Triathlon program will teach girls life skills on the road to earning a scholarship |

Triathlon program will teach girls life skills on the road to earning a scholarship

Eric Sampson is starting up a triathlon training program geared toward earning girls a college scholarship.
Colleen O’Neil / Post Independent file |

Female student athletes in western Colorado looking for a college scholarship will have a new program available in 2017. But to be successful, participants will have to tri hard.

Eric Sampson, owner of Glenwood Springs’ Sampson Sports, which makes bikes and components, is capitalizing on a recent National Collegiate Athletic Association decision by starting up what is tentatively called Colorado 14ers, a triathlon training program geared toward earning girls a college scholarship. Participants could begin the program even before they start high school.

The NCAA named women’s triathlon an “emerging sport” in 2014, and if a sufficient number of Division I through Division III schools start varsity triathlon programs by 2024, it will become a full-fledged championship sport.

The designation has caused excitement in the triathlon world, and Sampson is the first to try to start a scholarship program. “There’s no other program aimed at getting kids college scholarships through triathlon, which is why USAT finds us so exciting,” Sampson said. USA Triathlon is the national governing body for triathlon, duathlon, aquathlon and winter triathlon, and it recently awarded grant money to eight schools to develop varsity women’s triathlon teams.

Not every participant would be likely to earn a scholarship through Sampson’s program. He says the primary goal isn’t necessarily money for school but learning skills such as dedication and hard work, how to compete, how to take a defeat and build on it and how to interact with others, what he sums up as “life tenacity skills.”

Local endurance racing standout Heidi Vosbeck of Glenwood Springs will be the head coach, while Dr. Jean Hadley from Vail would also be involved. They would train athletes in all three sports (swim, bike and run), holding three to four organized practice sessions per week. Hadley says training session locations would likely be split between Glenwood Springs and Avon, though participants’ home towns would certainly figure into that decision.

Sampson estimates athletes would spend 15-18 hours per week in the program from May through September. Vosbeck figures her hours would be more than that, though how many is hard to determine. “Like teachers, coaches put in lots of extra hours behind the scenes, so that’s hard to answer,” she said.

Hadley raced as a professional triathlete and was involved in running a six-week IronKids training program based in Avon. Despite her medical background, her involvement would focus on training athletes. Her willingness to work without compensation is at least partially a family thing. “I’ve got a 14-year-old I’d like to see get involved,” she said.

Demonstrating athletic ability or a good work ethic won’t be enough for girls to remain in the program; they will also have to show their report cards. Sampson sees this two ways. On one hand, “We don’t want to waste time on an athlete who doesn’t have the commitment to study hard,” he said. Yet commitment might not be the problem in all cases. “It would be horrible to get a talented kid but have them not have the GPA to make it in to college,” he said. With that in mind, the program’s budget includes tutoring money.

Sampson is contributing some of his company’s cycling gear, but the program needs sponsorship to be successful. Costs, which Sampson estimates at roughly $41,500 per year, include — in addition to tutoring — gear, travel, race entries, staff salaries, guest coach stipends and covering expenses for girls who can’t afford to participate in the program. Triathlon is an expensive sport, requiring such things as a bicycle, pool membership, clothing, race entry fees and travel expenses. “The goal is to make it so we can take kids based on ability, not income,” Sampson said.

As for staff salaries, “Nobody is getting rich with this program,” Sampson said. He estimates that the coaches would barely be earning minimum wage. Vosbeck isn’t in it for the money anyway. “I enjoy working with the young athletes, helping them to improve and gain experience, so I am actually looking forward to coaching and getting things rolling. It’s always fun to give back to a sport that has given me so much,” she said.

And let’s not forget the fun factor. “The number one goal of any sports program is to become competent enough that you have fun with it, because if you don’t have fun with it you won’t be able to keep it up,” Sampson said. In a similar vein, Hadley said, “We want to keep it fun, not hammer [ride hard] for two hours.” She envisions playing games while out riding so that training isn’t something to dread.

“We’re hoping to build a fun, community-based program that delivers long-term benefit,” Sampson said. For more information, contact Sampson at

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