CHARLES TOWN — Just because you can’t start your exercise by running two miles doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to run one mile.
So says Laura Bergmann.
Bergmann, 29, of Ranson, is currently training to compete in a duathlon world championship in France in September after being invited to join a team composed of other American competitors.
Listed as one of the highest ranked female competitors in duathlons and triathlons in the country and the winner of three national triathlon championships, Bergmann has overcome a family history of ailments, including obesity, arthritis and asthma on her path to becoming a world competitor.
Growing up in Trenton, N.J., Bergmann “never did anything active” because of her health issues, “so I was basically a bookworm,” she said. “My neighborhood didn’t have any grass [and] we had one tree, so it wasn’t really conducive to outdoor activities.”
However, Bergmann began riding a bike and teaching a spinning class at a Gold’s Gym in Winchester, Va. while attending Shenandoah University on a ballet scholarship, where she received a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. Bergmann also has a master’s degree in exercise science and health promotion from California University of Pennsylvania.
Bergmann describes her journey to competing in triathlons as “going from ballet to Ironman,” but said she always thought of triathlons as “the epitome of fitness.”
“I’ve always wanted to run but had a lot of work to do before I could run, so cross training was very important to me,” she said.
Bergmann dove headfirst into swimming by signing up for races and admitted that getting one from side of the pool to the other was difficult because of her asthma.
“I watched a lot of videos and read a lot of books and basically taught myself how to swim,” she added. “I didn’t know how to swim, I couldn’t run, I did have experience biking but I just had to figure it all out for myself.”
At first Bergmann competed in triathlons in order to train others, “but then I started winning and I got hooked,” she said. Bergmann won or placed in the top three of every competition she entered in her first year and was the sixth-ranked female duathlon athlete nationwide in the 25-29 age group in 2011, despite competing in only two races, according to information from USA Triathlon, a Colorado-based organization that sanctions more than 3,500 races and similar events nationwide.
Bergmann’s trainer Sean Leonard said her times have continuously improved over the course of her training, which he attributed to Bergmann incorporating new exercises to her routine.
“She’s a lot more sore than she usually was, but now she doesn’t have to spend four hours a day training,” he said. “She’s greatly improved.”
In addition to her training, Bergmann also works as an exercise therapist at Capitol Rehab in Charles Town, where she designs exercise programs for her clients, and can also be found at the Gold’s Gym in Charles Town at 6 a.m. teaching cycling, yoga or weightlifting classes. Bergmann also teaches injury care prevention and fitness classes at Shepherd University.
One of the good things about training for a triathlon or duathlon is the cross training that athletes go through, according to Cindi Bannink.
“If you’re just training to run in a marathon, you’re doing a lot of running but may not be doing a lot of endurance training,” said Bannink, a Madison, Wisc. resident and coach of 2012 U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team qualifier Gwen Jorgensen.
“It’s very beneficial to incorporate cross training methods, such as going swimming to recover from running,” Bannink said.
Bergmann is “hitting a brick wall” with trying to obtain sponsors to help pay for her France trip, which will run into the thousands of dollars, she said.
“If it was football, I’d have sponsors coming everywhere,” Bergmann said. However, her chosen sport isn’t the most well-known in the area, “but I’m not going to give up,” she said. “I have nutrition sponsors and shoe sponsors but airfare and hotel is what’s holding me back.”
Bergmann is holding clinics to introduce local residents to duathlons and triathlons to help pay for her trip, but holding multiple jobs and training twice a day “doesn’t leave a lot of time for fundraising,” she said. Bergmann does have a few sponsors already, including local businesses like Two Rivers Treads in Shepherdstown and Warrior Energy beverage drinks. National brands Hammer Nutrition and Endurance Films have also signed up and she has also reached out to Camp Catch Your Breath, which works with children who suffer from asthma.
“Kids with asthma can’t play like other kids and this camp is a place where you won’t feel like an outsider an have to sit on the sidelines,” Bergmann said. “I’m hoping I can race to bring awareness and funding to the camp and the fact that asthma does not have to limit you dreams.”
Those interested in helping Bergmann with sponsorships can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bergmann is scheduled to compete in other events this year prior to her trip to France, including duathlons and triathlons in West Virginia, Maryland and Vermont, she said, adding that her strategy for competing in races is to just take each leg at a time.
“I treat the first lap as a drill,” she said. “I just focus on the swimming and then I just focus on the bike.”
“It’s just me versus me,” Bergmann added. “It’s all a mental game.”
She said she is honored to have the opportunity to compete.
“ I never got to do competitive sports, ever,” Bergmann said. “My mother was a single parent, very low-income … I feel like this is a chance I’ve never had and to represent this area as an active, healthy individual, I think can help turn around the image” of West Virginia being a haven for obesity, she said. “If I can start from nowhere and do this great thing, I hope I can inspire others that are maybe saying ‘I can’t’ or were always told ‘I can’t’ … if I can overcome those things, hopefully I can inspire others too.”