Though Schwein has been competitively swimming since the age of seven, the 18-year-old has only been competing in triathlons for three years now, but it has not taken her long to work her way to the top.
Born and raised in Charlevoix, Michigan, the University of Colorado Boulder freshman has devoted her spare time to training and competing. Over the summer, Schwein trained on average 20 hours a week, but sometimes more. She said ultimately, the sport has turned her world around.
After discovering her love for triathlon at an open-water swim camp during her freshman year of high school, Schwein decided to pursue the sport, even though it is not popular in Michigan.
Schwein said one of her biggest personal struggles was that training alone felt pretty isolating. This past summer, she was contacted by a team in Indiana and she said they have made a huge difference in her life.
“They’re a new team but they’re great and I love them,” Schwein said. “Now I’m not so alone, and it’s awesome.”
So far, 2015 has been her year on fire. At the International Triathlon Union Standard Distance Championships in Chicago on Sept. 19, Schwein was the first American to cross the finish line. In August, Schwein placed fourth at the USA Triathlon Age Group National championship in Wisconsin. Her time was so impressive she was selected to be on Team USA for the 2016 Triathlon World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico next September.
Schwein started her undergraduate career at CU Boulder in August. Although she would have loved to go to the University of Michigan to be with her brother and near her family, she decided that going to a college with a nationally ranked triathlon team would be in her best interests as an athlete.
“One of the main reasons I came to the University of Colorado was their triathlon team,” Schwein said. “They’ve won nationals the past six years in a row which is a pretty big deal.”
While training and competing is her core focus, Schwein said she has ventured outside the triathlon network to make friends here in Boulder.
That’s because triathlon is a highly competitive sport on an individual level. Only a few athletes on the CU Boulder team will be able qualify for nationals, so for seniors who have been training hard for the past four years, the thought of losing their spot to a freshman causes a little bit of tension.
“The triathlon team is very competitive. Everything is a race and everything is a competition,” Schwein said. “That’s hard, especially for me because I just want to be friends with everyone, but it just doesn’t work out that way.”
This being said, some of her closest friends are on the team and her coaches have come to feel like a family away from home. CU Boulder Triathlon head coach Brad Seng said that despite her age and inexperience in the college setting, Schwein brings some of the strongest dedication and passion to their practices.
“She’s got tremendous work ethic, brings a lot of enthusiasm and she’s tenacious,” Seng said. “It’s great to have her around, and it’s great to have her personality in the mix.”
Although the three elements of triathlons are biking, running and swimming, Schwein says swimming will always have a special place in her heart because that’s where it all began.
“If I couldn’t swim I would have to talk to my family and pray about it because I would definitely be angry,” Schwein said.
The journey never stops for Schwein and neither do the competitions. She leaves on Thursday, Nov. 5 to compete in the Women’s Collegiate Draft Legal National Championships in Clermont, Florida.
Schwein sees herself continuing with triathlons for as long as she is blessed with the talent and health to compete successfully in them, but as for her education, both her major and her future remain undecided. And that is where she reminds the world that she is just your average 18-year-old girl.
A full transcription of the above video can be found below.
Ali Schwein: There’s a lot of sacrifices that go into doing triathlon or being a triathlete. I skipped my junior and senior prom to go to one of these national races, so that was a hard pill to swallow.
I’m Ali Schwein, I’m a freshman at CU Boulder, I’m from Michigan, and I’m a triathlete.
Well I guess with swimming, I was a pretty mediocre pro-swimmer. Like, I was pretty short and I just wasn’t part of a really competitive club and it just wasn’t working out. I saw a lot of opportunities in triathlon, it was very different from what i was doing before. It was really hard when I started because Michigan is not very competitive for triathlon for youth and juniors so I started with this coach that was like five hours away. But the sport is really competitive. There’s a really high elite group of girls that go to these national level races and when I would get to the race I wouldn’t have a team there. Your coach is there generally and he’s helping you pick your starting spot and your starting line which is very important. You get a random number drawn and then you have to line up according and there’s a lot of strategy that goes into it. Draft legal racing has a lot of strategy, my favorite kind of racing is draft legal racing. So you race against the top 75 girls in the country ages 16-19 and so super competitive. You know, their coaches are all telling them where to start, they’re yelling splits out, how far back the next pack is, they’re doing the workouts the day before together, reviewing the course together, so being by yourself is kind of lonely.
Yeah, for me there’s just a lot less pressure when I’m not there by myself. I can like kind of give up a lot of the decisions to my coach, he can make them for me. I’m not worried about where I’m going to start because he’s going to pick it for me. For me, I guess my goals are always just up in the air. I feel like I’ve been given this gift and so I’m just riding it out.