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Academy triathlete preps for world competition next summer

Story by Jennifer Spradlin, Nov. 13, 2019

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Gabriel Fels is training for the biggest race of his life.

After a meteoric rise, the Air Force Academy junior will have to balance his academic and military obligations while recovering from a broken toe as he preps for the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada, next summer.

Fels injured his toe during a recent triathlon in Avon, Colorado, finishing the race before the cold temperatures and adrenaline wore off.

“It’s a tough sport. No getting around that,” he said.

The six-week recovery period is relatively minor compared to other sports injuries, but when seconds count, the lapse in his running regiment could be detrimental to his race finishes.

The type of triathlon Fels competes in includes a 1,500m swim, 40k bike ride and 10k run. He has a background in competitive swimming and joined the triathlon team his freshman year. By 2018, he ranked second nationally in his age group.

“Gabe found success in the sport quickly; however, what sets him apart on our team is the way he tracks and analyzes his race data and thinks about the strategic aspects of the sport he can exploit,” said Dan Frost, Academy triathlon team coach.

Frost said Fels has room to grow as he gains ground in the bike and run segment of the race, which will take pressure off him during the swim. Fels will apply for a spot in the Air Force World Class Athlete Program so he can continue to train after graduation.

“If he continues his trajectory, Gabe could be in the mix for the 2024 Olympic qualifications,” Frost said.

Fels came to the Academy in pursuit of a pilot training spot, but he said that approach to the Academy was wrong, and he quickly learned he shouldn’t treat his time here like a stopover to another goal.

“The Academy has taught me what it means to push yourself to your limits and remain resilient in challenging situations,” he said. “I had one very specific idea of what my life would look like, and how I would be successful, but since coming here, I have found a sport that I love and adjusted some of my priorities.”

Both athlete and coach see a beneficial tie between his time in a high-level competitive sport and his desire to grow into an Air Force leader.

“Everybody who comes to the Academy is exceptional, and they have the skills to be a great leader. I think it’s obvious that the stamina and time management skills that you need to be a top tier athlete carry over into [other areas of service],” Frost said.

Fels finished 8th in the Pumpkinman Triathlon in Lake Meade, Nevada, Oct. 26-27. His next race will be in March 2020.