Like most graduating seniors, Daniel Cropper eagerly anticipated his last summer before college. He wanted it to be laid-back, fun, memorable.




Well, two out of three ain't bad.




Cropper, 18, a hurdler at Ashland High who graduated in June, finished first in his age group (18-19) and 104th overall in the Pacific Crest Olympic Triathlon on Sunday, conquering the three-headed monster in — hours, — minute, 43 seconds at Sunriver.




The triathlon tests competitors with a 1,500-meter swim followed by a 28-mile bike ride and finally a 10-kilometer run. Cropper made it through the swim and the bike ride fine before burning out at the start of the run. After a short break, however, he was jogging again and ended up nearly matching his goal of — hours.




"It was really fun," said Cropper, who's headed to Portland State University. "I just thought, 'If I'm ever going to do it, I should do it now.'"




Cropper said he has always wanted to try a triathlon since watching one on TV as a kid, but didn't decide to try the Pacific Crest until about a month before the event. His abbreviated training regimen focused on the swimming and biking portions of the race since Cropper had little experience in both events &

almost none in swimming.




The hard work paid off. When he started training, Cropper said he struggled to finish five laps in the pool (the course runs the equivalent of about 36). race day, he was able to get in and out of the water in 29:06.




Still, Cropper said, the swim turned out to be the most dicey portion of the race, although not because of its physical challenge. More than 450 competitors simultaneously jump into Wickup Reservoir for a diamond-shaped swim that requires three turns. Immediately, the race becomes a jumbled mass of arms and legs that leaves little room for breathing




It was Cropper's first experience swimming shoulder-to-shoulder (and head-to-toe) with other competitors, and it was one he won't forget.




"I actually got really nervous in the beginning because you already have all this adrenalin and you're getting punched and you're getting kicked by all these people," he said. "And when I came up to get a breath, I only got a tiny breath. I wouldn't consider myself claustrophobic, but it definitely brought that out in me."




After surviving the water, it was on to the bike leg, which Cropper thoroughly enjoyed by comparison.




"My quads were tired from kicking, but it was a different range of motion on the bike," he said. "I was actually excited because now you get to breathe. It's kind of relaxing, actually."




He finished the bike leg in 1:29.54.




Then came the run, which proved to be much more challenging than Cropper had anticipated.




"I think over the last month I had been focusing so much on the swimming and the biking, I didn't really run that much," said Cropper, who placed second at districts in both the 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles as a senior. "I was a little bit arrogant in my running capabilities. I thought they would at least match swimming and biking."




Not so, it turned out. About halfway through the final leg Cropper "just crashed," and had to take a break to recuperate. It was then that he remembered some advice he received from a successful triathlete, who said a short walk to start the running leg can produce a better time overall.




So Cropper rested, not sure how his body would react when it was time to start up again. He feared stiffening up, then was relieved when everything started working again.




"The rest of the way I was running like I had ran (in high school)," said Cropper, who finished the running leg in 58:43.




Now, Cropper is looking forward to his next triathlon, but vows to be more prepared. He's already on a strict diet and has educated himself on carbo-loading, which takes months.




"I'm going up to Portland for school in September and they have a couple lakes up there and a couple triathlons," he said. "I think I'll do at least one more this year."




Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.