The Calvin Athletic Department is doing something this fall season that no Michigan college or university has ever done: fielding a women’s triathlon team. Women’s triathlon is the 22nd intercollegiate varsity sport at Calvin. Head coach Kattie Carpenter leads seven triathletes in their inaugural season.
The USA Triathlon Foundation awarded Calvin a grant last year to start a women’s triathlon program. The grant will fund operations for the program’s first three years. Carpenter has looked to take advantage of this grant while building the Knight’s program from the ground up. “The young women here are absolutely amazing. Starting this program and seeing them make leaps and bounds, it’s incredible,” Carpenter said.
Although Calvin women’s triathlon lost their first match and finished last in a meet at Trine, the story has been about improvement and experience for the Knights. Megan Schenkel, a junior from Grand Rapids, is one of those improving athletes. “I’m able to learn from everyone on the team. My coaches, too, are helping me understand how to get faster and more technical,” Schenkel said.
Challenges have arisen for this startup squad. All seven athletes on the team had no triathlon experience before this summer. Also, the logistics of an NCAA varsity team, like uniforms and travel expenses, have presented hurdles to the first-year team, according to Carpenter. Despite these challenges, both Schenkel and Carpenter believe the team has risen to meet them. “The drive that these young women have despite a lack of experience has exceeded my expectations,” Carpenter said.
The abrupt start to the program created another challenge for the team. The team began training only two weeks before the first race. Typical triathletes require eight weeks to prepare for a race. The Knights are now using the four weeks they have to prepare for regionals. Facing this shortage of time, Carpenter has been impressed by the Knights’ response.
The Knights will travel to Huddleston, Virginia for regionals on October 19, and “At regionals, the goal is to improve on our times,” Schenkel said. Most of the women’s triathlon programs in Calvin’s region have a head start on the Knights by a few years, so the focus will be competing for individual improvement. “I’m not expecting to improve in the standings, but I believe these young women will improve twofold or threefold from where they were to start the year,” Carpenter said. The Knights hope this year sets the tone for the program, and that the improvement continues for future triathletes.