Anderson buoys Flames' hopes of top-40 national finish
April 5, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University sophomore Joseph Anderson started competing in triathlons four years ago in Zimbabwe, Africa, when his father, who's a colonel in the United States Army, was assigned to its U.S. Embassy.
"I went to a local school there that had a really good triathlon team and they would compete in the world arena," said Anderson, from Washington, D.C., who started his athletic career as a cross country runner in Germany. "That really interested me and I switched over to triathlon."
His father was recently assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, where Anderson will join him and continue his training this summer.
"I've been very fortunate, very blessed," he said. "Zimbabwe was up there in altitude, so I had a little advantage coming here for altitude training."
This coming Wednesday, Anderson and nine other members of Liberty's triathlon team will fly to Tempe, Ariz., to prepare for next Saturday's USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals, which will use the Olympic triathlon distances of a 1,500-meter swim on Tempe Town Lake, a 40-kilometer cycling stage, and a 10K run.
"I've looked at the course a little bit and from what I can tell, it's just going to be long, rolling hills, nothing crazy like Lynchburg, where it's just totally up and down, up and down," Anderson said. "It's definitely a good advantage to have the hills under your belt so we'll be prepared for whatever comes."
At last year's nationals at Tuscaloosa, Ala., Anderson was slowed by shin splints, but still finished 45th overall to lead the Flames to a 19th-place showing out of 122 teams. He expects a field of more than 1,200 athletes for next Saturday's race, with many of the top competitors coming from the West Coast.
"It's going to be a lot of the same guys from last year," said Anderson, who won the USA Triathlon Mid-Atlantic collegiate championship on Oct. 7. "Even though it's collegiate, this is still one of the most competitive races for the age group. You're racing against guys who are pro athletes, guys who are training at the Olympic training center (in Colorado). I'm hoping for a top-20 finish."
"The thing about triathlon is there's no NCAA level," Liberty head coach Beth Frackleton added. "This is it. It's the same for everybody. It's pretty much all a club sport. That's why it's just so competitive."
Anderson, who placed 11th in his age group for Team USA at the International Triathlon Union world championships in New Zealand in October after winning the Zimbabwean National Triathlon in 2011, recently achieved USA Triathlon elite status. He plans to compete in several pro races around the country, including the East Coast Elite Triathlon Festival in Richmond on May 2 and the Pan American Continental Cup, which also serves as the USAT Elite Nationals, Sept. 13 in Buffalo, N.Y.
But for now, he and the four other men's team members and five women's triathletes trekking to Tempe are fully focused on nationals, which will be a test of not only their endurance, but their discipline in training through the winter months.
"It's been a rough year to train for everybody because it's been such a cold spring," Frackleton said. "We haven't really been able to get outside much on the bikes."
"Definitely, with the weather, we have to improvise, using treadmills and stationary bikes," added Liberty senior Kathryn Mullaly, captain of the women's team prior to a practice last week in the LaHaye Student Union pool.
Though schools from warmer climates that have had the opportunity train outside over the winter may have an advantage in the cycling stage, Anderson believes the Flames can overcome that with their conditioning.
"It'll be a different atmosphere, but I feel pretty confident just with my training," Anderson said. "I see my times throughout training and that shows that I'm pretty fit compared to the fall season. We've just got to make sure we maintain our fluids throughout the race, stay hydrated and just focus on what we came there to do."
"I'm really excited," Mullaly added. "It's going to be some pretty tough competition and it's a little bit intimidating, but I'm glad to be going with my teammates and I know that I'll race as hard as I can and see what I've got."
Whereas Mullaly's strength is in cycling, Liberty's top female triathlete is Lane Ruchte, who made it to nationals last year as a freshman and is the team's fastest swimmer and an equally strong runner.
It is a rebuilding year for the men's team, which graduated five or six seniors last year and will rely on Blake Williams and Stephen Magee to back up Anderson.
"The girls team will actually be better this year," Frackleton said, compared to last year, with the Lady Flames only had three finishers. "I don't think it will be 19th, but I think maybe we'll be a top-40 team. They've worked hard, so we'll see."
The top four finishers from each school will factor into the team's points total.
First, on Friday, Anderson will be Liberty's lone representative in a draft-legal sprint triathlon, which could give the Flames a few bonus points.
"It is a shorter race," Frackleton said, noting the swim will be 700 meters followed by a 25K bike leg and 5K run. "Joey is experienced enough to kind of make his own decision. A lot of them will probably hold back because they don't want to do it and save themselves for the main race. For him, it's worth it to try to do well in that. It will probably serve more as a warm-up."