Heller uses time in Germany to excel at a different sport

Photo by Bente Heller Bente Heller has a different sport back home - the triathlon!
Photo by Bente Heller
Bente Heller has a different sport back home – the triathlon!

Chris Brooks

Most people in Fairbanks know Bente Heller (Hamburg, Germany/Psychology) for her success in the pool as a collegiate swimmer for the Alaska Nanooks.

Most notably, she is famous for capturing the program’s first-ever national title last March at the 2013 NCAA Championship. But what many don’t know is that when she returns to her native country of Germany, her competitive drive does not go away.

Following the conclusion of the spring semester, Heller, who will be the lone senior swimmer this year, competed in two long-course swim meets in late May in Federal Way, Wash., and Hanover, Germany.

Once her swimming season came to a close, she didn’t stop training, nor competing. This past month, she completed two sprint triathlons – which are made up of a 500-meter open-water swim, a 22-kilometer bike ride and a five-kilometer run.

“It is always a fun event without any pressure,” Heller said. “This year I was a little scared because I only swam back up in Alaska and never stepped a foot on the trail to run or even biked since last summer.”

For a student-athlete who spends the bulk of her time in the pool and in the weight room, and not as much time on a bike or running trails, her results were quite impressive. In fact, she set personal-bests at both races.

On July 14, Heller showcased her athletic ability at the Elbe Triathlon. To no one’s surprise, Heller was the first participant out of the water, completing the 500 in seven minutes, 36 seconds. She transitioned to the bike portion in just under a minute and finished the 22K ride in 36:47. After 44 seconds from bike to run, she was on to the final 5K by foot, which she handled in 22:56, crossing the finish line with a final time of 1:08:55. That mark was tops for her age group (20-25) and fourth overall as well as a lifetime best by over six minutes.

“My training has been great and I improved a lot at my first triathlon,” Heller said. “My swim was fast, my bike was strong and I have never been this fast in a run ever. So I felt comfortable to race in the big one and only focused on a couple of things during the week before the meet.”

That next weekend, Heller was back at it, competing in the ITU World Triathlon Hamburg, which was made up of a much bigger field and certainly a much tougher course. That didn’t stop her from being one of the top finishers as she was the first to cross the finish line for her age group and was also the overall runner-up at the event with a time of 1:13:10, completing the tri just six seconds after the champion. That mark, despite not an all-time best, was an improvement by eight minutes from her 2012 time at the event.

For the second straight race, she was the first out of the water in 7:02. Heller biked the 22 kilometers in 36:04 and finished the just over three mile run in 23:28. The transitions were longer from water to bike and from bike to run, resulting in a lengthier time from her first triathlon. However, she improved her swim by 32 seconds, her bike by 43 seconds and was just over 30 seconds off her run from the Elbe Triathlon.

“I love swimming and I still train a lot over the summer but it is always nice to switch it up a little bit,” Heller said. “Triathlon, in my eyes, is such a great way to stay in shape for swimming but also gives me the basic endurance from the running and biking. I hope it won’t affect my sprinting a lot but I figured it would at least help me survive the first weeks of training in September.”

She’s not done yet – her plan is to compete in two more triathlons, one on Aug. 24 in Frankfurt, and the other on Sept. 1 at home, which is the day before she leaves to come back to Fairbanks. Her final one, a mixed relay sprint triathlon, will have her completing the swim leg for her team.

“Training and competing back home in Germany is always an amazing feeling but I always represent the Nanooks wherever I go, with team gear and colors,” Heller said. “I will always be a Nanook in my heart!”

Heller continues to amaze even when her collegiate swim season is done but one thing is for sure – she’s excited to get back to Fairbanks, continue to train hard and go after another national title (if not multiple titles).

“I love doing triathlons and it does give you a nice little break from a long and tough season but three months are a long time and I am ready to start back up and train for another great and last season,” Heller said. “To be honest, I do miss swimming and getting pushed by my team at every single practice. A triathlon is such a lone sport and you really have to motivate yourself, especially when you are not used to running and biking every day.”

She continued, “I hope this training will help me to have a good start to next season. I can’t wait to come back and train with my girls – my family!”

For more information, contact Chris Brooks at cpbrooks@alaska.edu.