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GCU Triathlon finds soul of team in Windauer twins

January 17, 2018

Jake and Nick use growing love of sport to help Lopes’ roster quadruple in span of year

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

“They’re twins. There’s brotherly competition, but they always strive to be their best selves.”

For Grand Canyon University Triathlon Club‘s first-year head coach Malcolm McGuire, he’s learned the strengths and weaknesses of his two top athletes and student leaders, sophomores Jake and Nick Windauer, faster than most. After all, his first introduction to what the team was all about came from conversations with the two sophomores when he signed on in August. They should know. They built it from the ground up.

“We came here (to GCU from their native Montana), and we really wanted to race triathlon,” said Jake Windauer. “We were told there was a triathlon club. So we paid dues, but there wasn’t a triathlon club. There wasn’t a coach. There were four people, but they still raced. They’re awesome. So we just decided to lead the club.”

Four competitors became nine, but not without plenty of work by the Windauers, and help from the GCU Club Sports Department.

“(GCU Club Sports Assistant Director) Mark (Nelson) and those guys are really great,” Nick Windauer said. “We started talking to them about how we could get something together with the limited amount of people we had. They set us up with training peaks, and paid for that, and said they could support us if we travelled to races, and we’d represent the university. They said we needed to get more members, so we’d go around to club events and set up at soccer matches, and ask people, ‘Do you know how to run?  How to bike?’ We got around 9 or 10 people, and they said that was enough for them to say we were a serious club.”

That focus is something Jake and Nick’s relatives and friends are used to seeing them display.  That’s how they’ve come this far – in just six years – in a sport that took a while to grow on them after their father, Mike – a professional cyclist – challenged Nick to join him in his first race back home.

“I started telling everyone else I was going to do one in six months,” Nick said. “So everyone knew, and I realized I’d better do this. It was our local triathlon – an Olympic-distance race.  The swim wasn’t too bad-a little cold, since I had no wetsuit.  The ride was great, because I could ride slow, and not worry about anything. But the run was so bad. It was all uphill.”

Nick walked away from that race thinking that multi-sport events weren’t for him, but the desire soon returned. The next year, Mike and both brothers (Jake would get inspiration from his mother, Jodi, who was a runner) were all there to hear the starter pistol at the same race.  Despite moving to the top of the leaderboards of their age groups over the next two years (“which isn’t too difficult in Montana,” Jake said. “There’s not a lot of people.”), the Windauers looked to their high school experiences in playing soccer as their ticket to college.  But while the connection between them and the GCU Soccer program didn’t materialize, the attraction to the GCU Pre-Med Program did. Unbeknownst to all, that opened the door for the brothers to reunite with the sport of triathlon.

It also gave them a major reason to get serious about triathlon again after their first race as Lopes’ Triathlon Club members last December in Palm Springs.

“We raced, and did really, really well,” Jake said. “There was an Olympic Development team there, and after the race, we talked to their coach a little bit. She contacted the club here, asked for their names, and then started talking to us about joining their team, which we did in January. It was a very weird segue. We weren’t really serious about it until this last year, then we started getting into it, and training for an Olympic team.”

The two ‘followed the Olympic dream’ much of last spring, which meant twice-monthly trips to the Olympic Development team’s base in northern California, intense training and missing a week of school each time.  Soon, though, the other priorities of school and life came calling.

“(Missing a week of school was) really tough, since a pre-med program’s kinda hard to miss labs and stuff,” giggled Nick. “Eventually, they said, ‘The 2024 Olympics are coming. How much time do you want to dedicate to this? Can you slow down your schooling for triathlon? You have the potential to do that.’ It took a lot of soul-searching, a lot of talking to mentors. I decided I wanted to do a distance – training program, go home, work and go back to school more full-time, but also try to do the best I can at triathlon.”

Nick did just that this past August, finishing 10th at the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.  While he was doing that, Jake was taking the next step in another life arena.

“I didn’t race this summer,” said Jake with a smile. “I got engaged, so I had to put a lot of my training on the back burner.”

While all of this may sound like the Lopes’ Triathlon Club went to the backburner as well, if anything, it became even more of a priority.

“I started traveling around and racing in that way, and doing nationals, and then we took a break,” Nick said. “We came back to school, got the crew together, and met Malcolm, which was awesome.”

In McGuire, the two found a young coach who knew how to bring out the best in them. “Whether we’re in the pool, on the bike or on the run, you can just see the fire in their eyes,” said McGuire, a two-time Ironman Triathlete and three-time USAT All-American. “And if I’m on the bike pacing them, that just helps pick that fire up, and the other team members see that, too. It’s such a help with the program structure already rolling a little bit, especially with two really solid athletes who value things like servant leadership and community within a team.”

This weekend, the Lopes will kick off the 2018 side of their schedule by returning to San Diego and the race that gave Jake a new direction to his career last year. Because of what the Tritonman Triathlon DIDN’T offer.

“My triathlon has always been good, but my swim has been slower than Nick’s and some of the guys I’m consistently racing,” mused Jake. “Last year, the water was polluted, so they changed it to a duathlon, which instead of a “swim-bike-run” is a “run-bike-run.” And I smoked it. Did really well. I thought maybe I should look into duathlon.”

Jake did more than look into it, because he went home to Montana, trained for the USA Duathlon National Championships and finished second. That means he has the chance to compete in the World Duathlon Championships in Denmark this year, while Nick’s national championship finish could put him in Australia for the worlds in triathlon. The expense of those trips might keep the Windauers at home this summer, but the rededication to the future that the twins are building at GCU will keep them busy.

And working to get better each day.

“The main thing I want to do is find my potential in the sport, because if you have a gift, you should find where the bottom of that is, because you only have one life,” Nick said. “You might as well do it.”