by Dezmond Remington
On Nov. 12, 2022, the Cal Poly Humboldt Women’s triathlon team competed in their first ever national championship in Tempe, Ariz, taking 12th out of 12 teams. It was a historic season to say the least; the first season ever for this team, the first time ever competing in triathlon for most of the athletes, and the first national championship for the program.
It was a hectic season, and will probably be the only season like it, according to head coach Kinsey Laine.
“I think it will look very different next season,” Laine said. “Some of the attitudes and characteristics of the team that we have now that I hope stay are bravery and the ‘yes’ attitudes that [the athletes] showed in terms of, ‘Oh, I’ve never tried this, but I’ll give it a try.’”
An eager-to-learn attitude defined the season. No athletes on the team came from a pure triathlon background and everyone had things they needed to learn. According to athlete Emilie Cates, expectations at first were low and kept rising. Over the course of the season, athletes learned skills such as proper swimming technique, using clipless pedals, or even just learning how to ride a road bike altogether. However, these experiences were not just individual gains.
“Just seeing the people around me and their growth is always helping [me] to learn more too,” Cates said. “You can learn off of each other. It’s just been an overall pretty positive experience.”
Teammate Elizabeth Odell shares this sentiment.
“I think it’s kind of fun! I’m glad we’re, in a way, all in the same boat, kind of figuring it out together,” Odell said. “But also interesting to see because we have our strengths and most of us have one sport that we’re strong at and we give each other advice and teach each other about that sport we specialize in.”
There were quite a few setbacks as well. Transportation to faraway competitions in Oregon, Missouri, and Colorado were very difficult to get to. Administrative holdups, such as requiring lifeguards at every practice involving open-water swimming, hindered the progression of the athletes.
At one competition, only one competitor from Cal Poly Humboldt finished the race after they were lapped by Division 1 athletes they were racing. Rules in the emerging sport of women’s triathlon are complex and oftentimes labyrinthine, such as a ru
le about helmet placements during the transition between the bike and the run legs. It can be appealed, but if lost it’s a $50 fine and a disqualification from the race.
Even though Humboldt is a DII school, the team competed against DIII schools several times as well as some DI schools, ranked among the best in the nation. Against such competitors, defeat, while not guaranteed, is far more likely.
“It was cool to see just how fast people can be,” Odell said. “But I also had to take a step back and be like ‘OK, this is the…equivalent of learning how to mountain bike and then a couple months later trying to race UCI events’, but it definitely surprised me.”
Despite all the woes, it will be a season looked back on fairly fondly. Cates recalled the night before the race in Missouri at their “safari cabin” and eating pasta out on the porch listening to Laine talk about her own past. Odell’s favorite part of the season was open-water swimming out in the bay.
“It’s super cool being out there because I used to think those people that go open water swimming in the bay are kind of crazy,” Odell said. “And now we’re out there doing it. And it was really fun…but also kind of scary with the jellyfish.”
Nationals will be a proving ground for the team, who are excited to hopefully flesh out a season with many ups and downs with a resounding success.
“I’m really excited for that opportunity,” Laine said. “We have competed against the toughest teams in the country for our last two races. Just the chance for them to shine and show what they’ve done, and just be really proud of how far they’ve come.”