Qualifying for World Military Championships. Yet, My Bike Couldn’t Go.

March 6th, 2019
It's actually okay to be different.

It’s actually okay to be different.

There are first times for everything. Even though I am competing for the eighth time at the Armed Forces National Triathlon Championships, this is my first time as an Army Reservist. I planned on competing in the event last year but my paperwork for entry into the Reserves was still pending and the application deadline had already passed.  I will point out that some individuals do not believe athletes should be allowed into the event unless a service member has active duty status but that is being a bit closed-minded. There is a reason the race is open to all service members and that is because we all perform the same service to our country. I know that because I am a former active duty officer. I’m not sure who is allowed to quantify a military member’s service and if they deserve to be competing.

Never be too serious

Never be too serious

Besides sporting a different military status, the race was my first triathlon of the year due to knee surgery in December 2017. I had undergone minor surgery to remove a small piece of my patella (knee cap) that was causing pain and slowly scaring the soft tissue underneath. My coach and physical therapists are working hard to rehab the knee and get the leg back to racing shape. Part of that process was a short course duathlon one month prior to the Armed Forces tri called the Bark’n Dog Duathlon in Denver, CO. I placed 6th overall but more importantly the race provided valuable insight into my fitness and what work needed to be complete to further prepare.

Hey, I'm getting paid to do this. : )

Hey, I’m getting paid to do this. : )

Waking up in Point Mugu Naval Base Ventura County, CA on race day was not stressful. Believing in your coach and his process allows realistic expectations. With heart and mind-over-body, we as individuals can push those expectations just a little bit further. My goal was not to win the race, but to do the best I could on that day considering my knee rehab, and place in the top six to qualify for World Military Triathlon Championships in Sweden.

Swm Start!  (photo by Specialist Second Class Paul Cox)

Swim Start! (photo by Specialist Second Class Paul Cox)

When the gun went off, I darted toward the choppy ocean water.  The water temperature felt extra cold this year but is always usually between 55-65 degrees. Usually, I get out front and do not have to worry about any other competitors. This year the racers were faster out to the first buoy.  I was greeted with a few slaps in the face and forced to keep a tight stroke technique due to the limited space. Upon exiting the water for the first lap of two, I was positioned about 6th right behind one of my Army teammates David Slife.

Lap 1 of the swim (photo by  Specialist Seaman Dan Willey)

Lap 1 of the swim (photo by Specialist Seaman Dan Willey)

I remained composed, looked where my competitors ahead of us were and reentered the water.  During that loop, an Air Force competitor who entered with us decided to swim right next to me and constantly brushed up against me. The situation was annoying but I never let those kinds of circumstances get to me.  After finishing up the swim and entering T1, Slife and I had two competitors over thirty seconds ahead of us and three competitors around us. I made up plenty of time during T1 and was the first out on the bike.

Swim to bike.

Swim to bike

David Frease of Navy eventually joined me, and we worked together for half a lap until Slife and two Air Force athletes closed the gap on us. For one full lap, I worked hard to stay with the group.  On the third lap, I cornered wrong and dropped about five meters behind the group. I could not close the gap even though I was putting everything into the pedals.  Fifteen seconds later, I found myself alone and unafraid and with no bike group. It was up to Slife to keep the Army charge but for some reason, he dropped from the bike group seconds later.

Army Train

Army Train is a coming

We did our best for the rest of that lap to not lose much time to the groups ahead but we were not having much success.  Lucky for us, one of our teammates, Matt Schiller, who had been soloing the entire time, came upon us and let us jump onto his wheel. We took the lead a few times but Matt did most of the work for the next two laps. Coming off the bike, we had five guys ahead of us, which meant only one more spot for Worlds up for grabs.  Given we had a 10k run ahead of us, there was still a lot of racing to be done.

Matt leading the way on most of the bike (photo by Specialist Seaman Dan Willey/Released)

Matt leading the way on most of the bike (photo by Specialist Seaman Dan Willey/Released)

We all exited T2 together, not knowing that there was a bike group right behind us entering T2. Slife took the opening lead, while I got right behind him with Matthew behind me. Within 200 meters, Matt fell back and Slife slowed off the throttle. I wanted to keep my pace, so I took the lead and started charging for the group ahead of me, eventually seeing at the first turnaround that we had racers on our heels.  My knee rehab meant I was not in top running pace. I needed to hold my current pace and hopefully run the next 5k faster than those around us.

Running as best I could

Running as best I could with the knees God and my surgeon gave me

Upon finishing the first 5k, I was running alone and could tell I was making up time on four racers ahead of me.  Within the first mile of the second loop, I passed an Air Force competitor, Max Bierman, putting myself into the fifth position. This was a well-needed cushion upon turning at the last turn around and seeing that a few athletes behind me were running faster and were not far behind.  I was in the last gear I could manage without sprinting and still had a 2.5k run left. Within the last half mile, I heard someone behind me and sure enough a different Air Force athlete soon passed me, putting me back into the sixth position.

Trying to run my way into 5th and not be caught by the end.

Trying to run my way into 5th

I tried to remain on his heels but could not hold his pace, which is uncommon for me. I have never been passed at this race on the run. Another first time for something new. The next competitor behind me was about a quarter mile back and I was not safe until I crossed the finish line, even if he was not an Olympic four hundred meter track runner. Within 100 meters of the finish line, I realized I had accomplished my goal, providing my muscles did not lock up or suffering heat exhaustion.

6th overall

6th overall

My leg muscle did lock up but that was immediately after I crossed the finish line. My body is not used to that kind of racing yet. I was overjoyed to be able to be a part of the World Military Games team, making it my third World Championship qualification.  I owe my qualification to Matt Schiller who led most of the bike, while Slife and I had cocktails on his wheel (we were actually doing everything we could to stay on Matt’s wheel).

Go All Army Team!

Go All Army Team!

Our team stayed at Point Mugu until four days after the race when we were supposed to fly to Sweden. The morning we were about to meet in the hotel lobby to head to the airport, our team manager sent us a message to not bring our bags.  Something was up. We were informed that due to not confirming and purchasing our oversized bike bag spaces days in advance, that our connection flights did not have room for all our bags.  Obviously, we all came up with ideas of how to reach our final destination but those were all squashed. I guess due to the logistical nightmare that would burden our team managers, we did not pursue a solution too long.

Trying not to get caught speeding

Trying not to get caught speeding

I did not fret because these things happen even to the best of us, like Lionel Sanders, who also missed a major race because of the same bike transportation issue.  We all changed our flights and I headed back home that day. Not the outcome I was expecting but in the end, I did achieve my goal of qualifying for the World Military Championships. Next time I should add, “and race at World Military Championships.”

The race itself has and will continue to have a long history of great military athletes and good memories. I will continue to race and be a part of the program as long as I am able. I am honored every year to participate, be able to provide my leadership and experience as well as my team spirit hopefully improving the race for everyone each year. This time, I’ll blame this misfortune on the bike but hopefully, we learn from our mistakes and do not miss another World Military Championships due to logistical reasons.

Enjoying fine dining as the US Armed Forces team

Enjoying fine dining with the US Armed Forces triathlon team.

I am a true believer in eating and promoting a plant-based diet for maximum nutrition, performance, and recovery. Furthermore, I encourage the pursuit of living life and searching & holding onto quality relationships—be true to yourself and live life with others. Revel in the journey, not just in the destination. I’m pleased to be apart of the club team US Military Endurance Sports. I would only be half the athlete and man if it were not for the wisdom of my coaches and mentors, Tim Crowley and Louis Tharp and all my family, friends and supporters, like Vasa and Sabble Water Optics. Go chase your dreams too!