Former Hood River Valley High School cross country, swimming and track standout Erin Jones is making serious headway in the world of professional triathlons. Representing the Elite Training Academy in Colorado Springs, the 2009 HRVHS graduate won the biggest triathlon of her career last month – the Collegiate National Championship.
The win gives Jones momentum as she sets her sights and dedicates much of her life toward qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. With global aspirations, the small-town athlete is striving to be one of the very few who have gone on to represent Hood River on the world’s biggest stage.
Her humble roots track back to when she was about eight years old and began swimming on the Hood River Valley Swim Team. In addition to swimming, she went on to join the cross country and track teams as a three-sport high school athlete, where she quickly excelled.
Former high school running coach, Kristen Uhler, remembers Jones’ character. “She was a real competitor and hated to lose. You’ve got to have that desire and passion if you are going to push the limits of pain. Erin was not just a docile girl who did whatever you told her; she’s got a mind of her own. She’s very assertive. It was challenging as a coach, but totally enjoyable.”
As a standout runner and swimmer, triathlons seemed like a natural extension of her athletic abilities, which prompted Uhler – a former triathlete herself – to make the suggestion.
“She mentioned it one day and I thought that we might as well try it out,” said Erin’s father, Tony. “That’s where it started.”
“I encouraged her and gave her some of my old shoes,” Uhler said. “I knew she just needed to pick up the bike. Usually if you are a good runner you tend to be pretty good at the bike … Erin participated in some age group level triathlons and performed very well, even placing 6th at Junior Nationals.”
After that, Tony says, she “got the bug for it.”
After graduating high school, Jones continued her running career on the Oregon State University cross country team. She also still found some time to do triathlons during her summers.
She explained that, after running for three years for OSU, she heard about the Elite Triathlon Academy, an exclusive program that works to develop young triathletes into future Olympians.
“I emailed my times and said I swam in high school and ran in college, but I didn’t really have any bike experience,” she said. “I wanted to come out and see the sport because I really liked triathlons. When I went out there, they liked what they saw and brought me out.”
The opportunity was one she felt like she couldn’t pass up, she left OSU, her friends and family to attend the one of the most elite programs of its kind in the country. While leaving was a hard choice, Jones says, “I feel like I really found my calling.”
The Elite Training Academy operates in Colorado Springs, at the Olympic Training Center, and gives athletes access to the top training facilities, programs, and coaches in the country. The program is intended to keep young triathletes competing and growing in the sport while going through college. She takes her classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, but unlike most collegiate athletes, she must balance college classes with simultaneously training for three athletic disciplines and a competition schedule that takes her all around the country and sometimes the world.
“We usually train everything every day,” she explained. “A typical day would be to swim 5,000 meters, usually from 7:15-8:30 a.m. After that we get a break to do whatever we want; then we usually do a two-hour bike workout followed by maybe an eight-mile run.”
The new training program is helping the pieces fall into place for Jones. Her biking has made huge improvements in her first year and she earned her triathlon pro card at the USA Triathlon Age Groups in LA by winning the amateur division, which allows her to compete in international races.
In April, she competed in the Collegiate National Championship, where she finished first.
“I knew my swimming was good,” she said. I came out of the water second and just made the bike back and then was confident enough in my running and took off. That was the first race that I’ve ever won, so I was super excited and the happiest I could have been.”
Jones kept the momentum rolling the following week at the Continental Cup, where she had another podium finish.
“The next weekend I went to Barbados and got third for USA, which is super good for an international meet,” she said. Her next major race is in Dallas in June, where she will be competing for a spot to participate in the U23 World Championships in London in September.
Ultimately, Jones has her sights set on getting to the Olympics in 2016. The road to Rio won’t be easy, but her dad and former coach both agree that she’s capable of it.
A lot can happen in the next three years, but Kristen says, “She has the right mentality for it; she has the ability to endure pain. That’s just the way she races and you need to have those qualities if you are going to be good.”
While she evolves as a professional triathlete, Jones hasn’t forgotten all the people who helped her get to the level she is at now. “Thanks to everyone who supported me throughout this process from Hood River,” she said. “They were super supportive when I was growing up and there are a lot of people out there who helped me and my family. And a big thanks to my dad for always being there for me.”