Navy triathletes made history Saturday, June 1, when both the men’s and women’s teams took home gold medals at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championship at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu.
The men’s team repeated last year’s gold medal victory, but this was the first time the women’s team finished in first place, and coach Jim Felty was ecstatic.
“We’ve never won!” he said, fist-pumping the air. “We’ve never been above third! This is a deep, deep team.”
The Armed Forces Triathlon Championship consists of a 1,500-meter (approximately one-mile) ocean swim, 40-kilometer (24.8-mile) draft-legal bike ride, and 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run. Teams from the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps compete for points; a team made up of members of the Canadian armed forces participates but does not compete for points.
The Air Force men’s and women’s teams both came in a close second this year, with only two points separating the women’s teams and one point separating the men’s.
Individual gold medals went to Army Capt. Nicholas Sterghos of Fort Hood, Texas, who finished with a time of 1 hour, 49 minutes, 21 seconds, and to Air Force Lt. Samantha Morrison, who finished in 2:07:39.
Sterghos finished second in last year’s triathlon, losing to Army 1st Lt. Nick Vandam, who is currently deployed.
Morrison had graduated three days earlier from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and she’s preparing to report to her first duty station, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.
“It’s been a good week,” she said.
In the men’s competition, Air Force Major James Bales of Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi took the silver medal with a time of 1:49:57, and Navy Lt. Thomas Brown, who works in explosive ordnance disposal at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, took the bronze with a time of 1:50:20.
This was the first time in 16 months Bales had competed in a triathlon. He won the men’s race at Point Mugu in both 2010 and 2011, but missed last year because of the premature birth of his son, Joshua, now a healthy 1-year-old.
“Family takes priority,” he said, adding that he was more than pleased with a second-place finish after taking so much time off.
Brown, together with the fourth-place men’s finisher, Lt. j.g. Derek Oskutis of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 11 in San Diego, had led the race throughout the swim and the bike ride. But Oskutis developed a cramp in the fifth mile of the run.
“Derek and I know each other and have raced a number of years together,” Brown said. “We planned to work together in this race, and it went well. We had a big gap right away. He’s a better runner than I am nine out of 10 races, but this time he got a cramp in the fifth mile. But I was glad to see the team pull together. I’m glad to have been a part of it.”
In the women’s race, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Colleen O’Connor of Naval Air Station North Island garnered silver with a time of 2:10:37. Lt. Rachel Beckmann, a chemical engineer at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Center in Washington, D.C., brought home the bronze medal for the Navy with a time of 2:11:15.
O’Connor, who has competed several times at Point Mugu, eyed the conditions before the race started at 9 a.m. and was optimistic. Warmed by a late-week heat wave, the ocean temperature was 62 degrees, compared to the low 50s of previous years.
“Thank goodness!” O’Connor said. “It’s been 53 degrees in the past, and that’s miserable.”
It’s something Capt. Kenneth Corigliano of MacDill Air Force Base in Florida knows all about. Saturday was his seventh triathlon at Point Mugu.
“It’s always rough because the water is so cold,” he said. “Your body is still cold on the bike and then it heats up on the run. It’s a thermoregulation nightmare.”
With the recent heat wave, the athletes were anticipating an extremely hot run and were prepared to drink more water and electrolytes, but the marine layer still hadn’t burned off by the noontime awards ceremony.
“Conditions were great,” said Marine Corps Major Casey McKinney of Camp Pendleton. “The wind didn’t pick up either.”
Unlike in past years, there were no cases of hypothermia. In fact, only two competitors didn’t finish the race, one because of a broken bicycle crankshaft, the other because of a bike that was damaged in a collision; the other cyclist involved continued on with a nasty road rash.
The triathletes who had competed at Point Mugu before also noticed another change: The Admiral’s Cup, a sprint triathlon for the public traditionally held before the Armed Forces event, didn’t take place due to funding issues. Many Admiral’s Cup participants would stay on after finishing their race to watch some of the best athletes in the sport.
“That really added to the ambiance,” Felty said, adding that as a coach, he liked having the built-in cheering section.
Event organizers noticed the difference as well.
“It’s a lot less chaotic,” said Kevin Ludwig of NBVC’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
But the smaller crowd didn’t take away from the inspiration and excitement generated by the event — not for Capt. Larry Vasquez, commanding officer of the base.
“It’s always inspiring to see the dedication of these athletes — dedication not only to their country but also to their sport,” he said. “And talk about leading a healthy lifestyle — this is the epitome of that.”
Men’s team scores:
Air Force, 66
Marine Corps, 132
Women’s team scores:
Air Force, 26
Marine Corps, 41
Men’s individual times:
Army Capt. Nicholas Sterghos, Fort Hood, Texas, 1:49:21
Air Force Major James Bales, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., 1:49:57
Navy Lt. Thomas Brown, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, 1:50:20
Women’s individual times:
Air Force 2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., 2:07:39
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Colleen O’Connor, Naval Air Station North Island, 2:10:37
Lt. Rachel Beckmann, Coast Guard Marine Safety Center, Washington, D.C., 2:11:15