U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The first cadet to qualify in the Ironman World Championship, Cadet 1st Class Samantha Morrison, placed third in the 18-24 age competition Oct. 13 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
Morrison, a behavioral science major from Fredericksburg, Va., finished a 2.4-mile swim race, 112-mile bike race and 26.2-mile marathon in 10 hours and 35 minutes. Morrison qualified for the championship when she took first place at the Wisconsin Ironman competition last year.
"I finished 45 minutes faster than my first Ironman triathlon I raced in Wisconsin," Morrison said. "My goal is to win at Kona next fall."
Lt. Col. Freddie Rodriguez, the Academy's director of Air Force Reserve Research and a professor in the mathematical sciences department here, has coached the Academy's Cadet Triathlon Team since 2002 and said he has seen Morrison get stronger over the past four years.
"She is the third fastest women in the world in her age group of the Ironman triathlon," Rodriguez said. "It's a phenomenal achievement. I'm very proud of Samantha, not only that she qualified for the championship but has kept her focus over the past year and executed her plan."
Morrison said the fierce, coastal winds made the bike competition a good challenge.
"The Hawaiian winds definitely gave Colorado winds a run for their money," Morrison said. "If I had taken a hand off of my handlebars at certain points, I would have blown off of my bike."
Morrison said competing with 2,000 other skilled swimmers in the ocean was intense.
"It was a fight for my life the whole 2.4 miles," Morrison said. "Everyone was so close together and it actually got kind of scary at times."
Morrison said there was an unspoken bond among participants.
"The best part about this experience was getting to be around so many athletes from around the world," Morrison said. "Even though we might not have been able to understand each other's language, we all understood the love for the sport and the dedication that we all had."
Morrison said she trained five to six hours a day, six days a week for almost seven months to prepare for the championship. She said she would swim, bike, run and weight train every day to stay in shape.
"It is every triathlete's dream to race at Kona," Morrison said. "I love staying busy and getting better. I think the best feeling is working so hard toward something and finally see it pay off in the end. I also love being a triathlete because I never get bored."
Morrison is on the triathlon club team here and said it's her seventh year competing in the sport. She said she would love to race professionally in the future.
"I definitely want to make a career out of triathlons," Morrison said. "I love Ironman and I will continue to do it all my life."
This year Morrison placed second among collegiate women at nationals at the University of Alabama and the Academy's team placed 10th overall.
Other cadets who participated at nationals are Cadet 1st Class Loring Ross and Cadets 2nd Class Margaret Haley, John Bierman and Megan Cox.