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Pesch finishes 28th in World Triathlon Championships

Maddy Pesch ’16 enjoys her success at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Photo contributed.

A summer MAP project, aqua-jogging, lifting weights, 5000 meters of swimming, 130 miles of biking and running every week: a summer well spent for Maddy Pesch ’16.

After training rigorously over the summer, she was well-prepared to compete in the 2014 International Triathlon Union World Triathlon Grand Final held in Edmonton, Canada. She was in the female group ages 20-24 last Monday. No doubt her diligence and perseverance paid off, as she finished in 28th place among 46 competitors with a time of 2:25:52. 

“I knew that it was going to be the toughest field that I’ve seen,” she said. “When you know that everyone’s going to be a challenge to beat, it’s hard to get over your nerves. I set a goal that I wanted to finish in the middle third and that’s what I did. I’m happy with that.” 

Maddy Pesch ’16   enjoys her success at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Photo contributed.
Maddy Pesch ’16 enjoys her success at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Photo contributed.

Pesch completed the one and a half kilometer swim in 21:51, 24 kilometer bike in 1:11:50 and 10 kilometer run in 46:21. In a pool of racers representing eight different countries, she was ninth among Americans. For a triathlete who only began the sport when she first arrived in Grinnell two years ago, her performance is an outstanding accomplishment.

“She did fantastic [considering] the limited number of triathlons she’s competed in,” said swimming and diving head coach Erin Hurley, who oversaw Pesch’s training. “And she didn’t dedicate her whole year to this. Many athletes train all year long. This is just the beginning of her third year [in triathlon].”

Pesch qualified to compete in the World Championships after finishing with a remarkable time of 2:30:57.36 at the U.S. National Championships in Milwaukee last year. Although she practiced with Dylan Gray ’14 for Nationals, she did not have any peers to train with this time around. No matter, she still found ways to prepare for the event by training with several triathletes from the community, including the Assistant Director of Admissions Tim Butterfield, who helped push her limits.

“It’s been good for me to find people who are better than me at [running and biking] since they’re not my strength,” she said. “And that way I can have people to push me. If you’re all alone, you get lonely and it’s hard to push yourself.”

And for Hurley, the fact that her student-athlete went the extra mile to accomplish her goal is no surprise.

“If you know Maddy, it’s a no-brainer,” Hurley said. “She’s very disciplined [and] very determined. She will set herself up to have the best experience she can have in a competitive sense. She can do whatever she sets her mind to do. She really can. The sky’s the limit for her.”

As if the race itself was not already challenging enough, Pesch had to make additional adjustments to the foreign environment of Edmonton—not only did she have to adapt to the international rules but also to the differences in water and air temperature.

“Canada was freezing,” she admitted. “Normally I compete in the triathlons in the summer, so you’re pouring ice water on your head the whole time you’re racing. [In Canada], when I was trying to put on my shoes, I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. But the thing about triathlon is that you have to keep in your head that you know there’s going to be some difficulty during the race. You just have to keep level and try to take one at a time.”

But even the cold weather could not hinder Pesch from enjoying the extraordinary experience, including the opportunity to wear the U.S. flag on her uniform as opposed to the usual “Honor G.” 

“Whenever I would go by any [viewer] from the U.S., they would always say ‘Go U.S.A.,’ ‘You can do it’ and ‘Almost done,’” she said. “And when we came into the finish, they gave us flags from our country to wave and that was cool to think about representing something larger than yourself in your country.”

Pesch also had the pleasure of meeting and forming bonds with athletes from all over the world. 

“After the race, I talked to people from different countries about the experience and bonded over the cold,” she said. “It was a good sense of camaraderie with people that you’ve never met and will probably never see again.”

According to Pesch, breaking records is not pivotal to her athletic career. Rather, every competition provides a valuable experience to learn from. 

“Athletics is as much about your specific performance as it is to about your whole experience with the sport,” she said. “But triathlon has helped me think a lot more about not just the end result but the different experiences that I had this whole summer. I know that when I’m older and I think back on these experiences, I’m not going to remember my times or the places I got, but I’m just going to remember I went to that race and I had a lot of fun.”

For now, she will return to focusing on swimming once the season starts. But immediately after the season is over, she will train in triathlon again, as she already qualified to participate in next year’s World Championships, held in Chicago. 

“Next triathlon season, I’m trying to work with local bike shops and hopefully going to join a triathlon team,” Pesch said. “I’m hoping to do some bigger races and just prepare for Nationals and Worlds next summer.”

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