The Bishop’s School senior Heather Zhang and Canyon Crest Academy junior Leslie Zhang represented Team USA at the ITU Triathlon World Championship on Sept. 17 in Chicago. They were part of the USA team that earned the most medals for the final team rankings.
The ITU World Championship brings together over 70 countries with elite races serving as the 2016 Rio Olympics Triathlon qualifier. Both Heather and Leslie competed in the female ages 16-19 bracket, swimming 750 meters in the 63 degree temperature of Lake Michigan, biking 20 km with a backdrop of Chicago, and finishing with a 5 km run next to Buckingham Fountain.
“I felt very honored and was extremely thrilled to be racing with triathletes from all over the world, especially since USA is one of the top countries in the sport of triathlon. It was such a rewarding experience to be a part of and it was exciting to watch the elites race, such as Gwen Jorgensen, the world champion,” explained Heather. “Since we American athletes usually race against each other for our own placing and club points at Nationals, we felt closer to each other by being on the same team for once.”
Prior to the competition, there was an opening ceremony that was preceded by the Parade of Nations. Team USA suited up in their team uniforms and marched around Buckingham Fountain with other countries.
In Leslie’s words, “I have been looking forward to the grand gathering since last August when we qualified for the Worlds at age group Nationals in Milwaukee. Needless to say, we are so privileged to represent USA on our home soil. It was such an unforgettable experience to race with girls our ages from all around the world and see how much the sport of triathlon has grown throughout the years. I am so glad to have gotten this opportunity to compete in a world championship as well as having the ability to watch the elite race live. Before the race, one girl from New Zealand asked me where I was from. Her face lighted up immediately when I told her I was from San Diego, and said ‘that is the birthplace of triathlon, lucky you!’ Triathletes, young and old, from all over the world are united by a sport that was originated from my home town. How cool is that?”
Both Heather and Leslie have been competing in triathlons since middle school and they currently train with Formula Endurance, a USA Triathlon High Performance Team that is coached by former World Champion and professional triathlete, Jim Vance. They practice in many locations around San Diego, from Fiesta Island, to Mount Soledad, and to Coronado.