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Three Sports, One Race: Tinker's Triathletes

Start of race

Athletes race towards the open water as the competition begins. (courtesy photo)

AF women's team

The Air Force women's triathlon team gathers for a group picture after their competition. (courtesy photo)

AF mens triathlon team

The Air Force men's triathlon team gathers for a group picture after the competition. (courtesy photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma --

For many, swimming nearly a mile then riding a bike for 25 miles then running 6 miles isn’t their idea of a fun time. But for one Tinker commander, it’s a passion that she hopes to inspire in others.

Col. Abigail Ruscetta, vice commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, is the newest addition to the Air Force Triathlon Team. She was selected to coach the team in preparation for the Armed Forces competition that was held on Sept. 11 in California. 

Ruscetta is no stranger to the Air Force sports world, having participated as both a competitor and alternative coach in previous seasons. “I’m super proud to coach elite athletes and represent the Air Force at the Armed Forces Championship,” Ruscetta said. 

As a former member of the Air Force Academy Swim Team, Ruscetta describes her transition into triathlon as a natural one. “Most of my swimming friends from college also transitioned to triathlon so we all leaned on each other as we took up the new sport,” she said.

Ruscetta isn’t the only member of Team Tinker to participate in the Armed Forces competition. One of the racers this year was Maj. Carol Stanley, commander of the 513th Maintenance Squadron.

Like Ruscetta, Stanley began her athletic career in aquatic swimming for her high school team. However, it was not until a few years ago after her father was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis that she decided to plunge into the sport.

“I knew that I didn’t want to leave anything on the table at the end of my life,” the major said.

The thought of competing in triathlons had crossed Stanley’s mind in the past and in 2019 she signed up for her first race, a standard distance triathlon consisting of a 1500 meter swim, 24 mile bike and 10 km run. 

The sport has become an integrated part of Stanley’s daily routine ever since.

Stanley trains nearly every day with sessions focusing on her most challenging disciplines, cycling and running.

“If I want a day off, it’s a swim day,” Stanley said. Her active recovery regime involves performing low-intensity exercises on “off days” considered to be more beneficial than resting completely.

In preparation for a previous race, Stanley totaled over 58,000 swim yards, 897 miles on the bike and 268 miles of running over 15 weeks of training.

“It’s a commitment!” Stanley said. “But, I love the challenge and I love the people,”

What differentiates the Armed Forces Triathlon from traditional U.S. races is that it is styled after the International Triathlon Union format. Competitors are allowed to draft off fellow racers during the cycling portion, reducing the wind resistance and amount of energy required to pedal.  For Ruscetta, this key difference is where the teamwork really comes into play.  “Triathlon is typically an individual sport, so it is a really special race where your teammates are key, and working together as a team is critical to the team’s overall success,” she said.

Both the men’s and women’s Air Force teams placed second in the Armed Forces Triathlon this past weekend at NAS Ventura City, just behind the Navy teams.  In an ordinary year, the top placing athletes would move onto CISM, but CISM is not being held in 2021. 

There are two athletic programs military personnel in the Air Force can partake in, the Air Force Sports Program and World Class Athlete Program. Those who participate in the AF Sports Program maintain regular military duties and demands, going on permissive temporary duty for competitions. The World Class Athlete Program is a two-year arrangement for elite athletes, their primary duty is to train and compete with the ultimate goal of selection into the United States Olympic team.

Athletes interested in participating in AF Sports programs should  consult the Air Force Sports website at https://myairforcelife.com/sports/ for information on tryouts and requirements.