It’s not very often that an interview is put off for two weeks because the interviewee has to go on a week long secret training mission but that is exactly what happened when we tried to interview Lieutenant Junior Grade Derek Oskutis. Derek is in an elite Naval company tasked with detecting and disposing improvised explosive devices. In between his naval commitments Derek has collected multiple podiums at U23 races and Armed Forces Championships, as well at a Team Championship at USAT Collegiate Nationals. Derek now actively serves his country in the Navy and represents his flag as a professional triathlete.
Slowtwitch: Thanks for the time Derek, we know you have a hectic schedule
Derek Oskutis: Thanks Slowtwitch. I’m thankful I could find some time!
ST: Obviously what stands out about you is that you are an active duty Naval Officer.
Derek: Yes, certainly. I’m an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Officer stationed in San Diego after I received my commissioning from the United States Naval Academy.
ST: What influenced your decision to attend the Naval Academy?
Derek: There were quite a few things however a lot of it all boiled down to a few key points. Growing up, I was very fortunate to follow in the footsteps of some remarkable people. I had family, friends, coaches and teammates who taught me very important life lessons. However, my father told me something when I was little that I’ve lived my life by ever since. “If you want to be the best, surround yourself with the best.” When it came to the end of my high school career and I was looking at colleges, USNA stuck out. It had some of the best engineering programs, athletics, atmosphere and post-college opportunities that any college could offer. However, what shined is that it developed you as a full-person. “Morally, mentally, and physically,” as the first line of the mission statement says.
ST: Were you a triathlete before Navy?
Derek: I actually grew up as a swimmer underneath the Fastrich brother’s at Hershey Aquatic Club / High School, who recently set a few National Records. I had dreams of swimming D1 however the triathlon bug hit me when I started getting into the draft-legal circuit when I was 15. Turns out while I was pretty good at swimming, placing top in the state, I could place top in the country in triathlon. Once I got to Navy, who already had one of the best teams in the country, it was natural to switch over.
ST: What is the culture like on Navy’s tri team?
Derek: Navy’s team is something extremely unique in the triathlon world. I firmly believe that when I graduated there in 2009, we produced the best triathlon TEAM in the country. Not only did we win Nationals that year, but 6 out of our top 8 finishers only had 6 months experience in the sport. Our try-outs that year gathered over 65 midshipmen for 6 spots. But to get there, our team went through immense development. While most collegiate triathlon teams are more of clubs, the entire team lived, ate, and trained together every day. On top of that, we were self-run. Outside of our workouts made by our coach, we held everything from actually running the workouts to recruiting. Everyone had a part in making that team function to such a high standard on such a low budget. When we won that National title, everyone had a hand raising that trophy.
ST: And what are your Navy commitments currently like?
Derek: After commissioning in May of ’09, I began a rigorous two-year pipeline to join the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal community. I was then assigned to EOD Mobile Unit 11 in San Diego, California where I am the Platoon Officer in Charge of the finest men our military has to offer. As Platoon OIC, I am responsible for preparing and leading my men into harms way to defeat any types of explosives from basic IEDs to chemical and biological warfare. Leading these men who have such a wealth of knowledge on top of a crisp professional character is one of the most rewarding experiences. For a better look at what we do, visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJULlxAR1GY
ST: Do you expect you to serve in active combat zones?
Derek: My platoon and I are scheduled to deploy in the upcoming months however I will refrain from discussing where.
ST: The armed forces has a pretty stellar history of producing highly competitive triathletes, what accounts for that?
Derek: The armed forces has always been a strong component on fitness. Besides some of the sport’s founders having ties to the military, specific communities like EOD, highly value fitness. While you can be the smartest technician in the world, if you don’t have the physical capabilities to run fast, swim long distances, and keep going into the dark hours of the night, you won’t cut it. Triathlon naturally is an easy transition for most of those guys and is looked highly upon in almost every branch of the military.
ST: Where does your work/life/triathlon balance lie right now?
Derek: As OIC of my platoon, by far my men come first. As an officer, my job is to look out after them and make sure they are my number one priority. Naturally, some stuff like triathlon has to be cut back. However, over all these years I’ve become very good at time management. While my schedule isn’t ideal, often 0445 wake ups for swimming, if you have the drive you can always make time.
ST: Can you describe the feeling you get from representing the US Armed Forces at international events.
Derek: Representing the US Armed Forces on the professional level nationally and internationally is an extremely humbling experience. Wearing USA on my chest is something I’ve always dreamed of and hopefully one day will be able to do in the Olympics. However, behind the words ‘USA’ are the men and women that gave up their lives for our country. Every day when I go into work I see the names of fallen EOD techs who have gone before me. Every time I toe the line with USA and the EOD “crab” on my chest, I race for them.
ST: How would you grade yourself on the season so far?
Derek: I’ve been very fortunate with my racing this year. I’ve had a few great performances like Ixtapa, where after some domistique work on the bike for Zaferes, I ran to a 6th place finish. Others could have been better such as Dallas where I was in the hunt for another top 6 ITU finish until the last lap where the heat snagged me. However, I look at these years as experience years for when one day I turn on the gas full time and really see how fast I can go with proper rest and training. In the near future I have the Armed Forces National and World Championships. I have my sights on doing well there.
ST: Is it tough competing against those who are training full time?
Derek: Extremely, I have a few jokes with a few other pros that I try to be the first pro across the line with a full-time job. Right now, I usually show up to races between 10 and 12 p.m. the night before then hope for the best. But, as we all know, sometimes smarts can trump fitness. I’ve proved it a few times.
ST: How are things on the sponsorship side?
Derek: They’re going great. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great support team behind me. RIDE Cyclery, Wilier, ZEROD, Gu, Sidi, Zipp, Team RWB, and Yankz! Most importantly, I couldn’t have done anything without the support of family, friends and homestays.
ST: What are your Navy goals and triathlon goals in the future?
Derek: My primary goal is to bring my men back safely from our deployment. Afterwards, I don’t know exactly what my future will hold. I hope to continue in the EOD community as long as I can, and hopefully get the opportunity to make a shot at Rio in 2016.
ST: What areas of your tri performances are you focusing on most?
Derek: I focus on the ITU circuit almost entirely. The armed forces races are also draft-legal which makes the races very exciting. I hope to finish off the year well at a few ITU continental cups before I deploy and have a very strong performance at military worlds.
ST: Thanks for your time. Lastly, could you remind us all how to pronounce your last name?
Derek: It rhymes with ‘cutest’ – As in, like my Grandfather would say when I was young, ‘who is the cutest? Oskutis!’ I’m going to be made fun of forever!
Derek recently finished 3rd overall, contributing to Navy’s team victory at the 2012 Armed Forces National Championship. Learn more about Derek at; web.me.com/derekoskutis/Derek_osktuis/welcome.html