A Day in the Life of University of San Francisco Assistant Tri Coach Chelsea Burns

by Kelly O'Mara

a group of five female collegiate triathletes wearing swimsuits pose for a photo on the pool deck.

A former USA Triathlon National Team member, Chelsea Burns used to travel all over the world to race and train. But these days she can usually be found on the University of San Francisco campus, where she’s started a second career as an assistant coach to the budding NCAA Women’s Collegiate Triathlon team there.

The USF team is overseen by another former pro, Gina Kehr, and fielded its first squad in the fall of 2019 — but then COVID hit. While they’ve weathered their share of ups and downs since then, last year marked a big victory: USF’s Kira Gupta-Baltazar won the Division I national title, showing the Women's Collegiate Triathlon community the Dons are a force to be reckoned with. 

With women’s varsity triathlon on its way now to becoming the next official NCAA championship sport, we’ll be taking a look over the next eight weeks at some of the teams, athletes, and coaches as they prepare for nationals on Nov. 12.

First up: We tagged along with Burns for a day in her life as USF’s assistant coach.

Tuesday, Sept. 20

6 a.m. Wake up in van. 

San Francisco is one of the most expensive real estate and rental markets in the country, so to save money living on a part-time assistant coach’s income Burns has adopted the #vanlife.

6:30 a.m. Drink coffee in triathlon office on USF campus.

The ten girls on the team have early practices almost every morning: Monday is a 6 a.m. swim, Tuesday a 7 or 7:30 a.m. run, Wednesday a 7:30 a.m swim, Thursday a 7 a.m. brick, and Friday is 6 a.m. gym followed by a 7:30 a.m. swim. Because head coach Kehr has to commute up to an hour in from Redwood City, she and Burns split the early morning duties. That way Kehr can spend some time with her kids. “She pours herself into this team,” said Burns. 

7:20 a.m. Meet team to jog to Kezar track.

The University of San Francisco campus is right in the heart of the city, which means the team uses the nearby public track at Kezar stadium in Golden Gate Park, where they’re often running alongside pro athletes, recreational joggers, and bootcamp classes. “We share it with the whole community,” said Burns.

Because it’s a race week—the team will fly out to Colorado on Thursday—they do a race-week workout of 3x [600, 400, 200]. Not every week is a track workout; some Thursdays they do a tempo or hill run instead. After they’re done, they jog back and the student-athletes all head to class. Kehr keeps a massive color-coded spreadsheet of all the team members’ class schedules.

9 a.m. Return to office, eat oatmeal, catch up on emails, and meet with Gina.

10 a.m. Record podcast for Pro Tri News.

One of the things Burns does in her free time is help host the Pro Tri News podcast. Last year, she tried to work other side jobs, but this year she wanted to focus more on the team—though she still tries to have some of her own life, she joked.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m
. Admin work in office.

“That’s most of our day,” said Burns. “The practices are the best part, but that’s only an hour-and-a-half.” Most of the day (and most of running a NCAA program) actually gets spent on administrative tasks, like planning and coordinating travel for this weekend’s races, working out budget and schedule details—the two races in Colorado are actually a last-minute replacement after a race in St. George was canceled, setting up recruiting visits, and one-on-one meetings with the athletes each week, where they may talk through training programs or just regular issues that college girls have to deal with. “It’s great they’re triathletes, but we’re more interested in helping them as people,” said Burns—which is also one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of the job.

Each day Kehr and Burns have an agenda or to-do list for their office hours, but Burns said new additional details always come up (like the school vans they share with other campus teams were hit by a hit-and-run driver while parked) and those issues get added before they make it all the way through the list.

two female triathletes work on filling air in the tires of a bike and third triathlete is smiling and laughing

3 p.m. the team has a swim workout with Kehr, while Burns finishes up travel logistics for this weekend’s races and coordinates with the other NCAA teams coming to set up a lunch and talk with Olympic champ Flora Duffy.

5 p.m. Drive the hour down to Stanford and do a track workout with the Peninsula Distance Club.

Although Burns has retired from pro athlete life, she still runs seriously and is planning to race another 50K soon. She runs each week with the elite Peninsula Distance Club; today their workout is: 2-mile, 6x800, 2-mile. Then she drives back up to the city.

8 p.m. Shower, eat, and go to sleep in van.

The USF Dons took third behind ASU and the University of Denver at the collegiate race in Colorado, and were then fourth at the Mile High Relays two days later. Their next race will be Oct. 15 at the NCAA West Regional in Stockton, Missouri—a qualifier for the national championships.

Kelly O’Mara is the former editor-in-chief of Triathlete Magazine and writes the Triathlonish newsletter.
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