- You’re an Ironman, right? Will Watson was the classmate Roshak questioned.
- Thompson, a neuroscience major, said “I had to learn how to swim.”
When Evan Roshak at Portland State University noticed a classmate wearing shorts on a chilly winter day and sporting a noticeable red tattoo on his right ankle, he had just settled into his writing class.
You’re an Ironman, right? Will Watson was the classmate Roshak questioned.
Yes. In actuality, Watson had acquired the tattoo following his qualification for the Hawaii Ironman World Championship this year. Roshak started training with Watson because he, too, had plans to complete an Ironman this summer.
The two Oregon students are among an unusually large group of undergraduate students who are in town for the championship race triathlon.
The coronavirus pandemic can be partially blamed for the increase because these athletes, who are by nature hypercompetitive, embraced long runs, indoor and outdoor bike rides, and endless laps in the pool to avoid isolation and set new goals.
But more generally, young athletes are becoming more interested in triathlon. Women’s triathlon is now a varsity sport at more than 40 N.C.A.A. schools, compared to just a few less than ten years ago. The newest of these is the University of Arizona.
Additionally, triathlon competition is more financially feasible now that college athletes are free to earn money from deals that make use of their notoriety (known as name, image, and likeness deals).
So it comes as no surprise that Ironman recently announced a 70.3-mile race in State College, Pennsylvania in July 2023. The race will end at the 50-yard line of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.
The Ironman requires athletes to complete 140.6 miles total—2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, and 26.2 miles of running—in 17 hours. That is more than twice as long as the swim leg of an Olympic triathlon and more than four times as long as the bike and run legs.
In fact, Kona will host the second championship in 2022. The race, which was delayed due to the pandemic, was finally held in 2021 May in St. George, Utah, marking the first time the championship was held outside of Hawaii. The 2020 contest was called off.
Chris Nikic, the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman, and Sebastien Bellin, a former Belgian professional basketball player who nearly lost his legs during the 2016 Brussels terror attack, among others, were invited to compete to mark the event’s return to Hawaii. Ironman is owned by Advance Publications.
For the 82 professional triathletes vying for the $125,000 first-place prize, this year’s competition marked the first time since the first Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon in 1978 that the men’s and women’s races were held on different days.
An unexpected winner of the women’s race on Thursday was Mill Valley, California’s Chelsea Sodaro, a former All-American runner at the University of California, Berkeley, who finished in 8 hours, 33 minutes, and 46 seconds. The defending champion, Daniela Ryf of Switzerland, came in eighth place, 30 minutes after Sodaro.
Saturday morning saw the start of the men’s race, and the leaders were predicted to cross the finish line by midday. The overwhelming favorite was Kristian Blummenfelt of Norway, the reigning champion and gold medalist at the Olympics. However, Tim O’Donnell, the 2019 runner-up, who was taking part in his first race since nearly passing away from a heart attack mid-race in March 2021, was one of the sentimental selections.
Nearly half of the more than 5,000 participants in Kona were from Europe. The average age of the competitors was 45, but a sizable contingent of about 100 came from the 18 to 24 age range.
While the number of men registering for Kona has decreased since 2011, the number of women ages 18 to 24 has increased by 68%.
The majority of American college students participated in either cross-country or swimming competitions in high school. Some people, like Sawaya, have family members who have competed in marathons or triathlons.
Two had mastered slopestyle skiing in Oregon and Utah (big mountain). Another had spent four years playing high school golf outside of Chicago.
Thompson once had a bright future as a point guard in northern Florida, where he participated on elite youth basketball teams. He enrolled at Duke with the intention of studying medicine, but after suffering severe knee injuries, he gave up his dream of playing college basketball.
The pandemic then began. He also lived on campus while enrolled in online classes, but was unable to participate in as many clubs as he had hoped to. Thus, the triathlon.
Thompson, a neuroscience major, said “I had to learn how to swim.”
Three Ironman competitors from the Research Triangle region include Thompson. Senior at the University of North Carolina, Andrew Buchanan is a resident of Redondo Beach, California. Corinne Mouw, a senior at North Carolina State and a native of Pittsgrove, New Jersey, is active in the school’s triathlon club.
While Mouw’s classmates were evacuated from Raleigh due to the pandemic in March 2020, she remained there and continued working in a co-op job related to her major in mechanical engineering. But everyone managed to stay in touch thanks to the online fitness tracker Strava.
She said, “Even though I couldn’t see my friends, I could see them working out.
Roshak calculated that the cost of competing can be prohibitive and can easily reach $15,000 per year for a coach, a bicycle, different suits for land and water, race registration fees, and more. Although discounts on clothing and equipment can be obtained through sponsorships with businesses, many triathletes depend on their families and hold down part-time jobs.
Frasier Williamson, 24, of Kaysville, Utah, who received a scholarship to run cross-country for Weber State, has always struggled with money.
Williamson, now a junior, had just returned from a two-year Mormon mission to the Philippines and was working out with his college teammates to get in shape. However, he was informed that he would not receive a scholarship because the athletic department had to cut spending due to the pandemic.
The 20-year-old sprinter Jordan Ambrose was on the verge of committing to swim for Illinois’ McKendree University. But after receiving a thoracic outlet syndrome diagnosis, she gave up swimming and enrolled at the University of Southern Indiana, which is close to her Mount Vernon, Indiana, home.
She started running marathons with her cousin because she was itching for exercise during the pandemic. Triathlons didn’t even occur to her as a possibility until she realized she could swim far distances without experiencing pain.
Ambrose was contacted by Trine University in northeastern Indiana, which won the N.C.A.A. Division III triathlon championship in 2021 after she completed her first triathlon. Are you thinking about transferring?
After completing the Ironman in 13 hours, 12 minutes, and 9 seconds, she declared, “I will now concentrate on swimming.” “I love it all, the team, the atmosphere of competition.”
In the fall, 14 N.C.A.A. Division III schools compete in sprint triathlons, including Trine. A 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike ride, and a 5-kilometer run are all part of the competition. Arizona State, which has won five consecutive national championships, is the most successful school among the 15 Division II participants and the 12 Division I schools. The rosters include more than 300 women from 24 different nations.
Triathlon might be added as an official N.C.A.A. championship sport by 2024. According to Tim Yount, chief sport development officer of USA Triathlon, the USA Triathlon Foundation will soon launch a collective, to be funded by donors, that will pay N.C.A.A. triathletes through name, image, and likeness deals to promote the sport on social media.
Sawaya, the Mississippi student, had moments where she felt she couldn’t go on during Thursday’s hot and muggy Ironman race. The ferocious crosswinds on the Big Island caused her to sway while riding her bicycle. Blisters were all over her feet.
The sophomore biomedical engineering student Sawaya continued, “I was dozing off on the run.
She persisted though, saying “thank you” to the volunteers wearing canary T-shirts who lined the course and making friends with other triathletes. One man told her he had a daughter her age as night fell after running with her for 10 miles.