CUMBERLAND – Cumberland High senior Nick Zerva has built an impressive resume in the decade he’s been swimming competitively, starting with his days with the Woonsocket YMCA Whalers’ team and continuing with his time with the Bryant Bulldogs and Crimson Aquatics programs and the Clippers’ RIIL team.
But during a dryland workout this past spring with the Crimson Aquatics, Zerva gave his coach, Peter Zeiger, the impression that he had the potential to also succeed in another sport.
“My swim team likes to run a lot,” said Zerva. “We did a timed mile and my coach really liked my time, and he told me that I should do triathlons for our team because we also have a tri team.”
Zerva eventually gave the sport, which not only includes swimming, but also biking and running, a shot, and borrowing a Trek bike from Crimson Aquatics triathlon coach Tom Ronan, Zerva made his sprint triathlon debut earlier this summer on the Cape by competing in the Hyannis Sprint Triathlon on June 12 and the Falmouth Sprint Triathlon on July 11.
On Sunday, Sept. 12, Zerva got an opportunity to compete in his home state by taking part in the Newport Sprint Triathlon, which also contained the USAT (USA Triathlon) High School State Championships, and while the conditions at Second Beach in Middletown and the neighboring roads were tough, Zerva just got tougher.
And when the dust settled, Zerva captured the state title, and placed 22nd overall out of 137 triathletes, in a time of 1:06:52 that topped the runner-up finisher in his division, Coventry’s Andrew Clarkin, by 77 seconds.
Zerva’s time included a 7:08 in the half-mile swim in Sachuest Bay, a 38:08 in the two-loop, 10.6-mile bike ride through Middletown and Portsmouth, and a 19:45 in the two-loop, 3.1-mile run that borrowed some of the roads from the Amica and Rhode Races Newport Marathons.
“It was a tough race overall, but it was a lot of fun,” Zerva said on Monday afternoon. “It was a pretty windy day. The swim portion was really tough; it was probably one of the hardest that I’ve ever done, and on the bike, it felt like in every direction I was going, there was wind pushing me back.”
Clarkin topped Zerva by 19 seconds in the swim and nearly two full minutes in the bike, but Zerva delivered a strong showing in the 5K that was exactly three minutes faster than Clarkin and paved the way to his championship.
“That was actually one of my slower times that I’ve done in a 5K at one of the triathlons,” said Zerva. “I ran a 17:53 (in Falmouth) and it was perfect conditions and completely flat. but in Newport, the course wasn’t like that.”
Seven days later, Zerva was back in action at the Wallis Sands Sprint Triathlon in Rye. N.H., and he placed third in his age division and 16th overall (out of 180 athletes) in a time of 1:14:51.8 that included a 6:44 time in the 0.33-mile swim in the Atlantic Ocean, a 46:23 in the 14.5-mile bike, and a 19:38 in the 5K.
In Hyannis, where he placed 32nd out of 272 athletes, he notched a time of 1:05:21 that included a 3:56 for the 400-meter swim, 34:52 for the 10.2-mile bike, and 23:17 for the 3.6-mile run.
He took fifth place in the high school division at that meet, but won the ages 17-19 division (and finished 45th out of 553 athletes) in Falmouth by turning in a time of 55:30 that included a six-minute time in the 0.33-mile swim, 28:59 into the 8.5-mile bike ride, and 17:53 in the 5K.
While swimming and running have come naturally to Zerva, he’s trying to put more work into biking, especially since he’s never trained on a bike, “but I think I’m really starting to figure it out,” he admitted, “how to be good on the bike and not have that be my weakest link.”
Zerva plans to continue his triathlon workouts during the winter, as well as turn his attention to his final swim season with Cumberland High, but next year, he plans to return to the regional spring triathlon circuit, “and I’ll just sign up for (races) as they come, and hopefully I can qualify for some big races,” he added.