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COLLEGIATE NATS BY SIERRA MORENO

Iris Wu

I am very fortunate to be able to write the very first and very last blog post of the year and I promise I am going to do my best to make it as good as Jared’s. In case you have been living under a rock, UCSB Triathlon attended the USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships this past weekend in Tuscaloosa, AL and I am here to tell you ALL about it…way more details than any of our Instagram and Facebook posts combined so stay tuned.

 

Tuesday April  24, 2018 The day that changed everything

 

Today was the day that USAT decided that no matter how much stress every team was already under, they wanted to send every team in the country into hysterics. I believe the email subject read something like “Important Race Update”. So ambiguous, yet so unalarmingly normal that anyone would have assumed that they were sending out the schedule for the weekend. So, Nick opened the email, “Unfortunately, USA Triathlon has been forced to shift all courses from a triathlon to a duathlon (run-bike-run) to ensure athlete safety”. *chaos ensues* Sarah proclaimed the first run would be a 5k meaning that in total we would have to run 15k aka 9ish miles. Many expletives were proclaimed by Sierra while Iris had a spiritual experience, realizing that there was in fact a god, and Coach Matt left his phone for an hour and came back to 57 urgent text messages from his athletes. After everyone had regained the ability to think properly, we realized that no one was running 9 miles with a bike in-between but instead the first run would be a 5k, followed by a 40k bike, and then another 5k run. The runners were happy, the swimmers were still salty but moderately glad they didn't have to run 6 miles all at once, and well, I don’t really think any cyclists were affected. 

 

Wednesday April 25, 2018 Travel Day

 

It was time to leave for LAX for a long day of travel! It’s important to note that even though Matt and John got lost once again in IV, we still left on time. I repeat, WE LEFT ON TIME!!!! So we made the drive down to LA while listening to Matt’s terror of flying build higher and higher with every mile we got closer to the airport. Upon arrival, we realized that his jokes about hoping he would end up on a no fly list were not jokes. Despite his caring presidents attempt to hold his shaking hands, he still ended up in the Dunkin' Donuts in an attempt to calm his nerves. After a long flight we finally landed in Atlanta, Georgia at around midnight local time. After a rental car fiasco, we then waited for the hotel shuttle where we could fit all but 4 of us if you don’t include Emme smashing herself in between 2 seats so the driver wouldn't see her. A small group had a final hurrah for the day at Waffle House or as Ricky called it, “Awful House”.

 

Thursday April 26, 2018 Sport Mode and Superstore

 

In celebration of finally getting the rental car situation figured out, Coach Matt practically leapt into the car in conquest of the nearest Bojangles. For those of you that don’t know, Bojangles is a chicken and biscuit fast food restaurant exclusively in the south and also a sanctuary for lost souls, lovers of fried chicken, biscuits of all kinds and sweet tea. I highly recommend making a trip to Alabama simply for Bojangles. Here’s a link to their website should you want to learn more: https://www.bojangles.com. Ricky almost threw up all the way to Alabama because Gordon got too caught up in putting the car in “sport mode” which proved to be too fast for the nice Southern drivers going at or below the speed limit, while Sarah complained about having to sit in the middle because her “hips are too big”. This eventually sparked a sing-along to Shakira’s smash hit “Hips Don’t Lie” which, for the record, Gordon knows every single line to. Coach Matt happily sung along to every country song ever made and Sierra third wheeled the entire time in the backseat but was just happy to have sweet tea that Gordon almost made her spill on multiple accounts because of said sport mode.

 

About 3 hours later we made it to our final destination of Tuscaloosa, AL!!! We picked up our bikes from the awesome dudes at TriBike transport, went on a little shakeout ride and run and then starting heading back to the hotel with a quick stop at Walmart. The lesson we learned today is not to leave a bunch of hungry, tired triathletes in a Walmart superstore or else they will come out with an abundance of unnecessary items like fishing rods and bait, whole melons, and excessive quantities of milk.

