Like thousands of freshmen student-athletes across the nation this week, Dylan Bates is learning the ropes of college life.
But while Bates is busy finding his classes at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., and bonding with his new cross country teammates, the native of Scarborough, Ontario, is also dedicated to training for his first international triathlon.
Before Bates runs his first cross country meet for the Cobras, he will travel to Beijing, China, to race in the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series Grand Final on Sept. 11 as a member of Team Canada. Bates will challenge for the title in the U-20 Age Group category.
While Bates turns just 18 years old on Sept. 4, he has been preparing for the opportunity to compete in an international triathlon for most of his life. He raced in his first triathlon at seven, and his passion was ignited for the endurance event that consists of three disciplines — swimming, cycling and running.
“It was a local one and very short, but I had an absolute blast doing it,” Bates said. “I did that one for a few years, until I decided that I wanted to do more than just the one race. I went and did another that was nearby, and that was when I realized I wanted to get more into the sport.”
In 2008, Bates qualified to compete in the Ontario Summer Games as a triathlete, and finished 18th overall in the provincial championship event. It was then that Bates decided to commit himself to triathlons and give up his other pursuits like playing hockey and practicing Tae Kwon Do.
“My life basically started to revolve around doing triathlons,” Bates said. “I started training harder and harder for them. In 2010, I ended up winning the U-20 Olympic Distance Provincial Championship, which qualified me for this year’s World Championships in Beijing.”
The Olympic Distance race is made up of three legs — a 1500 meter swim, 40 kilometer bike and 10 kilometer run. The event in Beijing will actually take place at the 2008 Olympic course.
“It will be a great experience to compete on the course where Canadian Olympian Simon Whitfield almost got the gold medal,” Bates said. “It was definitely a huge reason why I wanted to do it. Of all the people who qualify, only a small percentage of people actually go to compete. Because it is going to be in China, I thought it would be a great experience and the chance to compete there would be amazing.”
While the duration of a triathlon would scare off most potential participants, it may be the training that is even more difficult. Bates’ cross-training consumes about 20 hours a week, and sometimes up to six hours a day.
Bates credits learning Tae Kwon Do for the dedication and discipline he exhibits today. At 12 years old, he earned his second degree black belt. The training for that challenge also helped him discover his running talents.
“When I was getting my black belt when I was 10, we had to go on long runs every morning,” Bates said. “That really started me running. Two years later, I realized I was a decent runner and that got me into the sport. I joined cross country at school.”
While running is definitely his strong suit, Bates is continually elevating all three parts of his training.
“My swimming is definitely the most improved as of late,” Bates said. “Ever since I joined the high school swim team a couple years ago, I’ve seen great jumps in my improvement. It’s almost to the caliber of my running now. I’ve always been a pretty strong cyclist, but running is definitely my strength.”
It was not solely running that attracted Coker head coach Kevin Kelley to Bates’ profile on a recruiting web site.
“His academics are really strong, too. He was amazingly strong in both, and that’s a big reason why I originally talked to him,” Kelley said. “Everything that he has done, he’s always excelled. That’s something we really wanted we wanted to have as a part of our team.”
Bates had always dreamt of going to school in the United States, and the warmer temperatures of South Carolina were as attractive as the fact he could double major in mathematics and computer science.
“It was a beautiful campus with great weather for running and training because there aren’t those cold winters that force you inside,” Bates said. “It seemed like a great opportunity to integrate athletics and academics because it had everything I was looking for.”
There was just one issue. Bates would have to miss two weeks of school and Coker’s first cross country meet in order to travel and compete in Beijing.
“I was concerned how it would affect training, racing and school,” Bates said. “Because Coker started so early, I’ve been able to tell my teachers in advance and it is not going to be a huge problem catching up.”
In addition, Coker does not sponsor an official spring track season, so that frees up Bates’ time to train for triathlons.
“I thought it was a great thing because he is still getting the running in and the other two sports also help with running,” Kelley said. “His background has got a really solid cardio base.”
The extra training will undoubtedly benefit his budding triathlon career. On Aug. 7, Bates won the U-20 Age Group title, and placed ninth overall (2:11:49.7) at the MultiSport Canada Triathlon Series in Bracebridge, Ontario, already qualifying for a spot in the 2012 World Championships to be held in New Zealand. While he is not sure he will be heading to New Zealand because of academic conflicts, Bates is certainly on the road to becoming a force in the sport.
“After college, if I start training more, I could get an Elite card and become a professional triathlete,” Bates said. “If there’s money in it, and I can do it enough to sustain myself, then I would absolutely want the opportunity to try becoming an elite triathlete.
“It’s not just a sport, it’s a lifestyle.”
Bates will miss the Cobras’ first meet on Sept. 9, but will return from China in time to compete in the Bridgestone Pacer Invitational in Aiken, S.C., on Sept. 17.