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Athlete succeeds after giving sport a ‘tri’

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Hannah Croasdell was burned out on swimming, so her mother Christy suggested she should try to become a triathlete.

That’s what the Douglas County senior did, but it wasn’t easy.

I can only imagine, since I have never learned to swim and it’s been many years since I have ridden a bike. I do jog but not much running.

Croasdell has been a triathlete for less than two years but will be joining the women’s triathlon program next fall at Colorado Mesa University.

Yes, Virginia, triathlon is a women’s varsity college sport.

“I just wanted to try something new and wondered if I would be good at it,” said Croasdell who was a swimmer on the Douglas County/Castle View team along with her sophomore sister Abigail.

It took a while and some coaching to learn the detailed skills required to be a triathlete. She competed in the Elite Draft Legal series last summer and went to both the Junior Elite Nationals and Age Group Nationals. She has earned a spot on Team USA for the ITU Junior Worlds, which will be held in Queensland, Australia in September.

“For me the hardest part was learning the bike skills, especially in a pack with the other girls, and the open water swimming was very different because you can’t really see where you are going,” explained Croasdell. “Running was something else I had to learn too because I was never a really natural runner.”

For those who might not know, a triathlon is a multiple-stage race that usually involves open water swimming, cycling and running in immediate succession. Athletes compete for the fastest overall course time, including timed transitions where athletes change from swimming, cycling and running gear.

Most collegiate courses have a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bike race and a five-kilometer run.

Croasdell admits at times to wondering why she dabbled at becoming a triathlete.

“I remember my first race, that’s what I thought the whole time,” she said. “I was worried about getting lapped out. Sometimes on the bike people start yelling if the pace line gets mess up and I thought: `What am I doing?’ It was a very exhausting, tense situation to be in.”

However, it proved to be worth it. She will accept a partial athletic scholarship in April to be on the second-year CMU women’s triathlon team, the only such team in Colorado.

Croasdell also has earned a partial academic scholarship, so combined with the triathlon aid she will be on a full ride.

“I feel like I have revolved enough to be able to compete with other athletes,” said Croasdell. “I still have a lot more to learn. If you would have asked me a year ago what I would be doing in college, I would have had no idea. I might have said swimming, but that completely changed.

“Triathlon is definitely new, especially on the collegiate level. I don’t think a lot of people know about it yet. It’s not something that everyone does and it’s not offered in high schools here. For me I’m really excited about being about to compete and excited about what they can teach me and be able to compete at the collegiate level.”

There are currently 22 NCAA schools that offer women’s triathlon programs over three divisions. USA Triathlon offers a multi-year grant to assist with the development of women’s varsity programs after triathlon was added to the list of NCAA emerging sports for women in 2014.

CMU applied for and was awarded the three-year grant from USA Triathlon. The first year, CMU was given $40,000, of which $18,000 had to go toward scholarships. Funding of the program was to be split 5o-50 with the college, and the USA Triathlon contribution goes down to $20,000 the second year and $10,000 the third year.

“One thing that makes Colorado Mesa University unique is we are a little like a trailblazer,” said CMU co-Athletic Director Kristin Mort.

Most of the athletes on women’s team last year were walk-ons from other programs, but coach Geoff Hanson, who is also CMU’s swimming coach, has had a full year to recruit and hopes to have 10 to 12 women on the team this fall.

Under the emerging sport status, triathlon has 10 years to show continued momentum to become a full-fledged NCAA women’s sport. It will take at least 40 colleges in Division I, II and III at the varsity level to have an NCAA women’s championship.

USA Triathlon is the governing body that organizes the triathlon national championship.

“The sport is growing quickly in the U.S.,” said Hanson. “It is getting more and more popular. You have to be a well-rounded athlete. It is important to be a good swimmer, and when you get to cycling you have to learn to ride in a pack and work together. Then it comes down to running. The athletes have to try to be good at all three disciplines and make the transition between them.”

CMU also has a men’s triathlon team, also started in 2017, but it is a club sport and privately funded by the university.

Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at jbenton@coloradocommunitymedia.com or at 303-566-4083.

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