Training to be a triathlete is challenging in and of itself. Throw a wrench into that process and, depending on how you look at it, you’re at a disadvantage.
Except Nicholas Sterghos, along with his coaches, are trying to turn his unique situation into a positive — not only for him, but for his fellow triathletes.
While most in Sterghos’ competitive field have the luxury of training within their comfort zones, he has to make due with his circumstances.
The 24-year-old Habersham Central graduate and West Point alum is currently serving with the Army in Kuwait. He’s gone from the 90-degree, humid heat of the south to 120-plus-degree, dry heat of the desert.
Pick your poison as far as the heat, but it’s taking extra strides from Sterghos, his military commanders and coaches to keep him on par with triathletes spanning the globe. Sterghos is working to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics while keeping his military duties first.
“My No. 1 job is the military,” Sterghos said. “I have to manage my time, not from a quantity standpoint, but quality.”
Sterghos estimates he trains three-to-four hours a day, but has to work around his military schedule. That means while other soldiers are eating, he’s working out. He sneaks a meal in during another activity that allows him. Soldiers serving overseas get 15 days off a year. Most use that time to go home and visit family, but not Sterghos. He’s using that time to compete in triathlons in Kenya and Turkey.
“(The 15 days off) definitely would have been a good chance to go home and see friends and family,” he said. “But at the same time, they’re supportive of me trying to qualify for the Olympics. That’s a long-term goal of mine, and they understand my time now is very important leading up to 2016. It’s a building block each year.”
Sterghos’ active service duty is up in 2014. In the meantime, he’s making due with training within his Kuwait surroundings. While runners in Atlanta were running in the Peachtree Road Race on the 4th of July, he was running a sponsored Peachtree Road Satellite Race in Kuwait. He uses facilities in Kuwait to run, swim and bike.
But that’s not always so simple, like when the military pool in Kuwait was shut down. Through sponsorship and his coaches, Sterghos has been able to maintain the swimming portion of his workouts through a Vasa ergometer, an apparatus that simulates the swimming motion. He couples that with a running treadmill and stationary bike, all of which are indoors and help him avoid the brutal Kuwait heat.
All devices he trains with are synced with electronic recording devices that document his workouts. He e-mails those results to his coaches back in the states for feedback.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Tim Crowley, Sterghos’ personal coach. “It’s definitely been a unique situation (training a triathlete who is in Kuwait), but I like a challenge, and I wanted to help him take a less-than-optimal situation and turn it to good.”
Crowley credits Sterghos’ coachability and communication skills for making the arrangement work.
“There’s a fine line between injury and peak performance,” Crowley said. “You have to be able to communicate, or else there will be roadblocks.”
Added Louis Tharp, Sterghos’ coach at West Point who still works closely with both Sterghos and Crowley, “You want them to complain (during the training process) because it’s normal to not complain, but just do (the routine). But that’s how you get injured.
I want to hear about a minor ache. We can start to look at patterns and identify problems before they become real injuries.”
Luckily for Sterghos, that’s a lesson he learned in his Habersham Central High days. He kept quiet about a leg injury and continued to run for the Raiders track team. The injury progressed to a break of his fibula. From that point forward, he’s been honest with coaches.
“I tell my coaches everything, not just training aspects,” he said. “I tell them if I’m having a hard time at work, because stress can lead over into my training. I also talk to my bosses about my training. Everyone has been supportive.”
When Sterghos’ active duty as an air defense officer is up, he will return home and compete in International Triathlon Union competitions to earn points in the world rankings. He also qualified for the Army’s World Class Athlete Program before his deployment, and it’s likely he’ll again qualify for the program, which will assist his training efforts, when he returns.
All efforts will hopefully lead to him becoming an Olympian by 2016, when he’ll be 29.
“That would be a dream come true,” Sterghos said. “It wouldn't be just for me, but all the people who have supported me throughout my life.”