Tri-ing Sport

The Bradley Triathlon Club has steadily grown in six years. The club organized the first Peoria Triathlon in August. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
September 21, 2015

Colleen McNally ’16 thought she gave up competitive swimming when she enrolled at Bradley. Though burned out from a life of swimming meets, her competitive nature yearned for a new outlet.

She found it — and a return to the water — when she discovered the Bradley Triathlon Club. The club quickly became one of the most significant adventures of her Bradley Experience.

“I never thought I’d swim again or do a triathlon,” said the Spanish and international business double major from Metamora. “This club became a big part of my undergraduate experience. They welcomed me into the club, which is a positive group where everyone has something to teach each other.”

Beyond the club camaraderie, she discovered triathlons provided cross-training ideal for her future in the U.S. Navy.

McNally, the Bradley club’s vice-president, joined at a time triathlons are gaining popularity nationwide. According to the sport’s American governing body, USA Triathlon, a record 4,397 events were sanctioned in 2014. That corresponded with USAT membership numbers quadrupling since 2000.

At the college level, the NCAA in 2014 offered scholarships at selected schools for women triathletes.

Regionally, the Braves compete in a USAT-sponsored conference that includes major Midwest state schools like the University of Illinois, mid-majors such as Miami University of Ohio and several small liberal arts colleges.

The Braves’ triathlon club has risen with the national trend, building from a handful of students to a consistent group of 20 in six years.

The Bradley triathlete community includes a range of athletes, from students who have never competed to top-10 collegiate triathlete Chris Douglas ’14. Triathletes can compete in timed indoor events, short sprint distances, Olympic-length and long Ironman events.

“We’ve been fortunate to have good leaders before me,” said club president Alex Alvarez ’16, a finance major from Streamwood, Illinois. “Those who join are committed to the sport, then they feel the community and want to remain part of that.”

As Alvarez noted, hospitality is a significant factor in the sport’s growth. As the Bradley team travels across the Midwest for competitions, teammates bond with each other and make new connections with triathletes of all ages.

Those relationships mean opportunities to support other clubs, chances to explore new parts of the country, places to stay when traveling to competitions, professional networking contacts, sponsorship connections and lifelong friendships.

“It’s amazing to watch how supportive the community is,” McNally said. “It’s incredible to see community support behind us making sure we continue to grow.”

Central Illinois’ triathlon community supported the first Peoria Triathlon in late August. The event, a dream since the club’s inception, drew 187 racers from across the country and was staffed by volunteers from the Bradley Triathlon Club and Peoria outdoor outfitter Bushwhacker.

Bradley triathletes also benefit from sponsors who have made a potentially expensive sport manageable for college students. Donors now cover travel costs and competition fees. Additionally, the club owns five competition bikes it lends to members.

On campus, Bradley hosts an indoor triathlon in the winter to spark interest on the Hilltop. The next indoor event is scheduled for February 2016.

“We’re proud of what the club is doing on campus and in the community,” Alvarez said. “We’re showing that, with a little work, a school our size can accomplish a lot.”