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Duke triathletes gear in on campus

As an incoming freshman, Suzanne Bay was anxious that Duke would not be able to accommodate her athletic ambitions. A world-class triathlete, Bay, now a junior, participated in her first competition at 17 and grabbed the gold for her age group. With plans to compete in the Hamburg BG World Triathlon Championships in the Fall of her first semester at Duke, Bay attempted to forge her own training program. She joined Duke’s Road Runners, Club Swimming and Club Cycling, but in conjunction with classes, this intensive routine proved unworkable, and Bay resorted to training by herself.

Upon arriving in Hamburg, Germany for the World Championships, Bay spotted fellow Duke student Brian Duffy, then a sophomore. Duffy placed first overall in the men’s competition and Bay finished in the top 50 percent in the women’s division. After the event, the two met to discuss possibilities for starting a Triathlon Club at Duke.

“Its a great sport and a lot of fun,” said Duffy, who is now a senior. “The reason we wanted to start the club was to introduce people to the sport. We knew that once people starting running  [triathlons], they’d be hooked.”

By September last year, the Triathlon Club was officially chartered by the Student Organization Finance Committee and Duke Student Government. Within a few months, Duffy and Bay located a volunteer to coach the team—accomplished triathlete Robert Ferris, a graduate student in materials science engineering .

“I’ve been racing triathlons for seven years now, and I was introduced by a number of people to Bryan,” Ferris said. “After we met a couple of times, he told me he was interested in starting something a little more formal and organized for Duke. We wanted to congeal something to serve as a support system.”

Prior to his involvement in the Triathlon Club, Ferris coached numerous triathletes and cyclists in preparation for various races. With his expertise in the field, Ferris devised training schedules for new triathlon recruits, offering programs at least three different times a day. This year’s goal for the program, Ferris added, is to prepare the club for the Collegiate National Championship race in April. 

 Initially, the founders were concerned over the minimal feedback they received from the Duke community. Few new recruits came to the meetings, and triathletes continued to train independently. After sending out various flyers and e-mails, however, club membership significantly increased, Bay said. Last week, about 70 prospective triathletes attended the first meeting of the season, Bay added.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Ferris said. “Each triathlete has their own questions and concerns based on their strengths and weaknesses, and we want them to know they can come talk to us.”

Both Ferris and Duffy competed this past weekend in two different triathlons. At the Ironman Wisconsin 2009 Sunday, Ferris placed 30th, qualifying for 2009 Ford Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Meanwhile, Duffy finished first in the fourth annual Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, D.C. out of about 4,000 competitors.

Although the Triathlon Club is the first formalized campus organization of its kind, several Duke alumni are accomplished triathletes, having participated in numerous Olympic competitions and Ironman World Championships.

Andy Baldwin, Trinity ’99, for example, is best known for his starring role on ABC’s Hit Television Show, “The Bachelor: An Officer and a Gentleman.” An eight-time Ironman competitor and five-time member of the All-Navy Triathlon Team, Baldwin began running triathlons in 2001 with Team-In-Training. The organization’s members raise funds to help support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in exchange for training and endurance programs.

“The biggest thing is to enjoy the friends you make in the process and knowing that you’re doing it for a good cause,” Baldwin said.


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