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Marissa Ferrante’s Championship Day

The USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship race from the perspective of female winner Marissa Ferrante of Stanford.

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The USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship race from the perspective of female winner Marissa Ferrante of Stanford.

Walking down the dock with my teammate Sara Bird at my side, I knew the swim was going to be the most important leg of my race at the 2012 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships. Although I have been encouraged by steady improvements in my swim times this year, thanks to Tim Edwards and Stanford Masters Swimming, it was undeniable that my competition would be tough. I feared I wouldn’t be able to hang with a pack and would find myself swimming in no man’s land. I was uncertain how far down I would exit the water. Thirty seconds? A minute? A minute thirty?…

The horn sounded and a rush of white water pushed off from the dock. I immediately bee-lined to the feet of a swimmer emerging from the mass of flailing arms and legs. Within fifty meters, I found myself in a group of three or four swimming in clear water. It seemed none of the girls wanted to give up the lead, and swam three abreast, leaving me a substantial draft centered behind them. With this draft, the pace was comfortable, on the verge of feeling effortless. I had to take another look up stream to assure myself that I hadn’t actually missed the lead pack.

Breathing to my left, I saw another small group swimming even with us towards the center of the river. Half way to the first turn buoy, our packs angled towards each other and quickly became one. At this point, I was giddy with excitement. I had not expected to be in the lead pack or swimming with such ease. I recalled the practices where the Roos brothers, Andrew and Thomas, had gracefully allowed me to swim repeat hundreds on their feet. They are normally too fast for me to swim with, but they sacrificed their own training to help prepare me for this moment. I was convinced that I was prepared to hang on to a draft and that the pack wouldn’t shake me. I can’t begin to tell you how ecstatic I was to exit the water in third; just one second down from leaders Michelle Mehnert and Jenny Shaughnessy.

With a smooth transition, I found myself alone on the bike course. I had never imagined that I would have the lead from the start of the bike. Instead, I had always envisioned myself playing chase with the fastest swimmers. After training and racing with the Stanford Cycling team over the past few months, I was certain that I could challenge the top cyclists in the field. The Cycling Team welcomed me with open arms, to which I am truly grateful. Eileen Mazzochette and the entire team have been great mentors to me. They have taught me how to be a cyclist and, more importantly, have made cycling very enjoyable for me.

Feeling fast on my 2012 Shiv Pro team bike, thanks to our sponsor Specialized, I began the two-lap, out-and-back course over rolling terrain. Flaunting the Stanford tree on my disc wheel, craftily made by the Roos brothers, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of pride to represent Stanford and be a part of our team.

On completion of the first lap, my gap was diminishing. My goal was to hold my lead at least until the turn-around on the other side of the bridge. Crossing over the river, the wind was powerful and I had to fight to stay upright. Halfway back Jenny Shaughnessy of Duke finally caught me. She looked strong as she passed me. I waited until I dropped out of her draft and then I passed Shaughnessy back. We alternated in the lead like this once more. Ultimately, I entered transition about 10 seconds ahead.

I took off on the last leg of the race overflowing with delight in my execution of the swim and bike. After running a breakthrough 5K at the Stanford Invitational two weeks prior, I was especially confident in my run. When I walked off the Stanford cross-country and track team last year, I never thought I would race on a track again, let alone Stanford’s. My 5K race not only showed me that I had my run back, but that I could also compete with the top collegiate runners in the nation.

With my confidence, I was able to run relaxed and in control. As I moved my feet over the pavement, I reflected on the journey over the past nine months that led me to Collegiate Nationals. God has blessed me in so many more ways than I can even begin to grasp. I have had countless people enter my life and have been given so many opportunities that have allowed me to grow as both an athlete and a person. I have had much support and encouragement from my coach Victor Plata, the Stanford Triathlon Team, the Stanford Cycling Team, Stanford Masters Swimming, my family, and the Santa Cruz community as a whole. What continually amazes me is that all these people give me so much of their time and energy, and all they expect in return is that I give my best effort, enjoy what I am doing, and try to pay it forward. For this I am most grateful!

PHOTOS: 2012 USAT Collegiate National Championship