By A.J. Johnson
Photos by Courtney Stapleton
ISSUE #15, April/May 2002 – Like most triathletes, Paul Fritzsche got his start in triathlon through other sports. In the eighth grade his family moved to Briar Cliff Manor, N.Y. and his new school had a ski team. A rumor about a required one-mile timed run got him out to run his first laps around the track. “I finished that mile and I was so happy,” he recalls, “I came home and I was like, “Mom, guess how far I ran today!”.
After his ski team experience Fritzsche was coaxed into joining the track and the cross-country teams. When his seasons were over he was awarded a scholarship to attend a summer running camp. “That was really what got me interested in getting to a higher level,” he said. He continued his running through high school and joined a summer swimming club. During this time he was also mountain biking with friends.
Fritzsche’s first triathlon was a small affair at the West Point Military Academy in 1993, his sophomore year of high school. After putting aero bars and slicks on his mountain bike he was ready for the 1k, 15 mile, 3-mile affair.
“That set a light bulb off because I won my age group and I thought there may be something to this,” Fritzsche remembers. The next year he returned to the West Point Military Academy, won his age group and finished tenth overall. “The bug had bitten me, there was no turning back,” he recalled.
In 1999 he won the world championships qualifier (overall age-grouper) in Clermont, Florida. “That was really like, ‘WOW, this is where I want to be.’ It was really satisfying,” he said. He was selected for the Collegiate National Team, and spent six weeks in Colorado Springs.
“That’s when it really started to become not just like on the side I’m a triathlete,” recalls Fritzsche. “It’s like O.K., this is what I am, and this is what I do.”
Unfortunately, the 1999 International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championships did not go too well for him. In this race, only the pros are allowed to draft and it is a separate race start. After leading several of the laps during the race, he was passed by a large pack of drafting athletes. “It was a really disappointing experience with all the people drafting and winning because they drafted,” Fritzsche recalls.
That same year his World’s experience would pay off. At Nationals there were large packs forming but Fritzsche stayed away, despite the temptation. “These guys got away with cheating at World’s. Maybe that’s the only way to win,” he thought. Fortunately he resisted and raced clean. He was passed by Brian Lavell and Travis Kuhl on the run, but both of those athletes received penalties and Paul was awarded with the overall title.
The next year Fritzsche turned pro and moved to Boulder with his long time girlfriend and now wife, Kelly. His first pro race was Powerman Alabama and the race did not go well. He was given the advice to just be happy to not finish last.
His next race was the Wildflower Half IRONMAN. “I came out of the water with Jurgen Zack and thought, ‘O.K. I’m a superstar again'” he said. He finished the bike third and held on for eighth place.
Fritzsche’s journey in triathlon has been marked by both success and tough learning experiences. His focus remains on ITU and World Cup races and gaining valuable points towards the 2004 Olympics. With a little luck and continued hard work we just may see him on the starting line in Athens down the road.