Humboldt Triathlon Team Debuts – The Lumberjack
by Dezmond Remington
A grueling, painful, deadly march. Triathlon, in the minds of many people, can usually be summed up in adjectives like these. In this sport consisting of three endurance events already extremely difficult on their own, competitors run 750 meters of swimming, 20 kilometers of cycling and 5 kilometers of running. The words ‘fun’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘enjoyable’ don’t come up often. However, Kinsey Laine, Cal Poly Humboldt Women’s Triathlon Head Coach, hopes to create a team that embodies that positive energy.
“My main goal for all of my athletes is for them to enjoy their experience,” Laine said. “The way they will ultimately get better at the sport is to be excited to come and train.”
Laine has experience fostering these environments with her athletes. Before coming to Humboldt, Laine was a triathlon coach at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado, and before that she was a swim coach at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. At Colorado Mesa in 2021, his team placed fourth at the nationals in Tempe, Arizona, and had three All-American finishers. Laine also raced long-distance triathlon professionally, but that ended when the pandemic started and she began coaching in Colorado Mesa.
This prior experience has prepared her to coach athletes like junior Elizabeth Odell and second Emily Cates, who enjoy triathlon as a way to avoid injury and seek new challenges.
When Odell first heard about the fledgling triathlon team, she wasn’t too interested. However, the low risk of falling won her over and she started learning to swim and run last spring. Although difficult, Odell said the process of selecting two new sports was enjoyable.
“It’s a good change. I don’t always compare my times to my speed from a year ago or something,” Odell said. “It’s just completely new. So all I see are gains and pretty much everything is improving.
Getting away from the stress of injuries was also a motivator for Cates when she joined the triathlon team. In the midst of running, Cates had dealt with a series of overuse injuries that left her stressed and frustrated. Training for the triathlon, where two of the three disciplines are zero impact, was appealing.
“I realized running, just running, was not going to be sustainable for me,” Cates said. “And it’s a great opportunity to train, and if I have to train so much on my own, I might as well race and have another team atmosphere.”
Cates hasn’t completely stopped running; she is also on Cal Poly Humboldt’s cross country and track teams. Being a dual-sport athlete has its challenges, Cates said, as it’s often tiring to train for two sports at once. Recently, she went straight from swim training to repeated one-mile cross-country training.
Hosting this unique sport puts CPH in a unique position – it is the only Division II school on the West Coast to offer a women’s triathlon team. Only two other NCAA-affiliated schools on the West Coast have a team. Laine sees this new beginning as a great opportunity.
“I think in three to four years this team will be nationally competitive for DII,” Laine said. “There are teams that have about five or six seasons, but there is instability in these teams, so we are not five or six years behind. I think we can come in, then in a few years , to be competitive with these schools.
Women’s triathlon in the NCAA is a new sport – the NCAA classified it as an “emerging sport” for women in 2014, and currently there are only 17 Division II schools that host triathlon. Triathlon is only available as a women’s sport in the NCAA.
The biggest challenge facing the fledgling team is the late start – Laine was hired on fairly short notice, and as such there are only four races the team is scheduled for this season.
Recruitment comes primarily from current students with a background in running or swimming or both. A few of the potential athletes have a racing triathlon background. The list will be short, with the eventual goal of 9-12 athletes on the team.
“[I want] a small group of focused people who support each other … but also really passionate about the sport,” Laine said. “As a coach you can’t make them want to be better at triathlon – they have to provide that passion.”
Odell agrees. She has a background in mountain biking, but when a cycling accident in January fractured her neck and left her with a severe concussion, she had to reevaluate how she wanted to compete. She had to drop most of her classes and move house, and could barely walk for two months.
“About two and a half months later, I was able to take a two-mile walk, and it was so exciting for me,” Odell said. “Just walking around the block my head would start pounding. It took me about five months to become a functioning human being again.
The late start and injury-riddled past of many triathletes did not make it easy for the team to get started. However, Cates said she is looking forward to racing and seeing what her teammates can do.
“I’m thrilled to know them, to be able to travel with them,” Cates said. “They seem like really great and dedicated people, and I think we’re going to be a great team this year.”