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The adventures of Aluminum Man

Barlow senior Eric Lagerstrom is a front-runner on the local sprint triathlon scene
by: David Ball, Barlow’s Eric Lagerstrom attacks a hill during a recent cross country practice. He joined the racing squad as a sophomore to improve his running ability for triathlons.

Look, up in the sky. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Aluminum Man. OK, so he hasn't mastered flying yet, but Barlow senior Eric Lagerstrom can swim, bike and run better than most anyone.

He used those skills to win a series of local triathlons this summer, capped by his Aluminum Man title earned earlier this month in The Dalles. He led that race from start to finish, traveling most of the course without a single challenger in sight.

Lagerstrom, a longtime swimmer, excels in the first leg of the triathlon, often building a huge lead in the lake and holding off pursuers on land.

'It goes both ways,' Lagerstrom said. 'It's tough for people trying to catch you if they can't see you ahead, but it's hard on my nerves, as well. I just keep thinking 'I can't let them catch me, I can't let them catch me.' '

Nature also proved to be a challenge at the Aluminum Man race, where stiff winds made for rough going in the Columbia River.

'The waves just kept hitting you, and it made it like an ocean swim,' Lagerstrom said. 'But I got out of the water and to the transition area, and I didn't see anyone behind me.'

He held an almost 2-minute lead after the swim leg and saw that margin whittle away by only a few seconds through the bike and running portions of the race. He hit the finish line in 1 hour, 7 minutes, 39 seconds.

Lagerstrom discovered triathlons at age 12 when Bryant Howard dropped by a Mt. Hood Swim Team practice to lead a series of cross-training sessions. A few months later, Lagerstrom finished the Blue Lake sprint triathlon.

At that point, he found a new way to spend his summers. In addition to his swimming, Lagerstrom now hits the road for 80-mile bike rides and is honing is running skills with the cross country team this fall.

'He has a capacity for work unlike anyone I've ever trained,' said Howard, cross country and track coach at LaSalle High School. 'We'll go for a 75-mile bike ride, and he'll hop off and be ready to go running with me. Once that gun goes off, he becomes a focused competitor.'

The two continue to train together, as Lagerstrom looks to extend to longer races next summer. He would like to complete an Iron Man (see box) before he turns 20.

Lagerstrom is also looking forward to next summer's sprint triathlon Nationals at Hagg Lake in Hillsboro. He finished 23rd at Nationals a year ago, but hopes to be among the leaders in his age group with improved bike and running skills.

'It used to be that I'd feel great after the swim, start to get tired during the bike and just try to get through the run,' Lagerstrom said. 'But this year, I'm learning to pace myself better. I'm not losing much ground on the bike and run.'