UBC Thunderbirds Triathlon SC looks to grow Northwest Collegiate Triathlon Championships after successful inaugural race

Emblazoned with the UBC blue, white and red triathlon suits and just past the hour mark in to the collegiate division of the UBC Tri Du (triathlon and duathlon) on March 10, seven Thunderbirds crossed the finish line before a single University of Victoria (UVic) athlete did.

Thomas Watson, UBC’s first place athlete, clocked in at a time of 1:03:34 — almost six minutes faster than the first place finisher in the general sprint category for the UBC race.

For the first ever Northwest Collegiate Triathlon Championships, it was a successful weekend for the UBC Thunderbirds Triathlon Sport Club, not only in terms of their team but also for the sport’s growth in the Pacific Northwest with the first organized intercollegiate race in the club’s — albeit short — history.

“Because we got Thunderbird Sports Club status, it’s kind of a part of it that you have a competitive intercollegiate race series. There’s nothing like that for triathlon at the moment … most of us thought it was a good idea and then UBC Rec helped us put it together,” club lead Anna Bennett said of the race.

TSC athlete Kazune Tamura checks in for the race.
TSC athlete Kazune Tamura checks in for the race. Courtesy UBC Thunderbirds Triathlon Sport Club

Bennett also spoke to the success of the event in terms of garnering more attention to the sport of triathlon on UBC’s campus and thus more involvement in both the TSC and AMS triathlon teams.

“It’s getting people excited about racing and the team spirit. Last year, I think there were eight people from the [triathlon] club that raced,” she said.

“This year, we had 15 all from the TSC and eight or something from the AMS [club], so it’s really kind of helped people find which group their supposed to be training with and getting more people actually out to the race. And it was a great environment at the finish line as well.”

For the events inaugural year, the UVic Vikes, the UBC Thunderbird Triathlon Sport Club and the AMS Triathlon Club were the three competitors. Bennett hopes to up the attendance for future iterations of the race.

“I was in contact with quite a few [schools] from the States. Some of them had never travelled outside of the States and then it was going to be hard for them to get [travel] sorted,” she explained. “But a lot of them seemed fairly keen so hopefully next year, it will be bigger.”

Even with limits on the schools who attended, the championship had 28 athletes race — and the TSC club topped the placings.

UBC's Enzo Zicat Garofalo makes his way through the run portion of the race.
UBC's Enzo Zicat Garofalo makes his way through the run portion of the race. Courtesy UBC Thunderbirds Triathlon Sport Club

Beyond Watson, Kazune Tamura clocked in at an even 1:08 to take home second. He was followed three minutes later by Enzo Zicat Garofalo at 1:11:06 and Ali Al-Ethawy at 1:11:42. First-year Adam Guthrie also placed in the top ranks of UBC’s runners with a time of 1:12:51.

On the women’s side, Keila Stark won the women’s event by over a three minute margin at 1:14:14 — a time which would also have placed her first in the general UBC Tri Du sprint race. Bennett followed swiftly behind with a time of 1:23:36.

The team also claimed top prize in the team event with the combined lowest score of their top three finishers.

For the team’s first race of the season, the results impressed Bennett.

On the AMS club side, Connor Bevington led UBC with a time of 1:21:42, placing him ninth in the intercollegiate race overall. For UVic, their fastest time came from Kiah Wheeler at 1:15:21.

As explained by TSC team marketing and communications officer Ali Al-Ethawy, the Vikes team is similar to the AMS Triathlon’s structure as their school does not have the TSC support structure in place, which is the case for many universities. With that in mind, the results UVic and the AMS club managed are a stark reminder of the success this sport could see should it continue to grow in the West.

“There’s not any kind of [Canadian collegiate] structure, really. There’s a collegiate league in Ontario, but other than that, it just doesn’t happen in Canada, “ Bennett explained. Out east, schools like McGill, Windsor, the University of Toronto and the University of Regina, amongst others, all have some form of a triathlon club — though many face the issue of not having varsity support to see their team travel.

The TSC team also faces the issue of having their busy season at the same time as summer break for students.

“The really hard thing about the triathlon season is it’s over summer, so everyone trains over winter and then they’re going to go home to Ontario, back to Alberta, and then it’s going to be hard to get the team back together again [in the fall], to get the same kind of feel and spirit at the finish line, and the team vibe,” Bennett said.

Keila Stark passes by the Nest on the run portion of the race.
Keila Stark passes by the Nest on the run portion of the race. Courtesy UBC Thunderbirds Triathlon Sport Club

Al-Ethawy also explained that scheduling for the triathlon team is difficult given the logistics of training during the school year which is the off-season for triathlon as a whole.

“On the schedule and all that, it’s hard when you start thinking about this stuff September/October and everyone is just wrapping up their season,” said Al-Ethawy.

“... Triathlon BC, Triathlon Canada, they’re all like ‘okay, we’re done now, we’re going to get ready for 2018’, when [we’re] just like ‘yeah, we’re going to race now, we’ve got to set something up’, so our season unfortunately doesn’t line up very well.”

And triathlon is an expensive sport, adding to the difficulties schools would face in travelling Canada-wide for competition.

That said, TSC Triathlon hopes to continue building up a series out in the West.

“We were really looking at places like Washington [and] Oregon … coming to this race because it’s a lot easier for them,” Bennett explained. “So maybe, hopefully, next year.”

And for now, the TSC season continues on. Several athletes are heading to the half-Ironman in Victoria in June. After that, the team is targeting the triathlon national championships in Kelowna and then the BC sprint distance championships in mid-September.

“We’re looking at [the sprint distance championships] being a compulsory race for everyone that’s returning to the team because everyone’s going to be back in BC [and] it’s at Cultus Lake, so it’s not that far,” Bennett said.