IRONMAN: From the BSM to the World Championships, three local triathletes share their stories |

IRONMAN: From the BSM to the World Championships, three local triathletes share their stories

Shelley Andersen, Heather Bullis-Cruz and Tiana Rockwell will all be competing in the Ironman 70. 3 World Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee Saturday.
Submitted to The Union |

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What: Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon

When: 8:30 a.m. activities begin, 9 a.m., triathlon starts, Sept. 17

Where: Cascade Shores at Scotts Flat Lake, Nevada City


The path to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships isn’t an easy one. It takes countless hours of training, an ability to push one’s limits on a daily basis and the mental fortitude to power through any walls one may hit along the way.

For three local women who will be competing in the Iron Man 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee Saturday, their journey began in Nevada County at the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon.

“My first triathlon was the at the BSM, and just wanted to do something interesting and different,” said Shelley Andersen, who will be competing in her first Ironman World Championship. “I did it for exercise and to get healthy. I did (the BSM) off and on for several years on my own or as a team, and loved it.”

The Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Triathlon is an annual event held in Cascade Shores that honors Barbara Schmidt Millar, raises funds to prevent and combat breast cancer and offers scholarships to Nevada Union seniors who plan to one day work in a medical field.

For Andersen, a teacher at Union Hill School in Grass Valley, her venture into triathlons started in the early 2000s.

“The event itself is very empowering and allows you to do something maybe you never thought you could,” she said. “Starting with the BSM was important. It gave me a network of people that were interested in getting fit and healthy.”

In 2010, the BSM event took on a deeper meaning for Andersen as she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Two weeks after I did the BSM (in 2010) I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Andersen recalled. “So my goal was to get back in shape and do it the next year, and I did. Then after that I thought, ‘OK, I worked this hard, I want to go to the next level,’ and that’s when I joined the triathlon club.”

Andersen has since beat cancer and continued her journey through the triathlon ranks, moving from the sprint distance to the Olympic distance and now to 70.3 distance where she has fared well enough to earn an invite to the World Championships. The 70.3 Ironman consists of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run.

“The best in the world will be there and it’s an honor for me, a complete honor to be invited,” Andersen said. “I’m not going to be in the top by any means, but I also hope that it inspires other people. I hope to finish happy and strong and do my best.”

Andersen will be joined at the World Championships by fellow Gold Country Triathlon Club members Tiana Rockwell and Heather Bullis-Cruz.

For Rockwell, who was first introduced to triathlons at the 2009 BSM, this will be her fourth World Championships. She said the experience never gets old.

“I know the competition will be amazing, the competition gets better and better each year,” she said. “And that kid in the candy store feeling you get when you’re at a World Championships will never go away for me.”

Rockwell has been enamored with triathlons ever since she did her first BSM, and she is one of the founders of the Gold Country Triathlon Club.

“The challenge for sure,” she said of her love for triathlons. “It never gets old. Every race and every training session, I feel like I learn something new.”

For Bullis-Cruz, who first did the BSM in the early 2000s and has participated in 15 of them, the trip to the World Championships will be her first.

“I never thought that I would qualify, but my friends told me I could, so I pushed a little harder,” she said.

Now that she has earned her spot in Chattanooga, her goals for the event are simple.

“To try and keep my jaw up because I will be in awe of everyone there,” she said. “I have no expectations. I’m just happy to be there and take it all in.”

As all three women prepare to line up alongside the best 70.3 Ironman triathletes from around the world, all three credit the Barbara Schmidt Millar for starting them on this path.

“It’s an experience that every woman should at least try,” said Andersen. “They would be surprised at how supportive and positive everyone is. It’s one of those events that we have in our community that is extremely supportive and positive.”

The three will not be competing in this year’s BSM, which is set for Sept. 17, but they will all be volunteering as “swim angels.”

“I know for me I always choose to be a swim angel because that was the most terrifying thing for me when I did BSM,” said Rockwell. “It’s scary to get in the water, and for me to be able to volunteer and be in the water with those women, cheering them on and helping them know that they will get through it, that’s fun for me. I love that part.”

BSM event director Vanessa Hale commended Andersen, Rockwell and Bullis-Cruz for the example they are setting.

“We’re really excited and proud to see how their journey has grown,” Hale said. “I think it says a lot about the event and how it gets people excited about triathlons and inspires them to feel like it’s not an impossible sport to be involved in.”

Hale added that this year’s BSM registration has already surpassed that of last year’s and there is still time to sign up for those interested. Online registration is open until Sept. 14 and in-person registration will be available at the event’s Sept. 16 expo as well as the day of the race. More information about the BSM can be found at

In addition to Andersen, Rockwell and Bullis-Cruz, there are two local men that will be competing in the World Championships — Jim Pelton and Mike Alexander will both represent Nevada County at the World Championships this weekend as well.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email

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