PELLA — The most important exercise for Central College’s Lindsey Blommers (sophomore, Pella) in training for a triathlon doesn’t require running shoes or a weight room squat rack.
Muscles matter in navigating the timed 750-meter swim, 20,000-meter bike ride and 5,000-meter run as well as all that happens in between in a collegiate sprint triathlon, but the biggest strain in Central’s newest sport is on the mind.
“It’s a lot more mentally tiring than physically,” Blommers said. “Just having the willpower to keep going.”
That’s not an easy skill for a young athlete to master said Jenni Hedrick-Rozenberg, Central’s head coach as well as a veteran triathlete.
“Your body’s telling you, you need to stop and your brain is telling you, you need to stop and you just have to be able to push through,” she said. “Especially in an age-group race (with non-college athletes) where there are older people that are passing you that have that mental experience. That mental toughness is very important. And a lot of times it’s harder to get past that in the triathlon than the physical (component).”
That can make running a triathlon far less rewarding that finishing one.
“During the actual race, it’s not that fun, but the feeling of achievement that you get afterwards is what’s exhilarating about it,” Blommers said. “That’s what makes you come back for more.”
That feeling was strong enough to help draw Blommers to Central. She needed just a year to complete her associate’s degree at Des Moines Area Community College and Central was among the colleges she was then considering for her bachelor’s degree when Hedrick-Rozenberg told her that the school was launching a triathlon program.
“The thing that really settled the deal was the triathlon team,” Blommers said. “I knew Jenni for most of my life. She’s been my swim coach since I was about eight years old. She’s the one who convinced me to come here.”
Hedrick-Rozenberg wasn’t even Central’s coach yet when Blommers made her decision. After applying for the job, she called Blommers back.
“I said, ‘If I become the coach, I don’t want you to be deterred because I’ve been your coach forever, so if you want someone else, please tell me,’” Hedrick-Rozenberg said. “But she said, ‘Why would I not want you to be my coach? You’ve been my coach forever.’”
Blommers is officially Central’s school-record holder after recording the team’s top finish in its only competition thus far, the CyMan Triathlon at Bondurant Sept. 13. She finished second in the women’s collegiate division in 1 hour, 24 minutes and 29 seconds. Teammates Alex Griggs (sophomore, Knoxville) and Katie Mitchell (senior, Des Moines, Hoover HS) were fifth and sixth, respectively.
A long-time competitive swimmer, Blommers competed for a combined program representing Pella, Newton, Colfax-Mingo and Prairie City-Monroe high schools, and was a two-time top-five state finisher in the 100-meter breaststroke. She was also a standout in track and field, competing in the 400 and 800 meters.
Her father is a marathon runner, so she had an interest in endurance tests.
“Then when Jenny told me that Central was getting a triathlon team, it just caught my interest,” Blommers said.
But on Sept. 13 she headed to the water at the CyMan Triathlon a bit apprehensive.
“That was my first official triathlon,” she said. “I had only done a few practices ones by myself at (Lake Red Rock).”
Many potential triathletes are scared off by the open-water swimming component.
“I think I have an advantage when it comes to the open-water swim just because I have been swimming pretty much my whole life,” Blommers said. “But practicing, I was very anxious because it’s a lot different than a pool. You can’t really see where you’re going. So that was kind of hard to get over.”
Despite her track background, the running leg is the most daunting for Blommers because it’s the final one.
“Once I started that second transition and was racking my bike and getting ready to run, my legs were just numb,” she said. “But I had to keep going.”
Being part of a team provides a needed emotional lift in those moments.
“Having it as a team sport gives you people to rely on,” Blommers said. “They push you and you also push them. It’s nice to have teammates there with you.”
As triathletes seek to improve their times, often overlooked are transitions—the time it takes for the swimmer to become a cyclist and for the cyclist to become a runner. That’s among the reasons Hedrick-Rozenberg is excited about Blommers’ potential.
“We were just talking about what goals she should have for the spring,” Hedrick Rozenberg said. “She’s definitely just scratching the surface, especially with her transitions, that’s like the fourth sport in triathlon, getting through your transition fast. She’s got a good two minutes that she can cut out in transition time. And then just getting used to open-water swimming. So there’s a lot. She’s fast but there are a lot of little things that can help her get a lot faster.”
Central’s access to nearby facilities, combined with the new enhancements to the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex, leave the college well-positioned to build a perennial triathlon contender.
“The (Volksweg) bike trail is awesome for long rides, especially and it’s nice to have the lake right there to open-water swim,” Blommers said.
The sport is growing, yet not widely understood. Classmates approach Blommers with a mixture of intrigue, awe and bewilderment.
“People are always impressed,” she said. “When I say that I’m on the triathlon team the normal response is, ‘Oh, I could never do that.’”
Blommers is convinced they’re wrong.
“I think a lot of people are capable of it and don’t realize it,” she said. “It’s just having the determination and the willpower to do it. At any triathlon, there are people of all ages, all sizes and backgrounds. You don’t have to be strong and lean. You know, anyone can do it.”
Blommers’ desire to test her physical and mental limits could lead her to even more muscle-taxing tests and those take more than willpower. The Mount Everest of triathlons is the Ironman—a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bicycle ride followed by a marathon (26.22-mile run). Pack a lunch. Finishing an ironman in less than 17 hours is considered an achievement—as is completing one at all. Blommers isn’t dismissing the notion.
“Our assistant coach, Susan Lyons, has done some half-Ironmans and my dad runs marathons so I think it would be really cool if I could do stuff like that one day,” Blommers said.
Her more immediate focus is mastering the more bite-sized sprint triathlon and helping Central, only the second Iowa college to offer the sport, add to the championship-drenched Dutch athletics tradition.
“This is a great program for Central to have,” Blommers said. “We’re kind of at the forefront of it.”