Before she joined USA Triathlon, Avery Evenson had ridden a road bike maybe twice in her life.
But that didn’t stop her from making a huge splash at her debut race.
On June 29, 2013, just five months after she joined USA Triathlon, she competed in the Vila Velha PATCO Triathlon Pan American Championships. Evenson notched sixth place and completed the grueling course in 1:06:38, only one minute behind the winner — her teammate Tamara Gorman.
“It was definitely a huge adjustment just learning how to clip in. Learning how to go on an hour ride and not tip over at a stoplight,” Evenson said.
Now, Evenson is a junior on the No. 10 women’s cross country team, and despite suffering an injury last spring that kept her from running until mid-July this year, Evenson has made a similar early impact at Michigan.
Much has been written about Wolverine senior Erin Finn, and justifiably so. A three-time All-American runner, Finn has looked better than ever this season, rocketing her way to victories at both of the Wolverines’ 5,000-meter races, finishing 45 seconds ahead of the runner-up each time.
Evenson’s statement at Michigan’s first two meets, though, shows that she may share some of the spotlight with Finn.
Just like at her first triathlon, Evenson made a huge splash for the Wolverines at the Michigan Open on Sept. 2 and the Sycamore Invitational on Sept. 10, finishing third at both. Evenson posted times of 17:43.6 and 18:01.0, respectively.
“Even though she’s a newcomer, she seems like one of the veterans,” said Michigan coach Mike McGuire. “She’s very businesslike, very mature with a businesslike approach to what she’s doing. It’s been a really seamless transition in my opinion.”
Making an immediate impact has been a staple for Evenson since she was at Hartland High School.
In her first ever high school meet on Aug. 25, 2009, Evenson won the 5,000-meter race with a time of 19:15.04. She finished 1:37.08 ahead of her nearest competition, teammate Anna Pasternak, who was two years older than Evenson and had finished 62nd out of 242 runners at the Michigan Division I State Championships the year before.
“I honestly just love to race,” Evenson said. “I don’t think about it. I just show up on the line and and give it all I have. I think that feeling after my first race back in high school was just like, ‘Wow! I didn’t know that was going to happen!’ I just toed the line. I’m just a racer I guess.”
Evenson then proved that her breakout performance was no flash in the pan.
She ran to a runner-up finish at the 2009 State Championships in 18:10.3, leading the Eagles to 15th place out of 28 teams. She placed 11th in her sophomore year with a time of 18:01.7 and 5th in her junior year at 17:57.2. Still, her best time in high school was 17:40.6 — a school record — against Brighton on Oct. 28, 2011.
At the same time, she excelled at long-distance track running, breaking (and still holding) Hartland’s records in every race greater than 800 meters except for the 2,400-meter race.
But during her senior year, Evenson made the decision to train with USA Triathlon, as she had been on the swim team at Hartland and was skilled at cycling. She graduated high school one semester early and would forego her last year of eligibility in cross country and track for the Eagles.
After her spectacular 2013 triathlon debut, Evenson never slowed down.
She finished fifth at the 2014 Junior World Triathlon Championship and took fourth place at the 2015 Under-23 World Triathlon Championship. Evenson’s success had her preparing for triathlon tryouts for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“I think I really grew in those three years as a triathlete,” Evenson said. “I learned how to be successful when you’re not training. So recovering right, eating right, doing all of the little things that I can control.”
Unfortunately for Evenson, her injury prevented her from competing in the tryouts as well as competing for the Big Ten-Champion Michigan women’s track team in 2016, but she still has her eyes set on 2020.
“After I’m all done with my eligibility, I plan to go back to training for triathlon,” Evenson said. “It’s one of the reasons I went to NCAA running. I knew that my run needed work if I ever wanted to be on an Olympic team, if I ever wanted to stand on a podium at the Olympics. My run needed to be faster.”
Evenson’s injury last spring only hardened her desire to be a part of a Big Ten title team, whether in cross country, track or both.
“It’s honestly the most motivating thing ever,” Evenson said. “We want that feeling again. Coach says it’s all about the process. We’re ranked pretty high up, but he’s like, ‘We have to earn it every day.’ ”
And for Evenson, her triathlon experience might prove to be a unique asset in achieving that goal.
“It makes a cross country race look like a sprint,” McGuire said. “She’s so aerobically strong and fit from everything that she’s done in the pool, on the bike over the years. I think if we continue to keep her healthy, I think she’s just starting to scratch the surface.”