When most other teenagers take what time they can salvage in the morning to sleep in, Rachel Coleman already is up and training.
Before school, she squeezes in a morning run and goes to shooting practice. Six days a week, she attends swim practice for two hours. Horseback riding is on Monday, and on Saturday she drives more than an hour to fencing training. Sunday is her rest day.
All five sports (running, swimming, equestrian, shooting and fencing) merge to form the modern pentathlon. While its origins are in the ancient Greek Olympics, the modern pentathlon has been adapted from a military-based regimen and is now one of the 56 registered Olympic sports.
“I started with riding,“ said Coleman, a 17-year-old senior at Beyer High. “I’ve been riding since I was 6. I wanted to enter world-class level, but I knew that I couldn’t with riding because it’s so expensive. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. When my dad told me about (the pentathlon), I liked all the others sports. I loved it when I started and I still love it.”
In September, Coleman flew to Argentina to compete in the Youth World Pentathlon Championships, a highly selective event containing 240 athletes from 30 countries all over the world.
There, Coleman competed against more than 100 of the top female pentathlon competitors, ages 17 and 18. Even jet-lagged from a 13-hour flight the day before, Coleman managed to perform, knocking six seconds off her swim and almost a minute off her combined run and shoot.
“My (favorite thing was) being able to recognize the faces of everyone from different countries,” she recalled. “We all go to the same competitions so I have friends from all over the world. It was cool just to see them again.” As for her performance, Coleman added, “I didn’t make the final, but that was OK with me because I was happy I got my best score.”
Considering a recent injury, Coleman’s performance is all the more admirable.
“At both the Junior and Youth Nationals, I pulled my quad muscle and wasn’t able to do any running beforehand,” she shared. “Coming into this competition, I was just starting to run again, so I was just working on strengthening my leg and getting back everything I missed.”
Her dedication and hard work paid off. Just two weeks prior to Argentina, Coleman had been in Mexico competing at the Junior World Pentathlon, which hosted pentathletes ages 19 to 21. She was bumped up an age group to participate.
A few months before, she had competed in the Youth and Junior Nationals, placing second and first, respectively. In July, she was ranked one of the two No. 1 Junior and Youth A athletes competing in modern pentathlon in the United States.
Despite her success as an athlete, Coleman remains humble about her progress. “I wasn’t even expecting to make the team going into nationals. I was really surprised. … The year before, I had made the Junior World Championship team, but I had sprained my hip so I didn’t get to go. I guess I was just really excited to go and amped up my training for it.”
Her shooting coach, Peter Camarena, can attest to Coleman’s dedication since she first started training with him about two years ago. “I quickly found that she was a very mature and dedicated young lady. She showed an eagerness to learn,” Camarena said of Coleman. “She has practiced regularly and learned to shoot consistently through distractions and fatigue.”
“When you start, you can’t expect to always win everything or be the best. When I started, I was the worst shooter ever,” Coleman admitted with a laugh. “I couldn’t even hit the target. But I worked really hard, and now shooting is one of my best sports in the pentathlon.”
Thinking of her future plans, Coleman said she will always see some trace of the pentathlon in her life.
“I want to swim for college,” she shared. “I’m planning on majoring in business with a focus on sports management so I can do something with pentathlon, maybe work for an organization or be a coach. A lot of people ask me if I’m going to make the Olympics, but that’s not really my goal. My goal is to make the Senior National Traveling Team.”
“She is a committed, enthusiastic and dedicated athlete,” noted Camarena. “She appears ... to be the type of person that when she sets her mind on a goal, she will achieve it.”
As for her perspective of herself and her talent, Coleman shows a remarkable amount of humility and maturity. “You peak at a late age, about 26,” she said, smiling a bit. “I’ve got a long ways to go.”
Kara Liu is a senior at Beyer High School and a member of The Bee’s Teens in the Newsroom program.