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Not all elite athletes play a Division I sport throughout college.
For University of Colorado alum and Denver native Brittany Warly, experience playing Division I tennis led her to more competitive avenues in athletics when she transitioned over to club triathlon at CU.
Although Warly chose to stray from tennis after her freshman year at Santa Clara University, she never regretted the path that the court led her down, the path that made her the athlete she is today.
“(Tennis) was really a love that I found, and I was lucky to have found it that young and kind of growing up to play it,” Warly said. “It’s kind of crazy. I wouldn’t be in triathlon if I hadn’t been a tennis player.”
Four years after transferring to CU, her decision paid off when she won the individual women’s collegiate triathlon title at the nationals competition earlier this year. Her strong finish boosted her team to its seventh straight national title and 17th overall.
After graduating from the CU in the spring, Warly, 23, will soon begin her professional career as a triathlete who rose from an abandon tennis career and steadily shot to success in CU club triathlon.
But the road to her success today was never easy for the mechanical engineering student and elite triathlete.
At age 13, Warly moved to California to study and play at a prestigious tennis academy before moving on to a different academy in Florida and eventually returning back to Colorado to complete high school.
The signs of Warly’s transition to triathlon appeared early during her time at the tennis academy. While at the ranch, she rented a bike and rode it around the campus and outran all the coaches and best runners in conditioning exercises.
Before her senior year of high school, her friend and former professional tennis player Jevgenij Cariov introduced her to the world of triathlon when he invited her to participate in a Boulder Stroke and Stride race with him, which focused solely on the swimming and running aspects of the sport.
But despite all the signs in front of her, she still chose to accept the offer from Santa Clara University to play Division I tennis with the intention of pursuing a degree in biology. A year later, after deciding that her interest in tennis had run out, Warly underwent a complete life makeover when she transferred to CU Boulder and took up residence with arguably the best club triathlon team in the country.
“Switching from tennis to triathlon was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life to this day, but it was also the best decision that I ever made,” Warly said.
In the process, she changed her major to mechanical engineering, and in doing so, her academic and athletic endeavors grew that much more rigorous.
Ken Axford, who has coached Warly since her rebirth in triathlon, said her drive to not only push herself academically and physically but her desire to be at the top was critical to her success throughout college.
“That speaks to her personality,” Axford said. “If she’s going to do something, she wants to be the best at it. That’s how she’s wired, so it made sense for her to go to a school that already had a reputation for one of the best club teams in the country.”
From her freshman year at CU to her senior year, Warly slowly worked her way up to excellence as each season she improved her finishes in each race. As a rookie, she finished 69th overall in the Olympic-distance race. This year, she won the women’s national title.
But although her studying days are over, there’s still a little life left in her collegiate triathlon career.
By winning nationals, Warly automatically qualified to represent the U.S. in the World University Championships coming up in August in Switzerland. In the meantime, Warly will begin her professional career on July 9, during which she is set to race in the CAMTRI U23 Sprint Championship in Des Moines Iowa.
Axford said that without the distraction of school, Warly will now have more time to devote to her training as she prepares for her upcoming races, which has already benefitted her monumentally.
“I don’t want to speak to what I think my vision is, but now that she has total time to devote to it, I think you’re going to see a brand new athlete,” Axford said. “To be blunt, in the last three weeks that she’s been here with us, I’m already seeing huge gains, especially in the water.”