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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Hannah Blystone led the Trine triathlon team with a third-place finish among Division III competitors at the Collegiate Triathlon National Championship in November. It was the first year of varsity triathlon at Trine.

  • Courtesy photo Trine added varsity women's triathlon this past year, one of 22 collegiate programs in the country. The number is expected to eclipse 40 by the next competition season, according to Thunder coach Dr. Danny Powell.

Sunday, January 14, 2018 1:00 am

College triathlon growing

Trine with women's varsity team, 1 of 22 in NCAA

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

It hasn't even been a year since Danny Powell approached the administration at Trine about starting a triathlon team.

The team was one of 22 in the NCAA last year as part of an emerging varsity sport for women and that number is expected to nearly double by next competition season.

“I asked (athletic director Matt) Land and (university President) Dr. (Earl) Brooks if they'd be interested in forming a team and writing a grant and convinced them that the demographics of triathletes were ideal for Trine students,” Powell said. “They agreed for me to write the grant, got awarded and that was in February of 2017 and we raced the first week of school last year. We started recruiting people in February and started racing in August.”

The grant is in conjunction with USA Triathlon's partnership with the NCAA.

The Thunder was able to use the grant to purchase bicycles for athletes, training equipment, coaching and travel expenses.

“Most of the people I was recruiting didn't own a bike, so I tried to eliminate obstacles,” Powell said. “Only 7 percent of triathletes are under 25 years old, and one of the biggest hurdles is a bike.”

In its first season, Trine finished second in Division III of the Collegiate Triathlon National Championships in Tempe, Arizona, in November.

The athletes race the sprint distance of a 750-meter swim, draft-legal 20-kilometer bike and a 5K run.

From February through November, it was a physical and mental process to develop the athletes to compete, and complete, races, Powell said.

“We had to be really flexible this year. We had girls with all kinds of different schedules,” Powell said. “One of the challenges with triathlon training is that you can overtrain really easily. You have to really reprogram the way you think about training. We're limited on time and instead of one domain, we're doing three disciplines. We'll probably only run three days, we also have to work three days of biking in, three days of swimming.

“You have to recover. Recovery is essential. The day we might do a recovery run, we might be doing an anaerobic bike. The tough part about the training is that we had to remedial training to teach them, we also had to improve and reprogram how they thought about performance and improvement.”

The varsity team consisted of six women (a full team is seven), and the scores are like that of cross country races, the top three based on finish places.

The team was led by Hannah Blystone, who placed third of all Division III competitors at the national race.

Blystone is a former cross country runner while Powell has also recruited other runners, some swimmers and even a soccer player who showed interest.

The fact that Powell is also a professor in the business school at Trine, recruiting presents a unique challenge.

“Most of the coaches will spend a lot of time out on the road and be able to do visits and that's not going to happen for me,” Powell said. “I've been calling swimming coaches and cross country coaches. There are a few experienced triathletes at that age group but not a lot around here so I've just been making contacts with coaches.”

The sport will continue to grow in the NCAA and in Division III. This means more competition for few recruits but also additional opportunities to spread awareness and opportunities for athletes who want to try something different.

With the growth, too, there will be changes.

“Next year will be completely different,” Powell said. “Because it's an emerging sport, there will be a lot of changes. They're hoping there will be 40 teams in the next year.

“We were the 13th team and they added 10 teams since last February. There will be six Division III teams just right here in our region by next competition time.”