Talented paratriathletes from across the U.S. raced their way to national titles Monday at the 2012 USA Paratriathlon National Championship, held in conjunction with the Capital of Texas Triathlon. National titles were awarded in six divisions, and division winners also earned spots on the USA Paratriathlon National Team.
The 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike, 5-kilometer run course began at Lake Lady Bird and led athletes to the state capitol, past the University of Texas and through downtown before ending back at the lake.
"It was a really nice course," said Geoffrey Kennedy (Rio Grande, Puerto Rico), who defended his TRI-1 title from 2011. "It was a perfect swim, well marked, slight uphill and fast downhill. It's perfect."
In addition to Kennedy, five others defended their titles in their respective divisions - Melissa Stockwell (TRI-2, Chicago, Ill.), Beth Price (TRI-3, Spanish Fort, Ala.), Robin Caruso (TRI-4, Ridgefield, Conn.), James Brown (TRI-5, Carlsbad, Calif.) and Patricia Walsh (TRI-6, Austin, Texas).
"It feels great," said Caruso, who has won the TRI-4 division for five years now. "That's what I came here to do. Number five. It's such an honor."
Also claiming national titles Monday were Erica Davis (TRI-1, Carlsbad, Calif.), Mark Barr (TRI-2, Galveston, Texas), Sean Vangerena (TRI-3, Orlando, Fla.), Daniel Hathorn (TRI-4, Virginia Beach, Va.), Patricia Collins (TRI-5, Harker Heights, Texas) and Jeremy Winters (TRI-6, Mursfreesboro, Tenn.).
"There are talented athletes here - both the world champions for men and women in TRI-2, so the competition was there," said Barr, who was competing in his second national championship. "It felt fast, it was incredible."
Top athletes in Monday's race also qualified for spots on Team USA for the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand, on Oct. 22. Learn more about Team USA on usatriathlon.org.
"I've played team sports my whole life," said Brown. "You can wear your city, you can wear your state, but there's nothing like wearing your country on your chest."
Interest in paratriathlon is at an all-time high and the sport continues to grow following its inclusion in the Paralympic Games program. Paratriathlon will make its debut at the Paralympic Summer Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, a goal for many paratriathletes racing in Austin.
"We all have our eye on the prize; I can't wait," said Walsh, who earned the fastest time in the open division in 2010 and has posted the top women's time since. Even with the Paralympic Games on the horizon, Walsh still relishes in her second national title. "To be able to come back and be the national champion a second year in a row in what is now my hometown, it's one of the real highlights of my athletic career."
Once again, an open Physically Challenged Division was contested in addition to the national championship wave to help meet the needs of the growing number of paratriathletes across the country. William Nystrom (TRI-3, Belmont, Calif.) and Christine Wodke (TRI-3, Milwaukee, Wis.) posted the fastest times in this division Monday.
This year's race took place on Memorial Day, a day especially important to athletes with ties to the military. Stockwell was the first female American soldier in history to lose a limb in active combat and is now a national and world champion. The Iraq War veteran found a flag along the course and waved it as she crossed the finish line.
Another veteran, Michael Johnston, competed in the race despite an injury. "This is one of our biggest events so I wanted to come out and represent for paratriathlon," he said.
Johnston was more subdued about Memorial Day, saying, "There are a lot of guys that don't have this opportunity. I consider myself extremely fortunate, and I wanted to come out here as a representative and remind people, we have a lot of things and people to be thankful for."
Paratriathlon Nationals was the first event of the three-race 2012 USA Paratriathlon Race Series, which also features the Denver Triathlon on June 10 and the Nickel City Triathlon on Sept. 16 in Buffalo, N.Y.
2012 USA Partriathlon National Championship, Austin, Texas
750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run
National champions by category
Female TRI-1: Erica Davis (Carlsbad, Calif.), 1:45:57
Male TRI-1: Geoffrey Kennedy (Rio Grande, Puerto Rico), 1:10:47
Female TRI-2: Melissa Stockwell (Chicago, Ill.), 1:33:56
Male TRI-2: Mark Barr (Galveston, Texas), 1:27:09
Female TRI-3: Beth Price (Spanish Fort, Ala.), 1:39:17
Male TRI-3: Sean Vangerena (Orlando, Fla.), 1:14:53
Female TRI-4: Robin Caruso (Ridgefield, Conn.), 1:29:49
Male TRI-4: Daniel Hathorn (Virginia Beach, Va.), 1:08:41
Female TRI-5: Patricia Collins (Harker Heights, Texas), 1:22:20
Male TRI-5: James Brown (Carlsbad, Calif.), 1:15:00
Female TRI-6: Patricia Walsh (Austin, Texas), 1:18:28
Male TRI-6: Jeremy Winters (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), 1:24:31