USAT Collegiate Nationals-The Spectator Point of View

A few weekends ago I headed down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for USAT Collegiate Nationals. My brother Spencer, a junior at St. Michael’s in Vermont, was racing. After a pretty incredible collegiate racing season in the fall he was patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for Nationals in April. So, this post is here to tell you what I, as a spectator, a sister, a number one fan, and a nervous wreck went through a few weekends ago!

We arrived on Thursday which was one day after my brother got there. By Thursday my brother was settled in and getting some workouts in. I on the other hand wanted to go scope the scene out. Cheering is hard work and I needed the lay of the land. My first observation you are wondering? HOT! I was already feeling the pain of these athletes for the next couple of days racing in warm temperatures. I especially felt bad for kids like my brother who who have been training in Vermont all year long…..there was still snow there. The swim was in a river with a beautiful river walk path. The river was what you would expect any river to look like. The current wasn’t bad and it was a little brown. The run we determined wold be mostly on the river walk path and some on the road. All of what appeared to be pretty flat. The bike was a looped course. A couple hills, but nothing to crazy. The finish line is what was really cool. It was located in a huge amphitheater. Teams were setting up their tents, packet pick up was getting organized, and the finish line shoot was being made. It was surreal walking down the shoot knowing National Champions were going to be crowned the next couple of days.



Fastforward to Friday morning. Around 7:30 or so we headed down to the swim start for the draft legal sprint race for the boys. At these collegiate races the boys do their race completely separate from the girls. After the boys did some warming up they were all pulled out of the water and lined up waiting to be called out. So a few fun spectator notes here. First off there was about 75 or so kids racing this draft legal race. Second off I am not sure you realize the extent of some of these college teams. At some of these schools these teams are just like any other collegiate sport. They are funded, matching uniforms, and have crazy cheering sections. So, the swim start seemed like a decade away, but these schools were screaming all their cheers. They hype was unreal and nothing like I have ever seen before at a triathlon.

Now the race. So, 75 kids get called out by last name to stand on this dock. As soon as the whistle blows all 75 of these kids dive into the water at the same time and sprint off……insert me having an anxiety attack about how aggressive this swim start is. To make matters worse, as the boys dove in the entire dock shifts at the weight of them diving in so none of them get any power into the water. So, after the swim start I moved cheering positions to the bike out. My brother had a decent swim and was ready to gain some momentum on the bike. And here I am still freaking out, and cheering for my brother. The bike was a 5 loop course and draft legal. If you have never seen a draft legal race it is totally different. These kids are riding in massive packs, whipping down hills, screaming around corners, and I am not sure if they ever use their breaks. There was a lead pack and a chase group. My brother eventually got with that chase group until disaster struck. I watched the lead group go by, the chase group go by, and my brother wasn’t there. I watched the next group and the next group….still no Spencer. I am panicking even more now! Where the heck is he? I know he was with that chase group. All of a sudden I hear, “Hunter!” I turned around and there he was with is bike walking….he had flatted. My heart immediately sunk. All that training, all that anticipation, and 2 loops in on the bike he has a flat. So, my cheering that day was cut a little short, I was still heartbroken for my brother, but I went to the finish line to see the hype of the first few finishers. Again, it was cool to see all these big teams cheering, banging the boards, and gaining points towards being a National Champion.

Now we are on to Day 2 of racing. This race was Olympic Distance day. I as the big sister and number one fan am no less nervous this morning. In fact, I am probably more nervous for my brother because after yesterday I want him to have the best race! The swim start was a water start which was a lot less stressful to watch, minus the fact there was 180 kids in Wave 1, my brothers wave. The swim start was pretty uneventful. My brother came out of the water around 17th place, pretty much where we expected him. Then I full out sprinted to the road to watch him on the first mile of the bike. He looked strong and ready to pick a few people off.

He gained a few places on the first loop of the bike, and then settled in around 19th after the second lap. My job is to always count what place he is in, so every time I saw him I was screaming to him what place he was in. I watched him on the run out and that top 20 spot was looking like a possibility. Especially after seeing a runner throw up about 5 times on the run out (poor kid). After the run out I managed to get my spot at the finish line. In perfect view for an awesome video. Another job I have as the number one fan is to keep FB updated the best as I can with his progress.

So, here I am ready for the picture perfect video to share to the world. I am still counting the kids that finish to determine what place he comes in. So, the kids 15-20 place come by and still no Spencer….I am in full stress mode. Places 20-25 come by no Spencer. Again, I am like what the heck happened?!?! Place 25-30 came by and again no Spencer. My heart is breaking again……something happened on the run, now way he lost this many places. Finally about the 34th person here comes my brother around the corner!! Oh wait, it isn’t just my brother… is my brother and an Oregon State boy carrying, yes carrying, a Cal athlete! This Cal boy did not look good and my brother and this Oregon State boy are determined to help this athlete finish. So, here they are down the whole red carpet, exhausted, sweating, and carrying this boy. I almost cry, it is such an amazing sight to witness. Now I have 100 questions for my brother. What happened in the run? What happened with this boy? Where did you pick him up? I mean still finishing at 2:01 is impressive, but I wanted to know more.


After talking with my brother he said after mile 3 he struggled a bit. He was in 24th place going into the finishing shoot when he saw this Cal athlete collapse into the barriers. At this point my brother knows he was out of the top 20 so he took matters into his own hands. He scooped up this kid and helped him finish a race he too had worked so hard and waited so long to compete in. We were able to meet Keet, the Oregon State boy who was with my brother carrying the Cal athlete. It is amazing to see two college boys perform such a selfless act and not think twice about it!

Overall, it was a stressful weekend spectating just like any other race I watch my brother. If you know me you know the character my brother is, but you also know how inspirational my brother is to me. I am is #1 fan and anyone who follows me on social media or talks to me can probably tell you that. I want nothing more than for him to be successful. On Day 2 despite being out of the top 20 I still thought he raced great especially since there were 750 kids or so racing. After numerous penalties for tons of athletes, and even the winner who dropped down to 5th, my brother ended up somewhere in the top 50.


What a weekend it was! The hype was amazing at the venue with all these schools and their crazy cheering sections. The venue was nice. I managed not to have an anxiety attack cheering my brother hahaa. Next year I will be in Graduate School and able to compete in this event if I manage to get a team together at my school. So maybe, just maybe next year this post will be written from a racing point view. I guess we will wait and find out! Happy spectating to all my fellow spectators out there! I know how hard and stressful it can be, but I wouldn’t trade those feelings or memories.

Hunter Ralston