JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
In subarctic winter conditions, running or bicycling outside over mountainous terrain with snow and ice canvassing the countryside can be a challenge.
Combine both events back-to-back and add in cross-country skiing, and the level of difficulty increased exponentially for Alaska Air National Guard Senior Airman Kenyon DePriest, 176th Air Defense Squadron surveillance technician, during the World Winter Triathlon Championships hosted at Skeikampen, Norway, in March.
While picking up and following a radar track sitting at his “scope,” a computer terminal that has access to heaps of information coming from several radar sources across the state and region, DePriest daily negotiates a high-tech triathlon of sorts: detecting aircraft, identifying them, and tracking the blips as they transit near or through Alaska airspace.
In Norway, DePriest’s months of training came together as he ran 5.4 kilometers, biked 10, and skied 10.4 kilometers.
The journey to the Skeikampen Ski Arena began in Palmer, Alaska, where DePriest grew up and was recognized by a local newspaper as the athlete of the week for his exploits as a high school football wide receiver.
Following graduation, DePriest worked construction on football fields for several years before joining the Navy at 25 as an aviation electronics technician generating F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters from the deck of the Nimitz-class carrier USS Carl Vinson.
“I spent most of my time as a plane captain,” DePriest recalled. “So, I was dealing with daily inspections, setup for the pilot, launch and recovery of the aircraft, and then inspections when the planes came back.”
Stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, DePriest missed venturing around Alaska’s mountains, and the state was calling him to return.
“It was pretty flat where I was stationed,” he said. “It was a two-hour drive in any direction to do anything I enjoyed during the weekends when I had time off.”
After returning to Alaska, DePriest joined the 176th Wing as a surveillance technician, working as a traditional weekend-drilling Guard member before earning a full-time position in the 176th ADS. With a successful career in hand, the athlete looked to the new challenges of competing in winter triathlons.
With minimal train up, DePriest signed up for the Tri Flake Winter Triathlon hosted at Anchorage in January, and he placed well enough to qualify to represent Team USA in Norway.
“I competed in the age-group division and not the elite division this year,” he said. “I’m working my way hopefully into the elite division.”
The European expedition amounted to a reconnaissance in force for DePriest, he said, unmasking his strengths and weaknesses.
“The run and the bike are definitely my strong suits,” DePriest said. “I’m still working on the techniques and getting better at skate skiing. Skate skiing on flat ground is easy; it’s going uphill that’s hard.”
He had never done any type of cross-country skiing before his preparation for the Anchorage event. Perhaps the saving grace of his inexperience was he had nothing to unlearn from traditional cross-country skiing. Skate skiing – pushing off like using ice skates – is more difficult to do than the straight-line, classic skiing, but it is much faster.
Ultimately, skiing did prove to be DePriest’s most challenging event, and he was surprised how hard he had to push after putting all of his effort into the run and bike races.
“Skiing was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be after doing the first two legs of the triathlon,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a little bit easier after doing pre-runs of the course, but it was a tough course after the first two events.”
Having competed in an international event, DePriest said he will double his efforts in the next year with the ultimate goal of being able to represent the United States at the top tier of the sport.
“There was no one from the United States in the elite division over there,” he said. “It’s definitely a Europe-heavy sport, so it will be pretty cool if I get into the elite group in the next few years.”