A year ago at this time, the sport of triathlon wasn't even on her mind. Today, Eastern Mennonite University senior Abigail Shelly (Collinsville, Miss./West Lauderdale) took 13th place at the Women's Triathlon National Championships in Tempe, Ariz.
In a whirlwind span of less than 12 months, EMU added women's triathlon through a grant from USA Triathlon and Shelly dove headfirst into training. She improved quickly throughout the fall season and placed eighth in her third-ever race, the East Regional Qualifier at Smith Mountain Lake on Oct. 19, which earned her the trip to Nationals.
Despite also being the EMU cross country team's top runner, she made the difficult decision to skip her final collegiate race, with the South/Southeast Cross Country Regionals running in Memphis, Tenn., on the same day as Nationals for triathlon. But the dedicated training in swimming, biking and running paid off on Saturday, as Shelly moved up seven spots over the final running portion of the race.
Shelly finished 13th out of 43 competitors in the D-III race, coming through the chute with a time of 1:19.38.
She was 19th after the 750m swim at 12:09 and slid one spot during the 20k bike portion. But Shelly was at her finest in the 5k final leg, where she had the No. 6 time of 23:20 to move up in the final standings.
"It was incredible to get to compete against such stellar athletes today," Shelly said after the race. "I felt prepared going into the race; the course was very technical, so it's hard to compare my time to other races, but I am very proud of how I performed overall today. It was so cool to hear how many people were keeping up with it back home. Overall, I am very grateful to my coaches and everyone who has supported me to get here."
Assistant Coach Joanna Friesen, who joined the Royals' senior on the trip to Arizona, said it was great to see the culmination of Shelly's training and season.
"Just this August, Abigail was doing her first triathlon, and it is amazing to see how much she's learned and grown in this sport," said Friesen. "Her triathlon training has stretched from the early days of this summer up until now - she has dedicated a lot of time and weekends to preparing for this moment. This has been a historic and exciting year, the first year of EMU Women's Triathlon. It has been an incredible experience seeing Abigail compete at the national level. Abigail had a solid swim, the bike course was technical and the hot/dry climate was an adjustment for her, but she hung on and maintained her place. By the run, Abigail was ready to let loose, passing a number of athletes. She ran with strength and determination, finishing her fall senior season at EMU with everything left on the field of competition."