Hawken student turns senior project into triathlon victory

GATES MILLS, Ohio – Mike Arendt of Richmond Heights, a 2001 graduate of Hawken School, won his age division in the Lamisil AT Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco June 10.

Perhaps even more impressive, out of a total field of approximately 1,400 competitors, Arendt came in 291st.

Senior project. That’s not too bad for someone who had never participated in a triathlon before and, in fact, had selected the challenge simply to fulfill a high school senior project requirement.

Hawken School’s senior project program gives qualified students an opportunity to spend the last few weeks of their high school careers focusing on a challenge outside of the traditional curriculum.

Some students choose to explore a potential career path or learn about a specific professional field, others use it as an opportunity to serve the community, and some decide to develop a certain skill or academic interest.

Unique approach. While the types of projects vary widely and can be quite creative, Arendt took an especially unique approach when he decided to use his senior project (as well as countless hours in the months before it) to prepare for his first-ever triathlon.

The idea for Arendt’s project began last September, when he was surfing the Internet, looking for ideas for a senior project.

He stumbled upon information about triathlons, and became specifically interested in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, which is said to be one of the most difficult.

Started early. He defended his project proposal to a somewhat skeptical senior project advisory board, finally receiving approval to move forward. Although typical senior projects don’t officially begin until late April, Arendt began training in December.

He ran 6-12 miles three or four days a week, biked 40-60 miles six days a week, swam 1.5-2.5 miles six days a week, and lifted weights three days a week.

As part of the senior project, Arendt kept a log of his activities, reported to an adviser, wrote a project summary, and gave a presentation about his project to fellow students.

Moment of truth. The moment of true glory, however, came after Arendt had finished the race. The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon begins with a 1.5-mile swim across San Francisco Bay from the island of Alcatraz (home of the famed former federal prison) to shore, followed by a 1-mile warm-up run, an 18-mile bike ride, and an 8-mile run.

Arendt finished with a total time of 2 hours, 54 minutes. Already, just days after his first-ever triathlon, Arendt is looking forward to the next.

He plans to compete in the Rock and Roll Triathlon in Cleveland in July and return to Escape from Alcatraz next year.

Worth it. “When I was reading about this, I kept seeing that once you do a triathlon once, you’re going to get hooked,” he said. “When you’re running 12 miles outside and it’s 90 degrees and you’re hungry and want to go home, it’s not very fun.

“But, when you’re actually there and you beat 900 people – it’s worth it.”

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