This past weekend I was in Tempe, Arizona with the University of Illinois Team for Collegiate Nationals.
It was one of the best weekends I have had in a long time. This season I have been lucky enough to coach this great group of kids. To my knowledge, it was the first time they have ever had a coach writing workouts for them, analyzing their data & answering all their training/racing questions.
The whole school year has been focused on one race: Collegiate Nationals.
Jennifer, the President of the U of I team and I talked constantly about the workouts, kids, schedules, school and getting ready for Nationals. One of the issues was our brutal winter. I had to really think about how to best prepare these kids to peak for an early April race when they were not able to ride their bikes outside all winter. A rarity even in Champaign, IL. Apart from Spring Break, which was the week prior to race week, most of them were never outside on their bikes.
I was excited when Jennifer asked if I would go to Tempe and coach/support them for Nationals. I even moved my JHC camp around so I could attend Nationals – I wanted to be there!
We flew out on Thursday – U of I is a massive team. There are hundreds of kids that are part of the team, but U of I only took their top 25 athletes. And, the way Nationals works is that there are waves and the kids are placed in waves based on seed times from past Nationals or races.
It was funny, I did not know what to expect. Sure, I talk to these kids and see them, but travel with them for 4 days? I was stuck in between trying to be coach and not a mother. Little did I know, but I really did not give these kids credit for being so smart and frankly, mature.
I don’t spend a lot of time with college kids. My kids are 12. I don’t have friends that are in college..so I am stuck in the child world OR adult world above 30+ years old. So, I think back to my college days and assume that is how kids are now. THAT is the farthest from the truth. Kids are smarter now, incredibly tech savvy and relevant. I was mesmerized by their explanations of their Masters and PhD programs and how they go to school AND AFFORD Triathlon. (I graduated with $11.00 to my name, no way in hell I could do this $ sport).
There are so many good stories from this weekend – but here are the highlights:
- Walked into hotel and the front desk manager looked at me – figuring out if I was someone’s mom. Put me in a room right next to the kids…pool side. I got to my room and realized quickly this was going to be a hot mess. The entire hotel was 4 colleges – and unbeknownst to me, planned by the kids year after year who they will lodge with. Universty of Arizona was there and Jimmy Riccetello – which was nice for me to catch up with him (He coaches U of A). I go back to the front desk and ask the kid at the front desk if they can move me to the other side of the hotel. I had to move. I was either going to get arrested OR not sleep. Both, of which, would not be good. He took pity on me, upgraded me to a Suite and in the “old” people’s section. Perfect! I slept awesome.
- There are a ton of takeaways from this past weekend, but the main one was: 1.) I did not realize it at the time but these kids never once complained. NOT once. Looking back, this was the most refreshing part of the weekend. Working with adults, this is always something I help manage on a daily basis. When I had time to reflect on the weekend, this is the biggest takeaway. Frankly, they were just so grateful to be there, to race with the best in the country, be away from the daily grind of school and be with one another. They are a true team. I was so impressed by this!
- I rented a car while out there – the kids, for the most part took a Shuttle every where. At first, the kids would all take the Shuttle, as the days went by they would start to ride with me and we had some hilarious discussions in the car. I had to remind myself I was not 20-25 and don’t pretend to be. I had the music in my car on the 70s (Classic Rock). I knew the kids would needle me for this but one guy said, “Oh, I love the Oldies.” Um, no…these are Classic Rock songs. We were laughing so hard. Then one asked who my favorite band/singer was. DAMN I knew I had to say Kid Rock…and I did….some of them just laughed others were in shock.
- These boys can eat. Of the 25 kids there, 16 were guys. And, you know what is “in” for college kids now? Mustaches. So, imagine hundreds of guys between the ages of 19-25 in speedos or too small shorts and mustaches. It was like bad 1980 porn show. Thankfully no one from the U of I had a stache…but there were many there. I had to really watch myself when we ate out – the boys EAT…and plates and plates of food. This is not news, but a friendly reminder of youth.
