Iron(man) In Their Blood

Biechler, Nugent Finding the Thrill of Triathlons

While still a college student, Elaina Biechler, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology, competed in her first triathlon because her father bet her she couldn’t do it. That challenge has led to a love of the sport that has endured for 14 years.

“They started a local race close to my hometown (Geode State Park), and my dad bet me I couldn’t do it,” Biechler recalled. “At the time, I was in college and training for cross-country. I took him up on the challenge and finished second or third to last in the race. Somehow the sport intrigued me, and I began learning more and more.”

Elaina Biechler

From that modest finish, Biechler has developed into a top competitor. On June 6, she was the top female finisher at the Pigman Triathlon in Palo, Iowa, crossing the finish line in 01:14:08.9. She followed that up by winning her age group and finishing at the third women overall at the Triathlon 70.3 Des Moines event at 3:27:41. That success follows a two-year break from competition.

“I haven’t really competed at all in triathlon in the past two years. I had twin girls 11 months ago, and with COVID-19, there were no races! I have been really happy with my fitness coming off the pregnancy, and was happy to be the overall winner at Pigman and win my age group at Des Moines,” she said.

A distance runner in high school and college, Biechler added swimming to her repertoire after suffering a stress fracture in high school and continued doing it as a class in college. The biking she picked up from her father and started by participating in RAGBRAI.

With all that experience, success is not foreign to her.

“I’ve competed in two World Championship races (2011 ITU World Championship & 2016 Ironman World Championship) and won long course age group nationals in 2013. I’d say the longer the race, the better I fare. I’ve really been at both ends of the spectrum! More than anything, I enjoy the environment and the excitement of racing. I love the friendships I’ve made because of the sport.”

Biechler is not the only Duhawk with a love of triathlons. O’Brien Nugent (‘ 17) was also on the Ironman course in Des Moines. While she has been competing for 14 years, he has been involved in triathlons since the age of 14.

“At a young age, my mom participated in a triathlon, and I asked how old I needed to be to do it,” she stated 14,” he said. “When I turned 14, I competed in my first sprint triathlon, which started a domino effect. At that point, I said, one day, I would complete an Ironman.”

O’Brien Nugent (’17)

For someone who started swimming at age seven and started running competitively in second grade, it was only a matter of time before Nugent combined his skills. A competitor on the Loras Men’s Cross Country and Men’s Track & Field teams from 2014-2017, Nugent waited until he finished his collegiate eligibility before finishing his first Ironman in 2019.

Regardless of the race, the results are right on target for Nugent.

“I stay competitive in all races I am in,” he said. “It certainly depends on the distance.”

Both Biechler and Nugent dove into the sport and encourage anyone else thinking about it to just do it.

“I’m so passionate about this sport and love seeing people push themselves,” Biechler said. “Doing something uncomfortable is the best way to grow. This sport can be overwhelming because of the gear, the numbers, the technology, and the endless options for bikes, bike equipment, wetsuits, Garmin watches, etc. The best way to learn is just to jump right in! After 14 years, I still learn something new at each race. Join a local club! So many triathletes are willing to help and share their experiences. We were all new to the sport at some point or another.”

Nugent agreed, “Make it fun, join a club and lean on other triathletes for advice! It is a fun community of people and one of my favorite parts of going to races. Everyone is there for a different reason, and it is fun to learn about other people’s motivations.”