GOOCHLAND -- Switzerland’s definitely a whole different experience and environment from Goochland. It’s one thing to say or infer that.
But it’s another to see and live that difference, and Goochland triathlete Anna Kate Wirsing has. She not only got to travel to Switzerland this past Labor Day Weekend – she also got to race against some of the world’s best in the 2019 ITU World Triathlon championships held in Lausanne.
The rolling hills made an impression on the cyclist, runner and swimmer; Goochland has some here, “but when you see some of them there, it’s a little overwhelming because they’re pretty steep” – she recalled with a chuckle – “which were fun; I like hills, so it was a disadvantage and an advantage at the same time.”
The people around her spoke French, and the athletes she saw at the championships hailed from all over the world. She also got to see U.S. competitors from various age groups – in fact, 4 of the 11 U.S. girls in her group were from Virginia – and she remembered being inspired by an 85-year-old man who competed for the U.S.
“He’s a super happy guy on the U.S. team,” Anna Kate said smiling. “I want to be 85 and be able to do a triathlon – that’s my goal in life.”
It was definitely a very emotional race for her.
“When I was going through the race, it was nerve-racking at first just because…it’s unbelievable how I got there - and seeing all these other people that I’ve never competed against or know.
“But, you know, you’ve got to go out hard,” she said, “and just give it your all.”
She kicked off the world triathlon with the swimming stretch, notching a time of 12:09 that ranked 18th best among the 38 girls who completed the race in her 16-19 age group from all across the globe. By the time she got to the biking stretch that comprises the middle portion of the race, she saw that “nice little hill” – she described smiling – that she had to go up twice.
“You’ve just got to push hard on it,” she said, “and you hear all the cheering…which helps you go through the race.”
She recorded a 37:28 in cycling before shifting to the final element of the event: the running. That part of it was pretty fun, she said – and that part also had a steep 19 % grade hill.
“But running happened to be one of my stronger ones in that race,” Anna Kate said. “It turned out for the best.”
As she ran the final stretch, she heard one of the USA Triathlon coaches yelling out to her, telling her to catch the girl in front of her. At the time, the runner had about a 50-yard lead on Anna Kate.
When they crossed the finish line, the two runners had finished about neck-and-neck, with Anna Kate, having just taken the American flag into her hand, making the hard charge to try and overtake her on the right side. Afterwards, Anna Kate found out that the girl she raced to the line – and finished within milliseconds of – happened to not be in her age group.
Regardless, it was a finish to remember.
At the end of it, Anna Kate Wirsing had placed 18th in the female 16-19 age group of the 2019 ITU World Triathlon championships with an overall time of 1:16:29 and a 15th-best running-stretch time of 23:04. She also ranked 4th-best among the 10 Age 16-19 U.S. girls who completed the race.
“It’s just an amazing experience and opportunity I was given,” she said, “and it really shows how much effort you have to put in to accomplish what you can achieve.”
Anna Kate’s athletic journey actually began with gymnastics; she did that for nine years and then, due to back issues, transitioned into running and swimming when she was 13.
She would take on her first triathlon – the Pink Power Triathlon – later that year as an eighth grader.
She really enjoyed running in cross country and track, and then swimming was fun to do with all of her friends.
As for cycling, she had done a couple of mountain bike races as her dad was a pro cyclist.
But doing all three together – running, swimming, and then biking – and realizing: “Oh, I’m actually decent at the sport” really drew her to the competitiveness of it. She also likes the independent nature of triathlons.
“You’re trying to beat your goal,” she said, “and kind of work as a team at the same time.”
She’s earned multiple first-place finishes across local races, and she’s competed in nationals the past two years in Cleveland. She credited hard work to helping her place in the top 15 of last year’s nationals competition, thus qualifying her for the world championships in Switzerland.
Anna Kate has also qualified for the 2020 world championships in Edmonton, Canada, and she’s looking forward to going to that world race next year.
She plans to continue competing in triathlons beyond high school, whether that means doing so while in college or as a side pursuit in addition to running for a college cross country program.
“I definitely could not have done all that effort and training by myself,” Anna Kate said, crediting Endorphin Fitness as well as her father and her swim coach Ed Boyle. They’ve all really encouraged her along the way, even through the hard times.
“It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Anna Kate said of competing in the world triathlon championships. “But I definitely could not have done it without the support of the people in the community.”