Courtesy photo/Cal Poly Triathlon Team

As with anything in life, success doesn’t just fall into one’s lap; it takes vigor, ambition and practice.

Take it from Devin Volk, the top male athlete on the Cal Poly Triathlon Team.

“When you’re pushing on the bike and it’s starting to hurt, you gotta stay mentally strong and keep pushing. That’s the difference between winning and losing,” Volk said. “A lot of it comes down to personality. How badly do you want it?”

The Cal Poly Triathlon Team is the largest club sport team on campus. They placed in ninth of about 150 teams at nationals this past year, in Clemson, South Carolina.

Annually, there are about 10 races for team members to choose from within the West Coast Collegiate Triathlon Conference (WCCTC). There is one national race each year, which includes all conferences nationwide. Nationals will occur in April.

“Each team comes up with their own qualifying criteria for nationals. This season, we’re using the top six men and women plus two additional guys and girls, based on an application process,” Volk said.

The Cal Poly Triathlon Team divides its practices into three categories: swim, bike and run. According to Student Head Coach Julia Mace, swim practices are held three times a week. Biking practices are also held three times a week, which include one day of intervals, one day of long distance, and a drill called a “brick,” where team members quickly transition from biking to running. Running practices are three times a week as well, which include a long run, easy run and a track day.

During practices, the triathlon team divides into green, white and gold groups, from least experienced to most advanced. The team also participates in competitions amongst itself, such as the duathlon event, which will be held in a few weeks. Additionally, the team has time trials, which track time improvements of team members.

Mace works with a professional coach in order to create and maintain a training plan for the team. She said that the top athletes are doing more than just attending practices.

“Their priority is triathlon. They’re working their schedules around it and a lot of people create training plans that address their personal needs,” Mace said.

For most of the team’s top athletes, their success was gradually earned.

“Members of our team are not usually coming in and landing on the podium during their first race; it’s very competitive,” Mace said. “A lot of people join with some experience in swimming or running, but many are getting a road bike for the first time.”

For Volk, his first triathlon was not exactly representative of his athletic abilities.

“Before coming to college, I was in a local race back home and I was not prepared whatsoever. I had a bike a few sizes too big and was coughing up water while swimming,” Volk said. “When I joined the triathlon team, I started in the lowest swim group and never swam competitively. Since then, I have doubled my swimming distance in the same time.”

With more training sessions than days in the week, you may be wondering how students balance triathlon with school, social life and health.

“A healthy diet is huge because we’re burning a lot of calories at practice. On Friday, after practice, we go out to dinner together. Everyone’s always trying to keep up on sleep,” Mace said. “Balancing school and practice is hard but a lot of people benefit from it. It’s also important to take recovery days.”

Cal Poly Triathlon Team President Jake Pickett has his hands full. Not only does he race, but he oversees the team’s many committees and leaders. The team essentially runs as a business, with its specialized coaches, secretary, treasurer, public relations officer, apparel coordinator, sponsorship coordinator and webmaster.

This year, the triathlon team faces a unique obstacle. One of its most favored races, Wildflower, has been canceled due to low water levels.

Still, Pickett does not think that the team will lose members. In fact, he has big goals for the triathlon team for this upcoming year.

“We want to win the West Coast Triathlon Conference, which is a series of races in which scores are added up. For nationals, our goal is to get into the top five,” Pickett said. “I think that’s doable this year. We have a much quicker team than we’ve had in the past.”

The team currently has about 150 registered members and is the cheapest of Cal Poly club sports.

“Triathlon takes a lot of time commitment and energy. If you want to be good, you have to put in the hours and push yourself. That transfers to anything. If you want to do well in school or work, you have to take that time,” Volk said. “There’s no medal for going hard in practice.”

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