For Student Triathlon Club, Fitness and Camaraderie are the Goals

The Triathlon Club

Bowdoin Triathlon Club at the Lobstermen Tri in Freeport: left to right, Cordelia Zars ’16, Mara Chin-Purcell ’14, Dan Lesser ’14, Ben Pallant ’16 and Soichi Hirokawa ’14

Although running, bicycling and swimming are solitary activities, triathletes Dan Lesser, Soichi Hirokawa and Mara Chin-Purcell believe strongly in the benefits of belonging to a sports team. Hoping to find the camaraderie and support they’ve experienced before as varsity athletes, the three seniors have created a triathlon club at Bowdoin for aspiring triathletes.

Besides training for triathlons, the club organizers say their club also aims to help students achieve fitness and find a balanced life.

“The club is designed so people can incorporate training for their athletic goals, whether it’s their first 5k or fifth triathlon, while keeping up with other priorities, such as schoolwork or having a social life,” Hirokawa said. “We certainly want people to be independent, in that they learn to train on a schedule that works for them…but we also want them to realize that this club is a community they can go to for additional motivation or tips to achieve their goals.”

At this point, Lesser, Hirokawa and Chin-Purcell have all successfully completed several triathlons, including the Polarbear Triathlon sprint last May. They did this along with eight or nine other Bowdoin students. Club members will be competing again in the 2014 Polarbear triathlon, which is organized by Will Thomas ’03.

“For me, the benefit of having a group to work out with is that it’s an incentive to work out,” Chin-Purcell said. “It’s easy at Bowdoin to get overwhelmed and to say you don’t have time to work out, but if people are counting on you, it’s harder to skip practice.” She also likes acting as a team captain of sorts, urging people to greater athletic feats. “I love leading teams,” she said.

Swimmers ready to dive into the water at the Lobstermen Tri Sept. 14, the Triathlon Club's first race of the season

Swimmers at the Sept. 14 Lobstermen Triathlon, the Bowdoin Triathlon Club’s first race of the season

Lesser, Hirokama and Chin-Purcell are former varsity athletes who left their teams to search out alternative athletic outlets that weren’t so time consuming. After the three friends started working out together, even more friends began joining their workouts. They decided there was enough interest to warrant making the club a formal entity. “We missed a lot of the aspects of varsity sports,” Chin-Purcell said,

Although it is a quasi-team, with scheduled workouts, one of the Bowdoin Triathlon Club’s biggest draws for students is its flexibility. “This is your chance to keep in great shape while structuring practices how you want to,” Lesser said. Chin-Purcell added, “So if you have an enormous test the next day, you don’t have to go for a run.”

Making Triathlons Open to All
Mara Chin-Purcell and Dan Lesser, who lead the Bowdoin Triathlon Club, say that only one obstacle lies in the way of making the club accessible for any interested student: the cost of road bicycles. “We are trying to be as welcoming as possible,” Lesser said, which means that he and Chin-Purcell are figuring out how to raise money to help buy team bicycles. One idea they had was to organize their own fund-raising race at Bowdoin.

Lesser also pointed out that joining the club helps you meet new people, “find training partners and find sports you can keep up with.” Chin-Purcell completed his sentence, “your whole life.” In addition to reaching out to students, the club is trying to connect with alumni triathletes.

Lesser and Chin-Purcell are encouraging students to join the club now, in the fall, to build up to the Polar Triathlon next spring. While they say fall is their off-season, they did race in the intermediate-level Lobsterman Traithlon Sept. 14, and will run in some upcoming road races. Training becomes more focused next semester, as the Polarbear Triathlon date looms.

In high school, Lesser ran cross-country and did nordic skiing, Hirokawa played tennis and Chin-Purcell swam. The triathlete sport their expertise didn’t cover was cycling. To train properly, they’ve studied training manuals and consulted with experts at Bowdoin, including the cycling team and Swim Coach Brad Burnham. “He’s hugely helpful,” Lesser said. “He helps us with our technique.”

Doug Welling, assistant rowing coach and avid triathlete, has also lent his expertise to the club. “He’s offered us a couple of clinics in transitions and how to lead group rides,” Lesser said.

Both Chin-Purcell and Lesser say the club is open to students of all athletic levels, although generally students who participate start with a good level of fitness. “People come to us who are just runners, or just swimmers, and we’ll train them,” Chin-Purcell promised.

The club’s training regimen consists of workouts every day of the week, alternating between pool sessions, rides and runs. They leave Friday afternoons open for a unique group event, such as a trip to Bradbury Mountain for trail runs. All details are posted on the club’s open Facebook page, and anyone is welcome to join any of the sessions.

Both Chin-Purcell and Lesser say they have come to love being triathletes because they enjoy the variety and balance of the three athletic disciplines. They also appreciate that they can do other sports, such as play soccer or cross-country ski, and that this cross-training helps them improve as triathletes.

“I feel fitter now than ever,” Chin-Purcell said. “The focus is on fitness rather than being good at any one sport.”

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