U.S. Military Academies Turning Into Triathlon Powerhouses

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  • Published Nov 30, 2009

New cadets and midshipmen must endure the notorious first summer of Basic Cadet Training, the acronym giving rise to the appropriate nickname “Beast.”  During the six-week introduction to the rigors and discipline of cadet life and the ensuing freshman year, it’s customary for more than 100 members of new classes to quit. With days that start at 5 a.m., semesters with six or seven classes, and weekends and summers filled with military training, there’s hardly time to catch a breath. So how do you find time to train to become a top-flight triathlete? More importantly, what makes you want to?

For Cadet First Class Ashley Morgan of Portland, Maine, it comes down to something every service member can understand—the men and women to her left and right. “You really need your team on those long workouts. When you know you’re going to be on the bike for three hours and then follow it up with a 30-minute run, staying with the team is what keeps you going.” This philosophy is the foundation for West Point’s success, and Morgan is a great example of it. The Ironman 70.3 Kansas winner in the 18-24 age group and second-place finisher at this year’s USAT nationals says that it’s great to win, but she credits her fellow teammates and cadets with giving her the strength to make it through the challenges. “It was hard at first to learn time allocation and make the most out of my training, but I got a lot of help from the team and my company. It’s like having two extra families.”

Two families provide a lot of support, but they also double the demands. Morgan has to schedule her training around her primary obligation at West Point, which is her academic and military education. Maj. Andy Caine, officer in charge of West Point Triathlon, explains why premier athlete status doesn’t buy slack from the other commitments. “Other than practice and races, I want the cadets to be as integrated with their companies as possible. West Point strives to provide cadets with the resources to be the best athlete they can be and challenges them to the very edge of their ability, mentally and physically. This experience of overcoming adversity will serve them well a couple years from now when they have to overcome similar mental and physical adversity as leaders in combat.”

The triathletes of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis are similarly dedicated.  Midshipman First Class Tyler Sharp, this year’s team captain, was training with the Navy SEALs and could not interview. He’s not the only team member to use triathlon as a training methodology. Recent graduate Ensign Derek Oskutis of Hershey, Pa., will soon put his pro triathlete career on hiatus when he begins training as a Naval explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer. Oskutis has held a professional card since his junior year at Annapolis. He couldn’t always make every race on the circuit, but this year he successfully qualified to compete in the 2009 ITU Under-23 (U23) World Championships held in Gold Coast, Australia, on Sept. 11-12. Having already passed the Navy’s physically intense SCUBA course, Oskutis will be certified on the specialized closed-circuit rebreather apparatus used by special operations forces by the time he completes the two-year EOD training. He’ll also be trained in special operations tactics and disarmament of underwater mines, and know which wire to cut on the nuke. You could say he likes pressure.

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