It ended up being the toughest race I, and most of my teammates, had ever done. We got our wetsuits on and with a tremendous amount of willpower made it into the water that literally took your breath away. When I got out of the water and made it to my bike I tried to take my wetsuit off and had to sit down to get the job done. I felt unable to move with any sort of speed and took my time in transition, with other girls chatting around me, I heard “this is ridiculous” more than once. I threw on my sweatshirt and put on my helmet and shoes, and after an extremely long T1, I headed out with the other girls.
The bike was worse. Because of the chilly temperatures and high winds, everyone’s hands and feet were numb. It got to the point where I had to watch my hands before I switched gears to make sure I was pushing the right thing. Right before the turnaround we got to go down this awesome hill with the wind pushing us along - after we turned around, that same wind and same 1.5 mile hill were pushing against us. I passed several cyclists stopped on the side of the road too frozen to continue and on multiple occasions saw racers walking their bikes up the hills. They were moving just as fast as those who were riding their bikes. Finally I cruised into transition and prepared for the run.
There were only two problems: I couldn’t get my helmet off because my hands were frozen and I couldn’t feel my legs from my calves down. I sat down in transition again and seriously considered for a moment what would happen if I couldn’t get my helmet off. I was pushing with both hands but my fingers couldn’t produce enough force to undo the clasp. Finally it gave and I took off my helmet, put on my shoes (which luckily I didn’t have to tie), and started the run, which turned out to be pretty uneventful. I started to gain a little feeling back in my legs around mile four.
The important part is my teammates and I all finished and the rest of the weekend was a great learning experience for all of us. We know next year to bring costumes for the awards ceremony, to start planning WAY ahead of time, and that Maryland will be bringing a full team from now on. We are having our Nationals interest meeting next week and are going to start fundraising now for Tuscaloosa so we are able to bring 14+ people. To those other college teams reading this - watch out for Maryland, because we are just getting started.