A former soccer player, DeGan, who lives in east Cobb, spent 12 years on the pitch, ending her career with the Pope program as a freshman and sophomore before being home-schooled for her junior and senior seasons.
DeGan took up running after her soccer career ended, but even that proved to be short-lived. She tore her hamstring in 2009 and picked up swimming and biking during her recovery. She got back into running after doctors cleared her for the hamstring injury, and while she was back exercising, DeGan had what amounted to an epiphany.
“I was swimming, and biking and running, so I thought about triathlons,” she said. “It was really a random thing.”
DeGan started triathlon training in 2010 and her first competition was at the “Tri The Parks” race event at Richard B. Russell Park in Elberton.
From that point on DeGan was hooked, and her commitment hasn’t been for naught.
“I borrowed my brothers bike just to compete in it,” she said. “I finished pretty well. I went into training full time from there.
It’s led her to an even grander stage as DeGan will be one of the athletes competing for Team USA at the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Triathlon Grand Final at Hyde Park in London Wednesday through Sunday.
DeGan, 23, will compete as part of the 20- to 24-year-old female age group. She’s one of eight Team USA members in the event among the 53 entrants. Male and female age groups range from 16 to 89. There are also sprint competitions for each age group and races for elite men and women as well as juniors and paratriathletes.
“It was an awesome and overwhelming feeling,” said DeGan, who qualified for the national team after finishing 11th in her age group at a meet in Burlington, Vt. last year.
“I was invited to compete at nationals and I was probably crying when I qualified,” she said. “So, I’ve spent the past year training for Worlds. It’s been in the back of the mind the entire time. Knowing this is all going to pay off; it’s been my motivation this season.”
A 2013 Life University graduate with a degree in exercise science, DeGan started training with the Sport Factory in Roswell in 2011 under her coach, Tracy Palmer. Since then, she had strong finishes in the roughly seven to 10 triathlons she competed in when she got the invite to the Vt. national meet.
DeGan’s workouts, which aren’t long, have prepared her well for event. Her triathlon events consists of standard or Olympic distances — 1.5 kilometer (.93 mile) swim, 40 kilometer (25 mile) bike and 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) run — as opposed to the more well-known and much longer Ironman or half-Ironman courses.
DeGan varied her training weekly on all of the disciplines, working out anywhere from one to two hours each day for 13 to 14 hours per week. With World’s beginning this week, she recently lowered her training schedule as part of her preparation.
“I was very happy to finally taper off in my training,” she said. “I’ll get (to London) Wednesday. I don’t want to be too overly excited. It’s really a mental battle. I have to keep focused on what I need to do, but not be 100 percent excited. It could psyche me out.”
It was only a week or two ago when DeGan received her Team USA triathlon uniform in the mail.
“I was pretty psyched when I received the uniform,” she said. “I ripped the box open and put it on. That was the moment when everything came together for me. It was just surreal. I couldn’t believe it was happening and I was going to represent my country at the World Championships.”
DeGan’s future aspirations following World’s involves qualifying for her professional card as a triathlete. Much like the PGA Tour where golfers have to earn Tour cards to participate in the most prestigious events, triathletes must also earn professional cards, which ultimately lead to more corporate sponsorships and better opportunities.
“I’m considered an elite triathlete, which is a step above amateur but below professional,” DeGan said. “Pros go first when the races start. Plus, triathlons are expensive because of the equipment and upkeep involving shoes and bikes and things.
“Until you get sponsors to pay for these things, you need to have another job. It’s hard to be a triathlete and not work.”
A strong finish at the World Championships could help DeGan get the sponsorships and pro card she desires. She expects to do well in the running portion, which is her strongest event. Her weakest discipline is biking.
“Coach and I have been really focusing on (biking),” she said. “We got after it, hopefully all of the work we’ve put in will pay off (this week).”