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News | Aug. 10, 2017

U.S. Service Members Compete in International Military Triathlon

By Lance Cpl. Troy Saunders Defense Media Activity - Marines

U.S. service members from all five branches competed together to represent the U.S. Armed Forces Triathlon Team in the 2017 World Military Triathlon Championship in Sassenberg, Germany, Aug. 5, 2017.

The championship included teams comprised of twenty-two nations’ militaries and consisted of a 1.5 km swim, a 40 km bike race, and a 10 km run. 

The event is then broken up into four categories.

The Men’s Open Division, which is open to all male competitors. The Men’s Masters Division, which is open to male competitors ages 40 and older. The Women’s Open Division, open to all female competitors, and the Women’s Masters Division, which is open to female competitors ages 40 and older.

The International Military Sports Council (CISM) hosted the event and this year's was the 19th iteration of the world triathlon championship. 

CISM was founded in 1948 and organizes various sporting events and competitions for the armed forces of its 136 member countries. 

The organization is unique because it brings together service men and women who may previously have met on the battlefield to now meet on the sports playing field. 

“CISM is the second largest sports governing body in the world, second only to the international Olympic committee,” said Marine Col. Stephen Armes, Chief of Mission for the U.S. Armed Forces Triathlon Team. “Friendship through sport is the motto of CISM, and if you’re friends hopefully you’re not going to fight each other.”

This year, the German Armed Forces Bundeswehr Sports School in Warendorf, Germany opened their services and facilities to more than 300 military athletes, including 15 U.S. military athletes.

One of the military athletes on the U.S. team was the 2016 Marine Corps Female Athlete of the Year, Marine Capt. Mollie Hebda.

“My dad was a big marathon runner and ever since I was the age of six or seven he would drag us out to run with him,” said Hebda. “In college, I ran, but I did swimming and biking as part of cross-training for running, and I realized I was much better at triathlon and have been doing them for about three years now.”

Hebda’s experience with collegiate athletics and triathlons is common for the U.S. team, but not so common for many other nations.

Many of the competitors from other countries are professional athletes who, by conscript, fulfill their military duties.

The U.S. team recognized the unique opportunity to compete against great athletes on a global stage like the championship.

“There are six Olympians that were in Rio in the mix here,” said Armes. “There’s probably another six or so that are trying to get to Tokyo in 2020, but that’s normal. I think what it does is it gives our guys an attempt for something to strive for. When you’re racking your bike in transition and a guy’s got Olympic greens tattooed on his leg, you know you’re really going against the best in the world.”

The U.S team accepted the role of underdog and was motivated with high expectations for themselves.

“We know that there are some Olympians here,” said Hebda. “So having an even larger field with even more competitive people with that goal to represent your country as best as you can is really going to bring out an incredible performance from our team.” 

Although members of the U.S. team were from different branches of service, the level of dependability and friendship rivaled that of a service specific unit.

“It’s a fantastic group of people, military members, even with new people,” said Air Force Maj. Judy Coyle, a member of the U.S team. “I think everybody recognizes the effort put in and everybody wants to help everybody out, but even though we’re here to compete, we’re here to have a good time as well.”

Through their rigorous workout regiment, military discipline and training, and camaraderie with teammates and competitors alike, the U.S. team still recognized that there was something more important than a good performance and having fun. 

“All those people that are deployed right now and can't be here, you know we're representing them as well,” said Armes. “And we're very, very fortunate to have this opportunity to come here and do this race."

An awards ceremony was held after the final category was completed on the day of the championship.

Although Germany, Brazil, and France walked away with more medals, the U.S. Armed Forces Triathlon Team had something to be proud of and build upon.

The U.S. team finished the event with four overall medals.

Air Force Lt. Col. Jon Mason earned a silver medal in the Men’s Individual Masters Division. Air Force Maj. Jamie Turner earned a bronze medal in the Women’s Individual Masters Division, while Air Force Maj. Judy Coyle earned the gold medal in the same division. 

The U.S. team came out in first and won a gold medal in Group Master’s Division.

Next year, the competition will be hosted in Sweden. 

CISM continues to host international competitions where American service members will have the opportunity to represent the country for which they serve.