BANNER ELK, N.C. - Lees-McRae College cyclist Joseph Welsh has made a name for himself in the triathlon with a fourth place finish in the Portland, Oregon in his first US Championship in the 18-19 age group followed by a 12th place finish at the World Championships in the 18-19 age group last year in Gold Coast, Australia, and this year he finished first in the US National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with an invite to the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Welsh, a humanities major from Memphis, Tennessee, competes for the defending champion Bobcat cycling team in the road and cyclo-cross discipline.
He got his start in triathlons at a young age, and was introduced by a friend.
"My friend asked me to do it, a triathlon, with him when I was nine," Welsh said explaining how he got involved in triathlons. "I really liked it, and I kept racing. I got quicker and quicker the older I got."
Bike is Welsh's best event, but the former swimmer just tries to hold his on in the first leg of the race until he can reach the bike in the second leg. He averages between 19-21 minutes in the mile swim.
"I am never the first guy out of the water for my age group, but if I can hang with the lead pack or be not far off I am pretty happy," Welsh said.
Once Welsh gets off the beach and on the bike he feels he can run down the pack and make good time. He averages between 54-57 minutes for the 25-mile ride.
"Once I get out of the water I just try to kill it on the bike," Welsh said. "Sometimes it works out and sometimes I can't get into a rhythm. Since I came to Lees-McRae and been racing with the guys, my bike has gotten that much stronger, and I normally catch people in my age group. Ideally, I want to have a two-minute gap heading into the run."
After taking some time off of running Welsh struggled to get back on track. The 10k, 6.2 mile, run normally takes Welsch between 36-40 minutes.
"I took some time off from running then in June when I started doing it again it took me some time to get back to where I was. The first few races guys were flying by me, but now I am back to where I want to be and can hold people off in the run," Welsh said.
Welsh qualified for the Worlds Championships with a fourth place finished in the US Champions in Portland, Oregon, and finished 12th at Worlds in Gold Coast, Australia, but those weren't his best races.
"In Australia, I didn't race well because I couldn't get into a rhythm. Training went great heading into the race and I felt fresh. I had a good swim, but struggled to find a groove on the bike. On the transition to the run, five of us go off the bike within 20 seconds, and I struggled with major cramps through the first 5k of the run. I couldn't do a full stride, which turned into a 45-minute 10k. Three weeks before at this years US Nationals I ran a 36 minute 10K," Welsh said.
The race Welsh is referring too is the 2009 US Nationals in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he finished first in the 18-19 age group.
"It was the race of my life," Welsh said of Tuscaloosa. "It was one of those days where everything went almost perfect."
"The swim was in a river that wasn't suppose to have a current, but with the amount of rain they had they couldn't dam it off. I ended up swimming a 28-minute mile because most of the swim was up river and was three minutes behind the leaders heading into the bike."
Welsh didn't receive his split times until after the race so he had no idea he was trailing by that wide of a margin.
"I knew they were ahead of me by at least over a minute by my swim time, so I hit the bike thinking I was only a minute behind the leaders not really sure where they were. All I knew was I had some serious work to do."
Welsh rode the 25-mile course in 54:40, which was the third fastest bike split of the day. There were a total of 1,100 competitors in the race.
"I was flying by people, but not sure of how many I had passed since we started with 20-24 age group, as well. I ended up in first after the bike, but I wasn't positive I had the lead," Welsh said.
Welsh's next leg was the 10k run feature three steep hills in the down and back loop.
"Once I got off the bike, I was alone because I had gotten ahead of everyone. I had blown myself out early in some races in my career going out way to hard in the run, so I started at a nice pace. It started off downhill and I cruised through the first hill and ripped down it. I just tried to stay in a good groove. At the top of the second hill my dad told me I had a three minute gap on the next runner," Welsh said.
Welsh continued the same strategy on the next hills and around the thirty minute mark started gaining on runners who had started in the older groups.
"I started passing some of the older guys in the group that started 30 minutes ahead of us. I even passed some guys from my hometown. They started cheering me on, which gave me confidence and adrenaline. It was a run where I got faster as the race went on. I finished at almost a sprint and won my age group by almost seven minutes," Welsh said.
Welsch who had finished first in the final rankings in his age group had never won a US Championship.
"In Portland the year before I was really sick, but would have like to have won. This year things just came together for me."
Welsh has options in his future with cycling and triathlons.
"I don't know what the future holds for me in triathlons. I could get my pro-card if I wanted too, but I want to keep racing here at Lees-McRae. Next year I have some bigger plans. I am going to start trying to do half-Iron Man races to try and breakout and get my name out there. In those races they start you in a mass with the pros and it would be good to see where I finish with those guys."
The future is bright for Welsh as a Bobcat and as a triathlon competitor, but he will not be competing in Nationals this year in Budapest because of travel and missing two weeks of school.
"I would love to go pro and try to make a living off it because it is something I love doing. We will see, anything can happen," Welsh said.