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Wards tops NC

MURFREESBORO – Lined up with her father at the North Carolina Watermelon Festival’s 5K Run, Lindsey Ward could have been mistaken for just another Conway native returning to her roots.

The Ridgecroft School graduate was one of nearly 100 indivduals who participated in the festival’s run and walk, but she was hardly just a former prep and college athlete getting some exercise.

After leaving Ridgecroft, where she played soccer, basketball and volleyball, Ward went to Peace College in Raleigh where she ran cross country and played basketball. Following her senior season at Peace, Ward earned the cross country team’s Most Valuable Runner Award, was named the Scholar Athlete and was awarded the Frazier Cup.

While still working her way through college and playing two sports, Ward began her current passion: becoming a tri-athlete. During triathlons, participants bike, swim and run.

She competed in her first triathlon the summer before her junior year at Peace and has been steadily improving since that time.

&uot;They are fun,&uot; Ward said. &uot;It’s a good mix. It’s fun training because you don’t get too burnt out from one aspect.&uot;

When she first began running, Ward was pleased with finishing in the top half of the participants. Those days, however, are long gone as she now routinely places in the top three in her age division and is currently ranked number one among females 20-24 in the state by the North Carolina Triathlon Series.

&uot;When I first started, I would finish in the top half, but I’ve improved greatly over the last couple of years,&uot; Ward said. &uot;Last year was the first time I placed. Now, I enjoy the competition where at first I was doing them just to get through them.&uot;

In fact, Ward’s success has become so prevalent in the events in which she has participated that she has picked up sponsorship from Snickers Marathon Energy Bar.

While success is following her now, it didn’t come without a lot of hard work and dedication. Ward trains six days a week, working on each aspect of the triathlon at least twice per week.

&uot;I consider it a part-time job,&uot; Ward said. &uot;I go to work, get off and do my exercise – it’s serious. It takes time.&uot;

Training usually begins in January for Ward and continues until the last race of the season which is in August or September each year.

Thus far in 2006, she has participated in five triathlons, placing in the top three of her age group four times.

In the Azalea Festival in Wilmington last April, she finished second in her age group and 35th of 236 participants. She followed that success with a similar mark in the White Lake Half Ironman, her first such event. There she finished third in her age group and 70th of 164 participants.

&uot;The White Lake Half was tough,&uot; she said. &uot; I tried to do my own training. Hopefully when I do the ironman, I can afford a coach to help me. It was hard, but I got through it.&uot;

Triathlons are broken into groupings based on distances competed in each of the events. They include sprints, half ironman and ironmans.

After completing that event, Ward participated in the Latta in Charlotte, finishing first in her age group and 23rd of 198 overall participants. She then went to the Triangle Triathlon in July, finishing fourth in her age group and 31st of 207 total contestants.

She also participated in the J.F. Hurley Triathlon in Salisbury in July, finishing second in her age group and 19th of 98 overall

Her next event will be the Lake Norman Triathlon on August 26.

While she has enjoyed the three years of competition, Ward said this year has been even more special because her father, Taylor Ward, has been competing with her in some events.

&uot;My dad hasn’t missed one yet,&uot; he said. &uot;He’s my personal sponsor.&uot;

This year Taylor Ward has run in the Azalea Festival event as well as those at White Lake and Salisbury.

Lindsey Ward said she was pleased with what she had accomplished and hoped to continue to run triathlons for the rest of her life.

&uot;The last race I did, there was an 81-year-old man that did it and finished,&uot; she said. &uot;My goal is to be able to do that.&uot;

While the work is hard and grueling, she also said it’s worth it.

&uot;When you get up at 5 a.m. the morning of a race, I’m not too happy about it,&uot; she said. &uot;When I finish, it’s a good feeling and it’s worth it.&uot;