He has broken 16 triathlon race records since 2007. He is also currently the state triathlon champion of Ohio and national runner-up in his age group.
But for Ross Hartley, triathlons are more about enjoyment than accolades.
“I do triathlons because they are fun,” he said. “The big key is just keeping them fun and making sure they do not become your life.”
Despite training seven days a week for up to three to four hours a day, Hartley has been able to balance his training with other aspects of his life.
“I just have to plan things out and keep my priorities straight,” he said. “School and work always come first.”
Hartley, a third-year in education and a lifeguard at the RPAC, ran cross-country and wrestled at Pickerington North High School. His triathlon journey began with the purchase of a bike from a mentor.
“My health teacher at my high school became one of my very good friends, and he did triathlons,” Hartley said. “He started giving me some workouts and training tips, and I bought my first bike off of him.”
He participated in his first race the summer before his senior year but did not train much or take it too seriously. After a surprising second-place finish, Hartley soon figured out that he could do really well in the sport.
Rick Slawinski, Hartley’s coach, became aware of his talent in January 2009 at the OSU Indoor Triathlon.
“Ross has only been racing triathlon for a couple of years, but he has tremendous potential given his age and time in the sport,” Slawinski said. “I look forward to watching Ross race at a higher level across the country and the world.”
Slawinski, a certified USA Triathlon Coach, said men don’t usually peak in endurance events like triathlons until their late 20s and 30s.
At 21, Hartley seems ahead of the curve. But he has had some doubts about his ability to compete at the national level.
In September 2009, Hartley represented the state of Ohio in Mission Viejo, Calif., for the “Best of the U.S.,” an annual competition pitting the 50 state champions against each other. Coming into the race, his goal was to finish in the top 10, but he was overwhelmed when he heard about his competitors’ accomplishments.
“After hearing about the people I would be competing against, I got a little scared and felt like I really did not belong with these people,” Hartley said. “I lowered my goal from finishing in the top 10 to finishing in the top 20.”
He shook off the nerves, determined to race as hard as he could. He finished in second place, becoming the national runner-up.
The event was a USA Triathlon-sanctioned event with participants who were previous national champions, USA triathlon athletes of the year, a Half-Ironman World Champion and the best amateurs in the U.S.
“This year’s Championship field was hands-down the most competitive and exciting in the program’s five-year history,” said Jerry MacNeil, event director of the “Best of the U.S.” and triathlon historian.
With newfound confidence in his ability to compete with the best, Hartley has set his goals higher for next year’s event.
“When I finished second, I could not believe it. I had no idea that was
possible. However, if I do not finish first next year, I will be mad,” he said. “My goal for next year is to be the national champion.”
Hartley is also a member of the OSU Triathlon Club. Although he does not practice with them much, he will be competing with the team at this year’s Collegiate National Championships. And expectations are high for Hartley.
“The OSU Triathlon Team has very high hopes for him this April at Nationals,” said Robby Craun, president of the club. “A rematch is expected between Ross and Brian Duffy, who beat him at ‘Best of the U.S.'”
A rivalry might be brewing between Hartley and Duffy, and Hartley’s motivation is now set on the event where he will again meet his worthy opponent.
“I am really concentrating on this year’s Collegiate Nationals race where I will race Duffy,” he said. “I am training hard for this race and will hopefully be the first Buckeye to win it.”
Even with all he has accomplished, Hartley still sees room for improvement.
“I think just this idea of realizing my potential and seeing how far I can go with it is what really motivates me,” he said. “I know that I can still get a lot faster, so it’s about putting in the time and training to see just where it takes me.”
Hartley traveled to Clermont, Fla., on March 7 to compete in the Elite Development Race, where the best amateur triathletes went up against the best professionals. Hartley placed 12th overall, allowing him to go professional whenever he wants, he said.
Even though he beat an Olympian from Egypt, the race was just another bike, swim and run in preparation for Collegiate Nationals in April, and perhaps a 2016 Olympic appearance.