GAMBIER — At first glance,
the pentathlon and tetrathlon seem like an odd combination of sports. They take
in running, swimming, shooting and equestrian skills. Along with those four events,
the pentathlon also includes fencing.
The two sports are more popular in Europe than in the United States, and have a traditional military background.
Gambier’s Caroline Caldwell isn’t shooting for a military career, but the 16-year-old is taking aim at a sport with a whole bunch of unusual moving parts.
“It’s tough, but it is very rewarding in the training,” said Caldwell, who just returned from riding camp. “There’s so much crosstraining involved that you don’t get bored. It’s tough, but it’s fun to do.”
There’s no time to get bored and no time to think about anything but the next event.
“The good thing is that, if you do poorly in one event, you have three others to go,” explained Caldwell. “In pentathlon, you have four. It’s hard to forget about the last phase you did poorly on, but you have to keep moving forward throughout the day.”
Training in events that require such divergent skills leaves one with little time for anything else. To be the best in pentathlon, one needs to be able to travel.
“Some people travel to Europe,” said Caldwell. “I had a few friends that went to France to train, and some that went to Colorado to the training center there. People from all over are doing this. Not so much in the U.S., but it is pretty big in Europe.”
Dedication like this doesn’t happen overnight. Caldwell, whose mother, Kris Caldwell, has coached swimming for years, started out in the water.
“I switched over to horseback riding when I moved to Ohio,” said Caldwell. “I still wanted to swim, but I had this big commitment with my horses.”
Discovering pentathlon through her friends allows her to do both, and more. She actually finds shooting the .177 air pistols at the target relaxing.
“You really have to slow your heart rate down,” she said.
Caldwell enjoys running but, with flat feet, she is thankful the distance is no more than 3,000 meters.
“Yeah, it’s very painful for me, physically,” she said. “It’s just part of the sport. It’s the last event and it’s very, very demanding. I don’t think I could do any more than a 3K.”
The equestrian portion of the sport can get complicated. For Caldwell, whose horse was down with back problems, getting used to a different mount at regionals made it even tougher.
“I arrived and they just gave me a horse,” said Caldwell. “I just did the course on him. You have to be on your horse, open a gate and close a gate. That goes with the jumping, of course.”
Along with about a dozen jumps, the rider must dismount at one point.
“You have to take off the top rail of one of the gates and walk over it with your horse,” said Caldwell. “Then, you put it back up and get back on your horse. All of this is timed. You have to do it as fast as you can.”
The fencing portion takes the longest.
“It takes about four hours because you have to fence with everybody,” said Caldwell. “It can be exhausting.”
Caldwell hopes to compete overseas in the near future, but said that will take a lot of hard work.
“If I had gone to the nationals in Palm Springs (Calif.) then the top three get to go to the world championships, which are in Egypt this year. Last year, they were in Europe,” said Caldwell.
Time and resources will also play a role in how far Caldwell will go.
“I have friends who have gone to the world championship,” said Caldwell. “It’s quite pricey to travel to these places, because there are not that many Americans doing this. You have to travel around and pick and choose what you do.”
There is one life skill Caldwell will learn from pentathlon — multitasking.
“You get pretty good at balancing time when you do this,” said Caldwell. “In the mornings I’ll run, then I’ll swim around lunchtime. I’ll ride in the evening and I’ll shoot after that. Normally, I fence with the Kenyon College team, but they aren’t here in the summer. During the school year, I fence on Tuesday and Thursday. You really have to be flexible to fit all of this in to your schedule.”