Photo Courtesy Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire
By Andrew Tomsky, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - To say that NAU senior swimmer Kristin Jones likes to compete in a variety of events would be an understatement. Last season, the Juneau, Alaska native swam in four events at the WAC Championships, recording a team season-best time in the 100 butterfly while also swimming in the 400 individual medley and the 500 and 1650 freestyle, but she also competed in eight other events during the regular season. One would think that 12 swimming events would be challenging enough, but for Jones, swimming is just 1/3 of the training needed to be a triathlete.
"My first triathlon was when I was 18 before I came to NAU," said Jones, who competed in four triathlons in 2011. "My time wasn't great in that first triathlon near San Francisco, but now I'm almost an hour better. If it wasn't for swimming, I would be focused completely on triathlons and I plan on continuing to do them after I graduate."
In August, Jones won the Aukewoman Triathlon in her native Juneau, leading all the female competitors in the field of over 70 participants with a time of one hour, 16 minutes, and 44 seconds. Using her NAU swimming season and training in Flagstaff, Jones was the first competitor out of the water, completing the 750 meter swim in the frigid Auke Lake in 10:50. She had also won the race in 2010 with a record time of 1:12.42
The Aukewoman Triathlon is a sprint triathlon, which is roughly half the length of an Olympic triathlon. Jones also competed in both the Mountain Man sprint and Olympic triathlons in Flagstaff in July, which took place in and around Upper Lake Mary, and recorded a personal best time of 2:33 in the Olympic event, besting her previous record by 25 minutes. Her focus following the swimming season is the biking and running portions, though training to compete for NAU and utilizing the high elevation of Flagstaff prepares her to transition into the other events.
"Training here is really great for getting in shape for triathlons," said Jones. "I can get on a bike and be in decent shape even if I haven't ridden one for over a month because of swimming at this altitude. If I wasn't swimming for NAU I would be running and biking a lot more, but I definitely love swimming the most and I love our dual and conference competition. "
Not only does Jones compete against the best triathletes in Alaska and in the southwest, but she also faces the best collegiate triathlon competitors in the country as a member of the NAU Tri-Jacks. The campus triathlon club has approximately 30 active members and takes seven men and seven women to the collegiate nationals each year. Jones was among the club's NAU representatives last April at the Collegiate USA Triathlon 2011 National Championships, competing on the national collegiate stage in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just a month and a half after the NAU swimming season was completed.
Jones has always focused on swimming, being recruited by NAU after being a six time Alaska state champion in high school, but found triathlons as a way to expand her athletic endeavors.
"I love swimming, but it's nice to have a break and widen my horizons," said Jones." It's a good feeling to train and do well in triathlons and it can be very rewarding. "
"When I compete in triathlons, a lot of the time I will be the first one out of the water, which gives me a great boost going to the biking portion," added Jones regarding her particular strength in swimming. "I fall back a bit when people start moving past me on the bike. At collegiate nationals I was fighting for first out of the water after the mile, but I probably won't go as fast next year because it wiped me out for the rest of the race."
Jones uses the summer to focus on biking and running, saying that her training and competing during the NAU swimming season allows her to remain strong in the water even when shifting her focus to the other events. She served as an Alaska bike tour guide during the summer of 2010, embarking on 20 mile rides each day to supplement her triathlon season. She plans to continue training and competing in triathlons following her time at NAU, aspiring to complete at least a half Iron Man within the next few years.
"A lot of professional triathletes are former college swimmers," noted Jones. "If I can drop another 15 minutes or so off my time, I could try to continue competing in triathlons as a professional. I love the competition and hope to continue with them for a long time to come."
Jones' penchant for triathlons inspired her mother, Elisabeth, to follow in her daughters footsteps and join her as a triathlete. She was happy to see her mother, as well as many other competitors of all ages, compete in the event this summer in Juneau, turning her passion into a family experience. Her younger brother Trevor is a swimmer as well and may join the women of the family for an upcoming triathlon.
A double major in psychology and sociology and a two time WAC All-Academic selection, Jones plans to attend grad school following her NAU graduation in May, looking to return to Alaska or at least move a bit closer to earn her master's degree in Washington or Oregon.
When she returns home to Juneau, it will be more of a challenge to continue competing other than in the one local race, given that the next closest annual triathlon is 850 miles away in Anchorage. Based on her enthusiasm for competition and her drive to conquer the greatest athletic challenges, though, even the great expanses of Alaska will not be able to keep her from her passion.