By Maria Cimonetti
Our group stood in the corral, tightly packed within the ropes on the edge of the beach, watching the serpentine line of swimmers wind their way through the orange buoys designating the race course. We were the last group to start at the Triathlon National Championships: women, age 40-44, our race numbers and ages written in thick black Sharpie markers on the backs of our calves and biceps. Clad in black full-length neoprene wetsuits and bright pink swim caps designating our age group, we waited patiently for the call to approach the starting line. Swim goggles fogged by competitive fire masked our eyes, only fidgeting bare feet and nails decorated in bright polish identified our individuality. We watched the gaps created by the three-minute cushion between each age group narrow as faster swimmers churned the water, overtaking the slowest of the previous group. We were the caboose in a train of 2,000 triathletes, with nowhere to go but into the froth.
“Oh, it’s you guys,” the race director warily greeted us as we scrambled for position at the water’s edge. “Don’t think you can get anything past me, I know all about you 40-year-old women, you’re wicked!” Steely eyed, he held the starting horn in the air, “and everyone starts behind me” he intoned. In a budging, shuffling, jostling line only a Kindergarten PE teacher would appreciate, we found our spots and held our ground. Perhaps not being our “very best selves” but the closest resemblance possible, we sprung into action at the piercing blast of the air horn, attacking the race with 40-plus years of life experience fueled by capricious levels of estrogen and adrenalin.
This August, Burlington will host the USAT Triathlon Age Group National Championships for the second straight year. Competitors from all over the nation will descend upon our sparkling lake and rolling hills. Several seasoned Vermont triathletes have earned spots in this prestigious event and thanks to local qualifying races; a few athletes less experienced at this level of competition will take part as well. One such newcomer is Shelburne’s own Jane Kunin. Perfectly happy to exclusively race in Racevermont.com’s summer triathlon series at Shelburne Beach, Kunin loves the fact that she can roll out of the house, grab a snickers bar and a coffee at the Jiffy Mart and arrive at the race site in just a few short minutes, excited to race on familiar turf among friends. Racing in a national level competition is a brave leap into the unknown and often is quite literally, breathtaking. Kunin is approaching this challenge with the pure and open heart of an endurance athlete.
A practicing therapist currently studying dream analysis, busy mother of two young boys (Sammy 7 ½ and Jacob 6), and wife of cardiologist Adam, Jane leads a busy life that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for racing. She does, however, participate in a weekly training group based out of Shelburne Health and Fitness. Led by triathlon coach and race director Rayne Herzog, Jane credits her success to the support of this group. “Rayne and Augusta (Krahl) have great energy. They make it fun and joyous while pushing you.” Buoyed by this encouraging group of coaches and a team of veterans and first time triathletes, she seized (albeit hesitantly) the opportunity to register for nationals after qualifying at a Sprint Triathlon a few weeks ago. Even though she is still learning the nuances of triathlon racing, Jane has both a relaxed approach to the big race and a competitive fire and desire to succeed. “It’s [USAT Nationals] an opportunity to be with amazing athletes and a great excuse to get a new pair of running shoes.”
Humility aside, Kunin is no greenhorn; she is the real deal, a local gal making it to the big show. She has been racing in Shelburne sprint triathlons for three or four years and trains five days a week. Originally a runner, Kunin has found she is starting to really love the bike leg and is particularly excited to race the bike course at Nationals, sections of which include Spear Street, Irish Hill Road, and every car-pooling Mom’s dream: I-189, closed to cars. Comfortable in the water, she is confident in her ability to take care of herself, finding space in the outer edges of the mayhem if need be.
The Olympic distance triathlon consists of a .9 miles swim, 26.2-mile bike, and 6.4-mile run. Never actually having swam a full mile to date, Kunin plans to get at least one longer swim in before race day, “just to prove to myself I can do it.” Like the wizened grandmother watching a new mother with her baby, I found myself smiling during our interview. With such a refreshing perspective toward a championship event, Kunin is setting herself up for a great race day. I have no doubt that at the race start, treading water in Burlington Bay, in the midst of 40-year-old flying elbows, nudging shoulders, and fiery competitiveness, Kunin will hold her own and run her race on her own terms, with grace and joy, one eye on Vermont’s beautiful surroundings and the other, keenly focused on the racer she is and that which she will become when she crosses the finish line.