At Home: Triathlon club shines amid sport’s growing popularity
July 1, 2011
Steamboat Springs — At a recent Thursday night swim practice at Old Town Hot Springs, it was apparent the first three weeks of triathlon training were beginning to take a toll on those who have stuck with the program.
The day's workout was one that even experienced swimmers would cringe at. The main set involved swimming 100 yards as many times as you could with 10 seconds of rest in between. You were done when you could no longer maintain the given interval of time.
The workout was designed to push the athletes and leave them exhausted, and the crooked swimming patterns were a sign that goal was being met. Next time, they should be stronger and swim faster.
"Next week is a rest week," coach Dustin Fulkerson tells the swimmers at the end of the practice.
Fulkerson, a former Division I swimmer at Ball State University in Indiana, is joined by Amy Charity in coaching the first triathlon club program offered by the Hot Springs. Charity was on the water polo team at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and is an avid cyclist and triathlete, having completed her first Ironman-distance event in Switzerland in 2008. In summer 2010, she won her division at the Steamboat Stage Race four-day cycling event and was the first woman to cross the finish line at the Steamboat Springs Triathlon.
The Hot Springs triathlon club is the brainchild of aquatics director Jill Ruppel. She recognized a growing number of members wanted to get into the sport but many were afraid of the open-water swim.
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"She basically said, 'Why don't we get a group together, and we'll get some coaches that are familiar with the sport,'" Charity says.
The increased popularity of participating in triathlons is not unique to Steamboat.
The USA Triathlon organization reports triathlon participation continues to see unprecedented growth, which it tracks by its membership numbers. Membership grew to more than 100,000 in 2000, up substantially from the 15,000 to 21,000 who were a part of the organization from 1993 to 1999. In June 2010, USAT's membership approached 135,000.
The group cites numerous reasons for the growth of the sport, including increased media exposure ever since it debuted at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Training resources also have increased on the Internet, and USAT officials think people have become more in-tune with living healthy lifestyles.
"For overall fitness, it's about as good as it gets," Charity says.
USAT officials think there is also an ego reward for participants, who after completing their first race can say, "I am a triathlete."
Cities have seen an increase in the number of sprint races offered, which makes the sport more accessible to those who may be intimidated or can train only a couple hours each week. Clubs also are growing in popularity because USAT officials say they create a "community concept for men and especially women who enjoy the group training and support atmosphere."
Steamboat also has experienced the growth of the sport. On July 24, the city will host an inaugural sprint-distance event at Steamboat Lake in addition to the Olympic-distance triathlon Aug. 28 at Lake Catamount.
The Hot Springs triathlon club has more than 20 members who are training for both Steamboat races. Their experience ranges from eight triathlons to none, Fulkerson says.
"Everyone is bringing something to the table," he says.
Jesse Brooks, 26, is a Hot Springs lifeguard training for his first race and recently got on a road bike for the first time during the club's four-mile time trial.
"I've wanted to give a triathlon a shot, and figured I might as well train properly," Brooks says. "I always have a hard time getting motivated if I work out by myself, so doing it in a group setting obviously helps you push that much harder."
Shelia Wright has competed in the Steamboat Springs Triathlon four times and is hoping to improve on her running, or as she currently calls it, her wog, a pace consistent with a walk/jog.
"I always wanted to be a little more scheduled and scientific in my approach to training because I've done triathlons just by winging it a couple weeks before the event," Wright says.
This year, she hopes to cross the finish line with a smile on her face and an improved time.
"I'd really like to place in my age category, but the 50- to 55-year-olds, they're tough in this town," she says.
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