A world-class triathlete who lives and trains in Lawrence will compete in a Florida meet that could propel him to the Goodwill Games, the World Games, and perhaps in two years, the Olympics.
Despite his recent ascent to the No. 1 international ranking among American triathletes, Marcel Vifian knew he was going to get a swim for his money when he started practicing with the Lawrence Aquahawks.
Vifian, who this weekend is competing in Clermont, Fla., for a spot in the World Games in Switzerland and the Goodwill Games in New York, decided to dive in with the youth swim club so he could improve on his self-proclaimed weakest link.
Right away, Vifian felt like a fish out of water around the Aquahawks -- whom he calls the ``total studs and studettes'' of area schools.
``They're still much faster than I am,'' said Vifian, 28, adding that he had to bolster his freestyle skills to jump from national to international class. ``The swim was definitely lagging.''
He points particularly to twins Megan and Amanda Morford, distance runners and swimmers entering their sophomore year at Baldwin High School.
``Trying to keep those girls in sight is hard,'' said Vifian, who swims three times a week with the crew. ``They're actually pretty inspiring for me. ... They have no idea, really, how exceptional they are.''
Aquahawks coach Bryan Beatty has been happy to oblige.
``Our first couple of practices they were beating him pretty bad,'' Beatty said. ``He wasn't quite used to getting beat like that by girls. ... It was a real eye-opening experience for him.''
Beatty doesn't usually let adults swim with the club because they often can't keep up with the grueling, twice-a-day practice schedule. But the team was motivated by Vifian's International Triathlon Union ranking, cemented this summer by four top four finishes.
``They were all like, `We're working out with the No. 1 triathlete,''' Beatty said. ``It's a great opportunity for our kids to see an athlete who competes at that level.''
Training for a living
Before college, Vifian was more or less a recreational swimmer. And of his early track and cross-country career, the 1992 U.S. national amateur champ said he was ``totally forgettable.''
He didn't really get started as a triathlete until just before his freshman year at the University of California-Davis. He realized he could compete, although it would be several years before he could become proficient at combining the one mile of swimming, 25 miles of biking and 6.2 miles of running.
Four years ago, he met local triathletes Kent and Liz Dobbins at a swim camp in Winter Park, Colo. By spring of 1995, they had convinced him to move to Lawrence to train.
He roomed with Kent Dobbins for a while before Kent and Liz were married, and now refers to their home west of campus as ``training central.''
``They just kind of adopted me,'' Vifian said.
Today, training is his job. He has sponsors for equipment and lives on prize winnings and credit cards. He runs all over town, bikes all over Douglas County and swims with the Lawrence Masters swim club as well as the Aquahawks.
His new coach, six-time Ironman Triathlon winner Dave Scott, Boulder, Colo., faxes workout schedules to Vifian when they're apart.
In the winter, Vifian trains in Colorado and competes in biathlons -- skiing and rifle shooting.
Throughout the triathlon season, he competes in locales such as St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and Oceanside, Calif. He will also take part in the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Triathlon next weekend.
The Dobbinses and Kent McDonald, Lawrence, all Ironman veterans, will also be competing this weekend in Clermont for a shot at the World Games as amateurs.
Vifian said it was the Dobbinses who advised him to start swimming with the Aquahawks. He also credits them for developing his work ethic through their blunt prodding.
For Vifian, a big finish this weekend in Florida would bring him invitations to the Goodwill Games in July and the World Games in August. It also would bring him closer to his goal: the 2000 Summer Olympics Sydney, Australia, where the triathlon will first become an official Olympic sport.
``People have doubted me a lot along the way, and I think they're surprised to see me,'' said Vifian, who last year was a member of the U.S. National Resident Triathlon Team. ``The top 10 guys weren't worried about me last year. This year I hope they will be.''
-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.