The Cal Poly club triathlon team is heading to the 2011 USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals in Tuscaloosa, Ala. this weekend.
The top seven men and seven women will represent Cal Poly in the Olympic-distance race, which consists of a 1,500 meter swim, a 40 kilometer bike and a 10 kilometer run.
There are an additional 15 Cal Poly triathletes who will race the sprint-distance race consisting of a 750 meter swim, a 20 kilometer bike and a 5 kilometer run. This race is intended for those who did not qualify for the Olympic race but would like to have the experience of traveling with the team and competing.
Race coordinator and mechanical engineering sophomore Frankie Wiggins will race the sprint-distance, because he plans to race the Olympic-distance in the future.
“It takes a lot of dedication because, honestly, our top No. 1 and No. 2 guys are triathletes first,” Wiggins said. “You can train and train and train but that’s not the half of it because the more you train, the more you eat, the more you sleep, the more you stretch yourself … It just builds on you. There’s a dedication aspect to it.”
Cal Poly is known at Nationals. Last year, the team placed fourth overall at the 2010 Collegiate Nationals in Lubbock, Texas. The top teams are the military service academies, Colorado University and Cal Poly’s main rival — California, Wiggins said.
Cal did not compete last year because it was suspended but it will in Alabama.
Ten of the 14 athletes running the Olympic-distance are earned by two qualifying races. The other four are discretionary spots chosen by the officer core.
“The reason why we do that is because we know how much people have been training and we see them out there,” Wiggins said. “We want people to represent our team who are involved and who care for the team. It’s a special group. Everyone on that Olympic team deserves their spot.”
One of these Olympic spots goes to president and animal science senior Hannah Tillman, who raced at Tuscaloosa her freshman year.
“It’s really fun to be able to go back and do the same course,” Tillman said. “It’s in an obscure location, as are most of the national championships. We swam in a slow moving river which is really murky. People were worried about alligators but I never saw any. The biking is two laps so it’s really spectator friendly, with rolling hills. It’s a beautiful course — the run is on a bike path right along the river. It’s probably unrepresentative of Alabama as a whole, but it’s actually pretty nice.”
This contrasts to last year when there were 50 mph crop winds, pouring rain and a flooded course where people had to get off their bikes to cross in some areas. Moreover, on the swim leg of the race, people got sick from a bacterial outbreak.
Communications manager John Martin has been working with the USA Triathlon for two years. The National Events teams have been working hard to put things in place and are looking forward to having approximately 1,600 athletes from around 120 schools, Martin said.
“The course is looking great,” Martin said. “It’s an area that our staff is really familiar with. We get great support from the community there, from the mayor’s office, from the university. It’s a fantastic course that all the athletes should really enjoy.”
What makes this event unique is the team atmosphere. There is the assumption that triathlon is an individual sport but at this event there is an obvious display of team and school spirit that can’t be found at any other races, Martin said.
The Cal Poly Triathlon team does not act like an individual sport. They practice together two to three times a day, hang out together and some of the members even live together.
“I’ve always thought the triathlon team is pretty special because you have the runner geeks, the cool water polo swimmer kids, the cycling dorks and a huge range of people who you would never expect to be friends in any other setting.” Tillman said. “Everyone is just a really welcoming group of people. It’s a pretty cohesive team mentality. “
For Wiggins, the triathlon team has turned into his family over the past two years.
“I love hanging out around these people because no matter what, you can count on them to get stuff done,” Wiggins said. “Ultimately that’s how we go about training. You don’t get up at 5 a.m. everyday unless you have that ambition. That’s the ideal attitude; live and breathe triathlon. It becomes a lifestyle. You forget what’s it’s like to not have it.”