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Why NCAA Triathlon is becoming increasingly important to a new generation of female athletes

Kira Gupta-Baltazar shares her experiences in the NCAA.

Staff Reporter
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Heading into the Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championships in Tempe, Arizona this weekend, we spoke to Kira Gupta-Baltazar of the University of San Francisco Dons.

Gupta-Baltazar, who won the NCAA Division I Championship title in her Sophomore year, will be lining up for her third and final national championships on Saturday after finishing fourth in the West Regional Qualifier last month.

Reflecting on her time as part of the collegiate system, the Canadian shared the valuable lessons she has learnt from her experience and explained how the NCAA pathway has given her more than she could have ever asked for.

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“The NCAA is extremely important”

Rewinding the clock to the options she was faced with coming out of High School, Gupta-Baltazar is unequivocal in her belief that the collegiate system is one of the only ways studying whilst pursuing high level triathlon has been possible.

Kira Gupta-Baltazar of the University of San Francisco Dons
Kira Gupta-Baltazar racing for the USF Dons [Photo Credit – USF Dons]

“The balance between collegiate and short course racing has been dynamic for sure. My sophomore and junior years I was racing more short course and focusing on my world ranking/ITU points. It became a bit stressful at times, but my professors and USF Coach, Gina Kehr, were all very accommodating and understanding of my goals outside of NCAA racing.

“On my own, this would have probably proved a very difficult task – but alongside 9 of my best friends, it has been such an amazing experience. Our training schedule is perfectly fit to accommodate our class schedule and the closely located facilities make life even easier.

“In a Canadian university, where professors would have no idea why I was missing classes for races, triathlon would have been almost impossible. I think the NCAA is extremely important in today’s generation of triathlon. Not only am I training in one of the best cities in the world, I will be coming away with a biology degree as well.”

Despite losing a year of racing to the pandemic, Gupta-Baltazar describes her time at USF as wholly positive, with the city, schooling, training and her teammates all playing an important role in making her NCAA career a well rounded and happy experience.

“My journey as a Don has given me so much more than I could have asked for. Although a year was taken away due to COVID, I have appreciated and cherished the other three years. My classes in the sciences, arts and humanities have taught me so much and have inspired me to keep learning in the future.

“The city is definitely one of the greatest in the world and I will stand by that statement! Last but not least, my teammates have become my family and I have not regretted the decision to attend USF even for a second.”

“I think we all have high expectations”

Looking ahead to this weekend in Tempe, Gupta-Baltazar and her teammates have high hopes for a strong performance, having pushed defending champions Arizona State University close in the West Regional Qualifier.

The University of San Francisco Dons Women's Team.
The University of San Francisco Dons team [Photo Credit – USF Dons]

I think we all have high expectations for our performance as a team. This semester has seen a lot of hard work coupled with a strong feeling of unity within the team. Last year we struggled with a lot of injury and setbacks and from this we’ve seen amazing comebacks.

“Our collective goal is definitely to get on the podium as a team. That being said, our top five scorers will be very competitive. It will be very interesting if we get 3-4 girls in the front pack.”

Going into detail on the squads preparation, the hay is in the barn when it comes to fitness, with team spirit and racing to the best of their ability key to the Dons success on race day.

Our preparation for nationals looks a lot like preparing for any other race. Although the physical preparation has been important, we have focused a lot on mental visualization as well.

“One thing that our team does really well is have fun with the hard work. We all genuinely enjoy being at workouts and being together – this helps when things get really hard physically or emotionally! One value that we have as a team is uplifting everyone.

“This weekend we will focus on our team performance but not by sacrificing anyone’s individual performance. I believe our best day will come from everyone racing to the best of their ability.”

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Written by
Tomos Land
Tomos Land is a triathlon & running journalist whose expertise lies in the professional world of short course & long distance triathlon, though he also boasts an extensive knowledge of ultra-running.

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