 

Friday April 27, 2018 Draft Legal Day

 

Everyone was so excited for this day as draft legal races are one of the funnest events and most of the team gets the thrill and excitement of racing without actually having to race, it’s great. It is also the day that the spirit award is won, so we loaded the cars dressed in our skittles outfits ready to cheer on our 2 favorite draft legal athletes in a rainbow of different colors. Despite coming off of her stellar performance at the Boston Marathon just 2 weeks ago, Iris Wu rose to the occasion when asked if she would do the draft legal race once it got changed to run-bike-run. And boy did she deliver! Knowing that her body was already tired, her teammates weren’t expecting her to do anything but her best, but it turns out her best is actually one of the best in the country. With the first pack being only 4 of the most elite girls, we were super happy when she ran well enough to get her a spot in the second pack, the first really big pack. The first few laps went by and Iris slowly made her way from the back into the middle, but as the pack came into the dismount line on the last lap, who was leading the pack? That’s right, our very own Iris Wu was fifth into transition, leading the second pack. She followed that with a great run time that earned her a spot in the top 25 in a race that, up until 2 days prior, she didn’t think she would be doing. Iris is our queen!!!!

 

Sean raced next in a race that we knew was going to be INSANE. These were going to be the top triathletes in the country going balls to the wall for the first mile and a half to earn their spot into the best draft pack. The first and last run were only 1.5 miles, leaving no time for pacing or strategy, just sprint. These were anything but ideal conditions for Sean who has been working his swim harder than anyone for this moment; however, he still managed to get into the first draft pack and like Iris, made his way to the front of it by the end. Unfortunately, he did not retain his lead in that last short sprint to the finish and while we were all super proud of and blown away by his performance, the face of disappointment he wore said that he felt otherwise. But honestly, that is what made what happened the next day that much better.

 

 

Saturday April 28, 2018 Classic day and the best day ever

 

The day began with the ladies. Sarah, Iris and Emme all started in Wave 1 and went off with a bang. Emme ran way faster than she probably should have on her injured leg, Sarah gave it all she had even though she was still upset that she wasn’t swimming and Iris did what she does best, run fast. Bella and Nicole showed us how lucky we are to have such promising freshman as they confidently lined up at the start line as cool as cucumbers. Kelly and Jordan started in wave 3 followed by Sierra in wave 4. Of course Iris ran fast, but she also had an insanely fast bike split that put her in the top 50. Sarah hauled on her bike and despite not having swam, had a very impressive race. Emme, oh Emme, what can I say? The day before she didn’t even know if she was going to race and then here she comes with a mega fast run and bike split. She may have hobbled in to the finish line but she made our team proud with her tenacity and will to compete for UCSB despite doctors orders. Bella had an amazing race, running and biking her way into the 4th and last scoring spot for the girls. Nicole had a really speedy bike and pushed her run while Jordan had an ultra fast run! Kelly persevered through some bike troubles and still managed to have a great race! Sierra came off the bike with a PR and proceeded to bond with a girl from Cal who listened to her woes about not being able to swim only to discover, that they were both indeed fish out of water just trying to make it to the finish line. Wow, finishing 12th out of a whopping 92 teams means it was a great day to be a Gaucho girl!! We’re so proud of all of your performances!! 

 

The para-race didn’t start too long after the girls. Ryan lined up at the start line and, as soon as the gun went off, took off pretty close to the speed of light. He was quickly faced with a steep downhill as a challenge but fearlessly took the plunge and successfully made it. With that out of the way, he was faced again with some difficult terrain that he managed to navigate through. He pushed through the bike and finished the race with a beat up hand as his racing gloves fell off but refused to let that stop him from pulling off a truly noteworthy performance. Such an inspiring guy, such an inspiring race!! (That’s one 1st place.) 

 

The guys race started about an hour after with Sean, Ricky and Gordon in the first wave. Sean and Ricky took off with speed while Gordon hung around with some swimmers mid pack, again bonding about how they would be so much better if they could just get in the dang water. It was a truly amazing feat, as it always is, to see Gordon absolutely smash on the bike but what was even better was to see him smiling out of transition and looking great going into that last run. A stark contrast from last years egg-laying incident, he managed to get a bike split so fast that the officials disqualified him because they simply did not believe that any one man could ride a bicycle that fast. When approached about it and asked if he could really ride that fast, he said with the biggest Gordo grin, “Yeah!!” So, he got the fastest bike split of the day, the fastest bike split in the history of the course and also finessed his way into the top 40. Oh and also, his slowest lap was still faster than anyone else on the course. Wowzers!! (That’s another top of the podium, because, yes, now we’re counting.)

