Two Columbia residents know difference between pro, amateur triathlons

The life of a triathlete is decidely different for amateurs and pros.

For Ben Bartlett, a 25-year-old former high school runner who turned to triathlons while in college at William and Mary, the goal is to get his pro card. After financial issues led to Bartlett selling his racing bike and marital problems led him to quit training altogether, Bartlett hopes to attain his card in next spring's Columbia Triathlon.

For Suzy Serpico, a 32-year-old elementary school gym teacher who ran in college at Salisbury, the goal was reached at last year's Columbia Triathlon. Serpico qualified for the 2010 Kona Ironman event as an amateur while on her honeymoon in Mexico.

The two Columbia residents recently found success in the same event, the ChesapeakeMan Endurance Festival.

Bartlett won the men's division of the Bugeye Classic, finishing the 1.2-mile swim, 25-mile bike race and 6.2 mile run in 2 hours, 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Serpico won the Aquabike event of a 2.4 mile swim and 112-mile bike race for the second straight year in a time of 6 hours, 9 minutes and 38 seconds.

Their reactions were, as expected, different given where they are in their careers as triathletes.

"This is really what I want to do," said Bartlett, who has started working as a trainer for aspiring triathletes. "My times have improved. I'm pretty happy since I used someone else's bike and hadn't done as much training as I did in the past."

This was one of Bartlett's first competitions in awhile, having put his triathlete aspirations on hold as his personal problems escalated. He once finished third in the 18-to-24 age group in the Half Triathlon world championships in Clearwater, Fla., in 2007, and knows he has the talent to meet one of the criteria needed to get his pro card.

Bartlett hopes to take advantage of the fact that he is among the youngest in the next age group (25-to-29).

"It's a labor of love," Bartlett said. "But getting the pro card has certain advantages in terms of not having to pay entrance fees to a lot of races, getting to compete in smaller events and not starting the races with the rest of the amateurs."

Serpico will tell Bartlett something else — having a pro card is not as advantageous as it seems.

"Instead of being one of the top amateurs, I'm racing not to be one of the last pros," Serpico said.

Serpico is doing a pretty good job of it, finishing in the prize money at an Ironman event this summer in Lake Placid, N.Y., as well as at the recent ChesapeakeMan event. Not that it's a lot of money.

"Not enough to quit my day job," said Serpico, who teaches in Howard County. "But it covered my expenses."

Serpico said her times started to improve about three years ago when she hired a personal trainer, Greg Matulevich, "who changed my body type, he's done wonders." She has recently hired a coach, Mike Matney, to help her start climbing the ladder among the pro community for triathletes.

Having reached her goal of competing in the Kona Ironman world championship as an amateur — "I remember saying, 'That's the ultimate, what's next?'" she recalled.

Serpico knows it will be difficult to achieve that as a pro, given that it's based on a points system in a calendar of events that's hard to coordinate with her life as a teacher.

Serpico will go with her husband and some of their friends down to Panama City, Fla., for her next Ironman event in November.

"I'm enjoying this," she said. "But I'm taking this slowly. It's a lot different being a pro triathlete than an amateur."

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