During the academic year, junior Courtney Bennigson is known around campus as a standout scholar-athlete and leader on the cross country and outdoor track teams. But during the summer, Bennigson takes her athletic prowess to another level, following a more rigorous training schedule and participating in several junior triathlons around the world. Bennigson has excelled in the triathlon and was recently named the 1999 USA Triathlon Junior Female Athlete of the Year.
Bennigson became interested in the triathlon, which consists of a 1.5K swim followed by a 40K bike and a 10K run, during her sophomore year in high school. Forced to take a break from competitive swimming by a shoulder injury, Bennigson decided to try cycling and was quickly drawn to it. Bennigson also ran distance throughout high school. Towards the end of the year, one of her teachers showed her an ad for a junior athlete development program that focused on the three distance sports, and Bennigson quickly seized the opportunity.
Since that first summer, Bennigson has spent her springs and summers training and racing in various triathlons and has had astounding results. On June 5 of last year, Bennigson won the U.S. Junior Triathlon Championship in Clermont, Florida, qualifying to be on the national triathlon team. On June 21, Bennigson followed up her title with another win at the Vineman Triathlon in Santa Rosa, California.
“I had been training really hard for the championship, and it was really rewarding to see my hard work pay off,” said Bennigson. “The fact that the race was a championship did not really matter, though; my goal was really to qualify for the national team, and I didn’t need to win to do that.”
This desire to be part of the national team is indicative of Bennigson’s team spirit and desire to work with and help other athletes.
“I love running with the cross country team and miss it when I’m training by myself,” Bennigson said. “Competing is always a lot easier when you have friends behind you. Working together creates a different energy.”
Bennigson’s team spirit is duly noted by her peers and coaches.
“Courtney’s a strong leader because she’s interested in everyone on the team and is always friendly and helpful,” said Joey Shapiro ’01, Bennigson’s co-captain for cross country next year. “She leads by example and is really inspirational—she motivates everyone to work harder and do their best.”
“She’s very aware of her teammates and is a great motivator,” said cross country coach Kristen Morwick. “I give her a lot of credit for being concerned with the team first and foremost. The team really looks up to her.”
When she’s not working out with her teams, however, Bennigson must train by herself to prepare for the summer. She finds this to be a difficult task.
“The training I do here is not like any that I do in the summers—it’s harder here because of the solitude of training alone,” Bennigson said.
Bennigson also has made several sacrifices in order to train better and be more prepared for the triathlon season.
“It’s really time-consuming, and I can’t do some of the things on campus that I’d like to,” Bennigson said. “But I’ve made my choice and am happy with it.”
One thing that she has not sacrificed is her academic record. Bennigson has has made Dean’s List all five semesters.
Bennigson’s training program, albeit always intensive, varies greatly, which reflects “the varied nature of the triathlon.” In the fall, Bennigson focuses solely on the cross country team. In winter, Bennigson concentrates on base training for all three triathlon events. In the spring, she begins race-specific workouts, and in the summer, Bennigson does intensity training between her races. Her workouts vary from one to four hours a day during the school year and can last up to six hours a day during the summer.
“I give her a lot of credit for her intense year-round training and her tremendous success in cross country despite such a balance,” said Morwick. “Her mental toughness is what really helps.”
Despite her many accomplishments in the triathlon and on the cross country team (she was a top finisher for the team at Nationals and was all-NESCAC this past season), Bennigson remains completely modest.
“Triathlon is not necessarily any more incredible than any other sport,” Bennigson said. “It just has a certain intrigue because it’s not mainstream. Balancing many activities on campus is just as impressive to me.”
Bennigson is currently looking ahead to another summer of intense training and racing, during which she will defend her title. She also has considered trying out for the 2004 Olympic team but doesn’t want to make any promises.
“Going to the Olympics is a goal that is as realistic right now for me as it is for any athlete my age, but anything can happen,” Bennigson said. “I don’t like to make predictions, but it is a goal.”