By Kat Velicki and Kristen Curry
It was 5:30 a.m. when the Cal Triathlon team glided onto the dark, slippery streets of Clemson, South Carolina en route to the 2015 National Collegiate Triathlon Championships. Pulsing with a unique combination of hope and dread, these athletes biked through a torrent of rain towards the massive transition area, where they would set up their bike and run gear for the race. Navigating the zoo of about 1200 competitors, they slipped running shoes into plastic bags and added a few extra pumps of air into their bike tires. Finally, with the familiar scream of the starting horn, the first wave of men sent the calm waters of Lake Hartwell into a violent frenzy as they scrambled towards the first buoy on this 1500-meter swim. Meanwhile, dripping with anxiety, the women of Cal Triathlon desperately crammed into vans to conserve energy during their 3-hour wait for the female waves. Morale was low as they shivered in wet clothes and listened to the rain pound the stuffy vehicle’s roof. With more humor than most, Liz Bruns chuckled, “Guys, we pay so much money to endure so much pain!” Less than two hours had passed when the first man crossed the finish line. Soon enough, Cal frontrunner Greg Harper had placed 13th out of about 700 men from colleges across the nation, and Lauri Takacsi followed soon after in 22nd place. Finishing in the top 105, Chris Choi and Rory Runser rounded out the men’s scoring team. After watching their drenched compatriots finish the race with exhausted smiles, the Cal Tri ladies gained some excitement for the journey ahead of them. The rain conveniently paused as they slipped into wetsuits and goggles at the edge of the placid lake. As the announcer listed off some intimidating returners from the 2014 National Championship, the women treaded water at the starting line, eying the line to the first buoy. Seconds later, the waters of Lake Hartwell erupted with a fleet of arching arms and bobbing heads as the women’s first wave plunged towards their destination. Under a sky cloaked by clouds, the women were greeted by a rainless bike course as they transitioned from water to land. With 40 kilometers of rolling hills, this route was mentally challenging and filled to the brim with almost 500 females at some points. It is one of the few places in the world where you won’t stand out with a pair of $2500 race wheels and a flashy aero helmet. Traversing the same hilly road eight times, the 10k run course was especially grueling at the end of this race. However, motivated by the promise of the finish line and encouraging smiles from teammates, the women of Cal Triathlon endured valiantly until the end. Katherine Velicki led the women’s team at 10th place overall, followed by Lydia Roth in 23rd. Liz Bruns cracked the top 30 in her first triathlon national championship, and Anna Kudej rounded out the women’s team with a top-40 finish. All this was only the Olympic distance race on day two of racing. The day prior consisted of a draft-legal sprint distance race where each team could finish with one scoring member. For the men, Greg Harper had a solid performance to take 16th, while female rookies Anna Belk and Jocelyn Vides stepped up to take 9th and 11threspectively. That evening at the awards ceremony Cal Tri made quite the impression by being called to the podium several times. The females ended with a 4th place finish while individual athletes Greg Harper and Lydia Tang each took home a new wetsuit for the fastest swim splits in their respective gender categories. Visually impaired athlete, Newton Nguyen, received recognition for winning the first ever paratriathlon division at Collegiate Triathlon Nationals. This division was added to the race due to Newton and hopes to continue to grow in the upcoming years. All in all, the California Triathlon team represented well in Clemson this past weekend and proved the strength of the golden bears.