Area triathlete training to compete in XTERRA World Championships
by Doug Gorman
When Robbie Dunlap is on his mountain bike, running long distances or diving into the water for a swim, he is in a world of his own.
The 23-year-old East Coweta graduate and former Newnan resident has found his niche in triathlons.
Dunlap only began competing in the sport two years ago almost by accident. Attending triathlons first as a spectator, he soon yearned to join them on the course.
“I really got into it because of them,” he said in a phone conversation from Athens where he has lived and worked the last five years. “I thought this was something I really wanted to try.”
After starting with biathlons — featuring running and biking, Dunlap has developed into one of the country’s top triathletes.
Now he has his sights set on two of the biggest triathlons in the world, the XTERRA World Championships in Kapalua, Hawaii in October, and competing with members of Team USA next year as part of world competition in a yet to be determined location far from his familiar surroundings of Athens or Coweta County.
Dunlap has always enjoyed different forms of racing.
He got his first adrenaline rush tooling around in go-carts and Bandoleros, small race cars, when he was younger.
“It was something my Dad and I would do together,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, but we ended up getting out of it.”
Racing in triathlons might be slower than the horsepower coming from a go-cart , but the thrill is not lost on Dunlap.
“I love everything about it,” he said.
The former Coweta County resident has already competed in five triathlons this year, making it to the podium in two of the events.
Dunlap earned his trip to Hawaii for the XTERRA Championsips as one of the top 800 triathletes in the world.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and an incredible kickstart to my athletic career,” he said. “The XTERRA World Championships is the ultimate goal for off-road triathletes. There is not a race on the circuit that is more prestigious.”
The triathlon, which includes a one-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean, a 20-mile bike race and a 6.1 mile run is also the most demanding event he will attempt this year.
Dunlap realizes there’s no way to simulate the ocean swim living in Athens.
“That is going to be a challenge,” he said. “I am doing a lot of work in the pool right now.”
Dunlap will head to the islands about a week before the event which starts on Oct. 26 in an effort to get acclimated to his surroundings.
“I will do a lot of ocean swimming when I get there,” he said.
Dunlap enjoys all three aspects of the triathlon, but admits bike riding is his strongest and favorite event.
“I love being on my mountain bike,” he said. “I think it really is my strongest event.”
He hadn’t given too much thought to earning a spot in Hawaii, putting most of his focus on next year’s team competition when he learned he had done well enough in previous events to earn a berth.
“Most of my focus was on training for Team USA,” he said. “I just learned that I qualified for Hawaii. This is pretty special.”
The XTERRA World Championship will challenge Dunlap both mentally and physically.
It starts with the ocean swim, and there is no way for athletes to know until the day of the race if the Pacific will be calm or choppy. The 20-mile bike ride is through mountains that reach 3,000 feet and the six-mile run concludes the race with more challenging conditions and landscape before finally finishing on the beach.
Dunlap is also excited about representing the country as part of Team USA next year.
“Being part of Team USA is a little bit like the World Cup in soccer. There is a lot of pride at stake,” he said.
Dunlap is scheduled to compete in smaller events before heading to Hawaii and later the world competition.
One of the meets is a local competition in Athens this past weekend and later this year he will compete in the Blue Ridge Triathlon.
“I really am trying to concentrate on these two big events,” he said. But I will compete in others just to stay focused.”
With lodging, food, transportation and coaching expenses, the cost of the Hawaii trip could reach $4,000.
Dunlap is getting help from Cool Shirt Systems, but he has also set up a way for supporters to help out by logging on to www.gofundme.com/bb9ri8.
The East Coweta graduate has turned to historic figure and former president, Andrew Jackson for inspiration — word for word.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill. This is my chance to do something. I have to seize the moment,” he said.