The gun goes off, everyone sprints for the water, and all that can be heard for a mile is the frantic splashing of competitors trying to swim faster than the person next to them.
They leap out of the water and jump on a bike, pedaling as fast as their legs can move. It takes coordination, concentration and an attack plan to push through the grueling 25 miles.
Finally, the exhausting run. There’s almost a sense of relief knowing that it’s the last obstacle and the triathlon is almost over. The pressure mounts as the last leg of the race, 10K or 6.2 miles, tends to be the deciding factor of victory, or walking away with sore, and with nothing.
1st Lt. John Bierman, 2nd Space Warning Squadron Delta Crew deputy flight commander, is no stranger to triathlons and will compete once again June 15-19, 2016, in the Armed Forces Championship in Ventura County, Calif.
The thoughts running through competitors’ minds during a triathlon varies, but for Bierman, he attacks each component as he gets to it.
“I competed on the United States Air Force Academy Triathlon Team for four years and being able to continue competition in a professional capacity to represent the Air Force, Buckley Air Force Base, and 2nd Space Warning Squadron, is an opportunity I value very highly,” said the triathlete.
Bierman isn’t the only Team Buckley member that will represent the Air Force in the Armed Forces Championship. Capt. Michael Dunn, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 4, Operating Location Buckley, Space-Based Infrared System test director, will compete as an Air Force team member for the first time this year.
Dunn entered the competition since 2010 as an open competitor, which means their results would not be included with the competition of the four services.
“It means a lot to have this opportunity to represent the Air Force in the competition this year,” said Dunn. “I am thrilled and humbled that I now have the opportunity to compete with some of the best triathletes in the U.S. Armed Forces as a member of the USAF team. Looking forward to lay it all on the line for the team!”
The triathlon rankings are both from individuals and teams, however the individuals place an emphasis on the team as a whole. Their sense of camaraderie is evident in the attempts to put the team first.
“I’m competing to represent the Air Force and contribute to the team finish as best I can,” said Bierman. “Hopefully I’m in a position to finish high in the standings, but if I can contribute to one of my teammates finishing higher, then I’d be more than happy to burn a few matches to sacrifice for the team.”
Training takes a large amount of triathlon athlete’s time. The choice of sleep, spending time with family and friends, or training is something triathletes often struggle with; however, scheduling provides some relief.
“You have to be very disciplined with your schedule to make sure you can spend time with those you matter most,” said Dunn. “Sleeping in is not an option. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. telling you it’s time to get up to head to the pool before work, you can’t hit the snooze button.”
The structure of training for three events; swimming, running and biking; simultaneously took dedication to stay the course, not to mention life throwing curveballs.
“Training while working a crew presents a special set of challenges, especially on mid shifts,” said Bierman. “I am a member of a master’s swim team that practices three days a week and I try to make as many of those as my schedule allows. The rest of my week consists of fitting in runs, rides and extra swims in around my schedule any way I can. Luckily, I am able to fit in some core and strength training on the floor.”
Even with strenuous training schedules, triathletes use what they learn in training throughout lives. The translation of self-control provides the individual with a sense of what their limits are.
“It takes constant discipline to manage all aspects of the sport, and that translates back to day-to-day life,” said Dunn. “Each event is a chance to break a previous personal record, to see how much harder you can go. In this particular event though, it goes beyond oneself and now extends to the team.”
The discipline involved in training takes up a lot of time, but also provides an opportunity to form new friendships.
“The relationships I’ve made through each triathlon are priceless and I wouldn’t trade my experiences with those people for anything,” said Bierman. “No matter how the race shakes out, it’s always good to get together with other military athletes and compete; best part of the experience.”
Bierman and Dunn have strengthened their bond since both qualifying for the U.S. Air Force Triathlon team, they even scheduled swim sessions to train with each other.
“I’m honored to be allowed to compete as a member of this team, and proud to be racing alongside Lt. Bierman,” said Dunn.
And for Bierman, one main goal is burned in the front of his mind: “Beat Army, Sink Navy.”