 

Ricardo made us just as proud with his stellar performance and competitiveness out on the course. It has been amazing to watch you work so hard and to see it all pay off, even if you don’t think it has. Nick was next out of the gate and as much as he says he’s just a swimmer or a frat boy, he’s also an all around beast of a triathlete. Great runs, great bike, and definitely wins the award for making all the girls on other teams giggle and swoon as he flexed for his lone UCSB cheerleader going into transition. Jacob started the race with a CRAZY fast run causing everyone that watched him to envy his gazelle like run form as he floated through the air with ease. Blake showed us that he indeed DOES have as much athletic prowess as he said he did the day before. He may have raced so hard he needed some special care after but ya know what? That’s what triathletes at collegiate nationals do. Rick and Ray pulled off perhaps one of the cutest stunts the sport of triathlon has ever witnessed as they ran the first run together, biked together, and pretty much ran the whole second run together until Rick pulled slightly ahead at the very end. Those 2 are so sneaky fast!!! And speaking of sneaky fast, let’s talk about John Frey. He averaged sub 6 on the first run, a strong 23 mph on the bike and then another 6 average on the second run!! Only one minute behind Ricky, he snagged that last scoring spot for our boys. And since we’re talking about scoring… our boys finished 6th in the country. 6th!!! Out of 102 teams!!! Holy cow I love ya’ll!!!!

Alright, I know you’re reading this for THE story so here it is.

 

The gun went off and Sean took off from the chute with the leading pack. He wasn’t first going into T1 but was not far behind. Things drastically changed in the next 24.8 miles on the bike, when he lead the way into T2. He shot out of T2 like a bullet with the next few guys hot on his heels.  

 

Coach Matt came rushing back to the tent in a frenzy, “This race has already taken a year off of my life!!” he said as he explained to us that Sean was only seconds ahead of the guy that had outran him the day before. The announcer informed the crowd that Sean was the first one to hit the turn around on the second run, he was ahead with only 1.6 miles left in his collegiate triathlon career. Of course this is the time when the announcer decides to stop with all further updates about the situation and everything goes silent. 

 

2 minutes goes by and the girls in the tent were anxious to see their teammate round the corner or at the very least, get an update about his whereabouts. 

4 minutes: The only thing that could be heard is Nicole and Sierra’s hearts pounding and Iris whispering to herself “come on Sean, come on Sean!”

5 minutes: Sierra squeezes the life out of Iris’ hand as there is still no update. The girls talk about how badly they want this for him! This is the guy that deserves it the most, this is the guy that has worked for years for this one goal that he has his last shot at. 

6 minutes: “One of my coaches one time said that the first mile is won by the fastest guy, the second is won by the one who practiced the most and the third is won by the guy with the most heart.” -Iris 

Well, good thing Big Sean is all of those guys.

8 minutes: …

 

The moment we saw that flash of neon with UCSB along the leg round the corner was one we will never forget. It was like the world was moving in slow motion when in fact, this man was running VERY fast. One loud SEANNNNN was exclaimed by every girl in the tent right before they used every ounce of energy they had left to push through the innocent spectators and sprint to meet their teammate at the finish line. One very confused man questioned the world, “What’s happening? Why are they running, did he just win??” Heck yeah he just won. He just won our first olympic distance natty in 25 years. Coach Matt burst into tears and it was truly the most emotional moment any of us had ever witnessed. Our very own Big Seany Harry just made history. (and that’s 3)

 

 

Saturday April 28, 2018 Mixed Team Relay

 

4 hours after the excitement, UCSB Triathlon competed in it’s first ever mixed team relay, an event that literally everyone was dreading to do because they had just finished a whole race hours before. But, we were super happy with the results and it was actually such a fun event! The race started with Sarah, who despite being more tired than she has ever been, pushed herself to her max for her team. She passed the baton off to Gordon who had strong runs and caught up a ton on the bike. Iris was next and looked the least happy any of us had ever seen her. If you know Iris you know she’s a bundle of joy and when she looks the way she did in this relay, she must really be hating life. Sorry Iris!!! Our anchor was no other than John Frey. After the weekend he had had, Sean just knew that MTR was not going to be a good idea and John enthusiastically stepped up to the plate and helped us realize that putting him in was a great idea. You guys did great and lit a fire for the rest of us to help us see how cool MTR is!!!

 

Saturday April 28, 2018 Let’s party!!!

