Former Carmel Valley students compete in college-level Triathlon Nationals

Heather Zhang and Leslie Zhang, formerly of Carmel Valley, who attended The Bishop’s School and Canyon Crest Academy respectively, were two of the four high school girls who competed at the Inaugural Varsity Collegiate Women’s Triathlon National Championships held in Clermont, Fla., in November 2014.

They are members of Formula Endurance Triathlon and Swimming Club in San Diego and are being coached by USA Triathlon Level II coach Jim Vance.

They raced in a draft-legal format with a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike, and a 5-kilometer run, which will be the race distance for future NCAA women’s triathlons once it becomes an official NCAA varsity sport.

Coach Vance was particularly thrilled by the fact that of the four high school girls who competed at the first Collegiate Women’s National Triathlon Championships, three were from the Formula Endurance TriClub program. A former alumna of the program also took part as a collegian and placed fourth. In his words, apparently the Tri Club Formula Endurance is doing the right things with the right direction for the program.

Leslie Zhang, who is the youngest in the field at age 15, finished the race placing 12th and she was fifth entering the second transition (from bike to run) before being passed by stronger and more developed college girls on the run.

Heather Zhang hung on and finished 19th, placing well ahead of many of the college girls on the starting list. In her words: “This race was located in a beautiful venue within a State Park. It was especially unique since the lake water had a reddish tint from the bleeding of the cypress tree roots into the water. Both Leslie and I were well prepared for this and once the horn sounded off, we stepped up to the challenge. The crowds were cheering so loudly, as this was the first-ever draft legal Collegiate National Championship. We felt that we were a part of history in the making, and we were told that the group photo shot will be exhibited at USA Triathlon Headquarters in Colorado Springs and may even be featured in a NCAA museum in the years to come. That made this race so special to us.”

Both Heather and Leslie mastered the skills of draft legal cycling and open water swimming right in San Diego, the birthplace of the triathlon, under Vance’s tutelage. They both qualified and competed at the USAT Youth/Junior Elite Triathlon National Championships for the past three years and earned their national rankings accordingly. Leslie also qualified for the International Triathlon Union Age Group Sprint Distance World Championships in 2015 this past August in Milwaukee, and she will represent Team USA in Chicago next September. In her words: “It is an honor to represent USA on our home soil next year, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to compete with the world’s best triathletes in my new age group in the future (16-19).”

Besides their busy training regimen for the triathlon, Heather and Leslie are on the varsity cross country team in the fall and varsity swim team in the winter.

Both girls plan to compete at the NCAA Division I level and beyond. “Triathlon is such a fun sport and lifestyle that not only takes your fitness to new level, but also makes you better in goal-setting as well as self-discipline, which we will benefit from for the rest of our lives. Although it is extremely time-consuming, requires many years of patience and dedication, and was suggested as one of the hardest sports to develop to become Olympic triathletes, we have been loving every single step of this journey. We have made so many new friends who are all around the country from the competitive and social environment that triathlon provides. We push each other to achieve all of our goals, which form a special bond that will never be broken.”

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