Column: My triathlete life

“The best part of riding is the feeling of being alive.”


Jon Eastwood, Thom Richmond, Joëlle Simeu, ’20, Sally Stone Richmond, Sydney Lee, ’22, and Haleigh Tomlin, ’22, on a group ride in Rockbridge County. Photo courtesy of Sydney Lee.

Sydney Lee

You might have seen him before: the tall man in spandex walking around campus with his wife, vice president of admissions Sally Stone Richmond, daughter Karena, and fluffy white dog, Pele.

Thom Richmond is the founder of California Triathlon, a national triathlon team that hosts races as well as provides group training sessions for triathletes all over the United States. Thom has been swimming, biking, and running with faculty, staff, and students since 2016.

That’s how my good friend, Haleigh Tomlin, ’22, and I met him at the beginning of our freshman year. We wanted to run, and Thom was there.

Ever since then, Thom has brought us on runs all over Rockbridge, encouraged us to participate in races throughout Virginia, and introduced us to many faculty and students who train with us regularly.

However, this is the year that the group has really started to expand. While some have been training with the group for years, others recently found out about it by word of mouth. Many people, from sociology professors to senior students, have been training regularly. Some are seasoned triathletes who have done marathons and Ironmans. Others had barely even jumped into a pool or ridden a bike more than a couple miles prior to this year, but they now find themselves out on Lexington’s backroads every weekend speeding down hills.

Joëlle Simeu, ’20, has been friends with Thom and Sally Richmond since her freshman year. But she didn’t give into Thom’s pressure to start cycling until a few months ago. She’s been embracing the new challenge as well as the outlet it gives her to be outside and relieve some of the stresses of senior year.

“The best part of riding is the feeling of being alive,” Simeu said. “Very few things I’ve done have made me so mindful of my body and soul. Riding with the group takes away so much heaviness and replaces it with lightness.”

Another great thing about the group is that it is completely inclusive. We welcome athletes of all levels as well as people young and old. The goal is to exercise, have fun, and get to know people that you might not have met otherwise.

“I love that the group is not limited to students,” said Haleigh Tomlin, ’22. “There are also professors, coaches and community members who participate. If you want to do any type of workout, it is easy to find at least one person whose schedule works with yours and who wants to exercise with you.”

The group is very laid-back. Workouts such as swimming on Tuesdays and Thursdays are planned in order to work with the natatorium’s open swim hours, but most often people just call or text asking if someone wants to exercise with them. We take advantage of beautiful days with longer runs or rides and decide on the route based on how everyone is feeling. If you’re feeling good, Thom sees it and will challenge you to double-up on hills or run faster than you may want to. But if you’re feeling off, there’s no embarrassment, and the group will slow down the pace or stop and walk in order to stay together. We all just want to enjoy the feeling of being outside among funny, interesting people.

“Nobody feels like they are going to be left behind or left out if they are not fast or fit enough,” Tomlin said. “There is very little pressure.”

Laws Smith, ’20, Sydney Lee, ’22, Morgan Dalton, ’19, KT Hensler, ’21, and Thom Richmond at the Monticelloman Triathlon in May 2019. Photo courtesy of Sydney Lee.

Rafay Hassan, ’22, recently started swimming with the group weekly and said he loves it.

“With the triathlon group, I always leave having done more than I expected I could do,” Hassan said. “In life, there are few people who you can trust and believe. They are the ones who help you exceed your expectations. Thom and the others help me do that.”

While the group isn’t super competitive and we don’t do races often, racing can be a great opportunity to get outside of your comfort zone. The Monticelloman Triathlon near Charlottesville is a race that students such as Laws Smith, ’20, and alumna Morgan Dalton, ’19, participated in this past May. We hope to get a group together that wants to compete or race for fun in May 2020, and Thom says the price to register for the race can be as low as $30, which is an incredible deal. If participating in a triathlon is something you’ve always wanted to try, now is a great time to do it.