 

Prior to awards we had one last team dinner, this time Bojangles and literal gallons of sweet tea. All 20 of us crammed into a single hotel room, shared greasy chicken and there was not a frown in sight. We then made our way to awards where Blake and Emme’s car had a deep and meaningful conversation about how small words often mean the biggest things, like “God” and “yet”. Coach Matt decided to chime in with some personal experience and say how “but” is also a big one, like “I love you, but…” He instantly regretted joining into the conversation when it was followed by badgering to get Matt to tell the story about his first heartbreak but apparently that is a story that will have to wait for next Nationals. 

 

We walked into awards with heads held high and more tri luv for each other than I have ever seen before. Ryan was called onto stage first to win his first place prize and I am SURE that the rest of the schools said something related to our party school reputation based on how loud we were but we didn’t care in the slightest. It was then time for non-draft awards. The anticipation as they crept up from 10th, then 6th, then 3rd was nearly unbearable because we just really couldn’t wait to lose it. They called UCSB’s Sean Harrington for first place and it was MADNESS. Snapchat videos were in full swing, voices were lost, and thanks to our so-called rivals, Cal Poly SLO, tortillas went flying, proving that rivalries don’t exist in triathlon. Tortillas continued to fly when Gordon accepted his super cool helmet for winning the bike split, making it 3 times the Gauchos was called to the TOP of the podium that night.  

 

We dragged out the night by taking tons of pictures to memorialize every moment. As the room became scarce, we put our arms around each other for the last time and chanted the greatest and most glorious of Olé’s. So great that we made our way onto the official USAT Instagram story. We went back to the hotel and got ready for our long drive back to Atlanta to catch our early morning flight but not before Nick got a guy on the Texas team to chug a full half gallon of milk. Yes, a full half gallon. As if those there didn’t already know, UCSB had officially left its mark on Tuscaloosa. 

 

Thank you.

 

I want to end by saying we did not do this on our own. There are countless thank you’s that need to go out but I know you’re getting tired of reading. Huge thank you to our travel coordinator, Ricardo Cortes, for making this whole trip possible. It is a FACT that without you, we just simply wouldn’t have made it. Thank you to John, Sean, Gordon, and Ricky again for safely driving us all around during this trip. All four of you easily could have valued your race performance more than driving us around, but you didn’t and even if we don’t say it, we are beyond grateful. Thank you Ms. Harrington and Roscoe for your constant support throughout the whole trip. Roscoe provided some much needed pet therapy and it was so nice of you to make the journey out to support Sean and the rest of the team as well. Thank you to Iris and John for stepping up when the team needed you the most. Thank you to all the nats first timers for the hype and energy you had seeing all of this for the first time, it really made the returners remember why they are there. Thank you to all the returners for helping out the rookies and being stand up people that we can all lean on. Thanks Gordon for becoming a great leader and caring so much about your team. Thank you to Ryan, Sean, and Emme who will not be racing with us next year as they will be graduating and moving on to bigger and better things. You have each inspired us in different ways and I truly can’t wait to see where life takes you guys. Thanks to all of our sponsors, especially Specialized and Velo Pro for making sure our bikes were in top condition, Pearl Izumi for making us kits that the rest of the schools envied, and Patagonia for keeping us warm race morning! Thank you to all of the parents of our athletes who have offered unwavering support and who have raised some of the finest young men and women this world has to offer.  Most of all, thank you Coach. Words cannot explain how fortunate and blessed we are to have you. It is clear that you pour your heart and soul into this sport, this team, and into us. All of us have had coaches that only care about winning but what is so special about you is that you care so much for the betterment of the team while caring about each of us individually. You are the reason that UCSB Tri is so special. You’ve created an environment where people want to have fun and make lifelong friends while improving themselves and each other along the way. In my opinion, this is a winning recipe and we’re so grateful for that.  

 

If you’ve never been on a team like this, there is just no way you can understand why this is so special and there is just simply no way that I can describe it to you. If you’re on the team and didn’t go to nats this year, I hope that this post has inspired you to put in the work so you can go next year and all the times after that. These are the moments that make UCSB Triathlon so extraordinary. These are the times that don’t just make us friends and teammates, but family. It wasn’t just because of the 2 national championships we brought home, nor was it the 3 friends we got to scream for at the top of the podium; it wasn’t even about the top 10 finish. It was about the smiles from the abundance of PR’s, the tears and bear hugs at the finish line and the sleep deprived laughs and conversations that made it all worth it. Congratulations UCSB triathlon, we freaking did it, and the way our team is looking, we can only go up from here. I said at the end of the very first blog post that this was our year, and well, looks like I was right.