O’Hara’s Hassard becoming a pretty accomplished triathlete

MARPLE — Attaining a berth in the PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships has long been a primary objective for Cardinal O’Hara’s Conor Hassard.

But this week’s trip to Bucknell University — in which the senior will swim in the Class AA 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and two relays — is only part of what he’s discovered through the sport.

From an ordinary beginning as a swimmer, with O’Hara and the Ridley YMCA Rays, Hassard was introduced to triathlons as a freshman. The attraction was instantaneous.

“I tried it just for fun and then I just fell in love with it,’ Hassard said Monday. “I started training more competitively.’

Hassard had no previous experience competing in either of the triathlon’s other disciplines, biking and running. And while he had some experience playing soccer in elementary and middle school, the basis of his transition to triathlon was purely through his experience in the water.

Despite the lack of background, he’s risen quickly in the sport. He participated in the USA Triathlon Age-Group Nationals in Milwaukee last August, and by placing 39th in the 16-19 age division of the Olympic (as opposed to Sprint) distance, the Glenolden native earned a berth in the 2015 World Championships in Chicago next September.

The cross-training has also aided him in the pool. Hassard said his primary focus during the high school season is pool swimming, and he’ll mix in a little running and biking on the side until it comes time to rest for events like states.

Hassard does most of his swim training in the pool, which differs from some triathletes’ strategies. His immense pool experience means his training carries over to open-water swimming seamlessly, having no problem covering a mile in competition.

Much of the carryover benefit is from the mental perspective. Instead of droning away, hour after hour, in the pool, Hassard relishes in getting to challenge his body with running and biking to break up the monotony. He has a few training partners that occasionally accompany him on runs and bike rides, a departure from the sensory deprivation that pool training often entails.

“It’s fun just because it’s something different to do,’ Hassard said. “You’re not consistently swimming all year round, so it’s nice to cross-train and mix it up.’

Despite training for a longer distance swim, his specialties in the pool haven’t altered. He’s always been primarily a stroke specialist, hence his fly and back swims at states, the Class AA competition of which will be held Wednesday and Thursday while Class AAA follows Friday and Saturday. The Cardinal O’Hara boys were bumped down to Class AA this season, while their girls remain at Class AAA.

As in high school, triathlons remain an individualized, extracurricular sport on the collegiate level. Though they’ve been part of the Olympics since 2000, the sport has never shaken its “weekend warrior’ profile.

That’s fine with Hassard, who is eager to see where the sport can take him. As he ponders college options — he lists several MAC schools, including Widener, Albright and Stevenson among his top candidates — the existence of triathlon clubs on campuses will be a major plus.

“I’ll definitely do it in college and look at it from there,’ Hassard said.

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