Bluffton teacher finds success in triathlon world

Bridget Campbell feels comfortable standing on Coligny Beach each year at the start of the Hilton Head Triathlon.

She knows the course. The race is a sprint, which means there will be no worry about fuel or much pacing. She can go all out.

And she knows that a little more than an hour after she enters the ocean for the 500-meter swim, her race will be done.

The familiarity has helped Campbell dominate the event. Racing the same course each year allows Campbell to track her progress.

Her victory May 21 was her third straight on the course. She broke the course record she set the previous year by more than 30 seconds.

"The training is working," said Campbell, a Bluffton High School teacher and coach. "That's a good sign."

The training has been working since 2007, when Campbell won her first triathlon. The multisport events helped fill a need for competition after the Ohio native graduated from Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania, where she ran cross country and track.

Campbell, who races with Go Tri Sports team, has qualified the past two years for the Short Course Triathlon World Championships, which were held last year in Budapest, Hungary, and will be held in Beijing in September.

The sprint and Olympic distances have been her focus, but Campbell has started working towards half Ironman distance events, or Ironman 70.3. She competed in a 70.3 in New Orleans earlier in the year, hoping to qualify for the Ironman World Championship 70.3 held in Las Vegas in September.

But the swim portion of the race was canceled due to choppy conditions. And after completing the bike and run, Campbell finished ninth in her age group. The top five percent from each age group qualify for the September event. Campbell finished just outside that number.

After tweaking her form on the bike, Campbell said she felt better riding the shorter course at the Hilton Head Triathlon.

"I'll spend another summer doing Olympic distance and sprint and maybe pick up another half in the fall," Campbell said. "I'd love to see how that goes at the next distance."

The trick for Campbell has been balancing training with school. In addition to teaching math, she helped coach basketball in the winter and track during the spring. Her schedule typically includes two workouts a day.

She swims three times a week with Bluffton Masters. When possible, Campbell joins group rides on the island or in Berkeley Hall. Other times, she rides solo through Palmetto Bluff and New Riverside.

For professional guidance, Campbell leans on her coach, Brandon Marsh, who is based out of Texas and stays in touch online or by phone. Marsh posts Campbell's schedule online and can include comments. They talk every few weeks.

Campbell's next race will be the Festival of Flowers, an Olympic distance race in Ninety Six, with the goal of again qualifying for the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Burlington, Vt. That race will determine whether she qualifies for the world championships a third consecutive year.

On a smaller scale, the Hilton Head Triathlon was part of the Go Tri Sports S.C. Triathlon Series for this first time. The race was the second Campbell raced this year in the series, with five needed to be considered in the final overall standings.

Campbell has formed a bit of a local rivalry with fellow school teacher and Bluffton resident Kelli King, who finished second to Campbell the past two years at Hilton Head's event.

But Campbell said the competition was friendly, used to spur personal results, and that the pair has talked of training together.

"I love having people around that push me," Campbell said. "That's how you get better is by training and racing with people that can beat you, that do beat you, that are on the verge of beating you; somebody that's right there around the same level as you are, or better, is how you improve. So it's nice that I have people in the local area that can do that, and I look forward to racing them -- not to be like, 'Ooh, I beat you,' but to say, 'Hey, let's both improve and have fun along the way.' I think that's what it's all about."