July 26, 2023

Getting Off to a Fast Start in its 1st Year of Existence, PHS Triathlon Club Wins NJ High School Championship

CLUB CHAMPIONS: Members of the Princeton High Triathlon Club show off the hardware they earned after winning the high school state championship at the New Jersey State Triathlon earlier this month at Mercer County Park. PHS placed first out 18 teams in the high school competition, compiling a team score of 36 with South Brunswick High coming in second at 63 and Columbia High placing third with 66. (Photo provided courtesy of Shawn Ellwood)

By Bill Alden

It started with a conversation last summer at Mercer County Park and it resulted in a state title earlier this month.

Running into each other at the New Jersey State Triathlon last July at Mercer County Park, Shawn Elwood, who was then entering his freshmen year at Princeton High, and Patrick Remboski, a Princeton Middle School PE/health teacher and assistant PHS soccer and swimming coach, hatched a plan.

Having both competed in the event, the pair talked about what they could do to get more people involved in the sport, which includes swimming, cycling and running, and they decided to start a club at the high school.

“I was talking to some of my friends and they all seemed interested but they didn’t know how to get into the sport,” recalled Elwood, who started competing in triathlons last summer after finishing eighth grade. “Me and Mr. Remboski were just talking and thinking that if there is no high school triathlon club, why not make one ourselves.”

Remboski credited Elwood with putting the idea into action as they founded the club.

“Shawn seemed receptive to it and he reached out to me earlier this past school year and we started brainstorming,” said Remboski, who started doing triathlons in 2018 after he graduated from The College of New Jersey and has competed in a number of events, including the Lake Placid Ironman (a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run) and the Atlantic City Half-Ironman.

“We came up with a couple of ideas and some goals and one thing led to the next. He started getting some other people involved; we had our first initial meeting and had a lot of support.”

At the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, the club was basically an informal group of Elwood and some of his friends training together. At the PHS winter club fair, things started to come together on a more formal basis.

“The winter club fair is where it really started expanding to people I really didn’t know,” said Elwood, 15, a rising PHS sophomore. “We recruited 30-35 kids as members.”

The initial group of members proved to be a good mix of experienced endurance athletes and newcomers to the sport.

“We have about half who are competitively doing cross country, or swim, or are cyclists,” said Elwood, who competed for both the PHS cross country and swimming teams this past school year. “The other half of around 20 are less focused on the competitive aspect and either joined because their friends joined in or just because they want to stay fit.”

Remboski believed that the inclusive nature of the club allowed athletes of different levels to fit in.

“We had a good range and I think that made it comfortable for a lot of people to come and try something new,” said Remboski. “It seems like a daunting thing before you actually do it; you learn I can handle this.”

The club got off to a good start in events earlier this summer, competing at the War at the Shore where members went 1-2-3 in the 19-and-under age group. At the Stafford Race For Hope, PHS athletes took first in the male and female relays. Competing at the Hammonton triathlon, club members took first, second, and third in different age groups.

In July, the club turned its attention to the New Jersey State Triathlon at Mercer County Park, which included the first-ever N.J. high school team competition in the sprint event (500-meter swim, 11.5-mile bike ride, 3.1-mile run).

“It was nice to find out that it was going to be the official high school championship,” said Remboski. “We were excited when we heard that because it was so local.”

Producing an exciting performance, PHS placed first out 18 teams in the N.J. high school championship. PHS had a team score of 36 with South Brunswick High coming in second at 63 and Columbia High placing third with 66.

The PHS team consisted of Shawn and Darren Elwood, Braedyn Capone, Harrison Knoch, Sawyer Kinney, Atticus Ayers, Tyler and Stephen Cenci, Sabine Ristad, Theo Balavoine, and Evan Kang.

Darren Elwood took first in the 14-and-under age group both overall and in N.J. specifically while Shawn Elwood placed third among N.J. competitors for the men’s 15-19 age group. Ristad took second in the women’s 15-19 age group both overall and in N.J. while Kang finished first in the Para-Tri group, both overall and in New Jersey.

For Elwood, winning the high school title was a milestone moment for the club.

“I think it means that we made a name for ourselves this year,” said Elwood. “Going forward, it is just exciting to think about what we could accomplish next, maybe that means nationals or something like that.”

Being part of the fledgling PHS group helped spur Ellwood to a personal best effort at Mercer Park.

“I feel like the more people we have in the club, the more motivated everyone is to train, including myself,” said Elwood, who clocked a total time of 1:07.40 at the event. “I actually PR’ed, I am really happy with that.”

Remboski, for his part, is happy with how Elwood’s efforts have borne fruit.

“Shawn has been very proactive, he has been very passionate about it,” said Remboski. “It is all good intentions; he wants to make sure that everyone in the club has a place and everyone feels welcome. If they have never done a Tri, he wants them to feel welcome. It is good cross training for people who aren’t doing any high school athletics and are just looking to try something new. He has been great holding these meetings because sometimes I can’t get there.”

Heading into the upcoming school year, Remboski is looking for the club to build on the foundation it has already established.

“The goal is to really solidify the club, get a charter, formulate a committee of officers and get a treasurer so we can enter these races,” said Remboski. “We want to get a better training schedule. We want to set up some times to use the middle school pool during the school year. One of our main goals is to be more structured — it has all happened pretty fast.”

Elwood believes that a lot of good things can happen for the club in the future.

“I think the bulk of the people will come back and want to join at the beginning of this upcoming school year,” said Elwood, who raised nearly $2,000 from local businesses to help defray costs of equipment, uniforms, and race entry fees and has also gotten bike stores to give club members discounts on road bikes.

“I hope to grow the club and get more consistent members and more people competing. We want weekly or bi-weekly training. Another thing we are thinking about is putting on a Princeton Triathlon.”