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Triathlete Langley tests herself against the world

  • A winning smile
    A winning smile  Emma Langley spent last semester competing in triathlons from Connecticut to China. Her success suggests she has a bright future in the sport.  Courtesy Emma Langley
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Emma Langley is arguably one of the finest athletes attending William & Mary, yet her name can’t be found on the roster of any of the university’s varsity sports.

In fact, Langley wasn’t even on campus last semester, which is actually further testimony to her athletic prowess.

The Connecticut native decided to take off what would have been the first semester of her sophomore year after she was offered the opportunity to compete in three world championship triathlon races, all of which took place in September.

“Because they were all so close together – and all very, very far from William & Mary geographically – it meant that I would essentially miss an entire month of the semester, which I knew was not going to be feasible,” Langley said. “In the end, I chose to take the semester off because I did not want to pass up a possible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to race around the world. I didn't want to look back and have regrets about not taking risks and seizing the amazing opportunities that have come my way.”

Last April, Langley found out that she had earned a spot on Team USA to compete in the Short Course World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, and the Long Course World Championships in Weihai, China. But what sealed her decision was qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in the Canadian city of Mount Tremblant.

The 70.3 is also known as the half ironman, and consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1 run. Just qualifying for such an event is a remarkable achievement for someone who was a varsity swimmer at Greenwich High School and who didn’t begin training for her first triathlon until the winter of her senior year. Soon, however, she was working 10-12 hours per week, two sessions a day, building speed and endurance.

She describes her first triathlon, April 2013, as a “low-key, local event,” in which she finished third overall.

“Finishing on the podium was amazing … I was stoked and had already fallen completely in love with the sport,” she said. “As the season progressed, I realized that my strong performance wasn’t just beginner’s luck.”

In the World Championship races, her goal was to put forth a strong overall finish in each race – which she achieved. She won her age group in China and placed second in Edmonton. At Mount Tremblant, Langley finished fifth among American women age 18-24, and 17th overall in that age group, finishing all three legs of the race in 5:03:54. That’s impressive, considering she was the youngest American competitor.

“For the next few seasons I am focusing on getting stronger and faster and to eventually qualify for my pro card,” Langley said.

Of all of the races in which she competed last fall, the one she remembers the most is the one that almost broke her. It took place in China.

“It was the longest distance I've ever competed in -- 2.4-mile swim, 75-mile bike, 12.1-mile run -- and the first time that I've ever really felt like I was pushed past my limits,” she said. “It was a three-lap bike course, and by the end of the second lap, I was spent. It took everything I had to drag myself around that last lap, and to then get off the bike and somehow run. I honestly doubted whether or not I could finish. I am no stranger to hard work and fatigue, but I'd never before experienced the feeling of my body completely shutting down. It was a truly humbling moment.”

Every race has its highs and lows, Langley said. It's one’s ability to push past the lows that makes for a stronger racer – and person.

“Nothing beats the reward of that,” she said. “China was the first race that I feel I really experienced this at its core, and for that reason it was an event far beyond the ordinary for me.”

With her next scheduled race not until March in Puerto Rico, Langley will return to William & Mary and resume life as a kinesiology student. She’ll continue to train for a sport she says she loves and plans to pursue at the highest level. She’ll continue as a member of the university’s club cycling and club swimming teams.

But something about her will be different, too, courtesy of her travels last fall.

“I learned the importance of believing in yourself,” she said, “and that I am capable of surpassing my own goals when I believe in myself.”