Triathletes and Spartans attempt to build Occidental’s extreme sports community

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Before the scorching sun fully rises over Eagle Rock, Clif Cody (junior) jogs out of Stearns Hall headed for Fiji Hill; Greta Jarvis (senior) twists into her final yoga pose before her run; and Taylor Durham (senior) pulls off her goggles after laps in Taylor Pool. It is the magic hour for extreme athletes at Occidental College.

Cody is training for his second Spartan Race in January, after an event scheduled for Sep. 14 was canceled due to temperatures that reached 100 degrees on race day.

After competing in wrestling, cross country and rowing in high school, he wanted a break from the commitment of competitive sports.

“I wanted something else to fill that competitive drive,” he said.

Last August, Cody found Spartan racing. The Spartan Race comes in three forms – Spartan Sprint, Super, and Beast – races of three, eight or twelve miles consisting of fifteen, twenty or twenty five obstacles, respectively. Racers must crawl under barbed wire, climb ropes (Cody’s “bread and butter” obstacle), and carry 80-pound sandbags uphill.

With such a grueling race comes a sense of camaraderie between the participants.

“I was blown away by the community there. I was surrounded by friendly and outgoing people,” Cody said.

However, Cody lacked that feeling of community when training solo on campus. So, in early September, he began hosting boot-camp workouts at 5:00 p.m. on Patterson Field. The workouts, which focus on body-weight exercises and team building, include conventional squats and planks, as well as curve balls.

Cody is generally joined by about a half dozen people.

“It’s an incredible way to be surrounded by people who love being fit,” Cody said.

He also created a blog to expand his reach in motivating health and fitness.

Cody encourages students to join his boot camp and enter races such as the Spartan Race because extreme sports improve both physical and mental health.

“It tests your mental toughness, grit and resilience,” he said.

Durham prefers challenging herself with breast stroke and her bicycle rather than barbed wire and sand bags.

She became interested in triathlons in high school while spending countless hours cross-training in the pool and on stationary bicycles rehabilitating a knee injury. Unlike many injured athletes, Durham discovered that she actually enjoyed cross-training, and that she could run pain-free if she biked beforehand. Durham completed her first triathlon the summer before college, and then became a full-time triathlete her sophomore year after an ankle injury ended her lacrosse career.

Because Durham’s training group on campus is scant (seniors Greta Jarvis and Anna Gregor), she joined California Triathlon (Cal Tri), a volunteer-run, non-profit club team of about 2,000 members. Cal Tri encourages athletes of all experience levels to attend any of the eight daily workouts, such as swim sessions (many of which are at Taylor Pool), afternoon tempo and long-distance runs and “bricks”; bike-and-run loops around the Rose Bowl.

Durham races the triathlon “sprint” race: a 0.47-mile swim, 12-mile bike and 3.1-mile run. After barely a year on Cal Tri, Durham improved her time drastically; she completed the 2012 Chelan Man Triathlon in 1:38:32, then finished the 2014 Hansen Dam Triathlon in 1:17:34, placing second in the 18-24 age group.

Durham attributes her success, especially her ten-minute improvement in the swim portion, to joining Cal Tri.

“The hardest part was learning to swim. For the first few weeks it was impossible, but then I began to improve quickly,” Durham said.

Durham’s improvement was due not only to Cal Tri coaching, but also to the sense of belonging she felt in the triathlon community. “I found my family in California with the team,” Durham said. She wants to expand that community to Occidental and, ultimately, send a team to USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships in April.

Thom Richmond, president of Cal Tri and husband of Occidental’s dean of admissions Sally Stone Richmond, has promised Durham that he will coach the prospective team.

“The coaching is in place, the support is in place, all the resources are there. It just takes a core group of committed folks,” Richmond said about the possibility of an Occidental team.

Richmond recalls upwards of forty students signing up for Cal Tri at the 2012 Occidental Involvement Fair, but zero students following through. He attributes the loss to the limitations of owning a bicycle, fear of swimming and lack of motivation.

“The one thing we can’t do is turn the crank on their bike, make them swim or run those miles,” Richmond said.

Cal Tri does provide bike and wetsuit rentals, free personal coaching, physical therapy and nutritionist services, free race entries, Cal Tri-branded apparel and food from Chipotle Mexican Grill, Clif Bar and Snapple.

According to Richmond, Cal Tri is doing all it can to make the sport accessible to college students, but the rest is up to motivated athletes.

“The students have to organically build a team,” Richmond said.

A commitment to a team, however, may thwart the appeal of extreme sports.

“When I am training I am in my own zone,” Cody said. “All my motivation is intrinsic.”

Chris Kamerin (sophomore) wonders whether personal motivation would fizzle out if a Spartan or triathlete was responsible for a team. “I feel like I would lose my enjoyment if I was committed to a team,” Kamerin said.

Kamerin had his fill of team competition in basketball, track and field and football in high school. His motivation for beginning triathlon training this summer was not to compete, but rather to be fit.

“I thought to myself; who are the most fit people? Triathletes,” Kamerin said.

As a rookie to the sport, he takes training leisurely; he does not follow a particular regimen, but instead trains as hard as his body tells him is right.

Daily, Kamerin lift weights, runs two to eight miles, swims thirty to fifty laps in the pool and goes five to twenty five miles on the stationary bike. However, he has no plans to race in the near future. For Kamerin, the healthier lifestyle he developed through training is the reward.

In training for her first triathlon, Greta Jarvis (senior) took a completely opposite approach to Kamerin.

“I didn’t train for my triathlon at all,” Jarvis said. She signed up on a whim; her forte is usually the half marathon.

Jarvis entered her first half marathon in April of sophomore year after dropping lacrosse along with Durham. Jarvis gave up lacrosse because she felt the sport had become too much of a time commitment. Now she follows her own ten-week training plan for half marathons.

“One of the things I like the most is being able to dictate my own schedule. My time that I work out is precious and it keeps me sane,” Jarvis said.

According to Jarvis, finding time to practice would become difficult if accommodating an entire team – especially when it requires the dedication of waking up at 6:00 a.m.

The personal discipline necessary for extreme sports is what makes the athletes that pursue them so impressive. Yet the individualistic nature of the sport has hindered the creation of a strong community on campus.

Durham is hoping to expand the Cal Tri community within Occidental. She is hosting a recruiting event on Sept. 22 to encourage her peers to join her in pursuing the aspiration she has had since sophomore year.

“My dream is to take an Occidental triathlon team to nationals,” Durham said.