On Nov. 11, for the second time in three years, the USF Triathlon team graced the podium at the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship. The Dons finished third overall with a total of 933 points, behind Queens University of Charlotte and Arizona State University. The Dons competed against 13 other schools at their competition in Tempe, Arizona.
Kira Gupta-Baltazar, the 2021 NCAA Division 1 National champion, finished in the top 10 individually for the third straight year, finishing sixth overall. Along with Gupta-Baltzar, USF triathletes Molly Elliott, Gillian Cridge, Maddie Perkins, and Heidi Henry all finished, individually, in the top 50.
The Foghorn spoke to members of the Triathlon team on navigating challenges as student athletes and looking towards their futures.
Gupta-Baltazar, the Ontario, Canada native, has excelled as a triathlete at USF, and etched her name in the Dons’ history book. But her journey to the top wasn’t the clearest.
“Sport includes a lot of ups and downs and I’ve definitely seen both sides in the past couple of years,” she said. “I had my first major injury early this past year and was forced out of all physical activity for two months. The months were challenging and rewarding and I came away with a greater understanding of myself.”
With the help of her coaches and teammates, Gupta-Baltazar said she has been able to better develop a work-life balance.
“I’ve learned from my teammates and coaches the importance of putting my mental health first,” she said. “When I started implementing activities into my routine that put my mental health first, I noticed a shift in my motivation. Although consistency is every athlete and their coach’s dream, it isn’t attainable without consistently putting your mental health first.”
First-year biology major Maite Kuestner finished eighth overall individually in her first time competing in the national championship. Within her performance, Kuestner recorded the fastest bike time ever by a Don, at 34:08, and the third fastest overall at the competition.
“Coming into the semester, although the podium was a dream for us, some of us, including me, I kind of struggled to see it as a goal at first,” Kuestner said. “Quite a few of us were coming off of injuries and this semester definitely wasn’t easy… it truly was an effort achieved by every single member of the team.”
Coming from Cologne, Germany, Keustner overcame obstacles of her own.
“This year’s season was different to what I’m used to in many ways: moving across half the planet to join a new training group in a new environment,” she said. “I tried to not set myself any high expectations while also trusting myself and my coaches…we took this whole year rather to adjust to the changes, get used to my new life while trying to keep the momentum I had coming in.”
As Keustner is beginning her collegiate journey in athletics, Gupta-Baltazar is finishing up her senior year on the Hilltop and looking towards her future.
“For as long as I remember, my dream has been to be a professional triathlete,” she said. “I would still very much like to follow that path, which involves a lot of travel and following the sun.” The biology major looks to study sports medicine, “but first, hopefully you will see me on the start line of the 2028 Olympics competing for Team Canada,” Gupta-Baltazar said.
While many of the familiar USF Triathletes are in the tail end of their college careers, with the additions of first-year triathletes Abigail Lotz, Kuestner, and Henry, the Dons can look to carry their momentum to the national stage again in 2024.