- They asked smart questions. How to warm up, when to warm up…there were 8 waves of men/women and we had someone in almost every wave. So, the timing of food, warming up and all of that good stuff was critical. The women raced first and ALL the boys watched the girls race – then vice versa later in the day. The college teams were fun. They were all dressed up in their college kits and mascots. They all chanted their school fight songs all day. They walked around in school pride and colors all day – it was FUN! By the end of the weekend I knew the Illini fight song as well (I went to Illinois State).
- These kids are fast. I knew many of them were speedy. But, EVERY single kid (except 1) Prd. 24 out of 25 kids. The weather is Tempe was ideal. But, most of these kids raced last year too and they all Prd. In fact, one of the guys ran a 33:23 off the bike for the 10k! Watching these athletes race was refreshing and inspiring! Many rode sub 1. One female rode the just short of 40k in 1.01. It was fun to watch and I could not help be so proud of these kids all day & weekend.
- One of the girls had a bike accident the morning of the race. The kids had to ride their bikes to transition in the morning and she got her bag stuck in her spokes and flipped over her handlebars. She fell on her arms and her elbow was swollen. Thankfully, I was driving by – hoping the accident was not the U of I kids, but it was. I stopped and tried to console her – put her bike and her into my car and drove her to the race site. I assured her that it was not broken, just a strain of the tendons and while she was incredibly strong (I know she just wanted to break down and cry), she showed amazing composure. AP is a 5th year senior and swam competitively for U of I and was a butterflyer. So, she can handle pain. She raced, did awesome, Prd and was overjoyed with her race. When she got home she got X-rayed and I will be damned if she did not break her radial bone. See! TOUGH as nails these kids. WOW. SHE NEVER complained once.
- You know what else was refreshing? These kids NEVER once compared themselves to the other kids (at least not in front of me). They were surrounded by thousands of their peers. NO mention of being fat, not eating this or that…they were so confident and comfortable in their own skin. Like I said, wise above their years. Many adult triathletes can learn from them.
- The kids were pretty focused and reserved until post race. After the races we went back to the hotel to shower and get ready for the Awards Party. I was corrected when I said it was an Awards “Ceremony.” No, no….it was most definitely a party. The kids were not SUPER interested in it but we were there and it was all you can imagine it was – it was outside too, which was just awesome. My eyes hurt from just watching some of these kids dressed up in god knows what and drinking.
- I found that the kids are genuinely interested in triathlon life post college. Once the race was over the kids were able to relax and since they were all on CLOUD 9, they were asking me a ton of questions….How did you meet your husband? How do you have kids and race/train and work? You started in Corporate America but now work solo? They said they don’t know much about me because the focus is always on them and racing/training. So, after the pressure of their races were over, they were inquisitive. Honestly, I think they were just trying their hardest to figure out HOW in the hell someone my age has done this as long as some of them have been alive and have raced in Kona. They were interested in Kona and what it takes to qualify and go faster while not being 21 years old. I talked about balance, sacrifices and priorities as you get older, etc.
- On the way home after the Awards “Party” on Saturday night Dan asked me if I wanted to come back to the hotel with all of them and join their “RAGE.” I looked at him and said, “Not sure how that will end up for me OR you guys.” I was afraid of what this entailed so I voted to go back to my room. They partied on. I was so exhausted I would definitely have brought down their party in many, many ways.
- These kids can recover! They woke up on Sunday morning fresh as daisys. I, on the other hand, felt like I was hit by a truck and I did not even race. Goes to show I cannot train and party like a rock star at 43 years old, but you surely can do it at 21 years old (as we know!).
I was so proud of these kids. I got to meet some very, very smart young adults. Many are getting their MBAs, PhDs, etc. (USAT does NOT have an age limit for Collegiate Nationals – you just have to be taking classes!)….so the oldest was 25. Youngest was a Freshman. I laughed hard all weekend. I felt like my Triathlon life had come full circle. Tim Yount, who has worked at USAT for 20+ years announced the race – we had a few minutes to catch up and he said, “I remember when you were this age, Jennifer and racing….Funny how it all comes full circle.”
Yes, it is. And, I would not have it any other way. I look forward to my continued partnership with the U of I and some of these kids individually as they get ready for race Ironmans and the such this summer!!
I drove straight from Tempe to Tucson after the weekend. I am here now preparing for my Annual JHC Camp that starts tomorrow! Cannot wait – THIS is the way to live.