Melissa Hallmark's last trip to Ocean City wasn't what most people would call a vacation.

While training for the Cambridge Triathlon the last week in May, Hallmark swam more than a mile of the Atlantic Ocean, "just as the waves break" several feet from the shore.

Her daily running routine included double-digit mileage and a 40-mile round-trip bike trek to Rehoboth Beach.

But the difficult regimen paid off for Hallmark, a Severna Park graduate who is training for Hawaii's annual Iron Man Triathlon on Oct. 19.

Qualifying for the Iron Man, the 22-year-old Hallmark finished first in the 20-24 agegroup in Cambridge on June 2.

Cambridge's triathlon featured a 1.6-mile swim in the Choptank River, a 13.1-mile run and a bike trek of55 miles -- exactly half the distance of the Iron Man. Hallmark crossed the finish line after five hours.

"It's a little crazy, that'sright. But I'm a type-A personality from a type-A family of real moral, hard-working people. My parents and my older sister (Jennifer) were all straight-A students and very involved in athletics," Hallmark said.

"I have fun with the things I do. I love playing anything. It's just what your priorities are."

Right now, she's focusing her attention on the Iron Man, something she's dreamed about competing insince she saw it on television as a youngster with her father, William, who died in 1981.

"Watching any sport on television, Melissa was very uncanny as a little girl," said her mother, Betty Hallmark, acoach and administrator who in 1987 was inducted into the Western Maryland College Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I remember how she'd watch professional football -- but not just the offenses and the glory positions. She'd watch the defenses to see how they did things. I would just marvel at the sight of it."

In two weeks, Hallmark will peddlethe full 110-mile distance from her Round Bay community in Severna Park to 64th Street in Ocean City.

"I know its going to be tough, but this is what I've always wanted to do," she said. "Swimming in (Ocean City) was pretty rough, and I was pretty tired when I was done.

"But I'm hoping my training will be enough."

As grueling as her training has been, Hallmark hasn't come close to simulating the conditions for the Iron Man in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.

The Iron Man is a 2.4-mile swim, beginning at 7 a.m., through treacherous ocean waters reaching depths of 90 feet. The swim must be completed in less than 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Both the 112-mile bike course and the 26.2 mile run take place on the Queen Kaahumanu Highway, which runs along the Kona Coast and is surrounded by black lava resembling moonscape. Despite ever-present 35 mph winds and 55 mph gusts, the course temperatures average 95 degrees.

Triathletes must complete the bike portion, the second stage of the race, 10 1/2 hours after the race begins.

The final marathon stage closes 17 hours after the triathlon begins. Heat is especially intense for runners who finish before dusk. After dusk, contestants contend with an unlighted highway even though there will be a full moon that Saturday night.

But pressure conditions are just fine for Hallmark.

The 1986 Severna Park High graduate was All-County in volleyball, softball, lacrosse and basketball and All-Metro in volleyball. Her 3.97 grade-point average helped place her on the Anne Arundel County Sun's All-Academic Team.

After a year playing basketball at Baltimore's Loyola College, Hallmark played three years of lacrosse at Western Maryland along with a year each in swimming and basketball. She was also the class valedictorian with a 4.0 average.

Hallmark started 22 basketball games, had ateam-leading 91 assists and was second with 56 steals during her junior year. She also averaged 3.4 rebounds and 6.2 points with 20 blocks, leading the Green Terrors to their best season ever at 20-5.

"Having played sports all my life, I have a good athletic base," said Hallmark, who earned a degree in biology and physical education at Western Maryland. She is in her second year of graduate studies at the University of Maryland.

In the last four years, since she entered the Severna Park YMCA triathlon, Hallmark has competed in "10 or 12 triathlons and a bunch of 10Ks just to stay in shape." Though not taking them seriously, she has managed a first or second place each race.

"I've always just run and biked for fun. I didn't know much about training for triathlons except what I had read in magazines," said the 135-pound, 5-foot-7 Hallmark. "Basketball is my first love. I play a lot of street ball and so often when someone would call up and say 'Let's go play ball,' I'd just blow off my (triathlon training).

"But over the past couple of weeks I've gotten together with friends on the proper ways of triathlon training. Everything's changed since winning at Cambridge, and I'm going to devote my whole summer to (triathlon training)."

But that will be a daunting task.

Starting tomorrow, she's scheduled to teach swimming from 8 a.m. to noon five days a week for six weeks at the Severn River Swim Club. In a month, she begins working at a field hockey and lacrosse camp at Severn Schoolfrom 1 to 8 p.m. Then she starts teaching aerobics courses through July and August four to eight hours per week, hoping to mix in some private swimming lessons.

All this while doing independent study work at Maryland. She works four to five hours a week working with the elderly on strength training techniques designed to counteract age-related diseases.

"I actually get into a lot of different things and,yes, I sometimes get nervous about competition," Hallmark said. "Butyou just get out there and say, 'What the hell, just do it.' "

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