World-class athlete: Triathlete headed to championships

by Mark Oliver
Mike Kemp photos

You may have seen her biking or running the Conway streets on your commute to work. Perhaps you’ve seen her training in the pools around town. Next year, you’ll see her competing on the biggest stage in triathlons — the 2018 World Championships in Australia.

In August, Erika Setzler finished 11th overall in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Omaha, Neb., qualifying for the world championships for the second time in her career.


“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Setzler said. “Last year, I was so excited to be on the podium to represent my country. To not only qualify for Worlds again, but cutting my time by eight minutes from last year to do it, is thrilling.”

The competition, set for September 2018 in Australia, is the culmination of years of hard work for the Conway athlete.

“Although this is my second time to qualify for Worlds, this will be the first time for me to attend the competition,” Setzler said. “This year, I sat out to continue my training to be the best I can be for my country. In the past year, I’ve improved greatly. Next year, I feel like I’ll be in even better shape to represent my country — not just for my age group, but for all age groups. I feel like I can be one of the top competitors in the world. I can’t wait to put on the Team USA gear and compete for my country.” 

With her qualification locked up, Setzler says there’s still much work to do before going to Australia.

“I’m working to improve my times in all three events over the next year,” Setzler said. “I’m preparing for the Iron Man competition in November and the Boston Marathon in April before turning my focus to Worlds. Last year, I got a new coach who has helped me drop eight minutes from my bike time. I’d like to get back into college-running shape. With swimming, I’m working on my technique to be more efficient in the water rather than using so much energy trying to stay afloat.”

Despite traveling abroad for competition, there’s a degree of familiarity for Setzler with the land down under. 

“This will be my second time visiting Australia,” Setzler said. “When I graduated from [the University of Central Arkansas], I spent two weeks there with one of my former teammates. It was a great experience. The scenery is much different than it is here. I learned to surf and experience most of their culture. I can’t wait to go back.”

When it comes to training for triathlons, Setzler says the 501 has much to offer. 

“I train pretty much anywhere around Conway,” Setzler said. “I swim at Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center and at Hendrix College with a swimming group I recently joined. I bike anywhere I can around Conway — there’s a great group I can join in and ride with around town. I sometimes travel to Hot Springs and Fayetteville to bike with friends, too. When it comes to running, I have a couple of buddies who I meet up with to run the streets of Conway.” 

Although she’s had her share of accomplishments, Setzler has also had her share of challenges.

“I’ve dealt with quite a few injuries over the years,” Setzler said. “I’ve endured four stress fractures — two in my femur and two in my feet — as well as muscular injuries. Those injuries have made me who I am now. I’ve learned how to take the setbacks and learn to work with what I have.”

Though an athlete’s training is never done, Setzler still manages to find time for relaxation.

“I enjoy hiking and hanging out with friends,” Setzler said. “The constant training can take a toll on my body. I enjoy relaxing on the weekends — watching a movie or hanging out with friends and family.”

A 2016 kinesiology graduate of UCA, Setzler works as a personal trainer and fitness specialist at Conway Regional Fitness Center. For those interested in competing in triathlons, the athlete says there’s no better time to start training.

“Over the past few months, I’ve had many people ask me how to get started,” Setzler said. “The first thing I tell people is that if you’re nervous about triathlons, there’s nothing to be worried about. If you’re having fun while training and competing, you’ll have a positive overall experience. It’s a different kind of sport. It’s competitive, but extremely fun. It’s something I passionately love. I don’t get nervous anymore — I just go out there and have fun.”