News: MCAS officer scores spot on All-Marine Triathlon Team
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — Whether racing toward a finish line or working as the C-20 aircraft operations officer for Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Lt. Col. Armando Espinoza powers ahead.
Espinoza is one of just eight male Marines chosen to compete in the 2013 Armed Forces Triathlon Competition at Point Mugu, Calif. scheduled for June 1. Espinoza previously made the team in 2011 and first started racing in triathlons shortly after joining the Marine Corps.
“The Marine Corps taught me how to run and swim, so I figured I’d get a bike and give triathlons a try,” said Espinoza, a resident of Tucson, Ariz. who emigrated from the Sonora region of Mexico with his family as a child. “My first triathlon was in Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, Calif. and I placed first in my age group and in the top 10 overall. I was hooked.”
In the 1990s Espinoza was one of the first members of the University of Arizona’s Tricats, a group comprised of college athletes who compete in triathlons and multisport events. Now in his 40s, Espinoza continues to push his fitness level and plans to compete well into the future.
“A lot of people look at triathlons and think to themselves, ‘I could never do that,’” he said. “People underestimate themselves. When you do one, you want to do another. It’s all about competing at your best.”
His training schedule includes as many as 15 hours a week biking, swimming and running. To keep on his toes, Espinoza secures his triathlon equipment in his car as a mobile locker so he can train on the go.
Espinoza trains on flat areas in the community, including jogging a path down Kamehameha Highway to Haleiwa Park. The long-time triathlete said this year he’s also been working with a new coach, Sergio Borges.
He makes use of freely available resources at Kaneohe Bay including training on the steep incline of Kansas Tower Hill and at the base’s main pool. Espinoza also belongs to Lanikai Running Club, a group of runners who regularly work out in the Kailua area.
Other military triathletes who train with Espinoza said he’s made the cut of an elite, competitive team especially since fewer Marines are sent to race against the other branches of service.
“His speed is phenomenal,” said Lt. Col. Heidi McKenna Schmitt, the Marine Corps Base Hawaii base inspector and a previous member of the female All-Marine Triathlon Team. “I’ve watched him become a better swimmer and a better runner since I’ve known him. He’s always been a good biker, but I’ve seen him increase his (speed) in swimming and running.”
McKenna Schmitt described his sheer speed as fierce, biking like fire and running like a lion. Espinoza will confront a challenging course she herself has faced in competition.
“The challenges of Point Mugu are the water is very cold and choppy and drafting is legal on the base,” McKenna Schmitt said. “There are a lot of sharp turns and corners.”
Espinoza said although the course has a tough swimming portion, he’s gearing up for it with support of friends and family. Navy Cmdr. Louis De La Garza, who is the officer in charge of 21st Dental Company, trains often with Espinoza. The two have raced in Ironman events, and De La Garza said Espinoza has the mental strength to win and is a great role model.
“He’s very strong individually, mentally and physically,” he said. “He always has a very positive attitude, and it’s hard to put into words how much of a talented athlete he is.”
Espinoza heads into the Armed Forces Triathlon after a strong finish at the May 19 Honolulu Triathlon. He finished ninth overall and came in second place in the male military category with a time of 2 hours and 2 minutes.
“He only knows one speed, and that’s full power,” De La Garza said. “I’ll be watching the results myself to see how he does. We’re very excited for him.”
Whatever the result, Espinoza is already speeding ahead for the next challenge — attempting to qualify for the 2013 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.