Triathlon training is a team effort

AT PLAY

Athletes help one another as they prepare to swim, cycle and run, and they raise money to fight disease

March 08, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

While Amanda Bergner is training in the Howard County YMCA pool, her daughter, Riley McNeill, keeps a watchful eye.

The 3-year-old walks or skips carefully up and down the side of the pool as her mother swims laps and works through a variety of drills. But Riley does not move around unattended. At least three people watch her every move from different directions.

That's what Bergner loves about the group with which she trains: It is truly a team. The Ellicott City resident works with Team in Training, athletes preparing for triathlons in the area and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Nationally, the program has been around since 1988 and has raised more than $600 million and trained about 290,000 people, according to Sarah Snider, campaign manager for the Team in Training program.

Those who join the program must agree to raise at least $2,400; athletes training at the Howard County YMCA combined to raise more than $300,000 in 2005, with hopes for more this year.

Along the way, participants sometimes grow as close as a family.

"[Riley] comes with me to most of the bike classes and all of the swims, and I love how the team pitches in and watches her," Bergner said. "She knows everybody."

Bergner is a genetic counselor in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and this is her third year in the program. A close family friend was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago, and Berg- ner joined because the program helps raise money to fight the disease.

"It's a great group of people," Bergner said. "Not only are you raising money for [the battle against] cancer, but you're training so you get into shape yourself. It's a pretty remarkable group of people."

The program has two groups in training, 100 people overall. One group is preparing for the Columbia Triathlon on May 21. That involves a swim of nine-tenths of a mile, a 25-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.

A second group is training for the Eagle Man Half Ironman Triathlon on June 1 in Cambridge. That's a tougher event, with a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. That group started training early last month. Another team is to be formed in the spring for the Irongirl Columbia Women's Triathlon on Aug. 27.

Participants have also trained for triathlons in other states.

The Howard County YMCA donates use of its pool and lifeguard services Sunday nights after the building closes at 7 p.m., and those in the program do swimming drills.

When the program participants come to the building, they head right for Patti Harden, an Ellicott City resident and the program's coach. She is the maestro, the mentor, the person everyone comes to with questions and concerns, the one they look to for guidance - and Harden seems to know how to make everyone feel better.

She is a registered triathlon coach and has been in charge since Team in Training began in Howard County five years ago. Fifteen people were in that first group, and although the program has grown significantly since then, Harden seems to know something about each of those people and where each is in training.

A number of the team members are from Howard County, and Harden enjoys the way members help each other. Several are cancer survivors, and others serve as mentors, encouraging people through the difficult task of training for a triathlon.

"I love this, it's a lot of fun for me," Harden said.

Harden works in a couple of places on race day. She will help people get into the water at the start and then wait at the triathlon's finish line.

"I'm there when the first person comes over, and I'm there when the last person comes over," Harden said. "I don't mind [waiting]."

And one day, Riley McNeill may be one of the athletes involved with Team in Training, a prospect that would delight her mother.

"She's on the triathlon team for 2021," Bergner said with a laugh. "I wouldn't be surprised if that [happens]."

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