Sports

Elite athletes: Two Valley women training to represent Team USA in world triathlon championships

Gina Estep, left, and Stephanie Haner are representing the United States in next year
Gina Estep, left, and Stephanie Haner are representing the United States in next year's world triathlon championships. Estep, of North Bend, competes in the sprint distance and Haner, Carnation, competes in the Olympic distance of the swimming, cycling and running event.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Thursdays at lunch, Gina Estep has miles to go, and things need to run on a stopwatch-precise schedule for her to get where she wants to be. In a little less than a year’s time, she not only wants to be in New Zealand, representing the United States with her friend and workout partner, Stephanie Haner, in the world triathlon championships, but she also wants to be at the top of her game when she gets there.

“I personally want to be in the top 10, but I know that’s going to be really challenging,” said Estep, the Community and Economic Development Director for the city of North Bend. So, she has adopted an ambitious workout schedule for six days of the week, running, cycling, and swimming for about two hours each day.

Haner, a Carnation resident, is also involved in a rigorous workout schedule. “I would say I’m putting in 15 hours of training a week….for now, this is considered the off-season, so I will focus on swimming,” she said.

Swimming, Haner says, is probably her biggest weakness. Estep thinks it’s hers, too, but it wasn’t enough of a detriment to keep either woman from qualifying  at nationals in August.

Estep took sixth place in her age bracket in the sprint division at the event in Burlington, Vermont, and Haner took 19th in her age bracket in the Olympic division. She claimed the spot at world competition when another competitor in the top 18, who are automatically qualified to go, withdrew from the world event.

A sprint triathlon, Estep’s event, includes a one-mile swim, 25 miles of cycling, and a 10-mile run. “You’re definitely in Zone 4, redlining the whole time,” Estep said, but she prefers the punishing pace -- she tries to maintain a 7:15-minute mile running pace, and 20 mph on the bike -- for a couple of reasons.

“The sprint race I like because you definitely have to train hard for it, but you’re only training for an event that’s an hour and 15, or an hour and 25 minutes,” she said. Plus, “It allows me to put the right amount of training time in, and still allows me to work!”

Haner runs the Olympic event, at twice the distances of the sprint, but she has competed at every distance, and at the national and world levels in the past, representing Team USA in the 2010 world championships in Budapest.

Her first triathlon was a sprint, done in 2005 on a dare from her husband.

“He said ‘If you do a triathlon, I'll do a marathon,’ and sure enough, he did.” Haner said. “He did the Portland Marathon, and he hasn't done another one since.”

Meanwhile, Haner got over a huge fear of swimming, actually took swimming lessons, and within a few races, she had a new sport.

From the sprint, she tried a half Ironman. Then, because she had friends doing the Ironman race – a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and full 26.2-mile marathon, she tried it, twice, but got severely ill and realized “My body was rejecting the distance.”

Basketball, not triathlons, brought the friends together. They met through a mutual friend and athlete, and started coaching a girls select basketball team together. Soon, they began training together and coaching each other.

“She’ll push me on the bike, and I’ll push her on the run” Estep said, adding “I definitely like to train with people. I organize my training workouts around people who are available,” she said.

The world triathlon championships are set for October, 2012 in Auckland. Neither woman is sure how much the trip will cost them, but they are sure they’re going, and they hope to develop a sponsorship program that would, in addition to supporting their competitive efforts abroad, offer assistance to young female athletes here at home.

For more information about the world championships, visit wcs.triathlon.org.

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