Fairley's first-day triathlon triumph highlights Florida trip
March 7, 2020 | Clermont, Fla.
Liberty University graduate triathlete Mark Fairley finished first and earned his pro card in the Elite Development Race (EDR) at Saturday's Clermont Draft Legal Challenge, one of the nation's most prestigious draft-legal triathlons, held in Clermont, Fla.
"It was one of the most exciting races I've ever witnessed," Head Coach Heather Gollnick said after Fairley completed the 750-meter swim, 25-kilometer cycling stage, and 5K run in 56 minutes, 29 seconds. "This was the first time a triathlete from Liberty was even on the podium at this race, much less winning the overall title."
Gollnick said many of the top triathletes in the nation descend on Clermont each spring to compete in the EDR category, which emulates the draft-legal race they will enter on the opening day of the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships, set for April 3-4 in Tempe, Ariz.
She said Fairley got out to a great start in the swim leg, coming out of the water in 13th place, before proceeding to attack the cycling stage by drafting off others and working his way through the pack of competitors to emerge in fifth place going into the run.
A graduate student working with the Flames' NCAA Division I cross country team, Fairley saved his best for last in the 5K race.
"He is a gifted runner, and this was his time to showcase his talent and competitive spirit," Gollnick said. "The 3.1-mile run is fast and furious. Mark slowly picked off one athlete after another and found himself in a two-man race with 100 meters left. He was closing fast with everything in him and his final kick propelled him into first place with 10 meters left as he lunged for the finish tape to take top honors."
She said Fairley has made tremendous strides in the sport since joining the team after competing in cross country and steeplechase as an undergraduate for a small college in Iowa.
"I am beyond proud of Mark," Gollnick said. "He came to me expressing interest in being part of the team this past fall. We have worked incredibly hard on turning him into a swimmer and biker to complement his already gifted running ability. I love his drive and he's a sponge when it comes to learning how to train and do anything it takes to take it to the next level."
Sophomore Max Galbraith finished 30th out of 73 men's competitors in 59:24.5.
Complete results are available online.
Fairley also finished 23rd (1:00:34.9) and Galbraith 27th (1:00:53.2) in the second-day EDR race.
A total of 15 triathletes made the trip to Clermont. Besides Fairley and Galbraith, junior Ethan Kane, freshman David McCurdy (60th in 1:08:26), and graduate Grant Merry competed for the Flames in the EDR Category. Christian Brasher (39th in 1:09:19), a sophomore on last season's team, also raced, but did not represent Liberty after turning professional in cycling last summer.
The Lady Flames were led by junior Taylor Villani (38th in 1:11:04.8), senior Laci Clark (40th in 1:11:56), sophomore Carrington Erquiaga (43rd in 1:12:19), and sophomore Isabelle Dotlich. Heather Ziebart, a junior on last year's team, placed 32nd in 1:09:29 as an independent.
"Many of our first-year triathletes got their initial ‘real taste' of draft legal racing in Saturday's Open Category,'" Gollnick said. "I'm so happy for all of those who battled through high winds and rough waters in a very challenging swim course and went on to represent Liberty, crossing the finish line one after another in this challenging field."
Freshman Benjamin Youngs (41st in 1:16:23.9), sophomore Landry Clark (53rd in 1:20:37), senior Carter Ellis (59th in 1:24:49.7), and sophomore Christopher Lando (63rd in 1:28:52.8) competed on the men's side and the Lady Flames were represented by sophomore Kyra Lovell (68th in 1:33:16.2) and freshman Rebekah Mansfield (70th in 1:36:10.4).
On the evening before Saturday's races, Liberty's student-athletes assembled for a night of worship that Gollnick said showed the heart of the team.
"Mark (Fairley) shared with the team the importance of not racing for self, but for the glory of God," she said. "I was so impressed with all our athletes that evening. To me, that spoke volumes of the direction of this team. Their priorities are in order. We can't wait for nationals next month in Tempe, Arizona. We are ready to head West and represent this great university on the national scene."