Heather Nelson

Heather Nelson
Tell us about yourself.

Heading to T1 at Iron Girl.

I was born in California and lived there for 10 years. After that, I moved to Northville, N.Y. and lived th  ere until going to Elmira for my undergraduate education. I graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology from Elmira College in June 2012. Currently, I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Cell and Developmental Biology department at Upstate Medical University. I started in the Biomedical Sciences program in August 2012. I work in a lab researching calcium signal transduction in cells and how it may regulate insulin secretion.

How long have you been involved in triathlon and what made you take it up?I have been involved in triathlon for two years. The Upstate Women’s Health Network was looking to sponsor individuals employed by Upstate to compete in the event. On a whim, I decided to try a triathlon, so I signed up and realized I’d better learn how to swim quick! Even before seeing the advertisement I had heard a little about triathlons and already had a piqued interest. Getting my first bike in the spring of that year also helped. I was biking quite often with my boss, an avid endurance cyclist, so I felt comfortable with two of the three sports. All it took was the little nudge via sponsored opportunity and I was hooked!

Who is your hero? My parents. Without them I would not be where I am or the person I am or today. They have instilled values in me that help drive my triathlon success: hard work and determination.

What is your athletic background? I started playing soccer and basketball on a local recreational leagues when I was 11. In junior high and high school I played soccer, basketball and ran track (1500m, 3000m, steeplechase, pole vault). At Elmira College, I played soccer and basketball on the junior

On the bike at the Cazenovia Olympic tri

varsity team. I still play soccer on a couple indoor recreational leagues in Syracuse. I have always loved running, but did not start running in road races after high school until I moved to Syracuse for my graduate education.

What are your triathlon strengths and weaknesses? My strength is definitely the run. It is the leg I enjoy most, feel comfortable with, and catch the most people on. It makes up for my slow start in the swim, which is my greatest weakness! I did not learn freestyle swimming until I taught myself (enough to move forward ) about a month before my first triathlon. Since then I have taken a few swim classes and worked more consistently on the swim, so it is getting better slowly but surely!

Iron Girl winner
What was your first triathlon and what do you remember most? My first triathlon was Iron Girl 2014. What I remember most was being hooked on the sport immediately. I crossed the finish line and felt so happy. The support and environment during the whole race were very positive; definitely a good race for anyone considering their first tri.

What is your favorite race and why? Green Lakes sprint triathlon is my favorite because I just love the location. For starters, it is close to home, so travel time is nil. It is my favorite local place to open water swim as the water is typically calm and seems to have the least weed and algae issues. I also love the climb back into the park on the bike course. Going up hills is my strength on the bike, so that challenging climb gives me the chance to catch some people. And finally, running on the trails around the lakes is beautiful and shaded.

What was your worst race and why? This year’s Cazenovia Olympic tri was my worst by far. I guess I was just having an off day and did not hydrate/fuel properly because I barely made it across the finish line before collapsing due to dehydration. It was a long-lasting and awful feeling I have never even come close to experiencing before and I hope to never experience again. Lesson learned: recovery is important. I had a very busy race month in August with an event every weekend. Couple that with the unusually hot weather we have had and I think I had run myself down before the tri even started.

What races are on your race calendar for 2017? I am in a difficult situation this year in considering races for next summer. I am working on trying to wrap up my thesis research. If I finish in May, I will be moving to wherever I can secure a post-doctoral position, so I am not signing up for any races until I know where I will be living. If I am still in Syracuse, I would like to try my first half, so I would probably sign up for the Syracuse 70.3. I may also do Du the Lakes Duathlon, Green Lakes sprint tri, Gillie Girl sprint and Cazenovia intermediate. I am also considering going to Nationals for either sprint or Olympic tri, as I have heard many positive experiences from it. Since I love running, I will likely also do several running races of varying distances, including the Boston Marathon in April.
What are your goals for the next year? I anticipate next year to be very busy. My biggest goal is to successfully defend my thesis and earn my Ph.D. I also hope to continue training hard and seeing improvements in my swim, bike and run.

In five years you hope to … : Have a job in pharmaceutical research where I can work on a project to advance medicine for the betterment of human health. I also hope to continue to participate in triathlons and find a tri club wherever I move. One of the saddest things about leaving Syracuse will be leaving behind this awesome tri club and all the friends I have made.

Something most people don’t know about you: I am a vegetarian.

What triathlon has taught you: There is a great community of triathletes who are there for each other when needed. There is always someone to cheer you on, get you out the door to a workout, push you harder, offer tips, congratulate you on a job well done, and in general help you out in any way needed. Before joining the Central New York  triathlon community, I did not know many people in Syracuse (since I moved here by myself for school). Now I feel at home. I have met so many people and made many new friends through triathlon.

 Editor’s note: Heather Nelson won this year’s Iron Girl Syracuse competitive division.

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