The U.S. Navy men’s triathlon team repeated its 2013 first-place finish in this year’s Armed Forces Triathlon Championship Saturday, May 31, at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu.
The Navy women’s team, which won the gold medal last year, had to settle for third-place this year, falling victim to a strong returning Air Force team, which placed first, and a new but powerful Marine Corps team that took home the silver.
The triathlon championship pits the top triathletes in the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps against one another in a 1,500-meter (one-mile) ocean swim, 40-kilometer (24.8-mile) draft-legal bike ride and 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run.
Among the men’s teams, the Air Force took silver and the Army placed third. Army Capt. Nicholas Vandam of Fort Carson, Colorado, repeated his 2012 first-place finish with a time of 1 hour, 51 minutes, 37 seconds. He missed last year’s race because he was in Afghanistan.
Air Force 2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina repeated her 2013 victory with a time of 2:06:24. While the triathletes noted that the course seemed fast this year, Vandam’s winning time was actually 6 minutes off his 2012 time. “I didn’t get to swim or train much in Afghanistan,” he explained, adding that waves during the ocean swim and windy conditions during the bike race also played a role. “At times it felt like I wasn’t even moving because of the waves,” he said. Morrison found this triathlon to be less stressful than last year’s; she had graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy just three days prior to the 2013 triathlon. “Compared to last year, I could just come out and relax a little,” she said. “The swim, though, was especially tough. All these girls are fast.” She agreed with Vandam that a strong headwind made the bike race tough. “And the run was very hot,”she said. Often cloaked in fog this time of year, Point Mugu was clear and close to 80 degrees during the race.
Navy Lt. Kyle Hooker, who finished about 1 minute after Vandam and came in second, agreed that heat was a factor. “I’m from Whidbey Island in Washington, so I’m not so good in warm weather,” he said. But he noted that this is his fifth year competing in the triathlon championships, and this was his best time so far, at 1:52:40.
The third-place finisher was Air Force Cadet John Bierman of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. His time was 1:46:07. The second-place finisher among the women was Navy Lt. Rachel Beckman of Arlington, Virginia, whose time was 2:07:49, and the third-place finisher, at 2:11:31, was 1st Lt. Mollie Hebda of the Marine Corps, who had been promoted from second lieutenant the day before. “We’re a new team — three of us had never done this before,” said Hebda, who completed her first triathlon just over a year ago. “This race went exactly as we wanted it to.”
This is the 15thyear NBVC Point Mugu has hosted the triathlon championship. “Naval Base Ventura County is excited and proud to host the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship again this year,” said Capt. Scott Loeschke, chief staff officer of the base.“Congratulations to all the competitors.” Lt. Cmdr. Matt Cameron, the flight surgeon at NBVC Point Mugu, said the medical tent saw only minor cases. “There were no major crashes,”he said. “There were some cases of exhaustion, cramps, overheating and dehydration. But there was nothing serious.”
The race drew several spectators, including competitors in the Admiral’s Cup sprint triathlon that took place earlier in the morning, plus some guests at the Beach Motel and RV Park. Vandam’s mother, Liz, traveled from Minneapolis to watch her son compete. For her, it was a homecoming of sorts; she lived on the base when she was in third grade. The family of Coast Guardsman Mike Kelly, who’s stationed in Oregon, turned the triathlon into a family reunion. Kelly, who competed on the Navy team, was able to see his sister, Jenny Martin, who lives in San Diego, and his mom and dad, Penny Martin and Tony Rivas, who live in Bakersfield. Other spectators didn’t know until that morning that a triathlon would be taking place. “Now that we know, we’re going to try and come back next year,” said Vicky Utt, who was staying in the RV Park with her husband, Vietnam veteran Dennis Utt. The couple lives in Bakersfield. During the ocean swim, another performance competed for spectators’ attention. A large harbor seal had caught a fish and was feeding just a few feet away from the swimmers. Seagulls flocked to the commotion, which was witnessed at close range by a professional surfer who had volunteered to serve as a spotter.