COLCHESTER, Vt. - Saint Michael's College men's swimming & diving rising senior Spencer Ralston (Hebron, Conn./Cushing Academy) didn't meet his performance goals while competing at the 2017 USA Triathlon Collegiate Club National Championship on April 21 and 22 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but his appearance will nonetheless be remembered after Ralston joined a fellow student-athlete to carry an ailing counterpart across the finish line.
The top-ranked male in the Northeast Collegiate Triathlon Conference, Ralston competed in two races in Tuscaloosa. On April 21, he took part in the Draft-Legal Championship, an invitation-only event in which the top 75 male collegians in the country competed. The following day, Ralston was 44th among 736 finishers in the Non-Draft Olympic Distance Championship, which incorporated a 1.5-kilometer (0.93-mile) swim, 40-kilometer (24.8-mile) bike ride, and a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run. According to Ralston, the temperature was at least 85 degrees by race time, with high humidity.
Nearly 100 yards from the finish line of the run - the triathlon's final leg - Ralston saw the University of California, Berkeley's Grant Schroeder lying face first on the ground. Immediately, he and Oregon State University's Keet Dailey came to Schroeder's aid. "I was right behind Keet, and without saying anything we just went right over and scooped Grant up. He was burning up pretty badly, and his whole body was shaking, and he just couldn't say anything and wasn't responding verbally. So we more or less dragged him across the line. Then we crossed the line and he was taken to the medical tent with a core body temperature of 107 degrees, which is the upper levels of heat stroke."
A veteran triathlete, Ralston had faced similar hardships during a race and could relate to Schroeder's plight. "I had heat exhaustion in a race once and remember very little of the last two miles, and remember waking up in a medical tent," he said. "So I know how scary it is and how our bodies are just programmed to finish at all costs. So I knew when he went down, he was not going to finish. It turned out to be his last race in college, and it was one of his best, so I'm glad he was able to finish. He is also a genius, one of the top students at UC Berkeley and studying stem cell research, so I if I ever need to grow back an arm or leg, I think he might be able to help." In fact, Schroeder was recently chosen as the top graduating senior at UC Berkeley, and addressed the Class of 2017 on Saturday during his institution's commencement.
While Ralston wasn't pleased with his performances at the championship - while he took 44th on Saturday, Dailey was 26th and Schroeder placed 81st - he was happy with the new connections he forged. "I was able to meet some new people," he said, "and share an experience with two guys that I will be friends with for forever." Dailey's account of the event can be viewed here.
Ralston's final time was 2:03:19.66, as he finished the swim in 19:58, the bike segment in 1:00:45, and the run in 37:38. He singlehandedly lifted Saint Michael's to 60th place among 107 schools, besting such notable entries as Louisiana State University, Oklahoma State University and Pennsylvania State University, all of which had multiple athletes.
Ralston is no stranger to lending his time near the finish line. In summer 2015, Ralston pushed then-13-year-old Joe Soares, who is in a wheelchair, across the finish line while winning a triathlon in Colchester. Ralston and Soares have become friends through Team IMPACT, which pairs college sports teams with children facing chronic illness.
Ralston had a breakout season in the pool for the Purple Knights in 2016-17, picking up the first eight victories of his career, including five in individual races at the 800-, 1,000- and 1,650-yard freestyle distances. He has been appointed a captain of the men's swimming & diving squad for the 2017-18 season.