Triathletes enjoy historic runs at USAT Collegiate Club Nationals in Calif.
The seven men and five women representing Liberty University’s triathlon team at this past weekend’s 2021 USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championships in Malibu, Calif., went head-to-head and toe-to-toe with some of the best collegiate triathletes in the nation and combined for a third-place overall team finish, marking the first podium showing at nationals in program history.
Liberty’s men’s team finished runner-up to the University of California-Berkeley, which featured four of the top five men’s place-winners, and ahead of third-place United States Military Academy (Army), UC-San Diego, Iowa State University, Cal Poly, Air Force, Arizona State, George Washington, and University of Southern California, which rounded out the top 10.
The Flames landed their top five men in the top 27 overall, out of 121 competitors in Saturday’s men’s Olympic-distance race. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames came in sixth among women and combined, Liberty placed third overall behind only UC-Berkeley and Army. Complete results are available online.
“I’m incredibly proud of our entire team,” Liberty Head Coach Heather Gollnick said. “They have been training for this moment and it paid off. UC Berkley had the home-court advantage, so to speak, bringing over 50 athletes to compete at the event held on the West Coast. In the end, however, our athletes stepped up and proved that Liberty is emerging as one of the top Club Triathlon programs in the country.”
About 400 collegiate athletes from more than 20 club teams competed in the marquee event of Collegiate Club Nationals weekend, originally scheduled to be held in April in Tempe, Ariz., but postponed and moved to Malibu due to the pandemic.
Liberty was led by graduate Mark Fairley’s seventh-place performance in 1 hour, 57 minutes, 47 seconds on the Olympic-distance course that featured a 1,500-meter swim from Zuma Beach, a 41-kilometer cycling stage, and 10K run. Fairley, a steeplechase runner as an undergraduate in Iowa, earned his pro card this past spring at Clermont, Fla., but returned for a final season of eligibility with the Flames.
Fairley was followed by fellow Liberty graduate Giovanni Bianco (12th in 1:59:07) and senior Max Galbraith (17th in 2:01:05). Junior David McCurdy (22nd in 2:02:58) and sophomore Jack Pizor (27th in 2:04:05) rounded out the Flames’ top five.
“The way everyone performed at the USAT Collegiate Nationals Championships exceeded my expectations as a team,” said Galbriath, the Flames’ senior captain. “We knew we had good talent going into this race, but we used that talent to race for our school and for the glory of God. Everyone had the mindset ‘team above self’ because we cared more about how well we did as a team than our own individual performances. I believe this unique team dynamic fostered by our coaches helped us reach new heights.”
In the women’s event, freshman Liz Brower led the Lady Flames with a 20th-place finish in 2:26:07 followed by Mackenzie Foy (28th in 2:29:52). Heather De Boer finished 50th in 2:45:23 and fellow sophomore Allyson Fernandez, who missed the previous two weeks of training due to a bout with COVID, finished 51st in 2:41:12.
“Our women’s team is young but hungry,” Gollnick said. “For our freshman who are new to the sport, it was baptism by fire, but they performed well and answered the bell when we needed it.”
Brower, who is from Anchorage, Alaska, was thrilled to compete in a national-caliber event in only her second collegiate race after finishing third among women at the season-opening Patriots Triathlon Festival in Jamestown, Va.
“Malibu was such a fantastic trip, and I was beyond blessed to be able to attend such an amazing event,” she said. “Getting to swim in the beautiful Pacific Ocean, bike and run alongside the coast next to palm trees and sandy beaches was incredible. Our team was so strong, not only physically but mentally and, most importantly, spiritually. It was such a blessing to experience this amazing event with such wonderful people … incredible teammates that push each other to be better in every way, with God’s help.”
On Sunday, the Flames’ two men’s relay teams — both formed by one swimmer, one cyclist, and one runner — placed fourth and ninth out of 20 entries in 1:20:23 and 1:23:34, respectively. Liberty’s women’s relay team placed ninth out of 16 entries in 1:37:03. Those fourth-place men’s and ninth-place women’s showings factored into the final third-place team total.
Gollnick said her triathletes stood out not only by their performances in the water and on the bike and run, but through their actions and words of encouragement to one another and their competitors.
‘Naturally, I’m very proud of the hard work and effort these athletes exhibit, but I’m more proud of them as individuals,” Gollnick said. “When other coaches and parents come up to me and say, ‘There is something special, something different about your team, it’s visible – their support of one another, the way they carry themselves and their genuine joy is evident,’ I know we’re doing something right and developing more than great athletes. We are helping to mold young adults who will go out into the world and carry forth the university’s motto of Training Champions for Christ. That represents true victory.”
Liberty will travel to Rock Hill, Md., for the Waterman Triathlon on Saturday morning. Two weeks later, on Oct. 16, it will host the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships, another Olympic-distance event at Smith Mountain Lake.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Kylee Ligle/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant