By Lenny Lepola
For the Gazette
Trenton Township residents Jim Aust and Tracy Disbato-Aust have grown almost accustomed to competing at the national and international level as triathletes. They train regularly as members of Team USA; they compete throughout the summer months both locally and nationally in the 50 to 54 age group.
By the time Jim and Tracy reach the early fall USA Triathlon Sprint National Championships, they’re confident they will place high enough in their age group that both of them will qualify for the following year’s International Triathlon Union World Championship Grand Final. This year they raced at the USAT Age Group Nationals at Burlington, Vt., where they qualified for next year’s Worlds, scheduled for Oct. 20 to 22, 2012, in Auckland, New Zealand.
But even accomplished athletes like Jim and Tracy can experience nice surprises, something that they wouldn’t have suspected even a few short years ago, something that adds additional motivation to the rigors of training at a world class level. Their son, 22-year-old Zach Aust, in his first full year competing as a triathlete, not only qualified for nationals, but while he was at nationals qualified to compete at the 2012 ITU World’s, where he will also be racing under the Team USA umbrella.
“We’re really proud of Zach,” Tracy said during a phone interview last week. “Mission accomplished; all three of us are now Team USA. We’re going to worlds together next year.”
That’s next year. At this year’s 2011 ITU World Championships, held Sept. 10 and 11 in Beijing, China, Tracy placed second in the 50 to 54 age group, completing the sprint distance course in 1:24:07; Jim came in eighth in his age group at 1:14:19.
Sprint distance triathlons are one-half of Olympic distance triathlons — a half-mile swim, a 20K bicycle distance and a 5K run. Jim and Tracy used to race Olympic distance. Jim said they switched to sprint distance because the races are shorter, they hurt a little more but for not quite as long.
“This year’s ITU Worlds in Beijing were probably the coolest Worlds we’ve gone to yet,” Jim said. “They were held at the site of the 2008 Olympics. The race was for age groups and pros; and it’s neat to have a sport like this where we can compete locally, nationally, and at the international level, and compete at some of the same events where world-class professionals compete. It’s very motivating at our age to still be able to do that.”
Tracy said Worlds in Beijing had its challenges. It was cold and pouring rain. Tracy came in first at the 2010 Worlds in Budapest; the woman who beat her this year, Great Britain’s Mary Hardwick (1:22:24), was fourth in 2010.
“Technically, the bike ride was on a hilly and turning course with padding on the walls at the turns, that should tell you something,” Tracy said. “There were a lot of crashes. We were in our bathing suits when we got on the bike, and it was so cold I could hardly put my shoes on. It was definitely challenging.”
It wasn’t all cold and rain and the agonies of competition; there was time for sightseeing. Jim and Tracy visited the Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, the Silk Market and the Ming Tomb.
“Beijing is amazing; it’s a city of 18 million people,” Jim said. “There was some smog, but it’s a really beautiful country. The people went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and the ITU opening and closing ceremonies were really impressive.”
Tracy said as a family the Aust/DiSabato-Aust’s have had an excellent year. They all placed well at races, and had the added intangible rewards as a family with Zach’s first year success as a triathlete.
Tracy also said she continues to be impressed with Team USA performance in general at the national and international level of competition.
“Team USA ages well,” Tracy said. “We usually sweep one, two, three. One man on our team is 84 years old. It’s pretty amazing to see 70 and 80 year olds still competing. They race on the same courses we do, and they’re still out there competing. Jim and I find it fascinating to test our limits. When we race against younger athletes and we’re winning, it shows us the untapped potential of older athletes. We feel very blessed, and it’s exciting and an inspiration at every age.”
Jim added that the main thing that keeps him involved in triathlon racing is that it’s still, in his words, just plain fun.
Of course next year is a long way off, and there’s a lot of training and competition between now and October 2012. Jim and Tracy have a fairly established training routine. Jim has a Columbus dental practice, Tracy is a horticulturalist who writes books and works a casual lecture circuit; their professional schedules can be adjusted to fit their training needs. Not so with Zach, who is a senior at Eastern Kentucky University.
“Jim and I are really fortunate to have each other to be accountable to; that helps keep us motivated; but it’s definitely harder for Zach down in college doing it on his own,” Tracy said. “He’s a senior doing para-medicine in their pre-med track, so it’s much more demanding for him, balancing school and training.”
To find out more about the work of Tracy DiSabato-Aust, go to tracylive.com. For information about Jim and Tracy’s triathlon activities click Triathlon at the top of the Tracy Live home page.
For information about USA Triathlon go to usatriathlon.org. For information about the International Triathlon Union go to triathlon.org.