Michelle Mehnert — a Champaign native, University Laboratory High School graduate, and member of the University of Illinois swim team — is an accomplished triathlete. She is currently training for the Short Course Triathlon World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in September.
She has agreed to write some guest blogs about her experiences as a triathlete and her training leading up to the world championships. This is her first installment.
Hi! My name is Michelle Mehnert and I am a junior in civil engineering and a member of the University of Illinois Women’s Swimming & Diving team. I’ve been racing in triathlons since I was 12, and have been in the pool since way before I can remember. Growing up, I’d always considered myself a swimmer, and started doing middle school track only to cross-train for swimming. I had fallen in love with the water, fighting the mind/body battles that every athlete goes through during a hard practice, and the satisfaction that only comes from a successful season.
My first exposure to triathlons was when my dad did the Champaign Park District Mini-Tri in 2000, and suggested that the next year I should give it a try. Just a few weeks later, I saw the first Olympic triathlon on television, and I *knew* I would be doing the Mini-Tri the next year. The variety, athleticism, and pure display of the endurance of the human spirit had me hooked immediately. My parents wouldn’t let me do the triathlon the next year, saying that I was still too young and should try cross-country first. In my first Mini-Tri, I placed 3rd in my age group, and two years later, on a bike I built myself from scraps, I was the first female finisher.
Through high school, I continued to train my swimming and running during the school year, and do more triathlons in the summer. Triathlons came so naturally, and I inched my way up the fields in larger races. Heading off to college, most coaches thought I was nuts to want to swim and continue triathlons. In fact, most just tried to point me to the cross country coach’s office. But seeing as all the American Olympic triathletes have been NCAA swimmers, and noting my love of the water, it seemed silly to deviate from swimming. (UI swimming) Coach Sue (Novitsky), (Assistant) Coach Steve (Farnau), and the whole team have been incredibly supportive of me continuing triathlons and I couldn’t ask for a better place to be.
The governing body for USA Triathlon (USAT) hosts two national championships each year. The first is in the spring for the Collegiate Division, and the second in the fall is open to everyone. Last year, I competed in the spring Collegiate Championships with the Fighting Illini Triathlon Club, and signed up for the fall Age Group Championships when they announced it would be the qualifier for the World’s Team in 2010. I placed 11th, earning my spot on Team USA for the 2010 Age Group (Amateur) World Championships in Budapest,
In the time since my official NCAA season has finished, I’ve been doing my extra biking and running training to get ready to represent Team USA! My racing’s been going great so far, so I’m really looking forward to seeing all my work come together here soon!