I love Nationals!

Reposted from Aug. 14, 2018


This past weekend, I competed in the 2018 USA Triathlon Age Group Triathlon National Championship in Cleveland, Ohio.  My head is still somewhere in the clouds from the joy of racing at Nationals.

Four years ago, I competed in my first National Championship in Milwaukee.  As a second-year newbie, I was a little scared and was sure I’d come in last, but I didn’t care.  I looked forward to racing on the same course as the best triathletes in the country.  What I discovered at Nationals caused me to love triathlon even more than did before.

I originally fell in love with triathlon because it gave purpose to my exercise as I began losing 200 pounds over a two and half year period.  Rather than the monotony of exercise, training for triathlon made feel like I was a ten-year-old.  I literally yelled “Wheeeee!” as I sped down the first hill on my bike.  At age 60, it was so much fun to be a little kid again!

At my first National Championship, my love for triathlon grew as I began to understand the joy and kindness that exists throughout the triathlon community.  I reached transition in the early morning and looked across a field of thousands of bikes.  There were bikes as far as I could see, each racked by its seat in a neat row.  I felt intimidated by the size of the event.  What had I gotten myself into?  But the moment I walked into transition, my fears calmed.  Smiles and kindness were everywhere!

The sprint distance at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship event is an “open” event which means anyone can participate without qualifying.  As a result, serious sprint triathletes and beginners race on the same course at the same time.  I quickly noticed that everyone was helping everyone.  We were each there for our personal and unique reason, but we all shared the joy of triathlon.  The elite triathletes were gracious in answering our newbie questions, and the officials were eager to address our questions about the rules.  Imagine thousands of people getting ready to do something side by side that would bring each person great joy. It was the happiest place I’ve ever been.

I was proud of myself as I toed the start line for the race.  I was still overweight, but I had conquered my fears, and I was racing on the same course as the best triathletes in my country!  How cool was that?  I wasn’t racing to be on the podium.  My prize was the experience of being at a National Championship – to have my race number tattooed on my arms and legs, to see thousands of bikes in transition, to toe the start line with the best triathletes in the world, and hopefully, to bring home a finisher’s medal.

After the race, I ate lunch with other finishers in the athlete’s food tent.  It was fun talking with other athletes about the course and each of our races.  I was touched that the best triathletes in the country and I could talk about the race.  It didn’t matter that some of them were All Americans and National Champions.  We all struggled to get up Hoene Memorial Bridge, and we all loved running along the shore of Lake Michigan in the morning sun.  I met a man who was 85 years old and still doing triathlons.  Amazing!

Surprisingly, I wasn’t last.  In local races, I always placed first in my 60-64 age group because I was the only one in my age group.  So, I never really knew how I compared to others my age.  But at nationals, there were tons of women in my age group.  I was shocked to finished in the middle of the pack!  It made me wonder what would happen if I committed to my training.

This past weekend was my fifth National Championship.  Race morning was the same as it was during my first National Championship.  Everyone was happy, excited, and a little bit nervous.  The announcer said that one man was so nervous, he left his wife at the hotel by mistake!  He drove all the way to race venue before he realized that she was still in the hotel lobby!  Understanding laughter rose from across the transition area.  We all understood how someone could forget something on race morning!

I now have friends at Nationals that I look forward to seeing each year.  Carol from Florida, Martha from Illinois, Shelly from North Carolina.  We may only talk for five or 10 minutes during transition or after the race, but there’s a special bond between us created by our common experiences at Nationals.  I love going to the awards ceremony to cheer when one of them is on the podium.

Later today, I will ride my bike on the course again, relive the race, and savor the joys.  I do this after every National race.  If it’s like past races, the tents and bike racks will be gone, and not one piece of trash will be on the ground.  It will be as though 5,000+ people were never there!  However, the memories of joy, kindness, and accomplishment will be in our minds forever.

I chose this topic for my guest blog because I hope to encourage others to focus their training on the 2019 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships now.  You have twelve months to prepare!  Having that focus now will give each day of your training a special purpose.  In fact, I suggest that you register now for the Sprint Distance to truly focus your training!  Go for it!

Nationals will be in Cleveland again in 2019.  We loved Cleveland.  The downtown area is vibrant and the race venue is beautiful – probably the prettiest run course that I have ever seen.  Remember, you don’t have to qualify for the sprint distance race.  That event is shared by serious sprint triathletes and beginners.  It’s a race for everyone!

Go to the 2019 USAT National Championship Page on the USAT website to learn more about the 2019 National Championship and register now for the sprint race!  Hope to see you there!

The USA Triathlon Ambassadors provide resources, advice and inspiration to aspiring athletes in their local communities, using their collective stories and experiences to grow multisport participation nationwide. Meet the ambassadors here.


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