Nearly 500 people participated in the 10th Tri the Illini triathlon Sunday. The sprint triathlon brings both area residents and college triathletes to the University of Illinois campus to race.
For college triathlon club members, participating in Tri the Illini earns them points they need to qualify for the Collegiate Triathlon National Championships in the spring.
“We’re one of the few races that count” for points toward the championship event, said Danielle Leyva, a UI junior and the president of the Illinois Triathlon Club. “Not a lot of schools have that opportunity.”
That brings many racers from collegiate clubs from around the Midwest to Tri the Illini. For the Illinois Triathlon Club, the race is a way to raise money to travel to the championships.
The Illinois Triathlon Club has about 50 members who train together and about 20 who are active in racing through the fall season. Local triathlete and coach Nick Modrzejewski designs workouts and offers advice on swim technique, racing strategies and nutrition, among other things.
The team competes at races that include the Purdue University triathlon club’s event.
Tri the Illini marks the end of their fall season. In December, the team chooses a roster of athletes to go to the national championships based on performance during the season, as well as involvement in club activities, Leyva said. They train throughout the winter for the championships in early April.
“We have the challenge of the winter and not being able to ride outside,” Leyva said. But the team goes somewhere warm to train during spring break — Texas this past spring and Florida the year before.
The NCAA made triathlon an emerging sport for women athletes in 2014, giving it 10 years to prove it has the momentum to become a full-fledged NCAA sport. More than a dozen universities have adopted triathlon as a varsity sport, and some of those athletes were at Tri the Illini.
“It was very cool,” Leyva said. “They are very official. They all get the same bikes, the same equipment.”
One of the things Leyva likes about triathlon is getting to know athletes from other college clubs, as well as her own. Her triathlon team members have become her best friends.
Leyva ran cross-country and track in high school but wanted to try something different in college.
“In triathlon, you cross-train and don’t overwork one part of your body too much,” she said. “I really like the energy. It’s just a different kind of personality from cross-country.”