At the fairly young age of 18, William Huffman already has a resume many professionals might be jealous of. He chose to forgo the junior elite route and went straight to the professional ranks racing all across the Americas. The high school senior discussed success at such a young age and his future plans with slowtwitch.
Slowtwitch: So what's it like being the youngest pro at every race you do?
William Huffman: It’s a blast! I tend to forget the age difference when I’m racing, but at other times I get a kick out of being the only high school student. One time in Chile, some athletes asked if I wanted to join them in the sauna after a workout, but I had to decline because I needed to catch up on my homework. We all got a good laugh at that one.
ST: Do your classmates fully understand what you're doing?
William: Not too many people completely understand ITU racing. Most are familiar with Ironman and marathons rather than the draft-legal Olympic format. Nonetheless, my friends know that I’m dedicated to triathlon training and they are very supportive of my endeavors. My high school swim coach is one of the most supportive. He has been great!
ST: You mentioned your high school swim coach being especially supportive. Does he have a special passion for triathlon or did he just understand to support you in the path that suits you best versus just limiting you to swimming?
William: My high school swim coach's name is Daniel Jau. I don't think he necessarily has a passion for triathlons, but he completely embraces my opportunities as a triathlete. Coach Jau has greatly helped my swimming development since my freshman year, when I was floundering in the water - hardly able to do 50's. Once I decided to focus on triathlons, he trusted that I was making a wise decision for my future with confidence that I would continue to work hard on my own.
ST: Are you on any school sport teams or a multisport club?
William: Yes, the Grapevine High School cross country and swim teams lead me into multisport racing a couple years ago and I still compete with them occasionally. I trained with those teams through my junior year while doing triathlons somewhat on the side. This year I’m focusing entirely on triathlons as a part of Greg Mueller’s Team IE. In the five months since I started working with Greg, his guidance has helped me tremendously.
ST: Which college will you attend in the fall?
William: Texas A&M University – It’s in a small town called College Station about three hours south of Dallas.
ST: Do you have plans to train with the Texas A&M swim or track teams?
William: No. My workouts will be done either independently or with athletes from the tri club, but I’ll be under the guidance of Greg Mueller.
ST: What influenced you to go there?
William: Haha well my mom’s side of the family is full of Aggies so it’s always been in the back of my mind. But more importantly, Texas A&M offers the best academic opportunities without forcing me to put aside any of my athletic goals.
ST: Did the new USAT college development program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs try to recruit you?
William: No. They may have given me the option to attend if I had approached them with an interest, but I already had my mind set on a handful of schools and the ETA (elite triathlon academy) wasn’t one of them. I don’t want this to be misinterpreted though. The ETA is a great program and a wonderful opportunity for athletes, but I think other routes can also be taken to accomplish the same goal. It’s just unfortunate that scholarship grants aren’t currently awarded to athletes who wish to pursue triathlons under different coaching and academic programs.
ST: How will you continue your participation as an elite while in college?
William: Training in college shouldn’t be too much different than it is right now. Texas A&M has outstanding facilities, miles upon miles of open roads, running and mountain biking trails, solid athletes on their tri club, and great food- what more could a triathlete need? Another bonus is that I can continue to work with my current coach, Greg Mueller. I think the tricky part will be traveling for races. Something tells me that taking a week or two off of college to travel halfway across the world won’t be quite as easy as missing my high school classes. But if there’s a will, there’s a way!
ST: A lot of talk about the young triathletes is about Lukas, Tony S, and Kevin McDowell. Why don't you think you're included in that list?
William: First of all, each of them has proven incredible athletic talent and potential with their podium performances at the junior world level, and they deserve every bit of the press that they receive. I don’t expect to be included in that list because I simply chose a different path, by skipping two years at the junior level to start racing elite at the age of 17. I’ve found that it’s hard to gain recognition in such deep fields at the elite races, but I believe that the experience I build now will prove itself worthwhile in the future.
ST: As a whole what do you think of USAT's youth development program?
William: It’s hard for me to judge youth development because I’ve only been racing since the age of 16. I know that USAT has wisely put emphasis on youth programs over the years and their work seems to be paying off. More triathletes than ever are flocking to national draft-legal events and a high level of success can be seen in the junior group. To retain this talent, however, I think there should be a broader scope of opportunities at the collegiate level. Too many junior triathletes divert to NCAA sports rather than completely focusing on triathlons.
ST: How do you compare your race at Clermont this year opposed to the race in 2011?
William: Oh gosh, so many things were different this year! The most obvious was my finish place - 10th compared to 44th in 2011. Clermont last year was my very first elite race and it was a wake-up call to say the least. The strong level of competition helped me to quickly identify my weaknesses and after the race I went straight to work. Since last year, I have concentrated more on the technical aspects of the triathlon including drills in all three sports, handling skills, tactics, and transitions. I have also changed my stride efficiency thanks to the help of Bobby McGee’s run biomechanics. I’m a completely different athlete this year.
ST: What stands as your proudest result?
William: My proudest result is actually Clermont 2010, when I accidentally earned my elite license. It was my second triathlon ever and first draft-legal race. It also happened to be an EDR (Elite Development Race) - top 3 amateurs earn elite license, although I had no idea until afterward. I had a decent finish, but was a little disappointed to have missed the swim pack with Fleischman, Dye, and Shoemaker. Looking at the printed results afterward, somebody pointed to my name and said "Check it out, this kid got his elite license!" Confused at first, I asked what he meant before running to tell my parents the good news.
ST: Do you want to give a shout out to mom and dad?
William: Without a doubt!! I can’t even put into words how grateful I am for my parents’ support. Not only have they paid for all of my equipment and travel, but they have been to every one of my races and are always to first to congratulate me at the finish. They’re enthusiastic support carries me through every day of training, the good and the bad. I absolutely couldn’t do it without them.
ST: Obviously the 2016 Olympics are on your horizon.
William: The 2016 Olympics has been a dream of mine long before I even knew about triathlons. I plan to do everything in my power to be in the start line in Rio, but I also realize that I won’t be the only one gunning for the limited spots.
ST: Is the next step for you trying to get into World Cups and eventually World Triathlon Series events?
William: Yes, that’s the next step for sure. But the expense of doing so is off the charts. I have some cycling power that hasn’t yet shown in the ITU races, and it could potentially be lucrative in the non-draft arena. If I don’t have USAT support for the higher-level draft-legal events, I might have to supplement my ITU schedule with non-draft.
ST: Anything else?
William I also want to thank my sponsors, especially the ones who have been with me since my first year including Bicycles Plus and Massage Envy. Please check out all of my sponsors on my website – www.williamhuffman.com. I appreciate each of them!
William Huffman will next be racing in Brazil on March 31st. He will be the sole American racing.