DU’s newly added sport, Women’s Triathalon, has been moved to the spring but new head coach Barbara Perkins is going full-speed building her team, establishing a competitive culture and dreaming of achieving history at DU. But, Perkins concedes that it will take time no matter how easy it is to get caught up in her enthusiasm for the sport.
Ranked in the Top 50 triathletes in the world in her age group, Perkins came to DU as a swimming assistant coach in 2019. In a stroke of good fortune, Athletic Director Karlton Creech just had to get on the elevator from his office and push the down button to find a world-class triathlete and experienced head coach in Perkins at the DU’s El Polmar natatorium. Creech tagged her as DU’s first triathlon head coach in the new, emerging NCAA sport.
With little time to prepare for the 2020 season, Perkins combed the DU campus and added four current DU club sports athletes to the team which includes senior Luma Randolph (her father Greg was a cyclist in the 1996 Olympics and her mom, Cameron, a 1997 world championship in triathlon). Additional club members, transfers and recruits are being considered before the spring season for what will be, eventually, a 7-woman team. “We have some talented and great athletes in club sports on campus already.” Surprisingly, none of the first four athletes have competed in triathlons before.
The collegiate triathlon includes a half-mile open-water swim, a 12.5 miles cycling and a 3-mile run. These distances are much shorter than the Hawaii Ironman Triathalon which Coach Perkins has mastered. For collegians, this shortened collegiate triathlon distance will be a relative sprint from start to finish and a true test of cardio endurance. Perkins imagines DU hosting events on a closed-circuit course at Chatfield Reservoir or Cherry Creek or a staggered start for the collegiate athletes at existing triathlon events along the front range.
And why should we be optimistic about the University of Denver triathlon? “Well, Colorado is one of the Meccas of triathlon'” said Perkins. “And we have the facilities (to succeed).”
As for the team’s culture, “I want people who are going to buy into the program and work hard. People who want a great education and compete at the highest level. It’s an individual sport but it is a team sport, too – wanting your teammates to succeed as well as yourself. Pushing each other to be as successful as you can be.”
Her passion for sport was cultivated at a young age. “My dad was an ultra-marathoner. So (when I was young) we would ride bikes together, run together and swim together. I always loved swimming.” She followed that upbringing with water polo in college and collegiate swim coaching stints with a passionate side-interest in triathlon. Now, triathlon is a hobby and a job for the ultra-competitive Perkins.
As for her coaching mentors and advisors, Perkins cites current swimming head coach Alicia Hicken-Franklin as a powerful mentor and role model along with DU’s deep coaching room and weekly coaches-only calls on Fridays. And, Perkins says “it is great to have a network (of successful coaches) and rely on each other and talk through things in starting out a new program.”
Like collegiate skiing, individual titles are awarded in triathlon but team titles are given by placing as many of each team’s seven members in high overall finishes. Teams are allowed to ‘draft’ in swimming and cycling (like Nordic skiing) in order to pull teammates to quicker results while generating as many team points as possible for each of the seven team members.
Could Perkins be the first coach to guide a DU women’s team to an eventual team national championship? “That’s definitely on my radar. I’m very competitive and very hard on myself. It’s going to take time to bring in the right people (and build depth). The top seven score (points) so it has to be a team effort and a plan going in to get multiple people finishing well.”
Coach Perkins invites all DU alumni, fans and triathletes to reach out to the team as Denver triathletes establish a foothold on campus. While every program can use funding, Perkins will also be looking for volunteers to run races in the spring and wants the Denver community to engage with her and the DU-Tri team.
Like all the other fall sports, though, we’ll have to wait to see her young team develop in the spring.
Photo: Coach Barbara Perkins competes 2019 Ironman World Championship in Kona, HI